Portage Potpourri

It’s time to go back and sift through the summer’s photographs so I can start making room for the always anticipated overload of fall migration. As usual I find I have way too many photos that I had forgotten about. The ones in this short post go all the way back to June 4 and June 9 which don’t even qualify for summer yet, but the breeding birds had already been busy.

So this is a female Indigo Bunting. I love her delicate colors. And below her photo is a male, possibly my friend I have named Tadziu.

One bird I haven’t seen all summer, although they typically breed at the Chicago Portage, is the Yellow Warbler. I expect to see some in the next few weeks during fall migration. If I was seeing them so regularly in June they must have been nearby all summer.

I found this little bird’s photos and had to think for a moment what it was. I’ve concluded (with the help of other photographs online) that it can only be a very young Warbling Vireo.

For a short period of time, Gray Catbirds were making themselves available for photos until they disappeared later like nearly everybody else.

I’m beginning to realize this was an absurd idea because more recent photos are starting to accumulate quickly on my hard drive and I won’t be able to review older ones much longer.

Yes, a Chipmunk

House Wrens have been abundant all summer, but not always easy to see.

And every once in a while, an Eastern Phoebe would pose.

I am grateful for the many times I have seen Eastern Kingbirds.

Red-winged Blackbirds are due to start showing up in huge flocks before they take to their more southern destinations. They have disappeared from their breeding grounds. I suspect they have been busy educating the youngsters about self-reliance and survival.

American Robins are perhaps the most adaptable birds, thriving in and out of the human disturbance.

I was intrigued by the capture below – it looks like a very young Red-winged Blackbird.

Baltimore Orioles have been much harder to see long enough to capture lately.

I saw a Daddy Long Legs only once… and my favorite grass, the Squirrel Tail Grass, doesn’t look like this anymore, indeed, I haven’t noticed it at all lately.

Also well-adapted to us humans are American Goldfinches. They always seem so cheerful.

I don’t know what happened to the Song Sparrows at the Portage. I am not sure if any stayed to raise families.

The White-tailed Deer are making less frequent visits than they were earlier.

Another American Robin

Here are two quick and slightly blurry photos of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

I have never seen this yellow iris before…or since.

Here’s what the cottonwood seeds looked like in the beginning of June.

As if to prove my earlier point about adaptability, one American Robin built a nest on the edge of the shelter in spite of the spikes to deter such activities.

I have so much going on right now I can’t say when or with what I will return. But I figured as long as I started this post a couple days ago I may as well finish it.

We had our first choir rehearsal last night, and we are singing this Sunday. I was a bit surprised at how good it felt to stand together and sing, albeit still masked. And so we take the plunge into another year. And I will have to start getting up earlier – in the dark – as the fall bird walks start again next week.

Summer Passages at the Chicago Portage

Although I’ve been to the Chicago Portage more recently, I’m posting some photographs and a couple recordings from last month that hadn’t made it into posts anywhere near the days I took them. These are some views of likely suspects from visits made on July 6 and July 10. I then plan to be back with two or three subsequent installments after I process four more recent July days’ worth of photographs. Depending on what happens, I could sneak in another location here and there…

For the record, the male Indigo Buntings that were everywhere singing last month are still singing but not as much and they’re less visible than the one below, taken on July 6.

Tadziu the Indigo Bunting was available on July 10 for photographs and additions to his Greatest Hits, but the lighting was poor for the former. However, I feel obligated to share his portrait anyway.

And here are the last recordings I made of my celebrity.

Tadziu with American Robin and House Wren in the background
Tadziu with Northern Cardinal, House Wren and Warbling Vireo

American Goldfinches have been busy in the duckweed.

Perched over the water and then taking off for better prospects, a Green Heron was distantly available on July 10.

Just by chance I happened on an Eastern Towhee family. You have to look at the second photo below to see the juvenile which is somewhat obscured by the female in the first photo. I heard the male Eastern Towhee singing this past Tuesday, but did not see him. It would be nice to see the family again before the end of the summer.

It was still hard to resist photographing the Prairie Coneflower and whatever the second yellow flower is, that I see blooming upon first entering the woods from the south paved trail.

I got lucky on the 10th and managed a few photographs of a Warbling Vireo. They are still around but not as vocal as they were, so these days it’s hard to tell how many might be present.

Another species becoming more visible lately is Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

I have barely heard or seen a White-breasted Nuthatch. This one was on the 6th.

Also on July 6th the House Wren below was flying out of my frame.

The Brown-headed Cowbirds were still all over the place too, on July 6.

The Northern Flicker below wasn’t too easy to see, but I was intrigued enough by all the colors on him, popping out from behind the leaves.

Below is an unusually visible Gray Catbird, and below it, an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

And American Robins are always up to something.

I will be back with more composite posts from the Chicago Portage. In another week or two I expect to see more birds, with the added confusion of molting and juvenile plumages.

Summertime at the Portage

I haven’t been out birding since Sunday morning and I likely will not get to do so until the middle of next week, but that’s okay, I am having a wonderful visit with Linda G., my closest friend since we met in junior high. Birds are occupied with their most important breeding activities which tend to make them hard to see anyway: we might get around to a walk but don’t count on it. But that’s okay, I have a backlog of photos from outings last week and before. These photographs are from last Thursday, June 23.

The forecast was for partly sunny, but this was plenty of sun for me. The temperature was not too hot so I think the birds were enjoying it too.

Baltimore Orioles were in the mulberries. The photograph in the upper left corner of the panel below is of a female.

I was following a bird later that was down low in the grasses and it turned out to be a female Orchard Oriole. You can see how she appears “greenish” compared to the female Baltimore Oriole in the previous panel. I am so happy to know Orchard Orioles are breeding at the Portage.

Indigo Buntings are everywhere – at least the males are still easy to spot. I haven’t seen a female that I could capture lately, but as the summer continues I should start seeing them and the juveniles. I have been seeing Tadziu on both sides of the bridge lately. Here he is perched in his original spot.

And now he also likes the very tippy-top of a tree on the other side. I confess I recorded him three times. He basically sang the same song in all three recordings but I just couldn’t help myself. I can recognize his song from a distance as I approach his territory.

So below are Tadziu’s greatest hits.

The Indigo Bunting below is an entirely different individual. He wasn’t singing for me so I couldn’t record him to compare, but he’s beautiful. I love the way the light plays with these guys.

There isn’t a lot of Squirrel-Tail Grass and I suspect it doesn’t last very long but it was looking good that day.

Below is some variety of sedge I have never seen before and cannot identify, so I welcome any suggestions. At least I think it’s a sedge.

When I got across the south bridge as I walked in, I noticed workers applying herbicides. I had seen what I think was a Forest Preserves truck in the parking lot. I asked one young woman if they were going to tackle the poison hemlock, and she said she didn’t know about that yet, but that they were discouraging Mugwort, which is in the photo below right. Apparently it’s considered an herbal remedy by some but it’s also very invasive, native to Europe and Asia. I think the strategy is to prevent it from flowering and producing seeds, which apparently can be as many as 200 seeds per plant, but it also has a rhizome root system, so stopping seed propagation is only one step in control. I didn’t dare ask what herbicide they were using, but if I see them working again I will get over my prejudices temporarily and try to be a better reporter.

I encountered a young rabbit that day.

I haven’t been able to identify this yellow flower yet but it seems to be a new one at the Portage. I will pay closer attention to the foliage on my next visit and see if I can figure out what it is. It’s so easy to be lazy…

This Chipmunk was nibbling on something.

Downy Woodpeckers are becoming a little bit more visible lately although they are still pretty quiet.

I haven’t seen a lot of European Starlings but these two youngsters were present.

House Wrens are ubiquitous but not always easy to see. I caught this one in a rare moment of silence.

Sometimes I get lucky with swallows, and this day had a few Barn Swallows swooping low over the duckweed.

American Goldfinches are also fond of the duckweed-covered stream and I think it’s a perfect background for this female.

Red-winged Blackbirds are harder to see, but this one was sitting so still I had to commemorate the occasion.

I will try to get back sooner than later but Linda will be staying with me several more days and we have a lot of catching up to do.

A Quick Note from the Yard

I will miss the American Goldfinches that have faithfully visited my yard all winter and into the spring, especially as they quickly figured out and appreciated this seed feeder which I resurrected from the basement when I could no longer tolerate a squirrel taking over the feeder pole (which you can see is leaning over thanks to the squirrel). I even hoped to get a few photos this weekend of the goldfinches and the House Finches on this feeder because they make it look like one of those attractive advertisements for the feeder itself. But yesterday it became apparent that an avian flu is spreading, albeit among waterfowl and not detected in passerines yet, and we are advised to take down our feeders until May 31st unless otherwise notified.

My first thought was that I would save a lot of money on birdseed. My second thought was that this was the perfect opportunity to clean up and restore the soil underneath the feeder poles which has been poisoned by fallen seed. I have a mountain of compost to work into the soil. It will be more of a challenge to remove the fallen seed, as much as I have cleaned up I can’t get it all. As for that money I’m saving on birdseed, I have already invested it in some seed catchers that I can attach to the feeders when I put them back up.

Of course I quit feeding the squirrels too and they are apoplectic. But I managed to do this for several weeks last year before the inaugural Berwyn Historical Society Garden Walk, primarily to help get rats out of the yard, and nobody suffered terribly and everyone came back almost immediately the day I put feeders back out. So as bad as I feel about stiffing my friends, they will survive. In case you’re wondering, these photos were taken on April 10.

Beyond that, there are two lovely blooms in the backyard – the only flowers so far. I thought I had identified this plant but now I can’t remember what it is. It showed up by itself and keeps coming back, but it is not aggressive, so even if it’s not native I am happy to see it. If you recognize it, please let me know and I will try not to forget it.

And the other lovely surprise is what I thought was the beginnings of a Virginia Bluebell that I planted from a bare root last fall, on a hope and a prayer, after I had removed all the Hostas from the back of the house. I planted Jack in the Pulpit back there too but likely it won’t take. I am just curious to see what happens. I was just out in the yard and this turns out to be more of the same unidentified plant…

Beyond that, I have my work cut out for me. I am going to start trimming the stalks in the front yard this morning in between the raindrops and tomorrow after I recover from “leading” a bird walk at Thatcher Woods in River Forest that starts at 7:00 AM which means I have to get up by 4:30.

One more thought. I am waiting to hear the official word on hummingbird feeders. I haven’t put mine out yet but there are reports of hummingbirds showing up in the state. I hope I can at least put the hummer feeders out next week. After the Spring Music Festival…

In and Around the Yard

The days last week when I shoveled a lot of snow – I think it was when I had gone back to dig out my car from the overnight plowing – I looked up and saw the local Cooper’s Hawk sitting in my neighbor’s tree. The last time I had seen it for any length of time was on January 22nd when it was sitting on my fence and then in my yard. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos below but they were taken through the kitchen window.

And even outside where things were clearer, I missed the hawk’s eventual departure from its perch.

I took advantage of the bright sunshine Tuesday and tucked around the backyard with the camera when I came back home. I was very happy to see the female Red-breasted Nuthatch in good light so I took way too many pictures. Here are a few…

I was also happy to catch a male House Finch at the bird bath. I don’t see them as frequently as I would like.

The American Goldfinches are still quite consistent, but their numbers are falling off a bit – everybody has spring fever.

You can see the feather wear beginning to unleash bright yellow for spring.

The birdbaths have become splash parties lately. Apologies again for the fuzzy photos but if I had been outside with the camera I would not have captured them because the birds would be out of the yard.

One thing the cold weather has been good for – giving me a break from refilling the suet feeders constantly.

I have had as many as seven Northern Cardinals in the yard at a time – but the time is always dusk or dawn. One or two cardinals might visit briefly during the middle of the day but they tend to not stay long enough for me to capture. So I am stuck with a fuzzy through the porch windows picture.

I’ve been out for walks a few times with not a lot happening, but there are moments when winter seems to be slowly losing its grip. The forecast for snow late tonight is to become rain by morning. While I hope the now-dirty snow will be washed away, things could get a bit muddy. But I have already heard some birds singing. And our choir may join them soon. We had our first in-person rehearsal last night since December.

Snow – and a New Yard Bird

Yesterday I devoted practically the entire day to dealing with the snow. It snowed overnight and didn’t stop until around 1:30 yesterday afternoon, although by that time it was pretty much down to flurries. I went out early to do the first shoveling of the walks and went out again a couple hours later, then picked up a camera every now and then to see if I could get any pictures. This is more snow than we got last week but not anything near what has transpired on the East Coast. I hope everyone stays safe and warm through the “Bomb Cyclone” Nor’easter.

Earlier I tried to get photographs with the mirrorless camera but it wouldn’t focus well. I apologize for those few fuzzies I have included here. Later I went out with the Canon and as I was still on the back porch, a nuthatch landed on the peanut feeder. I started taking photos through the screened windows and realized later that this was a Red-breasted Nuthatch and, to my knowledge, a new bird for my yard. I wonder how many other species come to the yard that I have never seen…

Red-breasted Nuthatch (female)

Two views of the snow in the yard – earlier, cloudy and through the windows, and later when the sun was shining and I was outside.