Raptor Review at the Chicago Portage

Back on August 23rd when I went to the Chicago Portage there wasn’t a lot happening on the ground. It was a warm, sunny day, but it was quiet. Two American Robins sat still on a log in the duckweed-covered water.

A Tawny Emperor Butterfly sat quietly on cement.

Even the American Goldfinches were quiet.

At one point I spotted an enterprising White-breasted Nuthatch.

A juvenile Baltimore Oriole spent a lot of time figuring out his feathers.

And a young-looking Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was thinking about migration. This could be the last time I saw this species.

First one, and then two, Wood Ducks appeared, quietly.

I had just about given up on my visit when I heard the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk. I looked up to the sky, but I didn’t see the Red-tailed Hawk. Instead I saw Turkey Vultures. They kept coming. I counted five of them, but was only able to barely capture two in one frame.

Then a Cooper’s Hawk flew over, soaring, giving me a lot of its flight in pictures.

And then the Red-tailed Hawk appeared. It also put on quite a performance.

Just when I thought I’d seen everything, an adult Osprey and an adult Bald Eagle were both in the same air space. The very last photograph all the way down at the bottom of the series below was the best I could get of the two of them in one shot.

Bald Eagle

It’s unusual enough to see any one of these birds, but all of them in succession on one clear day was quite a treat.


So you never know what you will find when it comes to birds. I am still in shock over the sight of five Turkey Vultures at once.

The last couple days have been quieter too, migration-wise, but I have had some nice encounters and I hope to be back sooner than later. We are getting a little rain for a change and a cold front has moved in, allowing me the luxury of keeping the windows open for the remainder of the Labor Day weekend. I am quite aware this is not perfect holiday weather for some people, but I am glad to get a break from the heat and humidity.

And just for the heck of it, here’s a Downy Woodpecker in my yard suggesting I fill one of the suet feeders. These photos are left over from a couple posts ago when I featured my Ruby-throated Hummingbird girls.

A Downy settled for peanuts later. I’m not sure if this is the same individual.

Fall migration marches on. It’s good to have the sense of something we can still count on.

Spring Bird Count

One thing I can always look forward to on a Spring Bird Count at McKee Marsh in DuPage County is seeing a lot of Tree Swallows, and if it’s as sunny as that Saturday, May 7, 2022 was, they are positively iridescent. I don’t look forward to getting up at 3:30 in the morning so I can leave almost an hour before we meet, but somehow I still managed to do it and this time I stayed for the entire day. We covered McKee Marsh and Blackwell Forest Preserve in DuPage County, and ponds in the vicinity of the airport, which was a new location for all of us.

There were a few Eastern Bluebirds claiming the bluebird boxes as well. It’s only fair.

You have to look closely to see several Eastern Kingbirds in the photo below.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were still around.

And Song Sparrows, of course…

Field Sparrows were abundant and singing.

The real treat for me was to see and hear several Henslow’s Sparrows.

A Great Egret or two around the airport ponds…

We didn’t have a lot of warblers but Pine Warblers were down on or near the ground as they had been elsewhere this chilly, late-start spring.

A nice male Rose-breasted Grosbeak would not turn around to show off his namesake field mark.

We had our share of hawks. Below is a Cooper’s Hawk.

And this bird turned out to be a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk in my photographs. The heavy barring on the breast was something I had never noticed before and that helped clinch the identification.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Then there was a Northern Harrier on the scene.

It was being harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds.

A few more harassment photos…

Look closely to find the distant Bobolink in the photo below.

The unexpected bird on the count was a juvenile Trumpeter Swan.

The count totaled 173 species for DuPage County. The next SBC will take place on May 6, 2023.

I’ll be back soon. Lots of photos still to immortalize and what better time than a couple days of instant summer when it will simply be too hot to stay outside very long.

Back to the Portage

But first, a Song Sparrow that somehow didn’t make it into the last post. I have heard Song Sparrows on occasion at the Portage but have not seen many this year.

This is my birthday weekend and if my memory serves me correctly, also the anniversary of this blog although I don’t remember how many years it has been and am too lazy to look it up. I did manage to visit the Portage on Saturday morning and will be back with that report later, but since I started this post two (?) weeks ago I feel obligated to finish it. I just checked. The photos below are from June 13. We were hot and dry. We have since had a lot of rain and flooding, but not quite enough to take us out of the “abnormally dry” category on the Illinois Drought Monitor.

Yellow Warblers nest here and were pretty elusive but I did finally manage to capture this one.

I am always intrigued by the sight of a Red-winged Blackbird chasing a Red-tailed Hawk…

Insects are sparse, which is not news, but makes the few individuals one sees that much more precious. I think I may have identified the two below. I haven’t had to resort to bug spray yet this year, although I do have a few bites I occasionally scratch to remind me it’s not over yet. The effect of insects being sparse, however, is bad news for the dragonflies and birds that eat them.

Hobomok Skipper
Likely a female Variable Dancer.

Cabbage White butterflies have been the most prevalent, and even they seem sparse. They are an introduced species.

For what it’s worth, the volunteers at the Portage have been busy reducing invasive plant species, and it is gratifying to see the natives return. Last time I saw them at work they were cutting away massive swaths of hemlock. Unfortunately it was in flower so it will likely return. But a lot of the burdock from years ago is gone. It’s a slow process.


More often heard than seen – a Blue Jay.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird below intrigued me by the light-colored throat feathers. It might just be a trick of the light.

Below is what I believe is a young Northern Flicker peering out of a nest hole.

The Indigo Buntings are still going strong with their songs and territories and it’s hard to resist them. I have to quit taking them for granted. They weren’t here in these numbers ten years ago.

The Baltimore Orioles have been harder to spot as they tend to their broods, but I got lucky and watched this one as he visited the nest.

Baltimore Oriole nest

So I hope to be back later today with a little yard report. If I could have one thing on my birthday (while it’s still quiet and getting too hot to be outside for very long), it would be to have time to write another blog post.

My best friend from junior high is in town from California for her mother’s 100th birthday and has chosen to stay with me and the birds. Luckily there is a relatively comfortable finished attic – I call it my people space. I bought a new room air conditioner which seems to be keeping it cool enough up there. So I am foregoing my traditional visit to Goose Lake Prairie this year. Maybe I can take off for that grassland later in the month. Today I will enjoy hanging out with my friend and trying to be lazy.

McGinnis Magic

There wasn’t an awful lot going on at McGinnis on my last visit, but the sight of two Sandhill Cranes foraging in the lawn right off the parking lot automatically made it a special day.

I guess McGinnis is always good for a Great Blue Heron or two. But I’m surprised I haven’t seen any Great Egrets lately.

It’s really dry..

Not a lot of swallows that day but I managed to capture this Tree Swallow.

Not sure I have seen these Irises here before. Nice.

This Song Sparrow was almost completely hidden. We compromised.

Common Grackles are here and there.

Perhaps the second nicest surprise was to see a first-year male Orchard Oriole right before I left.

The lack of light didn’t offer much contrast with these raptors flying overhead.

While I was kind of hoping to see a colt or two with the Sandhills, which I never have here, I did see two Canada Geese in the same spot as the Sandhills were earlier – and they were carefully watching one lone gosling.

Providing additional interest, a Red-Winged Blackbird trying to make sense of a piece of ice cream cone.

I am always impressed by a Robin taking a pose.

I haven’t been able to think about much besides work lately. That – and the burrowing rats in my yard. I just removed all the feeders except for the hummingbird and oriole feeders – for 10 days. The city has provided an exterminator to discourage the rats, and I can only hope for elimination as up until the pandemic, they were never around. But adding insult to injury is the drought. I take it personally, I don’t know why – but the thought of weather like Phoenix, Arizona has never been attractive to me. Nothing against anyone who loves hot, dry weather. It has its place. But not here.

Thanks for letting me rant. I do have more cheerful posts in store and what should be a fun event I will share with you in the next few weeks.