While I’m Waiting

I miss going to the Chicago Portage. It has almost become my new job. Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and then often on Saturday or sometimes a Sunday, I start walking at the Portage and find myself again.

There are lots of photos from recent visits and going all the way back to May and even late April, so I won’t run out of nostalgia, but from the look of things the improvements to the Portage may be going on through the end of July. It seems they have closed access while they are paving the trail staked in the picture below to allow for wheelchair access. I worry about the breeding birds that nest low, but there is still plenty of area far from the trails so maybe my concern is not warranted. I am eager to go back to see if my friend Tadziu the Indigo Bunting is still around. I should give the birds more credit, they’ve been witnessing all this activity on a daily basis and they know more about it than I do.

These are photos from June 15 and 18, not in any particular order. It’s obvious I spent a lot of time watching the herons. I love the photo below because of the contrast in size between the Green Heron and the Great Blue Heron.

The 15th was a cloudy day. This Baltimore Oriole stood out anyway, albeit at quite a distance. It looks like he was doing his morning exercise routine.

Later I caught up with him in a better background.

There was a quiet moment in the same tree with a Song Sparrow, too.

American Goldfinches have been so busy, I haven’t seen them all that frequently.

Cedar Waxwings stand out even in bad light.

I decided to go straight to the herons on the 18th, so as I walked through the middle lawn section just beyond the shelter, I saw the Eastern Wood-Pewee I often hear but had not seen all this season.

There have been a few Green Herons present simultaneously. Below I captured a brief disagreement between two of them.

It almost looks like the Great Blue Heron below is standing by the side of the road, but that is actually the duckweed covered water, or what’s left of it.

Occasionally a Great Egret has been here too.

It’s hard to resist photographing Indigo Buntings when they sit right out in the open, if for no other reason than to see how they look in that particular light. I think this is Tadziu on his alternate tree.

Northern Flickers are starting to reappear.

The tree stump below is all that is left of a dead tree that a pair of Northern Flickers used to nest in. It’s over by Tadziu’s bridge.

I wonder if this is the same pair that used to nest in it.

I encountered what looks like a young Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Another one of those “how blue is the Indigo Bunting” photos.

A rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo that looks like a juvenile.

As the Great Blue Heron flew over the marsh, it got a little too close to a Red-winged Blackbird nest.

I was a little surprised to see a Northern Flicker foraging in the duckweed.

This could be my most ho-hum photo of a Baltimore Oriole

Oh why not a few more?

The muskrat appeared briefly on the 18th. Then I decided the duckweed-covered turtle deserved more attention.

There are ever-so-slight changes of expression with the first Indigo Bunting…

A couple more for the road…

A female Indigo Bunting

We finally got some rain overnight. I woke up in the early morning hours delighted to hear thunder and the rush of rain pouring onto the house. I won’t have to worry about watering for a while. One rain barrel is full. It was hot all day but very windy. Now we are cooling off again, and we even got a little more rain. All we need is enough to attract the rain clouds more often to pull us out of this drought. The strange summer continues.

I have a lot going on the next couple weeks so I won’t be taking off for more distant destinations, but I will be driving by the Portage now and then to see if it’s open. And I still have Riverside and swimming to keep me out of trouble.

McGinnis Moments

I was going to the Chicago Portage Tuesday morning, but the gates were locked with big “CLOSED” signs. Since last week we found out that the park service was preparing the site around the statue for planting native plants, we can only surmise the work has begun. The parking lot was full of workers and big trucks.

I had errands to run and it was too early to start them, so I decided to visit McGinnis Slough because I hadn’t been there in a while. The first birds I saw were a Great Egret, a Green Heron and a Great Blue Heron.

I found some land birds off the trail, such as the Song Sparrow and Baltimore Oriole below.

As I started to walk back to check out the main slough, a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak landed right in front of me.

I took note of other birds I encountered along the way.

American Robin

Common Grackles seem to be abundant this year everywhere I go. There were some encounters between some grackles and the Red-winged Blackbirds.

I took a close-up of an interesting-looking grass head. I suspect it looks quite different because of how dry everything is.

Here’s what the slough looked like from the observation point at the end of the trail. There was no visible water.

On the way back I captured a somewhat fractious encounter between what appeared to be a juvenile Common Grackle and a male Red-winged Blackbird.

An Eastern Kingbird left its perch and flew right over my head.

When I got around to the south end where there is some open water, the first bird I saw was a wet Double-crested Cormorant drying off in the sun.

If this year is like previous years, this will be the perch spot for Wood Ducks in August.

There were a few Wood Ducks available. And a mother Mallard with her ducklings.

One more of the Mallard clan.

The Portage was still closed today. I expect it will be closed again tomorrow morning.

While I am eager to see what has been done at the Chicago Portage, I also need to do a lot of garden cleanup in preparation for my participation in the West Cook Wild Ones 2023 Native Garden Tour. So, while workers are putting native plants around the statue at the Chicago Portage, I can be managing my native plant jungle.

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.

Welcome to the Heron Club

Just when you think you know what to expect, everything changes, right? Expecting things to change doesn’t work in reverse, though. Don’t bother trying to figure out what I’m talking about if I’ve lost you already. It’s like trying to predict the weather, only worse. But nothing beats nice surprises.

June 10. According to my daily drivel, my knee was bothering me a lot that morning. I had planting to do, and it was getting hot. It was a Saturday, so I would have to clean the living room later. But I went for a very slow walk at the Chicago Portage anyway. Maybe the birds would make my knee pain less relevant. My walk began pleasantly enough at 8:07 AM. As on previous occasions, I suspect I see more when I am moving ever so slowly.

Cedar Waxwing
Common Grackle

A couple Northern Rough-winged Swallows were taking a break.

Always heard but not usually seen, I got lucky with a look at a Yellow Warbler.

And then I saw two herons fly over. It didn’t immediately register with me who they were.

I got a couple photos of one or the other as they approached the trees.

Then there was a doe.

And I noted the reappearance of Squirrel-tail Grass which I have never seen anywhere else.

It was a good morning for European Starlings to gather. And as they descended to forage in the dried-up duckweed (third photo below), the water looked like a scene I imagine one might find on Mars.

But as I walked on slowly, I noticed a new visitor to the Chicago Portage.

Black-crowned Night-heron

I have never seen a Black-crowned Night-heron here before. And as I slowly approached to get a better view, I realized there were two of them.

One heron watched while the other hunted and caught something.

Perhaps it was a frog or a toad. It looks a bit crustacean-like to me.

As many photos as I took, I restrained myself. The birds were completely aware of my presence but they didn’t seem to mind very much. They likely sensed I was no threat because of my knee.

When I left them to their hunt and resumed walking slowly, the starlings were now in another tree.

A Red-tailed Hawk appeared. The light was nice for photos, but after the herons … maybe only the starlings cared.

American Robins were everywhere, young, mature, everything in between and probably plenty more to come.

Indigo Buntings are also abundant and not shy about it.

Sometime after I left the herons, they took off in the direction of the Des Plaines River.

But later one was in a different spot, visible from the picnic tables someone has put down by the shore close to the inside trail.

I have not seen the pair again, but I have seen one Black-crowned Night-Heron here on a subsequent visit. My expectations are once more redefined. This location has also been quite popular lately with more than one Green Heron, a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. I will try to post more photos soon from the Heron Club.

Farther Afield

I started writing this post several days ago when it was cold and overcast, which was supposed to give me some extra time to get caught up on things. Between birding, swimming, planting, watering, playing piano and the general maintenance of the home crowd, not to mention sorting through photos every day which usually necessitates a nap or more coffee… I all but ran out of leftovers which means I need to do more cooking soon. The watering routine supplanted my kitchen energy, no pun intended.

We did get a little rain Sunday morning. It wasn’t all that much, but I accepted the gift as gratefully as possible and did not water the new plants. I went back to watering that evening, however. There have been too many forecasts of “possible” rain which didn’t sound too firm to me. More recently, yesterday, we had a very slow, steady, but somewhat soaking rain. I was surprised to find my rain barrel full.

So much for the weather. I took off for a few different locations the last week of May/first week in June and here is somewhat of a report. I went first to the Hebron Trail/Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County on May 28 to see some Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Below, a shot of the trail leading to the marshy area and an Indigo Bunting that was in one of those trees.

In the marsh, there are always other breeding birds I expect to see, like Willow Flycatchers.

Yellow Warblers are not too bashful there.

There were several Yellow-headed Blackbirds singing on their territories. They were just barely close enough to get in focus with a 400mm lens. I went back through my photos from previous years’ visits later and determined that the birds were easier to see closer to the observation deck and the trail in late June and mid-July, so I will be going back to try my luck again with these pretty fabulous birds. I should be able to see juveniles and some females in July. It was still worth the trip to see how many of them were on site, and to hear their songs fill the air.

At one point a Sandhill Crane flew over the marsh.

The water level is low, so there were not too many birds in it. I managed to find one Pied-billed Grebe.

I had a close encounter with a demonstrative Gray Catbird.

Hardly any American Robins in this habitat, but I caught one taking off from its perch.

It was nice to see a Black Swallowtail butterfly, even as it was trying to make do with Dames Rocket. I have seen this blooming in several locations this spring. It’s been years since I first noticed it in my yard and started accumulating a list of invasive species.

I have always seen little holes in the path, but this time it became apparent that are homes to Chipmunks.

Even though the Yellow-headed Blackbirds were so far away, I was compelled to attempt too many photos.

More of a challenge, although closer, was capturing a Marsh Wren.

I thought this pair of Mallards looked nice in flight.

My best subject turned out to be one of two Great-crested Flycatchers in the tree-lined section of the trail.

A few days later, I considered that I missed all the spring migration bird walks with Henry G., but I was curious about one location I had never been to. G.A.R. Woods turns out to be an area south of Thatcher Woods in River Forest. I went there on May 31. It was one of those rather chilly mornings but there was some good woodsy habitat. All the spots where water accumulates were bone dry, but I could imagine them in wetter times. I was a day or two late for most of the migrants Henry reported but was content to see and hear an Acadian Flycatcher which oddly enough had not been on his list.

Before the inundation of Prairie Warbler photos, a word or two about a few other birds I saw at McGinty Slough. Field Sparrows were numerous and easy to see.

There was also a Brown Thrasher at some distance.

And a very nice-looking Eastern Kingbird too.

But the Prairie Warbler was the highlight.

So now that we’ve become all too familiar with the Prairie Warbler…I’ve been so busy I could almost use a vacation from retirement. It’s often hard not to just curl up and take a nap. But I have seen and photographed even more beautiful birds lately, so I will try once more to be back sooner to this page.

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.

Slim Pickings

I’m taking a brief break from the spring warbler photos to document a couple drought-related observations down by the Des Plaines River last week. I thought I had the perfect title for this post two days ago but I forgot to write it down, so “slim pickings” it is.

On May 24, with the river so low, I noticed some fish having a hard time negotiating some of the rocky, shallower spots.

Then on May 26, I first noticed a black bird chasing an Osprey. In other photos the bird in pursuit appears to have been a Common Grackle.

I started to follow the Osprey with the camera as it began flying around the bend in the river, looking for a fish. These are only a few (!) of the photos I took, but they are basically in order. The Osprey was desperate to find something to eat. I was exhausted following it as it searched, not to mention wondering how long it could continue expending all that energy for nothing.

So busy was I following the Osprey I nearly forgot there were any other birds. I found a couple Chimney Swifts in my photos later.

The Osprey came around again, repeating the same exercise.

Finally it decided to go after something. I think that’s the library building behind it. But it came up with nothing from that dive except wet feathers (second photo below).

Not too much later, it was back again.

Finally the Osprey seemed to have found something. I wasn’t able to focus quickly enough to adequately capture the scene below, but I’m including it anyway as I realized later I had not even noticed the Great Blue Heron watching all this. Sadly to say, the Osprey flew off without anything in its talons.

When I got back to my parked car by the Hofmann Dam, I took a few photos of a Ring-billed Gull searching for food.

The forecast remains hot and dry. We are due to cool off around Tuesday, and I can only hope that brings some precipitation with it, but the forecasters are not optimistic.

I have started branching out a bit to check some other locations here and there. I also hope to be helping out with monitoring of breeding birds at the Chicago Portage this month. Garden work persists and a few native plants are starting to bloom. There’s lots going on outside, but I am grateful for air-conditioning. And my indoor crowd has promised to help me write a little music. To be continued…

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.