Back to the Slough

It was a nice weekend – two cooler mornings before the anticipated heat returned. I went to the Portage on Saturday morning and decided to visit McGinnis Slough Sunday. This is a brief summary of the McGinnis encounter.

There is very little water. Maybe it’s a little more water than last summer, but some birds I could always count on are not present. I saw no evidence of Trumpeter Swans, for instance. And last year there was a pair of Sandhill Cranes, but I haven’t seen any of those either. There was only one Great Blue Heron fishing close to the log where the Wood Ducks hang out. I could barely see anything through the reeds.

Later I managed a somewhat clearer picture of the Great Blue Heron and a couple deer.

I was surprised to see more people at the preserve than I expected, but I had forgotten that it was a holiday – Father’s Day – and beautiful weather, and why not? I got there fairly early anyway and first encountered a group of Tree Swallows.

This is always an attractive place for dragonflies and I found several beautiful Blue Dashers. I am always chuckling to myself as I try to do macro photography with a 100-400mm lens.

There were a lot of Song Sparrows singing. I only photographed this one, but recorded another briefly. Then at one point I just stood and recorded all the songs of several species I was hearing.

Song Sparrow song
Song Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird singing
Marsh Wren, Red-winged Blackbird and Common Yellowthroat singing

I barely managed to capture a male Common Yellowthroat who had retreated to a perch inside a small tree.

At one point I noticed a Downy Woodpecker feeding its fledgling.

A young American Robin was looking out over the vast expanse of the slough from its perch near the path, as if to reflect upon the world now at its wingtips.

Another young American Robin caught my eye. More of a keeping cool perch.

The water alongside the trail going north

I kept hearing a Virginia Rail, but never even hoped to see it. I followed it with my ears as it moved around, at times not too far from the center lawn that juts out into the slough from the parking lot. Before I left, I sat at a picnic table there to cool off and just observe, when I caught a distant view of a Common Gallinule in my binoculars. It was nearly impossible to photograph but I tried anyway. I have never seen one of these here before. Perhaps this is an indication of the habitat changing.

There was a very tiny Least Skipper.

Least Skipper

And I was surprised this Chipmunk stuck around just long enough for me to snap its photo.

Red-winged Blackbirds were everywhere but this female turned out to be my best photo op.

Here’s one more of a Blue Dasher.

I don’t know how much energy I will have tomorrow, but with any luck I will be back with more sleepy summertime photos. As luck would have it — tomorrow being the summer solstice and the longest day of the year — it may be the hottest day we have had so far. I almost look forward to the days getting shorter.

Farther Afield

After reading about someone’s trip to Goose Lake Natural Area on Saturday, I decided to drive up there Monday morning, weather permitting, as it has been a while since my last visit and as much as I try to drive less, I’m not flying anywhere so I can justify an occasional longer drive. I should have left earlier than 7:00 AM because with traffic I didn’t get there until almost 9:00 AM and it was getting warm already, but I still managed to hear enough birds if I didn’t see all that many.

A few Mallards, perhaps, in what little water exists

As far as I can tell this area has not yet recovered from last year’s drought, so the birds are still farther away than they were a couple years ago. It would probably make more sense to carry a scope than a camera but when I’m alone and faced with that choice it’s easier to carry a big lens.

The first bird to greet me just after I walked through the woody area was a Yellow Warbler.

There were several Song Sparrows posing and singing and they were hard to ignore.

I did eventually record a bit of the song from the bird at the top of the post.

Song Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are always the draw here, but again because of the low water levels, they were extremely hard to see. However I checked my ebird records and in previous years up to 2020 I saw more of this species in the month of July, so I will try to get back up there next month sometime. One reason for the increase will be juvenile birds taking wing.

If you can see a tiny black spot in the middle of the photo below, that is the view I had of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds this visit. Below that are several severely cropped photos of a few males flying around. About all you can see is the yellow head and black body.

By contrast Red-winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

And a few had time to chase a Turkey Vulture.

Early on, a Northern Cardinal brightened up the landscape a bit.

At one point there was a Common Yellowthroat which was extremely backlit but discernible anyway. I heard many of them singing but could not get one to pose. This one was distracted by the insect prey in his bill.

I always expect to see Willow Flycatchers, and I did have three individuals in my photos, but I can’t recall having heard them and they weren’t always so easy to see.

I took a little snapshot recording while I was standing close to the observation deck. You can hear a Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, a Crow, and maybe other species carrying on in this short clip. The wind noise is a bit distracting.

Goose Lake Natural Area

I found a Gray Catbird in the willows.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are suddenly more scarce. I am seeing individuals instead of gangs of males. I suspect their mission is complete for the year.

I walked quite a ways past the observation deck. Here’s what the trail looked like beyond that point. I have never walked all the way to the end (is there one?) but I walked a total of 3.40 miles. according to ebird.

There were not a lot of birds to photograph on this part of the walk, but I did see a Monarch Butterfly and a Painted Turtle.

I couldn’t help but notice some Prairie Spiderwort. I have some of this growing in my backyard.

A nice surprise on the way out was a perched male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. He was far away and backlit but cooperative.

So that about sums up my birding this week. I have errands to run tomorrow when it will still be quite hot but I trust by now the traffic lights are functional. I likely won’t get out for a walk until Saturday morning, but that’s okay. I am looking forward to the cooler forecast.

Before the Leaves

April was cold and rainy, to the best of my recollection. But there were a few bright spots. On April 9, I heard a sound I couldn’t place, until I realized I had just not heard it for a long time. A Monk Parakeet was staring down at me from its perch at the Chicago Portage.

These birds used to visit my feeders years ago after I moved into my house, but when their nearby nest in a cellphone tower was removed, they disappeared. There must be another colony nest somewhere in the general area. This is the first time I have seen a Monk Parakeet at the Portage. Below are two recordings. First, the call I heard, and then, the second recording is almost like a little song he’s singing.

That was a sunny day with a clear, blue sky. Ten days later at the Portage it was quite overcast and the earliest migrants were appearing. Red-winged Blackbirds are always first heard and seen.

Brown-headed Cowbirds came in with the Red-winged Blackbirds.

Song Sparrow

Blue-winged Teal were around for weeks.

Kinglets were among the first insect-eaters to come through, with Golden-crowned Kinglets outnumbering the Ruby-crowneds.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglets below.

There were several very young deer.

Somehow the cloudy sky over the naked trees seemed worth noting.

Here’s one last photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

I have been birding lately and will be back with some reports eventually. I had planned to stay in today due to the forecast of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but because I could not swim last night due to a tornado-force storm that moved through the area around 7:00 PM, I did not go swimming and decided to swim this morning instead. All my trees are standing, and miraculously I suffered no damage save a few shingles on my roof: I filed a claim with the insurance this morning. As it turned out there was a massive power outage close to us which my neighborhood escaped, but the gym closed early because of it last night and then as I drove there and back this morning, every other traffic light was out and some were not even flashing which made it even more difficult and dangerous. There were crews everywhere working on power lines, but the damage must be extensive. Since tomorrow’s forecast isn’t any better. I will choose to stay safe and inside for the most part.

These weather events are now so predictably unpredictable. The original forecast for rain and storms vanished earlier in the day from the weather app on my phone to predict clear and sunny in the afternoon and evening, until suddenly the National Weather Service was blasting alerts on the radio about a tornado warning which then turned into a tornado watch. My birds always complain collectively when they hear the test of the alarm system as it happens once a week or so, but after so many alerts last night they finally gave up on their comments.

Cool and Cloudy at the Portage

In case you didn’t get to meet this Indigo Bunting last year, allow me to introduce Tadziu – I have given him the name that is pasted on the back of the “Bike Path” sign on which he sits in this photograph – as yesterday morning he sat and sang and posed for me. Last year I often saw him singing from the tree that hangs over the entrance to the bridge which facilitates the bike path referred to in this sign. I would also see him sitting on the bridge itself and singing, as well as on the sign. He is the most enthusiastic advocate for a territory I have ever seen.

A snippet of his song is below. I recorded it last week. I realized yesterday that although all Indigo Buntings basically sing the “same” song, it seemed I could distinguish his when he sang it. Or it may just be that I know where to expect to hear him. Either way, he always sings in my presence and we are friends.

Indigo Bunting

Here’s a few more of Tadziu being a ham.

I was very happy to see a male Orchard Oriole, however briefly. I saw another later but did not manage to photograph it. I hope this means they are nesting at the Portage. I have seen them only occasionally every year. But I have to keep reminding myself that the more I go out, likely the more I will see.

Here’s how the Chicago Portage looks now.

I expect to hear Yellow Warblers but I don’t always see them. I waited for this one to emerge because I could hear him quite clearly. If you’re hopping around in the treetops and you’re bright yellow, eventually you will be seen.

Also seen, but silent, was a Downy Woodpecker exploring a beautiful round hole.

Just as I saw a Green Heron perched over the water, it flew and I followed it with the camera, then found it again later where it was sitting.

I walked back along the gravel road by the MWRD for a bit to see what was going on there.

I found a Cedar Waxwing with its back toward me and managed to get it to turn around slightly.

There was a pair of Eastern Kingbirds sallying about for insects.

There’s a lot – a terrible, horrific lot – of Poison Hemlock growing in several spots and it stinks to walk through. One does not have to touch it and I certainly don’t for obvious reasons. But another plant that takes over the wetter areas – Butterweed – is a more welcome sight.

I found this Indigo Bunting in the hemlock of all places.

Another invasive that has been battled for years is Burdock. This tiny, colorful fly looked even tinier on a huge leaf.

Young American Robins are starting to show up on their own while adults keep a watchful eye.

Another view – this of the “island”.

Here are two more photos of the Yellow Warbler who, with Tadziu, brightened up my morning.

We are still cool with lows in the 50’s, which is very comfortable to me, but it looks like temperatures will start to heat up next week. We have been getting some rain, but I wonder how much we will get later. I think we are still making up for last year’s drought. I’ll be back.

Three Visits to Columbus Park

Two weeks after the last formal walk at Columbus Park on May 14, I joined the two Eds from those walks to see what was up after it seemed all the warblers were gone. Suffice it to say that the water birds made up for the lack of passerine diversity. In spite of an event going on at the park, two Great Blue Herons and two Black-crowned Night Herons tolerated all the noise and our attention and gave us some great looks.

There’s invariably a Great Blue Heron here but I’ve never seen one up in a tree like the one in the series below.

These photos are from April 16, May 14 and May 28 so the vegetation keeps changing.

On April 16 we were lucky to see an early Northern Parula.

Although I saw this species on a few other occasions these were the best looks I had all spring.

Also in the old reeds left over from last year was an American Tree Sparrow.

A Northern Rough-winged Swallow posed over the water

There was one little Field Sparrow back on the April visit.

There’s usually at least a pair of Wood Ducks but they don’t always offer such great photo opportunities.

Below from the last visit, a Wood Duck hen with six ducklings.

Once the Red-winged Blackbirds show up, they stay for the summer.

On the last visit there were some more grown up goslings than an on earlier visit.

Back in April, two Double-crested Cormorants swimming together.

The Black-crowned Night Herons are sometimes so well camouflaged.

Back in April I followed this Great Blue Heron in flight.