More Summer Portage Passages

We have threats of thunderstorms this morning and perhaps later in the afternoon, but like yesterday so far it seems to be a waiting game with periods of drizzle.

The last time I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher at the Chicago Portage was on July 22nd. I imagine they’re still around but I am not sure I have heard them lately either. This one was just close enough to capture with the 400mm lens.

I managed to focus for a while on a disheveled-looking Northern Flicker. I waited and waited for him to take off, hoping to capture him in flight, but he beat me to it.

A Spicebush Swallowtail was present both days.

You might expect the beetle below to be named after its vibrant color but instead it’s named after six tiny little white spots which might be more visible in the second photograph.

Whatever the attraction is to the dirt path, this female Powdered Dancer damselfly stayed there long enough.

Tadziu the Indigo Bunting is just as fond of his sunshine perch as he is of the other one across the bridge in the shade.

When there isn’t a lot going on to distract me, I tend to focus on whatever activity exists. Starved for action, I could not resist taking pictures of two young-looking Warbling Vireos who were busy in the mulberries. Berries require less work for them than bugs, I imagine. And as for me, it’s only a matter of time before I get to apply these skills to fall warblers.

The contrast between July 22 and July 25 before and after some rain is evident in the photos below of the bottomlands by the Des Plaines River.

It’s usually easier to get a decent photograph of a female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer.

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

This is pretty much how the water looks at the Portage these days. A sea of green.

I have some photos from two more visits at the very end of July, and then it’s looking for signs of more activity in August as fledglings turn into juveniles and thoughts of fall migration start to emerge.

In the meantime, sitting on my front porch yesterday afternoon, I had a brief visit from a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird sitting in the apple tree. I hope to eventually get a few photos of her in action at the flowers or the feeders.

A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie

On July 9, I went to Goose Lake Prairie for my annual summertime visit. There were not a lot of birds available for viewing, but enough of the usual suspects were present for the most part and I had a good time observing a few individuals.

Song Sparrow

It was hard to find a Dickcissel close enough to the trail until I had walked quite a ways and meandered farther. The bird in the middle photograph below is a female.

The wind sweeping over the prairie made it difficult to get clean recordings, but below is a sample of a Dickcissel song.


I was stumped by this Meadowlark – and wondered if perhaps it was a Western instead of a more likely Eastern – but I remain stumped and have decided whatever it is, it is a juvenile. I took way too many photographs of it but none have clarified the identification.

I am always happy to see – and hear – Field Sparrows. Unfortunately the only recording I got was very faint and far away.

Field Sparrow

There were plenty of Song Sparrows…but I did not attempt to record any. There was always one singing somewhere.

I was a bit disappointed that the parking lot Killdeer refused to turn around.

This bedraggled looking bird must be a young Indigo Bunting.

Here are some more poses from the Indigo Bunting at the top of the post.

It was a bright, sunny, cloudless day.

There were turtles on the rock in the water by the Cragg Cabin.

A male Northern Cardinal stood out against this background.

There were a lot of Common Yellowthroats but they were quite far away when visible at all.

Common Yellowthroat

Red-winged Blackbirds were predictably present.

Somehow I got lucky with this Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

I would have liked to have at least heard a Sedge Wren, but instead there seemed to be plenty of House Wrens.

The Purple Loosestrife below stood out. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of it but still it’s considered invasive.

There was one Great Egret at the water by Cragg Cabin, but it took flight when I tried to walk by quietly.

I like the colors of this rather distant Cedar Waxwing.

I made it all the way back to the lake, as it were, but the vegetation made it impossible to see the water and when I entered the blind and looked through the dirty cloudy windows, I didn’t see anything in the water.

I will have to try visiting this place a bit more often than once a year. Tomorrow I am getting up very early to go all the way up to the other Goose Lake in McHenry County, where I think they have had more rain and it is a few degrees cooler. I hope to get a better look at the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, but whatever I see, it should be a beautiful morning. The abundance of summer continues.

Home in the Yard

This is a brief post from my garden, such as it is an overgrown jungle I vowed to control more efficiently after last year’s garden walk, yet continues to get the better of me and now I find myself attempting small interventions at best. It was hot and dry and not conducive to a lot of yard work at the beginning of this month. But the recent weather is rejuvenating. It rained quietly and steadily on Friday, and remained delightfully cool around 70 degrees Fahrenheit all day and into the night. It is still cool. We had rain again last night. Such a blessing. The windows are open.

I stepped outside the front door Friday morning with the phone in hand to quickly take a picture of the raindrops on the Purple Coneflowers and a somewhat distant shot of what is Prairie Blazingstar which I replanted last fall. I am thrilled to see anything standing up to the Common Milkweed and (Whatever) Goldenrod which I have been trying to control to almost no avail. And now that I have seen a few Monarch Butterflies in the front yard I am loathe to remove any more milkweed.

Below are a couple phone views of the front yard.

It’s even crazier in the back. It’s not possible to get a picture of the entire backyard because of all the trees crowding it so I only take photos of what’s in bloom at the moment.

Sunflowers are coming up here and there from fallen birdseed. I don’t mind a few since, when the seeds ripen in the center, the American Goldfinches will be devouring them before the seed casings form.

Below is a new plant for me – Wide-leafed Aster – which came in a gift pack of native plants as a goodbye gift from the firm when I retired. They’re pretty and earlier than all my other asters.

I am happy to see the Culver’s Root again. It lives directly behind the house.

Wild Senna, below, is something that has been battling it out with Tall Ironweed. I experimented on a couple plants and now know that I can cut the Tall Ironweed down before it starts to form flowers and it will still flower but not grow quite so tall. I don’t mind tall, but the Ironweed really tends to flop over even if I stake it so trimming beforehand will be on the agenda next year.

Below is a view last year of the backyard in August – the purple of the Tall Ironweed and the Goldenrod are not yet in bloom, but they will be, and the Big Bluestem is standing tall. I love this color combination which I had nothing to do with other than letting the plants spread themselves over here into what used to be a largely dysfunctional vegetable patch. I think they took advantage of the fact that my Staghorn Sumac was dead and therefore no longer shading the space. It’s a view I have from my kitchen window and I intend to keep it, if I can somehow prevent it from overtaking everything.

One towering species I don’t plan to try to dwarf is the Cupplant which is growing near my ancient Redbud. The tree is having some problems, which I’m certain or related to climate change and not the Cupplant, but I don’t mind this sturdy-stalked tall flower doing its thing.

I planted some Red Milkweed on my side of the neighbor’s fence and there is so much going on over there that needs to be taken care of next spring, I am glad it’s still around.

Pink and Purple Coneflowers are in the front yard, where the bees and butterflies have been enjoying them. But just yesterday on the radio I heard about a scientific study that concludes bees are more likely to catch a gut parasite from Purple Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans and other short, wide flowers, the idea being that bees might ingest more recently left bee feces on these flowers. This is not a main cause of bee decline but it certainly is disturbing to think about. However if bees have a variety of flowers to feed on it’s not so bad, or so they say. There are many other flowers in bloom and yet to come, for them to feed on. I will try hard to not be overbearing and lecture the bees on proper hygiene when I see them.

In the backyard, I have a lot of Big Bluestem. It’s hard to get a decent picture of the grass itself but the seed heads are attractive. And I have my first organic Serrano Chile from a plant I purchased in last month that had a flower already on it. Serranop Chiles are a staple in my cooking. The other chile plants including this one are starting to flower. I expect a bumper crop this year and I am thrilled because I discovered last year that I can freeze the chiles whole and they are nearly as good as fresh, certainly better than anything I can buy at the grocery store all winter long. I also have a couple Jalapeno Chile plants.

Below is a little flowering plant that one of the gardeners on this year’s garden walk gave to me. I put it by the side of the house where other petunias, like the one at the top of this post, have found a home since I removed all the hostas last year. I left the sedum that was there and planted Prairie Smoke and Rattlesnake Master in the fall, but neither species is ready to bloom yet. The Prairie Smoke looks like it will make it but only one Rattlesnake Master seems to have survived the winter. However native plants can be sneaky so I haven’t totally given up hope yet.

Back to the front yard where the Shrubby St. John’s Wort is in bloom and attracting the bees.

Also in both yards are Common Milkweed plants that attract Milkweed Beetles.

I don’t know who this Beetle is or what plant it’s on but I caught it with my cell phone.

Last year when my garden was featured on the garden walk, when someone asked me the name of this sedge I hadn’t yet figured it out as I was furiously trying to label everything else. It is Gray’s Sedge – and I will never forget it.

Some pollinators in the Pink and Purple Coneflowers.

Three things in bloom now in the front yard: Prairie Cinquefoil, Wild Petunia, Starry Campion.

The Joe Pye Weed is now in bloom and will be a magnet for everything.

Prairie Coreopsis

I keep trying to identify this grass that has somewhat taken over the front yard. This milkweed beetle found it useful to hang onto. I removed some of it last year but it came back with a vengeance. Of course.

Rudbeckia Speciosa

I await more blossoms and may write another yard post eventually. As I finish writing this, the prospect of more rain hangs in the air. We have been in various stages of drought off and on the last few years and the upheaval has wreaked havoc on some of my trees, but right now the rain gives me hope that we will withstand the pressures of the coming days which promise to be hot and dry. So far, a summer of intense contrasts. Returning to bird walks…

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…