First Fall Fallout

Last Tuesday morning at the Chicago Portage was a beautiful day. The heat of the past week vanished with a cool front and with that front fall warblers.

A warbler fallout is described as some weather event that causes birds to stop flying on their migratory route (they migrate at night) and come down to earth. While this may not have been a true fallout in the sense that it was only a cold front, there seemed to be a significant number of warblers feeding busily that morning.

There were several Tennessee Warblers.

Tennessee Warblers can appear green or yellow or even white, depending on the light and their surroundings.

Bay-breasted Warblers seemed to be some of the first to show up this fall. I was still seeing a few.

Black-and-White Warblers also seemed to be in numbers.

One first-year male American Redstart that actually sat still long enough for a photograph. I often see only a flash of tail feathers.

I have seen a lot of Blackpoll Warblers for at least a week now. I think they are starting to replace the Bay-breasted Warblers in sightings, but that of course can make things more confusing. It’s helpful to see Blackpolls’ streaking on the breast and orange feet.

Chestnut-sided Warblers are immediately recognizable by their bright greenish-yellow caps.

In the Colorful Woodpecker Department, Northern Flickers provided a distraction for a while.

Palm Warblers are just starting to arrive.

And Magnolia Warblers are here and there, though not in great numbers.

Most exciting was to come across a Northern Parula. This is a warbler I don’t see all that often. I was dismayed that it was not considered a Northeastern species by my Warbler app, but I did find it in the Southeastern classification later. We are carved out somewhat south, north and west outside their breeding range, so I suppose it’s possible we may see more of them with climate change. The photo at the top of the post is of this bird.

And then there was the yellow bird who was not a warbler, but a female Scarlet Tanager. I always seem to see one here in the fall, but never the male of the species.

There was a young Red-tailed Hawk on board that morning. I have recently discovered that the juvenile Red-tailed Hawks tends to be darker in plumage color and the iris eye color is also darker than the adults.

I was lucky to see a Wood Thrush that morning.

And the White-breasted Nuthatch below is obscured by leaves but interesting anyway.

Here’s a young American Robin for good measure.

It turns out I did have one more Indigo Bunting.

Here are a few more photos of the first-year Northern Parula. There’s just a very faint suggestion of an orange necklace to come.

I have more photos for future posts and I am likely to take even more. One never knows what a migration season will be like, but so far there have been some high points to this one.

A Little Migration Music, Please

After seeing some fall warblers here and there, things remained slow until the middle of last week when a cold front finally pushed through. I had hoped to be more timely with this post but I’ve been busier than I thought.

At the Portage on Tuesday, September 5, things were still slow, with most of the birds being nearly too far away to photograph except for identification purposes. Still there were a few. Like this Tennessee Warbler.

American Redstarts are often hard to capture. Most have been females or first-year males.

Bay-breasted Warblers showed up early and persisted.

Another Bay-breasted Warbler, acting more like any old bird in that it wasn’t busy looking for insects but instead sat perched on a dead tree over the marsh. The next few photos were taken from somewhat far away, as I stood on the bridge closest to Harlem Avenue.

Not a warbler, but an American Goldfinch in the same tree
American Robin
Black-capped Chickadee
Cedar Waxwings

Back on the trail, I was trying for everything.

Gray Catbird
Northern Waterthrush
Blue Dasher (female) Dragonfly

It’s always exciting to see an Osprey fly over. This one was carrying its prey, but it was too far away to get a good enough look at what it was.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Song Sparrow shared the same dead bush.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seem a bit more relaxed lately.

Below is perhaps the last time I saw an Indigo Bunting. This is either a female or an immature male.

A few Red-winged Blackbirds were still around.

And some American Crows flew over.

On the 7th, just two days later, the cold front ushered in more birds.

Below is a female American Redstart.

Black-and-White Warblers are easy to identify.

There were a couple Blackburnian Warblers. The warbler at the top of the post is also a Blackburnian.

Magnolia Warblers were in the flock.

I barely captured the Golden-winged Warbler below.

Tennessee Warblers really blend into the green leaves.

Below is a distant Cape May Warbler.

Then there were all those other birds. Red-eyed Vireos were also present.

Mourning Doves

American Goldfinches are busy now that there are a lot of seeds available.

I caught a couple views of a goldfinch family.

There was a Great-crested Flycatcher.

And a few Red-winged Blackbirds…

Gray-cheeked Thrushes have been abundant. The first picture below might be a bit confusing as it suggests a Swainson’s Thrush if you go with the somewhat more-prominent eye-ring, but its face has that more pinched look of a Gray-cheeked to me.

This was just the beginning. Earlier this week brought more warblers to my lens. I hope to be back a lot sooner with those photos. For now, I’m getting up early to “lead” a walk at Columbus Park tomorrow morning. It seems likely to be difficult birding. The last couple days have been rather slow. The forecast is for cloudy and cool. Then on Sunday, the forecast is for rain all morning. So it might not be too birdy a weekend… But the show must go on.

A Warbler Here and There

Welcome to Fall Migration Warbler Identification Meditation. (I was inspired after reading an article about meditation going mainstream.) Warblers are starting to arrive, and I had more species in my photos than I realized while taking them. Since many of the warblers look quite different from their spring plumages, and are often hard to distinguish from others, it necessitates a review of wing bars, undertails, bill shape, and if you ask me, even a facial expression can sometimes play a role.

I had been seeing a warbler here and there over the last week or so and was planning to gather them all together in one post here, but my visit to the Chicago Portage on Tuesday morning – before the Heat Wave – proved too busy to ignore, so I am just going to consolidate what I saw on Tuesday and come back later with the rest.

My visit didn’t start out with warblers, of course. Except for a few American Robins, the birds were at quite a distance. This young Robin was enjoying some ripe pokeberries.

There were birds perched from time to time in the bare trees that border the water, and for the most part, I was just taking photos to identify them later. There were some interactions going on that I might not have bothered to notice.

An Eastern Kingbird is at the top, a Baltimore Oriole below

All I can figure is the Baltimore Oriole started moving toward the top of the tree where the Eastern Kingbird was perched and there was a bit of an upset. My last photo was of the Eastern Kingbird either going after prey or giving up on the challenge to its position.

Then I was following perhaps the same Eastern Kingbird with what looked like a cicada. It wasn’t having an easy time of it.

After all that, a quiet moment for the Eastern Kingbird.

Young and older Northern Flickers popped up here and there.

It was probably the first time I did not hear a Song Sparrow, but I did see this young bird at a considerable distance.

Quiet bird moments gave me opportunities to focus the lens on other things. I really like the way the foxtail grass looks with the sun shining through it. Then for butterflies, there was a Hobomok Skipper, a Monarch, and a Pearl Crescent.

A spider web off the trail was more challenging.

A view of the new trail from the south end of it

And now for the warblers. Just as I was pretty much on my way out, so to speak, but before I reached Tadziu’s bridge (by the way, I saw and head a couple adult male Indigo Buntings, but I do think Tadziu has left for his winter home), I noticed activity in the expanse of trees between the trail and the train tracks. At first, there were several Red-eyed Vireos.

I barely caught a clear glimpse of a Magnolia Warbler.

I was not aware until I developed my photos that one of the first birds I was following was actually a Chestnut-sided Warbler. There’s not much chestnut siding in this bird, but the greenish-yellow coloring on the crown and back, the eye-ring, and yes, its posture/expression tipped me off.

The Black-and-White Warbler was easy to see, however briefly, but difficult to capture. I managed one clear photo.

I had the feeling I was seeing more than one Bay-breasted Warbler.

This is likely a different individual below.

And the bird below is the same individual as the one at the top of the post.

With the mixed flock was a young-looking Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I at first assumed the bird below was another Bay-breasted but changed my mind when I saw the photo of its back. I started going down the Blackpoll Warbler trail. It’s also very hard to see some vague orange coloring on the foot in these photos. But there is faint streaking on the breast in the first photo.

A couple Baltimore Orioles were in the mix as well, if a bit farther away.

The Baltimore Oriole below was intrigued by some dead leaves.

Here’s one of those not-in-focus photos I got of the Black-and-White as it escaped scrutiny.

Well, our 100 degrees Fahrenheit has given me the opportunity to sit inside and finish this post. We are due for cooler temperatures tomorrow. I will likely visit Riverside in the morning to see what migrants are appearing there, and then drive to my temporary swimming location. I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures on the weekend and into next week when I will be able to resume a more regular routine again. But I am already starting to make room for fall activities. Wednesday evening choir rehearsals have returned. The kids are back in school down the block. The Saturday morning bird walks begin on September 2nd at Columbus Park.

And somehow in spite of my efforts at population control inside the house, increasingly louder begging noises have me expecting to see a new Zebra Finch fledgling or two shortly. Somebody is getting better at building predator (me)-proof nests.

To be continued. 🙂

Celebrating the Chicago Portage

Apologies for not getting this done sooner, but it’s just been a week. I had hoped to come up with a more interesting post. For an inaugural event, the 350-year celebration was a very pleasant day. I think we all agreed that the event was under-publicized, but perhaps it was just as well for a first-time affair. I am curious to see how the Chicago Portage and this event continue to evolve and I have so much more to learn.

The photo at the top of the post is of a Common Whitetail Dragonfly sitting on the same piece of wood where the Green Heron in my last post was feeding on them.

The photos directly below are of the set-up for the reenactment lectures that were presented throughout the day.

Earlier in the morning before the festivities began, Bob and I looked for birds. The few we saw were too far away to photograph, even with a long lens.

Northern Cardinal female

Indeed, my best subject was this Chipmunk scaling the bark of a hackberry tree.

We were done birding for the morning until I noticed this American Kestrel perched in a dead tree. I had no idea that I would see this bird again later.

I wish I had taken more photos of the activities, but I never caught the reporter bug, and I tend not to take photos of people. It’s enough for me to ask for a bird’s permission.

Bob and I attended John Langer’s first talk about the history of the Chicago Portage, which John offered throughout the day for latecomers. He is truly devoted and indefatigable! I followed John’s group for a while when he took the tour on the trail, and I quickly realized that I learn something new every time. There is so much to know about the Portage, I now must try to attend more presentations.

I did sit in on part of the reenactment of Marquette and Joliet’s discovery, but I was starting to fade. Then around 1:00 PM or so I went on a nature walk with two naturalists whose names I neglected to note. If this is indeed going to be an annual event I will have to be better prepared next time. One of the experts found this praying mantis, which he said was a Chinese species. I don’t think I have seen a praying mantis at the Portage before. Something else to look for!

But then I haven’t seen clover there before either. Just one flower.

Thanks to Cynthia for holding the sedges up so I could photograph them with my cell phone. Unfortunately I did not manage to name the images simultaneously so I will have to do some research. I just bought a couple books on sedges and grasses. It looks like a perfect way to go down the rabbit hole.

Then I have to figure out this grass that is growing in the stream.

This grass was planted by the Friends of the Chicago Portage. Who knew?

One more photo of the Common Whitetail.

As we were walking, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew overhead.

Toward the end of the walk, as we stood talking, we noticed an argument between a Blue Jay and likely the very same American Kestrel I had seen earlier.

The Kestrel was not amused.

These photos are in the order that I took them.

Finally, the Blue Jay prevailed and the Kestrel left.

It somehow seems fitting that the last bird I saw and photographed before I left was a Turkey Vulture.

We are heating up this week. I don’t know how much birding I will be doing, but the pool where I swim will also be closed for cleaning, which is disappointing to say the least. I will try to see if I can swim somewhere else. If not, maybe I can make better use of my time while sitting on the futon. At least I won’t be falling asleep processing too many photographs.

There have been some interesting birds over the past week and a half and I hope to be back to this page sooner. Thanks for coming along.

Green Heron Bliss at the Portage

Thursday was a quiet day at the Chicago Portage. I met Bob on the trail and we looked for birds while wondering what Chicago Portage Day was going to be like two days later. I will be back with a little report on that event soon. But Thursday turned out to be a magical encounter with a Green Heron and it deserves commemoration.

Song Sparrows are still singing. The one on the left appears to be a juvenile.

We encountered an Eastern Wood-Pewee, albeit backlit. I am happy to report that I have heard this bird all summer and have seen it on several occasions.

It was a good day for butterflies.

Juvenile Indigo Buntings are starting to appear.

And now we are getting glimpses or better of Baltimore Orioles again.

Just when we thought we had seen everything, while we were standing at the bridge closest to Harlem looking out into the swamp, if you will, I saw something move. Directly below us on a narrow log or branch was a Green Heron. Even though it was quite close, it appeared small to me.

We watched it as it fished for dragonflies and aquatic creatures. Occasionally it would pull something small out of the water. I was trying to be quiet and careful not to disturb the heron with the camera lens.

Suddenly one of those Common Whitetail dragonflies appeared within reach. The heron caught it.

It took some extra maneuvering before the dragonfly went down the hatch.

The most amazing thing about this entire encounter is that the Green Heron seemed totally unfazed by our attention. After some people walked by and it did not react, I was able to get a better view at the end of the bridge. Then Bob suggested I try shooting a video. Below is my short movie. (Bob was sorry not to have his own camera handy but he did take a video with his phone.)

Bob was also kind enough to loan his binoculars to a couple young women who stopped to see what was going on at the bridge. An experience like this could turn them into birders. By the way, the heron appeared larger with its neck outstretched.

I was too worn out from yesterday’s festivities to go birding this morning, but I did some work in the yard early. I’d like to go back outside to see if I can capture a hummingbird at the feeder, although it’s turning cloudy and the bugs are biting. Rain is in the forecast the next day or two. I will have to play it by ear. Here’s a quick look at my favorite color combination outside the back door, and though I rarely cut flowers, I had a couple sprigs of Ironweed that begged to be trimmed.

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.

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.