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.

Made Half Whole Again

I went over to the Chicago Portage yesterday morning and the parking lot was open. I was planning on going back this morning but it’s very gloomy, chilly, and the air quality is very poor, which is not always something I pay strict attention to but I can see the haze in the air through my front windows. I also have a lot of work to do at home. I am glad I found the Portage open yesterday and I will go back tomorrow and/or Thursday.

The first thing I noticed was the native plants around and in front of the statue, with protective fencing.

And then it became obvious that work was being done to pave the inside trail.

I walked in from the side and took a bit of a closer look. Not a lot of progress has been made. I have a feeling this will be continuing for a while.

After the rain, there was evidence of water apart from duckweed. But the herons are likely not coming back until the disruption of construction is over.

I saw a few more birds than I was able to photograph, and heard even more. I caught a quick glimpse of a House Wren.

Far across the water from the main trail, I noticed a Red-winged Blackbird and one of his offspring. He seemed to be telling the youngster that it was now old enough to feed itself.

When I went through the opening in the fence, I encountered some deer that might have otherwise been on the other side were it not for the trail construction.

When I came back through the opening, I was soon joined by a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, who first landed in the trash pile of buckthorn the volunteers had cut down weeks before. If you look closely at the tip of her bill in the second photograph you might detect the wispy remains of some insect she devoured.

She then flew over to where we both seem to think the red bee balm was last year, but if it is where we both remember it, it is surrounded by a lot of common milkweed. I was unable to get a photo of her there, but it reminded me of a hummingbird in my front yard about a week ago who landed on the royal catchfly which has not yet blossomed. Apparently these birds never forget a favorite plant.

I heard Tadziu singing on his territory yesterday but did not see him. Still it was good to know he is around through all the commotion. I had also heard several other males singing as I walked through. It will likely be more challenging to see birds while the construction continues, but they are already used to the noise of Harlem Avenue, the BNSF trains that come through and the planes that fly over. This new albeit temporary disturbance reminds me of how surprised I was to find so many birds when I first discovered this paradoxical place over 20 years ago.

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.

Later I caught up with him in a better background.

There was a quiet moment in the same tree with a Song Sparrow, too.

American Goldfinches have been so busy, I haven’t seen them all that frequently.

Cedar Waxwings stand out even in bad light.

I decided to go straight to the herons on the 18th, so as I walked through the middle lawn section just beyond the shelter, I saw the Eastern Wood-Pewee I often hear but had not seen all this season.

There have been a few Green Herons present simultaneously. Below I captured a brief disagreement between two of them.

It almost looks like the Great Blue Heron below is standing by the side of the road, but that is actually the duckweed covered water, or what’s left of it.

Occasionally a Great Egret has been here too.

It’s hard to resist photographing Indigo Buntings when they sit right out in the open, if for no other reason than to see how they look in that particular light. I think this is Tadziu on his alternate tree.

Northern Flickers are starting to reappear.

The tree stump below is all that is left of a dead tree that a pair of Northern Flickers used to nest in. It’s over by Tadziu’s bridge.

I wonder if this is the same pair that used to nest in it.

I encountered what looks like a young Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Another one of those “how blue is the Indigo Bunting” photos.

A rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo that looks like a juvenile.

As the Great Blue Heron flew over the marsh, it got a little too close to a Red-winged Blackbird nest.

I was a little surprised to see a Northern Flicker foraging in the duckweed.

This could be my most ho-hum photo of a Baltimore Oriole

Oh why not a few more?

The muskrat appeared briefly on the 18th. Then I decided the duckweed-covered turtle deserved more attention.

There are ever-so-slight changes of expression with the first Indigo Bunting…

A couple more for the road…

A female Indigo Bunting

We finally got some rain overnight. I woke up in the early morning hours delighted to hear thunder and the rush of rain pouring onto the house. I won’t have to worry about watering for a while. One rain barrel is full. It was hot all day but very windy. Now we are cooling off again, and we even got a little more rain. All we need is enough to attract the rain clouds more often to pull us out of this drought. The strange summer continues.

I have a lot going on the next couple weeks so I won’t be taking off for more distant destinations, but I will be driving by the Portage now and then to see if it’s open. And I still have Riverside and swimming to keep me out of trouble.

Yet Another Day in May

While contemplating more recent outings for posts, I took a peek at my Chicago Portage photos from May 25 and there are some interesting ones – now that almost everything has changed three weeks later. From the looks of the birds in the photographs, it appears to have been quite cool, and according to the Weather Channel it was indeed cooler than now with a high of high of only 61 degrees F. and a low of 45. I found no mention of the weather in my drivel for that day. I was still getting over the previous night’s performance of Manuel de Falla’s Serenata Andaluza at the Unity Temple Choir talent show:

I am just barely maintaining my sanity. I have reflected on yesterday’s performance, such as it was, of the De Falla. It was a total out-of-body experience. I did not have any idea whatsoever of what I was doing until the second half of the piece. Luckily it finished well, so that likely erased the audience’s memory of what went before it. But I couldn’t tell you what happened in the beginning. I may as well have been playing on glass. It felt totally foreign and strange. I had to rely on my muscle memory to get me through the beginning. I missed notes here and there but did not lose my place, which is totally amazing, because I don’t know where I was or who was playing. I may as well have been sleepwalking.

Speaking of performance, of a sort… I finally figured out how to edit videos once I have uploaded them to my version of Lightroom, so below is a very short but concise and clean video of Tadziu, the Indigo Bunting, at the top of the post – singing.

Indigo Bunting singing (It is Tadziu)

The first photos I took were of American Robins. The middle photo below appears to be of a very young fledgling.

Then by the water, there were some chilly-looking Barn Swallows.

I also found a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows. One was sharing a fallen tree branch with an American Goldfinch.

It’s that time of year when some birds defy easy identification. It seems awfully early, but I believe the nearly unidentifiable bird below is a fledgling Indigo Bunting.

Merlin couldn’t identify it properly. It suggested it was a European Starling. I know better than that. In the last photo below, a female Indigo Bunting showed up beside it, so that’s how I determined it was likely a fledgling.

I spent some time watching a Green Heron hunt for food.

It couldn’t have been a great day for flycatchers but I saw two.

Eastern Phoebe

And this might have been the last Veery I saw.

Gray Catbirds were still out and about but lately they have gone into hiding.

House Wrens are abundant and very vocal.

Distantly viewed from the bridge, this was likely the last Northern Waterthrush I saw this spring.

It also may have been the last time I saw a male Orchard Oriole here. Even more frustrating was after I took these photos, he sat still for a while, but for the life of me I could not focus on him so all those photos were useless.

I did manage to capture a female Baltimore Oriole on the move.

That’s it for May 25. I will be back next with more recent photos before I go back in time again. I am looking forward to opening the windows tonight to cool off the house a bit. We are experiencing weather more common in desert locations. It’s hot and dry during the day, with no humidity to hold in the heat overnight. Our drought is now considered serious. But that’s a subject for another day.

Welcome to the Heron Club

Just when you think you know what to expect, everything changes, right? Expecting things to change doesn’t work in reverse, though. Don’t bother trying to figure out what I’m talking about if I’ve lost you already. It’s like trying to predict the weather, only worse. But nothing beats nice surprises.

June 10. According to my daily drivel, my knee was bothering me a lot that morning. I had planting to do, and it was getting hot. It was a Saturday, so I would have to clean the living room later. But I went for a very slow walk at the Chicago Portage anyway. Maybe the birds would make my knee pain less relevant. My walk began pleasantly enough at 8:07 AM. As on previous occasions, I suspect I see more when I am moving ever so slowly.

Cedar Waxwing
Common Grackle

A couple Northern Rough-winged Swallows were taking a break.

Always heard but not usually seen, I got lucky with a look at a Yellow Warbler.

And then I saw two herons fly over. It didn’t immediately register with me who they were.

I got a couple photos of one or the other as they approached the trees.

Then there was a doe.

And I noted the reappearance of Squirrel-tail Grass which I have never seen anywhere else.

It was a good morning for European Starlings to gather. And as they descended to forage in the dried-up duckweed (third photo below), the water looked like a scene I imagine one might find on Mars.

But as I walked on slowly, I noticed a new visitor to the Chicago Portage.

Black-crowned Night-heron

I have never seen a Black-crowned Night-heron here before. And as I slowly approached to get a better view, I realized there were two of them.

One heron watched while the other hunted and caught something.

Perhaps it was a frog or a toad. It looks a bit crustacean-like to me.

As many photos as I took, I restrained myself. The birds were completely aware of my presence but they didn’t seem to mind very much. They likely sensed I was no threat because of my knee.

When I left them to their hunt and resumed walking slowly, the starlings were now in another tree.

A Red-tailed Hawk appeared. The light was nice for photos, but after the herons … maybe only the starlings cared.

American Robins were everywhere, young, mature, everything in between and probably plenty more to come.

Indigo Buntings are also abundant and not shy about it.

Sometime after I left the herons, they took off in the direction of the Des Plaines River.

But later one was in a different spot, visible from the picnic tables someone has put down by the shore close to the inside trail.

I have not seen the pair again, but I have seen one Black-crowned Night-Heron here on a subsequent visit. My expectations are once more redefined. This location has also been quite popular lately with more than one Green Heron, a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. I will try to post more photos soon from the Heron Club.

The Grace of a Green Heron

I fully intended to get caught up with all the photographs from warbler migration, particularly in Riverside, but those posts will have to wait a day or two…

We had a warm front the past couple of days which seems to have ushered out the warblers, so I wasn’t expecting to see much yesterday morning when I got to the Chicago Portage. But then, I encountered a Green Heron, and we hung out for what must have been five minutes or longer. I have never experienced anything like this before, it was quite amazing.

I had started on the path that crosses the bridge near Harlem. I encountered an American Robin on the trail. Nothing unusual there.

There was a little bird off to the side that I realized later was a female Indigo Bunting.

Past the bridge, I began to encounter the sounds of the usual suspects – Red-winged Blackbirds, Warbling Vireos, Baltimore Orioles – but then suddenly I heard a loud “skeow” call and found a Green Heron had joined me to look over the water in the stream. It sat in a small tree perhaps no more than 100 feet away.

I raised the lens slowly and started taking photos. The heron was not perturbed by this. Indeed it sat very still. I did not want to flush it, so I stood quietly in its space.

I started taking photographs of other birds across the water. The heron remained.

Song Sparrows…

House Sparrow and Green Heron

A female Red-winged Blackbird was in the marshy grass.

Green Heron and female Red-winged Blackbird

Through it all, the Green Heron remained. This is only a sampling of the photographs I took. It was hard to choose.

The heron finally decided it needed to go somewhere else, so it turned and took off to my left and behind me. I did not attempt to capture it in flight. In retrospect, I wonder if it had been waiting all that time for me to take the first step.

That left me to find out what was going on with other birds.

A bedraggled, wet-looking Black-capped Chickadee

I spotted the first of several male Indigo Buntings.

Gray Catbirds were everywhere but this was the only one I caught sitting still for a second.

Only one first-year male Redstart appeared. It was singing loudly yet this was the best I could do to photograph it.

The view of the second bridge with the new growth

Indigo Buntings and American Robins will be here all summer. They will likely be less visible the hotter it gets.

Baltimore Orioles were everywhere, enjoying the sunshine.

I managed to barely capture a female Baltimore Oriole.

Down in the wooded “ravine” area off the high point in the trail, two Northern Flicker males were having a quiet face-off.

I noticed a perched Ruby-throated Hummingbird over the trail.

An American Robin scouring the duckweed for food

More Indigo Buntings…

I went down to sit on a fallen log on the other side of the water. A Song Sparrow was foraging in the grass.

And a female Red-winged Blackbird was gathering nesting material.

When I started walking again, I saw a Hobomok Skipper in the distance, a very tiny butterfly, and then later one a bit closer.

I was very pleased to see a male Orchard Oriole off the inside trail. I can only hope he is staying for the summer to raise a family.

Blue Jays rarely if ever tolerate my camera, so I had to take a picture of this one.

Deer are seen less frequently, or so it seems.

One more of the gracious Green Heron.

After two warm days we have cooled off again, but there is plenty of sunshine. We need some rain and there is none in the forecast. I was in Riverside this morning. The river is so low, I suspect one could walk across it.

Yesterday Linda Rios and I played “Orange Dawn” by Ian Clarke again for a little local private afternoon gathering. Tonight is the end-of-season choir party and talent show for which I am accompanying two singing selections and hope to play a little piece by Manuel de Falla. It occurred to me yesterday that I can thank the showy piano cadenza in “Orange Dawn” for all this attention. Whatever it is, I am looking forward to things calming down a bit so I can get caught up with this and more. If the days are still getting longer, it seems there should be more time for naps too but that doesn’t seem to happen.

I promise to get back to reading others’ blog posts too as soon as this whirlwind subsides.

The Birds Are Back: 2 – a Weekend Birding the Chicago Portage

Last Saturday morning, I led the first of two Unity Temple Auction bird walks at the Chicago Portage. After the group left, I stayed and found more birds with Bob Smith. I went back again the next day. Both days were cloudy and sometimes even a little drizzly, which did not make for great photographs, but I took too many photos anyway. Spring migration is finally rolling.

Before I go further, I just wanted to share the photograph below that reminds me of a wallpaper pattern. Birds have a natural artistic sense.

Baltimore Oriole Wallpaper

WARNING: This post has too many photographs. You may get dizzy. I certainly did trying to get them all in here. For the sake of expediency I am forsaking any attempt at order. Sort of.

American Redstarts are always a challenge, even in good light.

Below is a first-year male American Redstart.

And then a second year or older male…

There have been a lot of thrushes at the Portage. Below are Swainson’s Thrushes.

I have seen several Gray-cheeked Thrushes too. The unfortunate lack of light didn’t help with the images of the one below.

Northern Waterthrushes, several of which have been present lately, are a different type of New World Warbler. They’re not thrushes. I thought I heard somewhere that they now had their own classification, but they are still in the parulidae family.

Another Northern Waterthrush, down close to the water where they normally forage.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are still around.

Back to the Thrushes. Below are two individual Veerys seen on both days.