Quick Portage Check-up

I have been trying to take advantage of any better weekend weather since I got back from Mexico, specifically just to wander the Portage and see what’s going on. Last weekend, Sunday was beautiful and warm, but I had to spend the morning indoors singing in the choir, but even though I didn’t have high expectations for an afternoon walk, I thought anything might be interesting. As it turned out, I heard only a few birds and saw absolutely nothing save some Canada Geese and a Red-Tailed Hawk. I went out again yesterday morning, to take advantage of the only sunshine this weekend, and after walking for nearly half an hour to only hear a few birds, I finally caught up with a flock of foraging sparrows and the woodpeckers and Blue Jays I had been hearing.

Canada Geese – when there was open water

Yesterday’s stars were a couple Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.

The Downies were busy too.

When the flock first appeared it seemed to be mostly Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows. They weren’t particularly interested in coming any closer to me. But it was a delight to just stand still and watch the flock forage and move through. And when the sun was shining, it was nearly warm on my back. It was otherwise seasonably cold yesterday, with hardly any open water.

White-Throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow – found in my photographs later

There were likely a few more cardinals around than the two I saw briefly. Below is one of them.

Northern Cardinal

One of a few storyboards along the trail…dressed in snow and ice.

And right behind the storyboard location appeared something I wasn’t expecting so late in the morning – a foraging White-Tailed Deer. I didn’t want to disturb her so after we connected with a few photographs I turned back and made my way out of the preserve.

I was surprised to turn around and see a Brown Creeper busy poking up this tree.

Throughout the morning the Blue Jays were noisily carrying on but they were quite distant when they finally appeared.

In all maybe there were four robins yesterday morning. I’m sure there’s a larger flock somewhere.

Grey Squirrel…
Song Sparrow – as at the very top of this post

I will be back soon with warmer memories from Mexico. As of this moment, it has just started snowing. In the interim, I would like to leave with a quote from Bill Penzey which I read this morning:

“When they do their best to get us to abandon all hope is when we must embrace it more tightly than ever.”

It’s All About The Tides

Murmuration of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers

This will be a brief post as I am still unpacking a few things from my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan. As good as it is to be home, part of me will remain in these vast, incredible vistas for a long time to come.

Our excellent guides Jared and Sarah timed our arrival at Kelly’s Beach in Kouchibouguac National Park to coincide with low tide and a massive concentration of shorebirds. The migratory spectacle at this time of year is quite phenomenal. Birds are fattening up for a long flight to their southern wintering grounds. They gather, forage and rest at low tide. Specifically, we were watching huge flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. Let’s see, that’s a “fling” of sandpipers and a “congregation” of plovers. I think the experts estimated the ratio was about 3:1 sandpipers to plovers. It’s easiest to pick out the Semipalmated Plovers in the photo just below. When we first arrived we had several Black-Bellied Plovers. We also had some Least Sandpipers and at least (sorry) one or two White-Rumped Sandpipers.

The falcons are hip to this event as well, and periodically they disrupted the shorebirds, who broke into amazingly dizzying choreographies of murmurations.

It’s impossible to capture the enormity of this spectacle, but it was also impossible to resist the temptation to try. If you click on the images below maybe you will get an idea of what we were witnessing for what seemed like forever, as fleeting as it was. No sooner would one flock settle down than another from a more distant location was startled by something and it began all over again as that flock moved toward us.

A small section of one flock photo.
An even smaller section.

There were Peregrine Falcons and even a Merlin or two. I managed a few photos of the Peregrines.

Peregrine Falcon

Four days later, on Grand Manan, a couple of us went out with Jared at high tide early in the morning to see if we could find a Nelson’s Sparrow. We had tried for the bird the previous day but it was difficult to get one to show itself well in the vast salt marsh. The strategy behind getting up early for high tide is that the birds have to move in closer to higher land, and that might make the Nelson’s easier to see. Jared’s strategy worked. We got better looks than these photographs, but I am pleased with the images in that you can recognize the bird and the surroundings show off its beautiful coloration. We get Nelson’s around here from time to time and I have seen it before, but never very well, so now I feel like I know this bird.

Nelson’s Sparrow
Sunrise at high tide.
Semipalmated Sandpipers coming in for a landing.

I will be back with lots more from this trip, and I still have some images left from the Texas trip in April. Not to mention several forays from what now seems like a very brief summer. Some day I will have time for this! In the meantime, I hope you are having a safe and pleasant weekend, wherever you are, and especially I wish those of you in the potential path of Dorian ultimate safety and comfort in love.

Goose Lake Prairie: Happy Fourth

Field Sparrow

The forecast was for rain not starting until maybe 11:30 or so this morning, so it seemed like a good day to restart my lapsed tradition of visiting Goose Lake Prairie on the Fourth of July. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and the threat of rain never occurred. Even though I arrived later than I had planned, for quite a while I was the only human, which suited me just fine.

Song Sparrow, the first of many

Dragonflies were everywhere. I guess the one I’ll be seeing a lot of this year is the Blue Dasher. Last year it was the Halloween Pennant. Nice to see all of these this morning.

Blue Dasher (female)
Blue Dasher
Widow Skimmer Female
Common Whitetail (female)
Halloween Pennant
Dickcissel
Dickcissel

So I’m trying to write this blog post tonight with the explosions going off all around the neighborhood, frequently sounding like a bomb exploding next to my house. I hate this holiday. I don’t understand why I have to be miserable and endure this every year. Maybe it’s why I decided not to be born until after midnight 71 years ago – it was too scary to start living with all this going on.

Luckily it never seems to bother my birds, they just endure it, likely chalking it up to more stupid human noise. We have pretty music playing on the radio. What’s one or two or fifty explosions?

But I can’t imagine the outdoor birds are too fond of this. Oh well. Back to the blog post. This morning I got to see some nice birds. There are a lot of pictures in this post. Let’s just leave it at that.

Eastern Kingbird

There was one Brown Thrasher who barely showed its face and then hid from me as I tried to see the rest of it.

I hoped for a Henslow’s Sparrow and one complied. Their return to Illinois grasslands is one of the few success stories over recent years. If you provide habitat, they will come.

Henslow’s Sparrow

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t bothering to sing, so the guys looked a little bored with their guard duty.

There were a lot of Common Yellowthroats and as secretive as they sometimes are, I managed to see a few.

I’m still on the verge of tears from the explosions. I guess tomorrow morning I can go around and see how many fireworks shells are in the yard. Something to look forward to. My indoor birds are ready to fall asleep. I keep praying for rain.

Texas Day Two

Yellow-breasted Chat, in a class by itself

It seems a good time to go back to my Texas trip photo memories before I lose track of it entirely. Day Two was a travel day from Del Rio, where we had spent the night, to Big Bend National Park where we stayed three days. Of course we birded along the way.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Yesterday I turned on the reluctant travel laptop to see if it was in any mood to let me look at my Texas pictures. Lo and behold I found more images, and the amazing thing is that I was allowed to process them, so here is everything from that travel day, including the domestic waterfowl below which adorned the first stop.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal

Travel notes from my cell phone… I love the rugged terrain of Southwest Texas.

A view of the Rio Grande along the way

It was nice to revisit species I have seen before. Some I saw much better than on previous occasions, while others like the Rufous-Crowned Sparrow below, eluded the camera, even though fairly common. And then there were the life birds.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbirds
Olive Sparrow – a lifer which looked much better than the lighting allowed

The Morelet’s Seedeater is not exactly new, if I can believe I have seen a White-Collared Seedeater before. Anyway, it’s been split into its own species, so that makes it a life bird. We searched for this guy for a while and then he practically followed us around for the next quarter hour or more.

Lesser Goldfinch I have seen before, maybe not so well.
Orchard Oriole we get in the Chicago area, though not as common as Baltimore Oriole.
House Finch (of the original population!), not the ones that crowd my backyard.

It would have been nice to see a Western Meadowlark but this Eastern Meadowlark posed nicely for us.

Eastern Meadowlark

I’ve glimpsed Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in New Mexico but have never seen them so well as on this trip.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Then to see some old friends really well…

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (female) with White-Winged Dove
Lark Sparrow
Hepatic Tanager
Blue Grosbeak

We arrived at the Chisos Mountain Lodge in Big Bend National Park, checked into our rooms and witnessed this sunset outside the dining hall that evening.

Chisos Mountains sunset

Meanwhile back home, it’s intermittent thunderstorms and cooler weather. I am fond of rain, but not so much.

Spring Preview: Columbus Park

I had planned to write a post before my departure for Big Bend but it didn’t happen. Now I am back from an amazing trip, but even though I have started processing my pictures, it will probably take me a couple of weeks given the busy schedule I am returning to, so I will see if I can manage this post for the moment.

I did a Columbus Park walk on the Saturday before I left, and it was to witness the first hint of migrating birds, but our spring has been anything but spring-like, with snow occurring the next day and from what I hear, another wet, fluffy snowfall the Saturday before my return. Yet I’m planning on putting out the hummingbird feeders tomorrow morning. C’mon, it’s May!

The big wading and diving birds were easiest to spot… It was particularly entertaining to watch the Double-Crested Cormorants drying off in the sun. Maybe the Canada Goose thought I was trying to take its picture.

We had several Wood Ducks, but this was perhaps the closest view I got of a male swimming in front of a female Mallard.

A little army of hungry Golden-Crowned Kinglets appeared on the grass in front of us at one point, reminding me of the very first time I ever saw them years ago doing the same thing on the lawn at Millennium Park.

The female Belted Kingfisher below was pretty far away but nice to see.

This Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by us before landing in a tree.

American Robins have been on their territories for weeks now and we saw many.

Swamp Sparrows outnumbered Song Sparrows (4 to 2!) but were hard to photograph.

Eastern Phoebe arrivals are always a sign of spring. The similarly-colored bird below the Eastern Phoebe is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.

You know the Red-Winged Blackbirds are ready for business when the girls start arriving.

Northern Flickers put on a show for us but they were hard to capture as well.

Our last “lawn” species was Killdeer.

I got caught up on my sleep last night, but I’m heading into a busy weekend. Saturday morning is the Spring Bird Count, Saturday night is the Spring Music Festival…and with any luck on Sunday, I can start cleaning up my yard, as green things, both wanted and invasive, are starting to emerge. The recommendation to not clear anything until the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will be difficult to adhere to… we are still dropping into the 40’s, albeit the higher 40’s, overnight. I do remember seeing a butterfly or two before I left. I hope to see some insects Sunday and maybe a better forecast.

Putzing Around the Portage

Too far away for a sharp image but still lovely to see.

The signs of spring are evident. Birds are moving, the days are getting longer even if we artificially shortened the morning hours, but I still needed to be reminded by the official first day of spring on the 20th. The last two weekends I have visited the Portage just to see what signs of life are emerging, however slowly. Robins are back and setting up territories in the woods as well as in my neighborhood. Red-Winged Blackbirds were audible on both visits to the Portage, if not displaying yet. Perhaps most exciting last Saturday was seeing my first Eastern Bluebird of the year, even if it was clear across the creek.

I started imagining what it must have been like before all the House Sparrows and accompanying civilization…when I envision Bluebirds ruled. Then I started reading about how Bluebirds have made a come back of sorts, thanks to people putting up nest boxes, and they prefer open fields for habitat, so as the Portage loses more trees maybe I’ll see them a bit more often there. But for the most part I don’t live near Bluebird territory.

Juncos have been photographically elusive for me this winter and last Saturday was no exception. I probably was looking at the last ones I’d see for a while. On the other hand I was surprised to see a Pine Siskin (below) but likely their occurrence in my yard this winter is part of a trend.

There were more American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows hanging out by the thawed pond than anything else.

There was open water last weekend, as opposed to the weekend before, but only one pair of Canada Geese and a Mallard or two.

Otherwise, a White-Tailed Deer, and below her, what the frozen raging Des Plaines looked like two weekends ago, from a distance.

I have only heard/seen one Red-Bellied Woodpecker so far…

My plan is to go back out tomorrow morning, when we are promised sunshine, to see if there are any more changes occurring. On my way to the train this morning, I noticed the Silver Maples are budding on the neighborhood streets. We are still flirting with a few overnight temperatures below freezing, but it looks like March will go out like a lamb.

Upside Down

Downy Woodpecker

Or downside up. I have a really good excuse for not managing a blog post until now, which I hope never to use again. As much as I hate the passive voice, I’d rather phrase it like this: my car was totaled Sunday night on the way home from a meeting – the accident was unavoidable, not my fault, and I am happy to report there were no injuries and I will be getting a new, safer (should I have to crash into anything again) vehicle shortly.

It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit outside that night and I was so focused on getting the police to arrive that I forgot to take a picture of the damage, but that’s history now. So is the extraordinary lunar eclipse of that evening which I also forgot about in my distraction, although I was admiring the full moon through the window of the squad car as I sat in the back of it to keep warm while the police handled the investigation and report. So there are no spectacular images to share with this information, and I apologize.

American Goldfinch and House Finch

Instead here are some pictures from last weekend, when we got a total of about 9″ of snow, but had not yet plunged into the single digits and below which is where we are now.

I don’t anticipate getting any clearer photographs this weekend, but I will still try to capture the two Dark-Eyed Juncos and the Black-Capped Chickadee that I have seen only briefly. It was nice to see cardinals hanging out in a relaxed fashion.

I hope to be back soon, maybe even with a report about the new vehicle. In the meantime, I wish you all safety and warmth wherever you are!