Summer Surprises at the Chicago Portage

I began writing this post while I was sitting here with the sun pouring through the half-closed slats of the blinds, the curse of facing east in the morning, artificially cooled by the fans and air conditioning going more often than I’d like to maintain an inside temperature of 80 degrees. I paid the Chicago Portage a visit Monday and before that on Saturday, when the morning temperatures were much cooler, but decided to stay home yesterday, worked in the yard for brief periods, and gave my recuperating knee a rest. At least I have shade in the backyard. We are in the middle of a hot, dry spell again. The later-week predictions of rain have disappeared.

Oh – that beautiful male Eastern Towhee at the top of the post – I encountered him briefly right off the trail. It’s the second time I’ve seen him in the past couple weeks.

Monday as I was putting my camera and backpack in the hatch of the car, I looked up to see a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird first check the front yard, then zip over to the feeder on the porch and then over the roof toward the backyard where there are three more feeders. I haven’t seen a hummingbird for weeks, maybe months. That proved to be a good sign. When I got to the first bridge at the Portage, although very distant and the photos below are severely cropped, I did see a male Ruby-throat, perched on a dead tree over the water from where I stood.

I hoped to see a hummingbird again, perhaps in the Red Bee Balm that is in bloom, but did not.

Red Bee Balm at the Portage

After the hummingbird left, I spotted one American Goldfinch on the same tree.

Whereas on Saturday, I spotted five distant American Goldfinches trying to brighten up the gloom.

Monday was bright and sunshiny with most birds still at a distance. An American Robin and a Red-bellied Woodpecker share this frame.

The Prairie Coneflower, below left, is starting to bloom. It’s one of my favorites at the Portage. I still haven’t figured out the other yellow flower.

There are a lot of American Robins here even when you don’t see them. Below are two juveniles. The second photograph, taken in the mulberry tree, indicates the berries aren’t quite ready yet. I expect when they are ripe, flocks of Cedar Waxwings will join the Robins.

Here’s a Robin I managed to follow as it decided what to do with its catch.

There are quite a few Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies. I wish this one had chosen a better-looking place to rest.

I was intrigued by the new growth starting from a long-dead fragment of log poking out from the bottomlands through the fence.

Here’s what it looked like after the rain, back there on Sunday. I’m sure it’s all dried out now.

Sunday was not a great day to photograph Indigo Buntings but this one picked an interesting perch.

As a contrast, there was too much light on Monday.

The brightness did justice to two butterflies, a Silver-spotted Skipper and a Red Admiral.

I was surprised to see what had been an iconic dead tree by the second, or northernmost bridge, broken in half as it was a magnet for nesting Northern Flickers. I could not locate what happened to the rest of it.

The most interesting bird on Saturday was a Peregrine Falcon perched at quite a distance from where I stood across the water. When I got a bit closer to it, it fixed its gaze on me. Alas we grew bored with each other and I was looking elsewhere when it finally took off, missing a flight shot.

On Monday one Pearl Crescent became two.

I felt lucky to see an Eastern Wood-Pewee as I usually only hear him, but I didn’t manage to get him in great focus. Oh well.

Tadziu was on territory Monday.

I haven’t been able to find a Red-winged Blackbird anywhere at the Portage although I know they exist. So I had to settle Monday for a female Brown-headed Cowbird as a substitute blackbird.

A bucolic young rabbit with a couple Robins on the path.

Early Monday I encountered a very young deer.

It looks like the Elderberry is going to have ripe fruit soon too. Let the fun begin. I have just planted one of these in my backyard and I expect it won’t produce fruit for a while but I look forward to watching it grow.

A view of Tadziu’s bridge through the trees.

There is simply a lot of Tall Bellflower in bloom here.

One more of the Peregrine Falcon.

I’m not going out walking every day in this heat – more like every other day or so. There’s plenty to do around the house and in the yard. And there is that book. I had a revelation the other day while I was swimming, I think. Water has always inspired me, even doing dishes over the sink. That and sometimes while I’m playing piano for the birds. Anyway I think I fit some puzzle pieces together in my head so I am going to write a synopsis tonight and tomorrow which will give me a roadmap.

More to come. Still trying to fill up these longer days while we have them.

Inertia and Bald Eagles

It’s been a week. This post has nothing to do with the Fourth – or now, the Fifth – of July except that I realize it’s the first such holiday I have not been compelled to visit Goose Lake Prairie for my annual prairie and Dickcissel fix. I will be going there perhaps in the next week or so now that I have no obligations to a workplace.

I’m going back to photos from the Chicago Portage taken on June 12 and June 18. Just last month, but it already seems like those were slightly cooler days of innocence. Before the loud music from my neighbors’ pool stereo. Before the fireworks. I’ll stop there.

Below is the first time I captured Tadziu, the indomitable Indigo Bunting, on his new perch across his bridge. Also are recordings of his song on both days.

Recording of Tadziu singing on 6/12/22 with Warbling Vireo in background
Tadziu singing on 6/18/22
Looking at Tadziu’s bridge from afar, on 6/18

I captured a Bald Eagle flying over the Portage both days after not having seen one for quite a while.

I still think Brown-headed Cowbird males are good-looking guys.

More Bald Eagle flight photos.

These are not good photographs of a Northern Flicker but perhaps they are interesting in the shadows.

Here’s another Indigo Bunting – not Tadziu – I saw on June 18.

And here’s another Northern Flicker. These photos intrigued me because in the first ones, his tail completely disappears into the tree.

I keep expecting to see flocks of Cedar Waxwings in the mulberry trees, but so far had only barely seen a couple individuals.

12-Spotted Skimmers are relatively common at the Portage.

I haven’t seen Red-bellied Woodpeckers as often as I have heard them, but was able to capture this one at a distance.

Red-winged Blackbirds are not as visible as they were right now, so in good light I try to photograph those I can.

On June 12 I saw this Indigo Bunting and then managed to record his song. You can hear how different it is from Tadziu’s.

Indigo Bunting with Baltimore Oriole answering

I was happy to see a Black-capped Chickadee for a change of pace. It was busy and quiet.

This Ruby-throated Hummingbird was far away but perched so I attempted a couple photos. I hate calling them “shots”…!

Vegetation I haven’t seen or noticed before always attracts my attention. From left to right, Motherwort, a non-native species; Red Clover, also introduced; and galium aparine, known by a plethora of colorful names including Bedstraw, Sticky Willy, Catchweed, Whippy Sticks – now naturalized in the U.S.

Below, perhaps more or less native, allium canadense or Wild Garlic, and Fox Sedge.

There was this beautiful orange fungus on the 12th. I haven’t seen it since, I will have to remember to look for it.

Two tiny insects, what looks like some sort of fly, and a beetle I am too lazy to look up and identify.

I keep photographing this bridge as long as I can still see it through the vegetation, and then a view of the stream overgrown.

Not the clearest photo of a somewhat distant White-breasted Nuthatch but I hadn’t seen one all summer and the two tree barks almost make me dizzy.

One House Wren pondering his next move…

A view of the Des Plaines River from the trail above the bottomlands…

Today is also the 11th anniversary of my blog. And my birthday. I may not be posting as often as usual (albeit I post infrequently enough as it is!) for the next few weeks as I have penciled in – no, engraved in stone – my intention to start working on the book I’ve been meaning to write for the last 20 years. I don’t intend to finish it, but it’s a good time to start: I have no immediate obligations without choir rehearsals during the summer, the weather, whether too hot or stormy, may interfere somewhat with my propensity for morning bird walks, and I don’t know, I just have a feeling that if I start writing it may take me over like the last long writing project I was involved with years ago, and that will be worth doing in and of itself. A long retreat into another corner of my mind. A brief respite from the world’s troubles. Truth in observation. Trying to make sense of it all, but acknowledging when it makes no sense.

Summertime at the Portage

I haven’t been out birding since Sunday morning and I likely will not get to do so until the middle of next week, but that’s okay, I am having a wonderful visit with Linda G., my closest friend since we met in junior high. Birds are occupied with their most important breeding activities which tend to make them hard to see anyway: we might get around to a walk but don’t count on it. But that’s okay, I have a backlog of photos from outings last week and before. These photographs are from last Thursday, June 23.

The forecast was for partly sunny, but this was plenty of sun for me. The temperature was not too hot so I think the birds were enjoying it too.

Baltimore Orioles were in the mulberries. The photograph in the upper left corner of the panel below is of a female.

I was following a bird later that was down low in the grasses and it turned out to be a female Orchard Oriole. You can see how she appears “greenish” compared to the female Baltimore Oriole in the previous panel. I am so happy to know Orchard Orioles are breeding at the Portage.

Indigo Buntings are everywhere – at least the males are still easy to spot. I haven’t seen a female that I could capture lately, but as the summer continues I should start seeing them and the juveniles. I have been seeing Tadziu on both sides of the bridge lately. Here he is perched in his original spot.

And now he also likes the very tippy-top of a tree on the other side. I confess I recorded him three times. He basically sang the same song in all three recordings but I just couldn’t help myself. I can recognize his song from a distance as I approach his territory.

So below are Tadziu’s greatest hits.

The Indigo Bunting below is an entirely different individual. He wasn’t singing for me so I couldn’t record him to compare, but he’s beautiful. I love the way the light plays with these guys.

There isn’t a lot of Squirrel-Tail Grass and I suspect it doesn’t last very long but it was looking good that day.

Below is some variety of sedge I have never seen before and cannot identify, so I welcome any suggestions. At least I think it’s a sedge.

When I got across the south bridge as I walked in, I noticed workers applying herbicides. I had seen what I think was a Forest Preserves truck in the parking lot. I asked one young woman if they were going to tackle the poison hemlock, and she said she didn’t know about that yet, but that they were discouraging Mugwort, which is in the photo below right. Apparently it’s considered an herbal remedy by some but it’s also very invasive, native to Europe and Asia. I think the strategy is to prevent it from flowering and producing seeds, which apparently can be as many as 200 seeds per plant, but it also has a rhizome root system, so stopping seed propagation is only one step in control. I didn’t dare ask what herbicide they were using, but if I see them working again I will get over my prejudices temporarily and try to be a better reporter.

I encountered a young rabbit that day.

I haven’t been able to identify this yellow flower yet but it seems to be a new one at the Portage. I will pay closer attention to the foliage on my next visit and see if I can figure out what it is. It’s so easy to be lazy…

This Chipmunk was nibbling on something.

Downy Woodpeckers are becoming a little bit more visible lately although they are still pretty quiet.

I haven’t seen a lot of European Starlings but these two youngsters were present.

House Wrens are ubiquitous but not always easy to see. I caught this one in a rare moment of silence.

Sometimes I get lucky with swallows, and this day had a few Barn Swallows swooping low over the duckweed.

American Goldfinches are also fond of the duckweed-covered stream and I think it’s a perfect background for this female.

Red-winged Blackbirds are harder to see, but this one was sitting so still I had to commemorate the occasion.

I will try to get back sooner than later but Linda will be staying with me several more days and we have a lot of catching up to do.

Before the Leaves

April was cold and rainy, to the best of my recollection. But there were a few bright spots. On April 9, I heard a sound I couldn’t place, until I realized I had just not heard it for a long time. A Monk Parakeet was staring down at me from its perch at the Chicago Portage.

These birds used to visit my feeders years ago after I moved into my house, but when their nearby nest in a cellphone tower was removed, they disappeared. There must be another colony nest somewhere in the general area. This is the first time I have seen a Monk Parakeet at the Portage. Below are two recordings. First, the call I heard, and then, the second recording is almost like a little song he’s singing.

That was a sunny day with a clear, blue sky. Ten days later at the Portage it was quite overcast and the earliest migrants were appearing. Red-winged Blackbirds are always first heard and seen.

Brown-headed Cowbirds came in with the Red-winged Blackbirds.

Song Sparrow

Blue-winged Teal were around for weeks.

Kinglets were among the first insect-eaters to come through, with Golden-crowned Kinglets outnumbering the Ruby-crowneds.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglets below.

There were several very young deer.

Somehow the cloudy sky over the naked trees seemed worth noting.

Here’s one last photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

I have been birding lately and will be back with some reports eventually. I had planned to stay in today due to the forecast of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but because I could not swim last night due to a tornado-force storm that moved through the area around 7:00 PM, I did not go swimming and decided to swim this morning instead. All my trees are standing, and miraculously I suffered no damage save a few shingles on my roof: I filed a claim with the insurance this morning. As it turned out there was a massive power outage close to us which my neighborhood escaped, but the gym closed early because of it last night and then as I drove there and back this morning, every other traffic light was out and some were not even flashing which made it even more difficult and dangerous. There were crews everywhere working on power lines, but the damage must be extensive. Since tomorrow’s forecast isn’t any better. I will choose to stay safe and inside for the most part.

These weather events are now so predictably unpredictable. The original forecast for rain and storms vanished earlier in the day from the weather app on my phone to predict clear and sunny in the afternoon and evening, until suddenly the National Weather Service was blasting alerts on the radio about a tornado warning which then turned into a tornado watch. My birds always complain collectively when they hear the test of the alarm system as it happens once a week or so, but after so many alerts last night they finally gave up on their comments.

Cool and Cloudy at the Portage

In case you didn’t get to meet this Indigo Bunting last year, allow me to introduce Tadziu – I have given him the name that is pasted on the back of the “Bike Path” sign on which he sits in this photograph – as yesterday morning he sat and sang and posed for me. Last year I often saw him singing from the tree that hangs over the entrance to the bridge which facilitates the bike path referred to in this sign. I would also see him sitting on the bridge itself and singing, as well as on the sign. He is the most enthusiastic advocate for a territory I have ever seen.

A snippet of his song is below. I recorded it last week. I realized yesterday that although all Indigo Buntings basically sing the “same” song, it seemed I could distinguish his when he sang it. Or it may just be that I know where to expect to hear him. Either way, he always sings in my presence and we are friends.

Indigo Bunting

Here’s a few more of Tadziu being a ham.

I was very happy to see a male Orchard Oriole, however briefly. I saw another later but did not manage to photograph it. I hope this means they are nesting at the Portage. I have seen them only occasionally every year. But I have to keep reminding myself that the more I go out, likely the more I will see.

Here’s how the Chicago Portage looks now.

I expect to hear Yellow Warblers but I don’t always see them. I waited for this one to emerge because I could hear him quite clearly. If you’re hopping around in the treetops and you’re bright yellow, eventually you will be seen.

Also seen, but silent, was a Downy Woodpecker exploring a beautiful round hole.

Just as I saw a Green Heron perched over the water, it flew and I followed it with the camera, then found it again later where it was sitting.