Summer Slowdown at the Portage

I went rather late to the Portage yesterday morning. I chalked it up to being tired after swimming late Friday night and not happy getting up in the dark. I have been to the Portage a few more times that I haven’t written about yet, but I didn’t take too many pictures yesterday so this is about the size of a blog post I can handle at the moment.

Sometime this past week, after picking up my new prescription glasses, it occurred to me that the viewfinder on my camera might be dirty. I have had a snap-on cover over the LCD display since 2013, and I don’t think I ever removed it to clean it! There was dust and dirt and who knows what else, and while it doesn’t exactly cover the viewfinder, it snaps onto it to align with the LCD display. So after ordering another cover in case I messed up trying to remove and clean, I cleaned the cover, the LCD display and the viewfinder, replaced the cover and solved the main reason why I haven’t been able to focus the camera. One of those “Duh, is it plugged in?” moments…

There weren’t many birds to see yesterday, and for the most part those that I did see were very far away. But now that I am able to focus…sometimes it’s easier to see them with the camera than my binoculars. Two distant male American Goldfinches below…

There were several male Baltimore Orioles about but they didn’t sit still for long.

I was surprised to find what looks like a juvenile Blue Grosbeak in my photographs. I was listening to chip notes that sounded very metallic like a cardinal’s but wasn’t exactly sure who I was following with my lens in the photos below, due to the backlighting making it difficult to see. Blue Grosbeaks are not common at the Portage.

Just when I was about to give up on Robins, I did find the flock as I was heading out of the woods. I caught this one on its way to join a few others in the bare tree branches below. And way in the upper left is an Eastern Kingbird which otherwise would never have made it to the list. So it pays sometimes to take pictures of distant backlit birds.

Pretty well-disguised, I had to look at this photograph more than a few times before I could find the bird in it, which appears to be a young Gray Catbird. I heard several along the trail, but did not see the ones I heard.

My best close encounter was this juvenile male House Finch.

I have been looking for these Damselflies on the back trail that leads out to the train tracks and runs parallel to the river. This one was nice enough to stop and pose for me.

Blue Dancer Damselfly

More pollinators…

This young-looking House Wren was quite far away…

Even farther away was a flock of birds that, until I could blow them up on my laptop later, I couldn’t identify. They turned out to be Cedar Waxwings.

My favorite shelf fungus…

I have become more interested in the plant life that seems to be forever changing at the Portage as more and more invasive species are removed. Having said that, there’s still a potpourri of natives and non-natives. The distant fruits on the left appear to be Pokeweed. The pink flowers in the upper righthand corner are persicaria longiseta which I have been pulling out of my yard for years, as it is non-native (it seems to have a million common names, among them, Oriental Lady’s Thumb). The white flowers are White Snakeroot which I have also been pulling out of my yard before they ever got to bloom. It’s native but weedy.

We’re in a moderate drought again, with periodic promises of rain that so far have not amounted to much.

The Des Plaines is low again.

One more photo of the Silver Spotted Skipper which, in this cropping, at least, makes me appreciate Giant Ragweed a bit more.

Silver Spotted Skipper

I have seven more days of work. It seems hard to believe.

I didn’t go out this morning because I wanted to be home for the “live” videotaped broadcast of Unity Temple’s last virtual service. My friend Linda Rios and I contributed with our musical offering recorded about a month ago, after several false starts and some procrastination. We played Schubert’s Sonatine in D Major for the Prelude and two other shorter pieces: Hommage a J.S. Bach by Hans Andre-Stamm for the anthem and Wait There by Yiruma for the postlude. We will be going back to live services which to be streamed online, but without the congregation as originally planned. The choir also had its first rehearsal outdoors in another church’s garden, complete with chairs set up, a keyboard for the accompanist, new music to learn and a cicada chorus which never stopped singing. We are going to continue to rehearse in this format until we run out of daylight, I guess. See what happens…

I know I am always making promises but I will be back with more from previous Portage visits – before fall migration clamors for my remaining disk space.

After the Rain – Part 2

In celebration of my announced retirement to the firm yesterday – my last day at work is scheduled to be August 31st – I am publishing Part 2 tonight.

The last time I saw my friendly Indigo Bunting whose territory was around what I like to call the second bridge, he was claiming the sign as his territory as well, singing “And this is My Sign.” He then hopped over to the end of the bridge and started singing “And this is My Bridge” but when I raised the camera to capture him there, he took off.

More water, but the stream is almost all overgrown.

When I was walking around the back trail by the MWRD property, I encountered a couple juvenile Yellow Warblers, which could explain why I haven’t heard or seen any singing males lately.

There aren’t a lot of dragonflies either.

A bedraggled-looking Common Whitetail female.

I did catch a glimpse of a female Baltimore Oriole.

I started taking pictures of this swallow from a great distance by the parking lot when I first got out of the car – and upon blowing them up later found it flying upside down.

Robins are ubiquitous now and their numbers have increased, thanks to a successful breeding season. Worms are plentiful now with the rain.

Another Indigo Bunting…or two. They’re not singing constantly anymore.

Turkey Vulture

A few more scenes from the Portage…

The second bridge spans over very little water.

The bottomlands by the Des Plaines River were flooded, affording a Wood Duck hen a place to shelter her babies. I saw them but it was impossible to capture them in the dark shadows as their mom moved them quickly away.

This looks like a Common Grackle
One more song…

I went back this past Saturday when it started out quite cloudy and cool. Fewer birds posed but I had some interesting observations. I’ll try to round them up before the weekend. Midsummer is quiet in its abundance.

Summer at the Portage

A couple lazy uneventful Saturdays at the Portage the first two weekends yielded a few photographs and a little singing to go along with it.

Below is the last time I saw an Eastern Bluebird. I barely saw it – it was in the darkness of the trees as I first walked in and I had no idea what it was until I adjusted the exposure and cropped the photograph. I will likely never know if the two bluebirds stayed and raised a family. But it was still nice to realize maybe they were still around two weeks ago.

Then I got lucky and saw a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, just like the one that visits my feeders.

This was the last hurrah for Indigo Buntings too. They are still present but not as visible. This one had a distinctive song.

Here’s a little recording of this Indigo Bunting’s song

Below is a female Indigo Bunting with an insect prize.

Two photographer acquaintances I run into frequently, Steve and Mike, were taking photographs of the juvenile Wood Duck below. Another mystery. I had seen a couple Wood Ducks early in the season but I have no idea whether they nested. I can’t imagine with the water levels so low what they would have done with their ducklings once they fledged (if you can call falling out of a tree nest onto the ground fledging).

There are still Robins around although not so many. Most I am seeing are juveniles like the ones below.

Goldfinches are abundant now. They never really disappeared but because their breeding season starts later, they tend to re-emerge later.

A few miscellaneous photos from the summertime abundance. Blue Vervain and Common Chicory are the flowers.I cannot resist photographing the shelf fungus. The dragonfly is a female Common Whitetail, there’s a Paper Wasp, and the butterflies are Painted Lady and Delaware Skipper all the way down at the bottom of this group. The Skipper is a tiny butterfly.

I took note of this House Sparrow because I rarely see them here.
A reminder that August is spider web time.

The management of the water levels at this place continues to frustrate me. I suspect it has more to do with the fact that it is a low-lying area close to the Des Plaines River, and all this has less to do with beavers than predictions of future flooding due to climate change. It’s hard not to feel as if the wild places, such as they are, that we have left will soon be managed out of existence. But I will continue to visit and try to look for silver linings to these clouds.

A desolate-looking segment on a hot, dry day.

A few birds in flight, above – a Robin at the top and a Red-Winged Blackbird at the bottom right.

I was surprised to see this Eastern Kingbird with its insect prey, as I have only seen a pair of Kingbirds once or twice all season. This seems to indicate they stayed.
A singular Cedar Waxwing
This is how the statue appeared on the 8th of August. I have not heard of any plans to remove it, as seems to be prevalent in the current environment. So much about the place has changed already, though, nothing would surprise me.

A few more photos from those two Saturdays, the 1st and the 8th. The birds were busy but not so visible.

It’s hard to believe that we are now looking toward the end of August and fall migration has already begun for some species. Sometimes this year seems interminably long, but the weeks are catching up with me. I will try to be back soon with more summer observations before the next phase.

Double-dipping Goose Lake Natural Area

After groveling about making the long drive all the way up to McHenry County around Memorial Day, I went back on July 5th to celebrate my birthday and then again on July 25th. Needless to say now I’m getting used to the drive and the trail and I may have a hard time staying away before October which is when I plan to go back for Sandhill Cranes that purportedly congregate in the fallow farm fields.

I feel like I could start giving some of the individual birds names, like the Willow Flycatcher at the top of the post. I even heard a confirming “fitz-bew” on the last Saturday.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (male)

I expected to see more Yellow-headed Blackbirds. On the fifth, the males were really too far away for decent photographs, but I did get to see a female close to the observation deck. I went back on the 25th because I wanted to see many juveniles like I did years ago, but I couldn’t find one Yellow-headed Blackbird anywhere. I must have just missed them. But that’s okay, because I saw some other interesting birds, and it’s just so peaceful to be there. In fact on the second visit when I got there, I had the whole place to myself. I didn’t stay long though because it was very hot.

I found the Gallinule below in my photographs from both visits. This is a great place to go if you carry a spotting scope. But I don’t have the energy to carry a scope and a telephoto lens. Perhaps I should rethink my philosophy of cutting corners. For instance, the combination of two visits in this blog post – it’s becoming evident as I write it that it’s entirely too long.

I did see a pair of Sandhill Cranes on each visit. I have not seen any with offspring, which is a bit disappointing.

Another “only in my photos” discovery – a last Black Tern seen on the 5th. Well, my camera saw it.

Here’s the turtle covered with duck weed that appeared in the background of one of the Yellow-headed Blackbird photos above. If you click on the pictures you can see how the duck weed makes it look like something from another planet.

There are still a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds here and everywhere. They are in no hurry to leave, I suppose, because they won’t have so far to go in the fall.

Not a Red-winged Blackbird but a juvenile Cedar Waxwing

I was hoping I would find a Yellow-headed Blackbird when I blew this up but it turned out to be a Red-winged Blackbird. That’s okay, it’s kind of nice to see the feather pattern, albeit faded. Below the photo, two different Red-winged calls I heard on these visits.

A Killdeer in flight…

The “other” blackbird – Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Dragonflies like this place.

On both occasions there were swallows, but in particular on the 25th there seemed to be a lot of them. It was nice to see the Bank Swallows – I don’t see them very often.

The Song Sparrow below was on the 5th. There are two more individuals further down the post whose songs I recorded and put underneath their photographs.

This Yellow Warbler was the last one I saw, on the 5th.

I am quite sure this is probably the same Great Blue Heron, although the photos are from both occasions.

I always seem to startle this Great Egret, which must have been right by the viewing platform as I approached.

A Green Heron flew by twice on the 25th.

Here’s Song Sparrow No. 1 and Song Sparrow No. 2. Song Sparrows reportedly have thousands of songs so it’s not unusual that they were singing different tunes…

And another singer I was happy to record – and manage to photograph, as they are often elusive in the marsh – a Marsh Wren.

My most cooperative subject at this location has been a Willow Flycatcher.

There were a couple distant Wild Turkeys hanging out not far from the Sandhills on the 25th.

<