Surprises at the Chicago Portage

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Sora behind duckweed-covered Mallards

Last Sunday I got up early enough to pick up Susan at 7:15 and get to the Chicago Portage, only to find the cable barring entry to the parking lot was still strewn across the entrance. I locked the car and we walked around the parking lot area for about 10 minutes before the designated person showed up. It was well past sunrise, which is when the preserves are supposed to be open… But it was still early enough to see a Sora Rail across the duckweed not long after we started down the trail.

I have never seen a Sora at the Portage. Rails are hard enough to see just about anywhere. The usual scenario is that I might hear their beautiful song and take for granted I will never find them. This one was silent, but virtually out in the open. Susan looked across the water with her binoculars and said, “Is that a Sora?” and then I spent the next several minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.

The other surprise Sunday was a Marsh Wren, also a first for me, for the Portage. But though we saw it well for a half second, it was not interested in seeing us again so I got no photographs.

I do have one more surprise, though, from the previous weekend. I saw a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker, another species I have never seen at the Portage and only infrequently anywhere, and I managed to get the pictures below. I can’t help but wonder if the change in habitat, the opening up, so to speak, of more marshy areas, will attract this species more often.

Birds became visible from their foraging behavior. The tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet below was interested in something contained in the bark of a tree down the trail from us.

I caught the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet below in a more contemplative phase.

Not to be outdone by other species adopting its favorite foraging spots, here is one of two Brown Creepers we saw.

BRCR10-8-2017-9579Closer to the end of our walk the intense sunlight started playing tricks with color and it wasn’t until I got home and processed the next few photos that I realized what we had.

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White-Throated Sparrow

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below looked so blue in the light, I didn’t recognize it while taking the pictures.

The Black-Capped Chickadee below would not show its face but I was intrigued by its foraging calisthenics anyway.

And we managed to find one more Magnolia Warbler to add to the list.

Downy Woodpeckers are common all year round at the Portage but not always available for picture-taking. But this one was so busy with whatever it was working on, she put on a little show.

When we checked the Des Plaines River, the Belted Kingfisher was still hanging out.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were the most numerous species on our visit, but it was still tempting to take the pictures below. At least you can see the yellow rump…

Shadowy images of a White-Breasted Nuthatch on the left and a Cedar Waxwing on the right. We didn’t have a huge flock of waxwings but there will still a dozen or so.

We saw some other thrushes but this was the only one I managed to capture. I have never seen more than one Gray-Cheeked Thrush at a time which makes me think maybe they tend to be solitary.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Others have been to the Portage since our visit and a couple rarities, at least for the time of year, have been reported. I want to go back soon but this weekend is already booked with people activities, unless the forecast for rain and thunderstorms changes Saturday morning.

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Post in search of a title

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A last Monarch…

As I sat here last night trying to make sense of this random conglomeration of images before I went to bed, I wondered if we would indeed finally get some rain. It seems even our impending drought cannot ignore the possible impact of Nate, the current tropical storm. We have had some constant drizzly rain and it looks like we should eventually get some cloudbursts. But appearances on the radar can be deceiving. I will keep my hopes up.CEWA Portage 09-09-17-8040RWBL Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8112Continuing with last month’s visits to nearby Cook County Forest Preserves, young birds like the Cedar Waxwing and Red-Winged Blackbird above were getting ready to leave. It’s become evident to me over the past few years that European Starlings like the one below are not necessarily winter residents either. But the young Mourning Dove blending in with the dead stump below the it will likely stay.EUST Portage 09-09-17-7747MODO Portage 09-09-17-7734Hidden in the leaves about waist-length from the ground at Ottawa Trail was the Ovenbird below.OVEN Ottawa Trail 09-09-17-8061And there just seemed to be too many ways to capture Northern Flickers. They have likely pretty much disappeared by now too. For a last look you can click on the pictures below for larger images.

 

American Robins don’t disappear completely in the winter but they will be traveling in flocks soon searching for any fruit left on trees.

Another hardy winter resident is the Black-Capped Chickadee.BCCH McGinnis 09-17-17-8303A few more Red-Winged Blackbirds.RWBL Portage 09-09-17-7794

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Ottawa Trail’s landmark tree

Last year following my cataract surgery I got all turned around and could not find the trail that runs along the Des Plaines River at Ottawa Trail, but now I am finding it easily, and one reason why is because I have always located the landmark tree above.NOCA Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8074I am grateful for Northern Cardinals. They will be here all winter to brighten up the landscape.

 

I’ll be back soon with the last warblers… Still trying to find that work/bird-and-choir-life balance. I will bow deeply at the first thunder clap.

 

 

Late Summer in the Yard

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American Goldfinch (female)

I had a couple extra days off last week after the holiday, in between jobs, which gave me more time to spend in the backyard. I think the wild birds were starting to get used to my presence, so it is with reluctance that I go back to being The Scary Human Who Fills The Feeders.

A female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird spent perhaps a week in the area, and she would generally show up just before sundown which made it difficult to take pictures of her. One morning early when I went out to fill the feeders I saw her sitting in the redbud tree so I suspect she came more often than I was aware. I did have a beautiful male show up one afternoon but he was gone by the time I got my camera.

The yard has a lot of yellow going on with several varieties of goldenrod which I planted, for the most part, last fall. There is also one almost terrifyingly humongous sunflower which is more like a tree than a plant. I think the reason why it is so huge and still going strong is because it’s very close to the compost heap. I may need an axe to cut it down but for the moment I still find it cheerful and entertaining as it spreads out onto the cement slab.

The goldfinches have been busy chowing down on seed heads. They are probably responsible for a lot of the echinacea taking over the back bed. But that’s the original reason why I started the wildflowers years ago anyway, to attract birds, so I’m happy my yard has now become a destination.

After years of trying to outsmart squirrels I have given up and they seem to be a bit less annoying as long as they get their daily peanuts.

House Sparrows never get much photographic attention from me, but they eat most of the birdseed and are such a presence I felt I should take a few pictures.

DOWP 09-07-17-5206WBNH 09-06-17-5110The two birds who capitalize most when the House Sparrows have left the yard are the Downy Woodpecker and the White-Breasted Nuthatch.

Above, two photos of a couple House Finches for the record. They were not in the best of light or feather.

Bees have been constant if not as numerous as previous years.

The Mourning Doves are usually very skittish and whenever I find a pile of feathers from one the local Cooper’s Hawk has made off with, I wonder how many are left.

Even after you click on the picture above, it may be difficult to see the spider web on the left. I saw the garden spider in the middle of it once, but it has proved to be camera-shy. The web spans the narrow sidewalk running along the south fence. I am not going to be the one to destroy it by walking through. On the right, a bee on a remaining purple coneflower.

Squirrel Yard 09-02-17-4054As long as the squirrels can drink upside down hanging from a tree, they won’t knock over the birdbaths. If I wake up tomorrow to overturned bird baths the yard was likely visited by a nocturnal creature.

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Male Northern Cardinal finding his feathers

My first full week with my new employer starts tomorrow. The new job and choir commitments likely require me to tweak my schedule to figure out where and when I can fit the blog in. Fall migration also demands attention. Drum roll, please.

Wish Fulfillment

RTHU 08-19-17-2963I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.

I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.

Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.

After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.

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Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.

And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.

There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.

It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.

CEWA 08-20-17-3189I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.

AMGO 08-20-17-3044Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.

When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.

BWWA 08-20-17-3264I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.

I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.

McGinnis 08-20-17-3357There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.

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Indigo Bunting

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

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Cedar Waxwing

One more bird from the Portage…

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Juvenile Song Sparrow

I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.

Where to Start? The Panama Pictures

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Keel-Billed Toucan

Finally getting around to those Panama Pictures! Life keeps getting in the way, and of course with spring migration just starting there have been other distractions. But I keep thinking there’s a better solution to my madness somewhere. Maybe that’s what keeps me going. The madness, I mean. If I find the solution, it might all come to a halt.

Ah the Tanagers. Above, probably one of the most common we saw, the Crimson-Backed Tanager, with the male lower left and the female on the right, showing her crimson back. Lucky for me there were only a few possibilities to worry about. The tanagers in some places, especially if they are traveling in a flock, can be confounding.

From gaudy to drab – below, the Plain-Colored Tanager on the left and the Palm Tanager on the right. But I think they have their own subtle beauty.

And below, a White-Shouldered Tanager and the ubiquitous Blue-Gray Tanager which always makes me have to decide whether to spell it Gray or Grey.

All these photos were from the first full day of the trip. Which means there are more days to come (and for me, more pictures to process). We did not travel far from either lodging location, spending four nights at the Canopy Tower and another two nights at the Canopy Lodge in El Valle, the days and locales having blended into a continuum in my head by now, so I won’t have a lot of commentary to contribute. Now that I’ve decided to leave the monster lens at home next time I travel, maybe my dream companion would be a scribe instead of a sherpa.

Both locations had feeders which made it easier to see some of the birds, particularly hummingbirds. White-Necked Jacobins dominated the feeders but you don’t always see the white neck they were named for, so there it is in the picture below. The hummingbird on the lower right is a White-Vented Plumeleteer. Unfortunately the white vent isn’t very easily distinguishable but I like the illumination on the throat.

Elusive antbirds are always a challenge to see. We got lucky with the two below. A Fasciated Antshrike and a Dot-Winged Antwren.

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Black-Crowned Antshrike

The two puffbirds below look almost identical except on very close inspection, which likely kept me poring over the field guide for several minutes. On the left is the Pied Puffbird which I saw last year in the Amazon in Ecuador, and on the right, Black-Breasted Puffbird.

Two flycatchers, the Black-Headed Tody Flycatcher, which is a new one for me, and the Dusky-Capped Flycatcher.

Below is a Streaked Flycatcher, not usually seen from the back, but after 20 or more shots he still wouldn’t turn around so I gave up.

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Streaked Flycatcher

The Rusty-Margined Flycatcher below can be confused with Greater Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, until you get the hang of telling them apart.

Back to the elusive with a fairly common but hard-to-get-a-good-photo Squirrel Cuckoo. The picture on the lower right gives you more of an idea of how far away it was.

Green Honeycreepers below.

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Green Honeycreeper

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Green Honeycreeper Female

Below, a Red-Legged Honeycreeper is the bright blue guy, and the green bird is a Blue Dacnis female.  I’m starting to get these guys confused!

Below, a Pale-Vented Pigeon and a Gray-Headed Chachalaca. Click on the pictures if you want a better view, especially of pigeon colors. I love this pigeon. You will see it again in a later post.

Two more for the trying-to-be-elusive list. Cocoa Woodcreeper on the left and Cinnamon Woodpecker on the right.

There’s a lot more but I think I better give us all a break. Which means I can be back that much sooner! Thanks for stopping by!

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Night Monkey

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard

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Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.

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A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.

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House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Fog Settles In

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Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

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Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.