A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie – Part 2

As promised, here are the rest of too many photographs taken last Tuesday – a week ago already! – at Goose Lake Prairie. The bird at the top of the post is an adult male Common Yellowthroat. Below are two photos of a juvenile Common Yellowthroat negotiating a thorny perch.

I reported 6 Dickcissels but there were likely several more. In any case, I took photos of the closest ones I could find. Once the sun started to emerge from behind the early morning clouds, they were singing everywhere. And they were not shy.

Below is a young Gray Catbird.

And I managed to find an Eastern Kingbird.

More photos of the prairie plants: Ironweed, Blazing Star, Prairie Coneflower and Partridge Pea, which is a new one for me.

Insects enjoying the Rattlesnake Master.

Apologies if I am repeating one of these Dickcissel images from the last post…

Below are a few other individual Dickcissels looking more like females and/or juveniles.

Still searching for Sedge Wrens and finding two more House Wrens…

I made my way over to one of the lakes, but with all the vegetation it was difficult to see much of anything. I did find what appeared to be a female or immature Hooded Merganser.

The photos below stumped me for a day and a half for whatever reason until I realized it was a Red-winged Blackbird.

I was happy to see three American Crows and managed to follow one as it flew over.

Below is a bird I did not expect to see. She’s a female Scarlet Tanager.

Sharing a bush, below, a Dickcissel and yes, a House Wren…

Common Yellowthroat male

I took notice of another Gray Catbird.

Rabbits seem to be ubiquitous this summer.

That’s it for August 1 at Goose Lake Prairie.

On the home front, the day before, I noticed a Monarch caterpillar on a small milkweed plant in the front yard. The next day when I came home from Goose Lake Prairie, I noticed all the leaves off the original plant were gone, and the caterpillar had moved to another small milkweed plant nearby. I have since lost track of it. I hope it is safe and thriving somewhere in the front yard. After years of Common Milkweed appearing in my yard, this is the first Monarch caterpillar I have ever seen. I can only hope there will be more.

And lastly, John L. from the Friends of the Chicago Portage contacted me a couple days ago to tell me about an organized 350-year celebration of sorts of the Chicago Portage National Historic Site, to occur this Saturday, August 12. He has asked me to participate in some fashion, which I envision might include talking to visitors about birds at the Portage, and I guess I could volunteer a little information on the plants I’ve become familiar with too if necessary. I am not contemplating a formal presentation, but I am starting to gather a few facts to have handy. From what John has told me, it sounds like it is going to be quite interesting, including actors reenacting explorers Marquette and Joliet following the lead of Native Americans through the site and representatives from the National Park Service, the Cook County Forest Preserves and others with booths and activities. Needless to say, I will be arriving much earlier to check on the birds before all this occurs.

Below are quick photographs I took this morning of a sign that is now posted by the Harlem Avenue entrance, the famous statue, and one of the storyboards that was added when the shelter was built a few years ago. If nothing else, all this explains the completion of the asphalt trail and the native plantings by the parking lot. Maybe I can find out what the numbers on the trees were for. I promise to (try to) give a full report afterward.

I have since been over to the “other” Goose Lake, a few visits to Riverside, and back to the Portage again. I will try to get caught up with some of these visits. Fall migration is just starting and it almost seems like every day, even in the middle of heat and not a lot of activity, there is always something new.

A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie – Part I

Last Tuesday morning I got up very early and went to Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area. This is a place I traditionally visit around the 4th of July, but my July was full of too many other things this year.

It was quite cloudy, but that made it cooler, and it was a treat anyway to be able to see uninterrupted sky. It was also much quieter than my usual suburban haunts.

Early on there were few birds visible. Some American Robins.

There were a lot of House Wrens chattering about the lookout ramp attached to the back of the Visitor’s Center.

The clouds kept parting here and there for a bit of sunshine.

There were a considerable number of American Goldfinches. This one caught my attention.

The native wildflowers that dominate this prairie are beautiful. Below, a little Blazing Star.

I saw my first juvenile Eastern Bluebird.

The sun kept making its case.

A Barn Swallow

Below, two Song Sparrows. The second bird appears to be a juvenile.

Young Field Sparrows were everywhere but hard to capture in iffy light.

Common Yellowthroats were abundant.

The Cragg Cabin represents the earliest settlement.

The body of water outside the cabin was at a low level, attracting just a couple shorebirds. I barely got photos of a Solitary Sandpiper…

and a Killdeer.

Rattlesnake Master, one of my favorite plants I am again trying to grow at home, is in bloom here and there.

There were Tree Swallows..

Another male Common Yellowthroat.

American Goldfinch males started accumulating in one tree as if they all wanted to be in the picture.

I saw one juvenile Eastern Meadowlark.

Barn Swallows on break…

A view behind the cabin of the windmill and a conestoga wagon.

I saw a couple more juvenile Eastern Bluebirds.

And more House Wrens. I kept hearing Sedge Wrens but was unable to capture any.

Below, a couple young Field Sparrows.

Red-winged Blackbirds made a brief appearance.

Another House Wren…

The photos below were taken at quite a distance but they’re interesting to me because there’s an adult male Common Yellowthroat and then below him, to the right, is what appears to be a juvenile.

More American Goldfinches showing off.

Well, basically I got through dropping half of the photos into this post and it became too exhausting for me to go on, let alone expect you to wade through any more of it, so I will be back with Part 2 fairly quickly. That’s a Dickcissel at the top of the post, by the way. Many more images of that bird to come in Part 2.

Three of a Kind

My last visit to the Chicago Portage gave me a chance to see not just one Green Heron, but I believe I saw three different individuals after perusing my photographs. That’s because they each seemed to be of a different age and therefore plumage.

The easiest one to photograph was the juvenile I saw last. In addition to being really streaky-looking, notice how grayish the legs and feet are.

But the first bird I saw, not all that well but at a distance in poor light, appeared to be an adult.

So what else could there be? The bird below is somewhere in between the other two individuals. That would make it a First Summer Green Heron.

I don’t purport to be any kind of expert about this, I just looked up the juvenile on my Sibley app and noticed that there was yet another category.

Beyond that, on July 25 I saw the adult Green Heron below at quite a distance.

These photos are from 3 visits, July 25, July 27 and July 29. Actually the only photos I took on July 27 are of the Pearl Crescent Butterfly below. It was so hot, the birds were all cooling off in the trees and therefore unavailable.

The 25th was a better day overall. Below are a few furtive shots I took of a young Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

The light was good for a photo of Tadziu the Indigo Bunting.

I keep seeing young Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

I noticed what looks like a Downy Woodpecker feather stuck in a bit of web.

Do you suppose the rabbit and the robin are talking about me?

Another American Robin

I noticed two Monarch Butterflies in the Red Milkweed.

And when I got home I noticed a Monarch on the Common Milkweed in the front yard.

On the 29th I had a backlit Indigo Bunting (not Tadziu, incidentally).

Trying out the asphalt, a young-looking female Brown-headed Cowbird and an American Robin.

It’s such an occasion lately to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird I took the photo below, even though you can barely see it.

More numbers on trees. I am even more puzzled by the first tree that has two different numbers on it.

And two more from the front yard. Another Monarch Butterfly and my Nodding Onions have finally opened.

I went back to Riverside yesterday for the first time in over a week. I will go back to the Portage on Thursday. I went farther afield this morning and it was a welcome change of location and pace. I’ll be back with more juvenile birds.

Paved at the Portage

The paving over of the inside trail appears to be complete. Remnants of fencing and barriers remain but will likely disappear shortly. Each visit to the Chicago Portage remains slightly different as the plants and the wildlife continue in spite of everything,

We have noticed numbers posted on some of the trees by the paved trail and wonder what the significance is. Yesterday I asked Rick, a foreman of the volunteers, and he said he and his dad were speculating as well. He texted his contact with the environmental team for an answer. Maybe we will eventually find out. I ran into José later yesterday and he speculated that it had something to do with which trees had to be preserved as a few were removed in the pavement process. No. 15 is one of my favorite hackberries, for what it’s worth.

These photos are from my visit on July 24. I have been back a few times since but as quiet as things seem, I can’t fit all the visits into one post.

I have taken to walking straight out the grassy area to the paved trail, beyond the shelter, to check the water for herons first. On that day I saw this rabbit…

and what appeared to be an Eastern Wood-Pewee with its offspring. I always hear this bird but rarely see it. The adult is on the left.

The youngster was very cooperative with my camera.

I saw no herons that day. But as I walked there were other things to catch my attention, like two Ladybugs on a plant I have not identified.

A European Starling lost in mulberries.

A Downy Woodpecker investigating a dead tree.

The view from the bridge closest to Harlem Avenue.

Plants demanding attention. The White Vervain is starting to bloom. It looks oh-so-weedy but it is actually quite beneficial to wildlife. A large Common Elderberry is ripening its berries. What appear to be a couple willow trees are growing beside Tadziu’s bridge. And I cannot resist the Squirrel-Tailed Grass in full bloom.

I won’t begin to try to explain what these Vespids are up to.

Faraway birds…

Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Another young woodpecker, this one a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

A young Red-winged Blackbird perfecting the art of preening.

I have seen this behavior several times this summer. An American Robin sitting on the gravel trail. I don’t expect to see one sitting on the asphalt, however.

The turtles are in place.

One more of the Downy Woodpecker above.

I will be back shortly with some Green Heron photos from yesterday’s visit that proved interesting.

Asphalt At Last

I started writing this post days ago, after I stopped by the Chicago Portage on Thursday morning. Judging from all the large trucks in the parking lot, I deduced that the work on the inside trail was finally being done. My first instinct was to leave, but there was a parking space, so my curiosity got the better of me and I started to walk. Halfway up the trail closest to Harlem Avenue, a huge truck drove past me going in the opposite direction. Undeterred, I made my way slowly toward the bridge.

As I walked the path into the Portage, I noticed that one of my favorite plants is blooming, the Prairie Coneflower below on the left. I have never seen the white flower next to it before. It’s identified as Hedge Bindweed.

Butterflies are present, if not numerous. The red milkweed is a favorite of Monarchs. I am not sure what the little yellow flowers are that have attracted the Red Admiral and the Cabbage Whites, but it looks like Turkish Rocket or Turkish Warty-cabbage, also known as bunias orientalis. Non-native and invasive.

I had a rare look at a Daddy Longlegs.

Woodpeckers are out and about now, after weeks of hiding. I followed this Northern Flicker with the lens.

And a Red-bellied Woodpecker that looks a bit new. This is also the individual at the top of the post.

Young European Starlings were busy exploring.

More starling activity.

So here’s a little sneak preview of the asphalt trail. It was evident on Thursday morning that part of it had already been completed, and it was good to know the work would be finished. I returned Monday and Tuesday of this week and will catch up with those photos later.

The burdock made an interesting perch for this young Red-winged Blackbird.

And below is another juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.

American Robins abound and every once in a while, one strikes a pose.

A Turkey Vulture flew over low enough for a good view.

I have seen a clump of the White Campion below growing at one point on the trail. It’s related to the Starry Campion that showed up for the first time in my front yard this year.

Below is a photo from my phone which does better closeups than the big lens.

I caught a glimpse of a young-looking Song Sparrow below.

And a juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher.

Most gratifying of all that day was seeing a couple Yellow Warblers. I knew they were still around but haven’t heard or seen any for a few weeks.

Encroaching thunderstorms this morning will likely delay my departure for the pool. I decided not to consider a walk in Riverside even though I miss going there, it’s been over a week. The garden tour on Saturday consumed all my energy all the way leading up to it, Sunday and afterward. I am still exhausted just thinking about it. But it has been nice to start getting some other things done too. And I have developed a taste for iced coffee to help with that.

There is currently a downpour. It’s very dark for ten o’clock in the morning. I will be back as soon as possible with a report on the garden tour. Thunder. I am thinking about all the things I forgot to bring in before this. Nothing critical. Just more stuff on the brain.

Young Birds at the Chicago Portage

I thought I would post this earlier, but this week is so strange as I try to fit everything else around the main focus of getting the yard ready. Yet I could not resist the urge to visit the Chicago Portage Tuesday morning. I had a couple minor errands to run anyway. It was a beautiful morning, not too hot, the air quality was better, there was a breeze, and the sun was shining amid some beautiful clouds.

No progress had been made on the improvements since my last visit. The current state of flux has therefore settled into a new sort of normal. I walked up the middle grassy area beyond the shelter. I encountered a young White-breasted Nuthatch.

American Robins are everywhere.

Groups of young European Starlings gather loosely,

Below is the male Indigo Bunting whose territory is closer to the bridge by Harlem Avenue.

Another young American Robin

The bird below looks to be a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.

As I walked the main path and stopped to view the marsh, I saw three yellow birds fly in to perch on a small tree. They were not immediately recognizable but I thought they were juvenile Baltimore Orioles. Upon reviewing my photos later, it turned out I was correct. I was mesmerized by their blue feet and legs. Who knew?

A little break for a Downy Woodpecker. They’ve been hard to see lately, so I enjoyed watching this one.

A Great Egret flew over.

After a while one of the three Baltimore Orioles left and a House Finch came in. Then the oriole on the right left with something in its beak.

Below is another Baltimore Oriole with some web material.

It was hard not ignore new flowers blooming. Tall Bellflower is on the left, and White Snakeroot on the right. The Tall Bellflower is a biennial. I have some too currently blooming in my backyard.

This cloud caught my eye.

In the mulberry trees, birds were finally getting around to eating the berries. The berries have been visible for weeks but I guess they just weren’t ready until now.

American Robin and European Starling below.

Over by Tadziu’s bridge, I saw some Blue Vervain starting to bloom.

Just up the gravel path, a Spicebush Swallowtail.

On a bare branch, two Red-winged Blackbirds.

Then at quite a distance from the bridge by Harlem, two young-looking Great-crested Flycatchers.

Earlier I took a peek at the Des Plaines River through the break in the fence. We’re drying out again.

Just a couple more days to get ready for the garden tour. For all practical purposes I am mostly ready, but there’s always something else to take care of. After this is all over, the plants will get to do what they want for a while, because all this yanking and digging and weeding is wreaking havoc on my right hand which makes it most uncomfortable to play piano. Mild numbness turns into tingling with needles. I feel like I’m playing with steel nails instead of fingers. But that hasn’t stopped me. The show must go on.

Portage Promise

When I arrived at the Chicago Portage Tuesday morning a little after 8:00, the forest preserve workers were cutting the grass and taking up the spaces where I normally park, so I parked on the Other Side where I noticed Bob had already parked. Predictably I encountered him shortly afterward and we walked around the main trail together hearing more than seeing. I thank him for drawing my attention to this lovely barbed wire American Goldfinch.

But the first creature I encountered was a butterfly and not a bird.

Hackberry Emperor

I did see a male Indigo Bunting. This is not our friend Tadziu.

At one point I photographed a distant bird sitting up like maybe it was a juvenile Eastern Kingbird, but there is no white on the tail, and I determined later that it was likely a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.

This is the time of year when juvenile birds get confusing. The bird below in the mulberries turned out to be a European Starling.

And we caught a brief but distant look at a juvenile Warbling Vireo.

A few more photographs of this other Indigo Bunting. Although I did not get a photograph of Tadziu, when Bob and I were standing on his bridge watching for birds and talking, Tadziu swooped in with considerable bravado, flying right past us singing his song in greeting. Bob surmised it was Tadziu’s way of saying, “Where have you guys been?”

I am drawing attention to this occurrence simply because Bob and I were both witnesses to it and therefore nobody can say I’m making it up. Tadziu knows us and knows we know him. And I think he knows the story I tell about him all the time too. Fabulous bird!

I did get some photos of a male Common Yellowthroat perched up high and singing in a tree by the bridge.

Bob had to leave, but I stayed a while longer, curious to see if anything was going on by the water. I spotted a Green Heron.

The Green Heron was busy doing some interesting preening.

Then on my way back out the widened inside trail, which has yet to be paved, I saw a doe and her two offspring.

Just look at the size of those ears!

And then I heard and saw one of two Great-crested Flycatchers. It’s been a while since I have seen one, although I have usually heard them here.

I caught a young House Wren in a quiet moment.

Here’s another Indigo Bunting who was in a tree above with his back toward me. The lighting wasn’t really worth it, but in all I think I have been encountering 7 or 8 males on every visit.

Of course American Robins are everywhere. The young one on the gravel path caught my eye, and at the end of my walk I spotted two sunbathing on the freshly cut grass.

One more of the Green Heron and two turtles. And the American Goldfinch.

I am devoting my mornings this week to work in the garden. I will never run out of things to do and decisions to make, but I feel as if I am fashioning a little order for the garden tour, however transient. I keep thinking of things to do ahead of time next year, like cutting back all the towering plants before they grow so tall. But the drought caught me off guard and I was so happy to get the rain I didn’t realize how happy the plants were going to be as well.

Maybe I can swing by with another post during the week.

Checking in at the Portage

I went back to the Chicago Portage Thursday morning to see what, if any, progress had been made. As far as I can tell, the blacktop entrances to the bridges are being replaced with cement. Only one was completed.

So I walked past the sign after I determined it was safe to do so and no work was being done that day. But I am sure if I visit on a day when work is being done, I will not be able to walk any part of the trail.

After the rain, the duckweed has disappeared. I saw no birds in the water.

I heard a Common Yellowthroat singing from across the water and I was able to spot him, but he was too far away for a photograph. Perhaps you can detect the little yellow and black blob just to the right of center below. That’s him.

Except for several American Robins and a few Indigo Buntings, most of the birds I saw were too far away for decent photographs.

An American Goldfinch perched overhead.

But then I looked out toward the marshy area and saw a male Orchard Oriole. I had been looking for this bird since I last saw one on May 25. I am thrilled to know he stayed. Now I can hope to see some offspring in the not-too-distant future.

The images are very small as these were taken at quite a distance. I included the very last photo which is not exactly in focus but I thought it was interesting to see how the plumage colors arrange themselves as the bird flies away.

There were two male Indigo Buntings that posed for me. Neither one was Tadziu, but I heard him and all is well.

Also in the marshy area where the Orchard Oriole was seen, were a few Red-winged Blackbird females and offspring.

I don’t think I’ve seen Spiderwort here before. I like this flower, even if it tends to sometimes show up in inconvenient spots in my yard.

Now that I have an Elderberry growing in my backyard, I have to pay homage to this one that takes up practically the entire “island.” It’s also a reminder to watch how quickly mine grows and to keep it from taking over the neighborhood.

I hadn’t been over to Riverside yet to see how full the river was, but I noted the bottomlands were flooded next to the Portage.

Not a lot of butterflies, but this Cabbage White made itself available.

Not the most attractive spot for a Red Admiral, but it seemed content to be there.

I visited Riverside on Friday, on my way to the pool, and it was good to see the Des Plaines River full again. I will be back with a short report.

Portage Update

After spending most of the beginning of the week stuck indoors, windows closed, because of the extreme air quality alert, I decided to venture out Wednesday morning before swimming to see what progress has been made with the current “improvements” to the Chicago Portage. After nearly three years of masking indoors, I decided to wear a mask outdoors this time.

Although the gates are open and parking is available, gentle deterrents have been placed at either end of the paved paths to discourage foot traffic. So far, the inside trail has been widened and gravel has been laid down. I expect paving over the gravel will come next. In any event, note the signs say “Please Turn Around.” This is sufficient to cover liability. By the time I had walked past the second fencing, another walker was navigating the main trail. Although I did not see anyone else on the trail, when I got back to my car later, there were several more cars in the parking lot and the gravel roller soil compactor in the photo below was on a trailer, about to leave.

For what it’s worth, I tried to photograph the haze.

There were not a lot of birds out and about. Even the robins were laying low. I found a young-looking Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

There were a few Red-winged Blackbirds in the marshy area.

And one fearless Brown-headed Cowbird foraged close to the trail.

In general it was too hazy to photograph any birds against the skyline, but I couldn’t resist the Green Heron when it flew up to perch on this stump. I suspect it’s not too happy about the trail construction.

And now for a little more color. The remaining photos are from a brief visit on June 6. The first thing I noted was the only cicada I have seen all season.

Red-winged Blackbirds were busy.

I caught a first-spring male Indigo Bunting off guard.

One of the male Common Yellowthroats made a brief appearance.

A pensive American Robin was inspecting the duckweed.

The bird I captured below appears to be a young Warbling Vireo.

European Starlings were foraging in the duckweed.

There was an interesting article about duckweed by Michael J. Coren in The Washington Post a couple days ago. Apparently the humble duckweed is the new frontier for harvesting protein for a plant-based diet. So it’s no surprise the birds know what they’re up to.

I have a very busy week ahead of me playing piano for two Sunday services. I also will be working on trying to make sense of the jungle that is my backyard. So it’s hard to tell when or where the next post will come from, and I don’t anticipate going for too many walks this week, if at all. But I am finding I enjoy the challenges and the change of pace. And I keep praying some of the rain that’s in the forecast will actually visit us.

While I’m Waiting

I miss going to the Chicago Portage. It has almost become my new job. Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and then often on Saturday or sometimes a Sunday, I start walking at the Portage and find myself again.

There are lots of photos from recent visits and going all the way back to May and even late April, so I won’t run out of nostalgia, but from the look of things the improvements to the Portage may be going on through the end of July. It seems they have closed access while they are paving the trail staked in the picture below to allow for wheelchair access. I worry about the breeding birds that nest low, but there is still plenty of area far from the trails so maybe my concern is not warranted. I am eager to go back to see if my friend Tadziu the Indigo Bunting is still around. I should give the birds more credit, they’ve been witnessing all this activity on a daily basis and they know more about it than I do.

These are photos from June 15 and 18, not in any particular order. It’s obvious I spent a lot of time watching the herons. I love the photo below because of the contrast in size between the Green Heron and the Great Blue Heron.

The 15th was a cloudy day. This Baltimore Oriole stood out anyway, albeit at quite a distance. It looks like he was doing his morning exercise routine.