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.

Another Day in May

Here are photos from May 15 in Riverside. It was another beautiful for day for warblers, several thrushes and yes, Common Grackles. The Grackles remain for the summer. People kid me about the Grackles but I think they are beautiful birds in their iridescence. And I’m trying to stay on their good side so maybe they won’t rain acorns on me like they did last fall.

These photos are arranged pretty much in the order that I took them. So my first warbler was a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

It got a good if distant look at an Eastern Phoebe.

Below is a Swainson’s Thrush.

The Scarlet Tanagers were in town that week and I had to obey.

The photo below of a Palm Warbler intrigues me particularly because of the green catkins on the walnut tree.

And now for the star of the show that day. It’s always a joy to find a beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler in the spring.

I have seen more Gray-cheeked Thrushes this year than I have in a long time.

I encountered a singing White-crowned Sparrow. I was only able to capture a snippet of his song in the video below the photographs, but I love it, it always sounds a little jazzy to me with its syncopation.

Here’s another Palm Warbler.

I have heard about the snakes that like to warm up in the sunshine on the riverbank, but I had never seen or been able to capture them with a quick photo until that day. I believe they were Common Watersnakes.

I had a few brief looks at a female American Redstart.

I was particularly happy to see and hear a Canada Warbler.

This Swainson’s Thrush picked a lovely fallen log close to the river’s edge.

I never ignore Magnolia Warblers

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the view below before.

Chipmunks are back in full force.

A nice-looking Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler showed up to remind me that Magnolias are not the only black-white-and-yellow option

I found a fairly friendly White-throated Sparrow.

I think I have seen more Veerys this year too.

House Wrens are Everywhere. Rarely so easy to see as this one, but they sing almost constantly to let you know they’re there. This one wasn’t singing, however!

Gray Catbirds can be a reclusive bunch too.

Yes, another Gray-cheeked Thrush.

I try not to take our year-round red birds for granted…

Northern Cardinal

I was very pleased to find a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

The second male Magnolia Warbler that posed was also singing. I barely managed a snippet of his song in the video below. By the way, I’m doing the videos almost more for the sound recording which is much clearer than what I get with my phone’s voice recorder.

Lastly, I was very happy to find a somewhat reclusive Wood Thrush.

Here’s another shot of the Common Grackle at the beginning of the post, showing off a variety of colors.

Oh there is so much more to report. I will return with something a little more current before I wade through any more photos from the peak of migration.

We have cooled off a little bit, but it’s still too dry. The next promise of precipitation is Sunday morning. I may have to go to church. A song we sang during the pandemic, written by Jan Garrett and JD Martin, “I Dreamed of Rain”, has come back to haunt me.

One Day in May

I thought I would be combining photos from a couple days in Riverside, but I took more than enough on May 17. It was perhaps my best spring migration day from the standpoint of seeing some birds I had not seen yet this spring and receiving great cooperation from them. My list totaled 52 species that day, and I spent a little over three hours to see them. Two days earlier on the 15th, I had 57 species – we will have to get caught up with those birds later.

When I crossed the Joliet Avenue bridge, I saw the Mallard hen below with her four ducklings. Later I saw them swimming across the river.

As I started to walk the paved path that runs along the Des Plaines River, I found birds here and there tucked into the trees.

Least Flycatcher
Believe it or not – a Yellow-rumped Warbler
A more recognizable Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Robin

I took the photo of the fisherman below to show how low the river was. Unfortunately, nearly 2 weeks later, it is even lower now. We are experiencing “moderate drought” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

I could not resist photographing these Tree Swallows taking a break. I shot the two twice to focus on one and then the other.

I crossed the footbridge and walked into Riverside Lawn. There I encountered an American Redstart singing enthusiastically. The video clip below has a small portion of his song.

For a Redstart, he was relatively easy to capture.

It’s annoying to try and figure out flycatchers that don’t vocalize, but for some reason I decided this one was an Alder Flycatcher.

I never tire of Magnolia Warblers.

This was the first time I saw Cedar Waxwings this spring.

Palm Warblers were everywhere for weeks. Now they are being seen here and there but the sightings are rare. This one didn’t want to be seen at all.

I don’t always find an Indigo Bunting here, so this was a nice encounter.

Gray Catbirds are everywhere.

Scarlet Tanagers were around for maybe a couple weeks. The yellow on the one below is interesting.

Sooner or later a female Red-winged Blackbird strikes an interesting pose.

Common Yellowthroats are frequently heard but rarely seen in areas with more trees, so I was very happy to get a chance to photograph this one.

Another warbler that’s not always easy to see, in part because it tends to stay close to the ground, is the Ovenbird.

Yet another Scarlet Tanager…

And another male American Redstart…

No matter how long I photographed the flycatcher below, it would not turn sideways so I could see its wing bars. I think it’s an Alder Flycatcher.

The thrushes were abundant and lovely to see this spring.


Then I got lucky enough to see a less-often-seen warbler. This is a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. If I had gotten no other photograph but the first one below, I would still be able to tell what it was from the distinguishing white check mark on the wing. That identifier helps a lot when seeing the female of this species.

It’s easy to take Yellow-rumped Warblers for granted, but I thought this one took an interesting pose.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Nashville Warblers made themselves available only in part all season.

I caught up with the Ovenbird again later and it posed for me.

More Magnolia Warblers…

Female Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful too. The light on the bird in the first photograph makes it look almost like another species.

The guys are just fabulous. One of those days in Riverside I saw a male Scarlet Tanager appear in a tree right above a couple walking toward me with their dog and I pointed to the tanager. They looked up and saw it. I got a thumbs-up.

Let’s not forget about Mourning Doves. It was a Mourning Dove’s song that got me started with the whole birds-sing-in-key-with-music stuff.

Here’s one more of the Magnolia Warbler that’s at the top of the post.

This appears to be a lovely female Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

And in better light, it was easier to see this Palm Warbler.

The Ring-billed Gull below was putting on a little show on the wall by the Hofmann Dam.

And now for a little vireo review. Red-eyed Vireos are heard more often than seen, with their distinctive question-sounding song. But every once in a while I get to photograph an individual.

And then on occasion I get to see a Warbling Vireo well.

It has taken me days to get through this. I hope it won’t take you that long!

I have been out every day finding more birds, which would be enough to keep me occupied. But now we suddenly have summer weather – the heat of it, anyway – with no rain, and I have new plants in the ground and more coming shortly, so I have added watering the garden in the evening to the daily routine. I bought a new hose that just makes it either to the back or the front of my lot. Even though we had a drought last summer, it was generally cooler, and I managed to get by without watering at all, but that was because of all the established native plants. I am planting new things while preparing for a native garden walk the third week of July.

June will be “Bustin’ Out All Over.”

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: I

I have been out every morning, even a few times in the rain, anticipating arrivals. Nearly every day has produced another species. And with warmer weather the last few days, I have seen 40+ species in either of my most-frequented locations.

These photos are from May 4th at the Portage, with the exception of the Baltimore Oriole at the top of the post who perched right in front of me yesterday and insisted on having his picture taken. A lot has transpired since May 4 but I figure I have to start somewhere.

Yellow Warblers have been abundant lately.

Warbling Vireos are recognized more often by their song. They’re not always easy to see. So I was particularly happy to capture this one somewhat.

Even before the Baltimore Orioles began arriving, I saw this male Orchard Oriole. I saw one again yesterday and now I’m wondering if perhaps there will be a breeding pair.

It was a little tricky following the Nashville Warbler below.

At some point I will devote more space to some better Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet photos, but these were just in the sampling for this day.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

It wasn’t until I got home and took my pictures off the camera that I realized there was a Green Heron sitting to the right of the Great Egret.

Turtles are back, enjoying the sunshine.

Perhaps one could imagine a conversation between the Great Egret and the turtles.

I’m always happy to see a White-throated Sparrow. It’s been even better to hear them sing lately.

Chipmunks are sometimes curious enough to sit still.

I don’t try to get photos of Red-winged Blackbirds too often now that they are everywhere but I happened to capture this one in flight.

Below is a Song Sparrow in a quieter moment.

The Portage is very green now, over the burn.

It’s wonderful to see swallows again. Tree Swallows are everywhere.

Somehow I captured this Northern Rough-winged Swallow. I like the reflections in the water.

Barn Swallows were swooping low over the water too.

It took the Palm Warblers just a little while to get here but they are quite comfortable showing up everywhere and taking their time about it, which the photographer greatly appreciates.

European Starlings do well at the Portage. Some are nesting in the mouth of the statue.

A Brown-headed Cowbird atop the statue

Meanwhile back at the bungalow, the indoor crowd is cheering me on. After the Spring Music Festival, suddenly I have several non-paying gigs, so to speak, for which I have begun to learn a lot of new music. I am accompanying a soprano for the choir talent show. Linda the flutist and I are playing for the first Sunday service in July and I am also playing for the second service. I blame it all on the birds. Now that they expect me to play piano every single day, they have convinced me I can play everything.

I am trying to look at this philosophically. If I started playing piano at 2, it’s only fitting I go out the same way I came in.

I will be back with Lots More Spring Migration Photos: I hope sooner than later.

Briefly at the Chicago Portage

Getting up early Sunday morning, after Saturday night’s successful Spring Music Festival, was not so easy, but contrary to the gloomy forecast there was a little sunshine and I decided to take a brief, brisk walk around the Chicago Portage before taking off to go back to Unity Temple for the service and a meeting of the congregation.

My intent was to do this quickly and be back later with a lot more from other recent visits. Unfortunately it has taken me all week to just say hello. This week is turning out to be a very busy chapter. So here we go with Sunday morning’s quick start.

A distant Hermit Thrush was for once living up to its name. This individual did not run toward me as if to answer a question.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets are still here and there.

An Osprey appeared, and then had fun flying for the camera.

This is the second time I have seen an Osprey at the Portage in the last week or two.

This White-throated Sparrow didn’t mind having its picture taken as long as there was some vegetation to hide behind.

I caught a Song Sparrow in a quiet moment…

Sometimes Mourning Doves behave like they cannot be seen. This one was trying to blend in with the gravel path.

I heard the fabulous song of a Brown Thrasher and then managed to find the bird perched high up in a tree. This is the first Brown Thrasher I have had this spring.

I found a busy Red-bellied Woodpecker in the spring sunshine.

A slightly windblown American Robin caught my eye.

It was a short but pleasant walk, making it much easier to spend the rest of the day inside and out of the deteriorating weather which became rainy and colder.

Temperatures have since warmed and more birds are showing up. This morning I added four species to my FOY list. I look forward to Riverside tomorrow morning.

Suffice it to say that I am a bit verklempt – I have been working in the yard all week trying to plant some new perennials while removing invasive species. And now that overnight low temperatures are no longer, I have a mountain of cleanup work to do. It is wonderful to be outside in the garden, but it’s also exhausting. Spring at last.

Spring Starts at the Slough

I have been to McGinnis Slough twice this month – on April 8 and this past Sunday, the 23rd. It’s been such an on-again, off-again spring, it’s really hard to imagine, let alone anticipate, what to expect. But I always find a visit to this site full of potential surprises.

It was warm and sunny on April 8, and there were even some dragonflies I could not capture with the camera, but it certainly seemed like spring was imminent. The dominant species in the water – Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots – were still present two weeks later, with a few additions. But the visit on the 23rd was cold and cloudy, which presented some extra challenges.

There are a lot of Northern Shovelers. Their numbers are exceeded perhaps only by the American Coots. But it has been hard to get a close view of them. They were a bit closer on the 23rd, when the light was less forgiving.

But I did manage to capture them in flight on the earlier visit.

I often inadvertently flush the Coots out of the marshy areas as I walk by, but for whatever reason I was able to capture a few of them somewhat closer than usual.

Blue-winged Teal have been everywhere this spring.

I managed to get quite close to a pair of teal nestled by the back end of a Canada Goose. You can’t see the birds very well, but I found the exposure of the preening male’s feathers fascinating.

Two more Blue-winged Teal photos.

I adore Pied-billed Grebes. They always look like they’re smiling, if rather sardonically. I was very close to a couple of them on the earlier visit.

The slough has greened up considerably in the last two weeks.

I managed to grab a few photos of a small group of Bufflehead on the last visit.

Also last Sunday, one Great Blue Heron testing the chilly water.