The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.

On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.

It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.

At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.

Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.

Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”

Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).

The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.

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Pied-Billed Grebes

Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.

It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.

We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.

More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.

YHBL 07-16-17-6279The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.

RWBL ET AL 07-16-17-6330Summer simmers on. I’ll be back soon.

Goose Lake Prairie

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Dickcissel

I spent three hours at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area this morning. I saw and heard a lot of birds, if not necessarily a lot of species. Most of the birds I photographed were quite far away. Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows below, then a Field Sparrow.

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Field Sparrow

Did I see the King Rail? I’m not sure. Maybe I did, so maybe it’s half-a-lifer, but without a scope to clarify anything, my binoculars could not discern any detail on the likely suspect and my camera lens was no better at deciphering a preening bird at the water’s edge.

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But rarer birds have a way of showing up when you least expect them. So it is with the Yellow-Breasted Chat. When I think of all the Chats I have heard and never seen on their breeding grounds, seeing and photographing one this morning had all the sweetness of any surprise. I was first drawn to the yellow bird by its behavior kiting after insects. Then when it perched I realized it was a Chat, however far away. This species is still considered a warbler.

I was photographing anything I could focus on before identifying it. So it was with the Grasshopper Sparrow below.

And this elusive Sedge Wren too.

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Sedge Wren

This Indigo Bunting was right out in the open. With the abundant sunshine, he picked the right day to do it.

Likewise with this young Baltimore Oriole, but so far away.

Some wildflowers in bloom…the first one is not Blazing Star but similar, and then Bergamot which is now in my yard, and in the lower right hand corner, Wild Parsnip, something I never noticed before but recognized right away this time after all the parsnip growing in my yard.

For all the abundance of Red-Winged Blackbirds I almost tend to ignore them, and in some measure it’s a defensive action because they can get testy this time of year, as you probably noticed in my last post.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

But sometimes they can be fun to capture anyway.

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a young Eastern Kingbird before, so this was a treat.

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Juvenile Eastern Kingbird

And although Common Yellowthroats are constantly announcing themselves, they’re often hard to see, so I was grateful to these two.

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Common Yellowthroat

COYT Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5078I still have a few photos to share from Sunday’s adventures and that could still happen. The remedy for all this is to just stop taking pictures but there is always more to see.

I’m glad I got to Goose Lake Prairie, I missed it last year. The other Goose Lake Conservation Area awaits exploration.

Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

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Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

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Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

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Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

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Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

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Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Kirtland’s Warblers and Friends

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Kirtland’s Warbler

Sorry I haven’t been back to the page sooner but I’ve been down with a nasty cold that doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Yet I could speak above a squeak this morning, so I will have to take that as a sign of improvement. Here is a quick post from part of a visit to Michigan with friends over the Memorial Day Weekend. Specifically, these photographs were taken at the Kirtland’s Warbler Restoration Project in Iosco County. We visited this site on the morning of the 27th. The Kirtland’s breeding population is established well enough now at this location to warrant offering tours by the AuSable Valley Audubon Society. Thanks so much to Sam Burckhardt and the Chicago Ornithological Society for another memorable trip.

To go along with the pictures of a singing Kirtland’s above, here is a brief sample of his song:

Kirtland’s Warblers are a fire-dependent species, breeding only in young Jack Pine forests. They winter in the Bahamas. Their fascinating story was chronicled a few years ago by William Rapai, the author of The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It

The Kirtland's Warbler: The Story of a Bird's Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It by [Rapai, William]

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Nashville Warbler

There were also several Nashville Warblers on territory and although they were a bit elusive I did manage to obtain a few distant photos of this one and a clip of him singing as well. To confuse the issue his song is overlapping the Vesper Sparrow’s, which is also below.

Perhaps the unexpected treat for me was a singing Vesper Sparrow. I have not seen these guys too often. A clip of the Vesper Sparrow’s song is below the pictures which were taken at an unfortunate distance. It can be distinguished from the Nashville’s bubbly song by the three introductory notes all at the same pitch.

Perhaps the birds most seen over the weekend were the huge flocks of non-breeding Canada Geese. This is only a small sampling of one flock passing overhead.

Below, a female Orchard Oriole on the left (you have to click on the picture and still look hard to find her, she is so well-camouflaged) and a male Orchard Oriole on the right.

Brown Thrashers were singing quite a bit too, now I’m sorry  didn’t bother to record one. Below is one very cooperative bird.

Now the challenge is to get through another busy weekend and a lot more photographs (and, I hope, a lot less facial tissue). I am trying to stay optimistic! Please have faith, I shall return, lots to share with you.

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Brown Thrasher

American Redstart Returns

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American Redstart (male, 2nd year or older) at 155 N. Wacker

I heard a bird in my yard the other morning that didn’t sound like any of the regulars. Rather, it reminded me of the American Redstart I heard at 155 N. Wacker about a week ago – all along thinking there was a Common Yellowthroat hiding somewhere, until I realized it was the Redstart singing.

The bird downtown was pretty insistent – I think he was trying to get me to pay attention to him. The next day when I stopped by the little park at 155 N. Wacker, he was gone. So he was probably telling me to get a photo before he left, which I did.

Below, some badly lit shots of another adult male…

American Redstarts have a reputation for being hard to identify by song because they have so many different songs, or different dialects, and I have never really paid that much attention to their singing because they’re usually easy to identify with one flash of the tail.

AMRE 5-18-17-9221But after hearing the bird in my yard, which unfortunately I did not see and because I had to go to work I couldn’t hang out long enough to look for it, I wondered if perhaps Redstarts might pass around a  new “hit song” every spring – sort of like the Humpback Whales that come up with new songs they spread around, or like European Starlings that decide their new “hit” is to imitate a Killdeer, for instance, which was a phenomenon I observed a few years ago.

Below, some first-year males in transition. It’s interesting to see how the black and orange coloring is slowly coming in.

So I guess now I will be paying more attention to this bird’s vocalizations. It’s a reminder that I really should buckle down and learn to recognize more warbler songs anyway since half the time I am struggling to see them and don’t get a view worth noting otherwise.

Below is a female American Redstart. A bit duller in color than the first-year males.

Lots more birds to think about lurk in pictures I have taken through this peripatetic migration season. I will be back with more after the Memorial Day weekend.

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Millennium Magnolia

MAWA 5-17-17-8929Another brief post devoted to one bird, the Magnolia Warbler, which I finally saw well on Thursday morning. I got up at 3:40 AM to catch an early train downtown so I could bird the parks for nearly a couple hours, just to test my perception that there were fewer migrants than previous years.

My perception is correct, I think, based on several factors. The populations of neotropical migrants are already in a downward spiral, and the effects of habitat loss and climate change are tipping the scales. Habitat for stopovers during migration is just as critical as breeding and wintering habitat. Locally, the abrupt changes on the downtown lakefront due to “improvements” have not helped to support migrants. Although I think eventually the pockets of recently planted natural landscaping will offer more respite, it takes years for plants to establish themselves and for the birds to know they can rely on them. Birds tend to return to places that have proven good for them before. When those places disappear, birds have to go somewhere else.

So from the reports I was getting while stuck in the office, the party invitations had already gone out and most of the migrant action was at Montrose Point, also known as the Magic Hedge, which is understandable and predictable, but frustrating when you know you can’t get there to see it.

This bird was among a few other species in the south sculpture garden at Millennium Park, where only a few years ago the planted pines would light up with brightly colored warblers resembling a Christmas tree (I give all credit for that sentiment to my friend David Johnson). For a moment I could almost trick myself into thinking it was happening again.

MAWA 5-18-17-8911Magnolia Warblers, affectionately nicknamed “Maggies,” are usually quite conspicuous and I have always found the males happy to engage with the camera. So I was able to get a few halfway decent shots of this backlit but beautiful guy who was otherwise zooming in and out of the pine needles seeking insects.

I got a break today from the migrant search as the weather has dictated moderation. Our temperatures plummeted yesterday about 35 degrees and the forecast for today is intermittent rain with thunderstorms likely. With any luck I’ll be able to work in the yard a bit in between downpours. But it was nice to “sleep in” for a change on a Saturday, – until my indoor crowd woke me up at 6:00, a full half hour or so after sunrise when they began to greet the day vocally. Someday I have to be awake enough to record the indoor dawn chorus…

Brief Blackburnian Blitz

 

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I readily admit to obsession and distraction. Warblers are here. While there has been no definitive all-at-once-get-it-now-or-never rhythm to this spring’s warbler migration, the fits and starts due to divergent weather patterns have made it all the more challenging to find and photograph these elusive creatures.

This is just a quick post devoted to a couple Blackburnian Warblers seen over the weekend. The one in the oak tree directly above was at Jarvis Bird Sanctuary along the lakefront, and the other in what is likely a cottonwood tree, at the Chicago Portage. More of the Portage bird below, showing off striking black and white plumage. This bird was really distant so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

Many more birds to come, just needed to take a breath before diving back in.

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