Back to the Portage

It’s all I can do to keep up with migration this spring, let alone the pictures I have taken…So I’m attempting to do this in chronological order but it won’t be easy. This past Saturday started out cool but sunny. I decided to start my walk in the opposite direction of what I normally do. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put my little portable stool in my backpack so I decided to walk back to the car to get it. As I walked, I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher, and then saw him in one of the Redbud trees bordering the lawn behind the statue. The morning had promise.

Great-Crested Flycatcher
I have decided to photograph the statue every time I go to the Portage now to gauge the light conditions.

Last Saturday was a riot of colorful birds. I counted a dozen male Indigo Buntings. They were everywhere and they were not particularly shy, so I took advantage of their fearlessness. You can see how the light affects the hue of the blueness, when actually their feathers are all black.

I ventured out to the gravel road that runs along the MWRD property and found two male Scarlet Tanagers. They were trading songs.

But I discovered a glimpse at a Summer Tanager later in my pictures.

For all the male Baltimore Orioles singing and displaying these last few weeks, I have seen only one or two females so far. But that’s because they’re busy tending the nest.

Yellow Warblers may stay and breed at the Portage. Invariably I hear them but don’t always see them. So I was glad to capture this one.

White-Breasted Nuthatches are present all year, but are not seen or even heard frequently now.

The female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak below is the last one I have seen. I am not aware of any starting families at the Portage, but it could happen.

We have had a lot of rain, and even more after these pictures were taken. There were two Canada Geese trying out the newly flooded waters.

So this time of year of course I’m looking for warblers wherever I can find them. I just calculated that over the last couple of weeks I have seen 21 species total. I haven’t been able to photograph them all, but most, sometimes discovering them in my photographs. I will try to post as many as possible. They won’t always be textbook-looking photos. For example, the Golden-Winged below I barely captured but it was the details from the photographs that I was able to identify it as a likely female.

One more Magnolia Warbler

Then there are the flycatchers. They can be confusing. I have since seen the Eastern Wood-Pewee again in the same location looking more like himself so I am guessing he was having an off day (typically he would look more pointy-headed).

Eastern Wood-Pewee
I think this is a Willow Flycatcher…passing through.

On this day I saw this Turkey Vulture being escorted away by a Red-Winged Blackbird.

Song Sparrows are present, singing, and likely staying to raise families.

i keep hearing and sometimes seeing Chestnut-Sided Warblers every time I have been to the Portage since my first intimate encounter with one last Tuesday.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

There’s a little rapids under the first bridge where the water runs out of the Portage. No water ever runs into the Portage, as far as I can tell, but It’s still nice to see the flow over the rocks.

More often heard than seen, Blue Jays are out and about but rarely available for photos, so it was nice to see this one.

I found this female Common Grackle to be attractive in her own way.

I had noticed this nest before but wasn’t sure anyone was using it until I managed to capture these two Goldfinches. You will probably have to click on the first photo to see the female poking her head out of it. I have since not been able to find the nest, which was not far from the trail, but it could still be there and hidden in all the plant growth that has occurred since.

Sadly, Black-Capped Chickadees are getting harder and harder to find. Long taken for granted, I am convinced they are in decline, at least locally. I caught this one in a hurry.

Here’s my Robin photo of the post.

As the leaves are finally coming out, it’s interesting to see how the spaces change.

Below is one of my favorite birds, a Blue-Headed Vireo. I have seen them a couple times this spring which is surprising to me, as I don’t think I have seen one for years.

Woodpeckers are busy everywhere.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

And last for the moment, I finally was able to catch the male Eastern Bluebird in focus. He has a habit of posing in difficult places, but he sat long enough this time. And although I think I heard him this past week, I haven’t seen him since. I hope the pair is still nesting and I will be looking for baby bluebirds this summer.

I have been to the Portage four times since last Saturday! I am beginning to feel like I live there. Every time I have gone, there has been a different species or a special encounter with one I’ve seen so far this spring. As many people have remarked, the cool start has been difficult for the birds migrating to their breeding grounds. I can only hope those who have visited the Portage are finding what they need in this little hotspot and will survive and flourish on the rest of their journey.

I will be back with lots more. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you are safe, well, and able to get out and enjoy this spring.

A Few Fall Warblers

Blackpoll Warbler

I’ve been trying to get back to this page for a long time, but between busy weekends and even more hectic workdays, it’s been difficult to even imagine a blog post. Good intentions being what they may, I am resurfacing briefly here with some pictures from last Saturday morning in Columbus Park – before it rained on that day.

Black-and-White Warbler
Palm Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

No less surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I cancelled my walk that was supposed to take place at Thatcher Woods this morning because it was thunderstorming off and on all night and with Thatcher Woods being in a flood plain, even though the rain has stopped, it would still be too challenging to slosh around in the soggy grass looking for bedraggled, wet migrants. Indeed the entire weekend promises to be raining or cloudy. Maybe I can get caught up with some overdue blogging, as it is definitely an indoor pursuit.

Not a warbler, but practically hiding like one.

Fall warblers look a lot less flashy in general than they do in the spring, and it can be a bit challenging to determine who’s who. Luckily I got a lot of observation time with Blackpolls a few years ago when I used to go to Lake Shore East Park so they’re kind of stamped on my brain.

Below is a little video I took with my phone on Tuesday morning, which was beautiful and sunny. I had just stepped out the front door to walk to the train when I heard, and then saw, about six Tennessee Warblers foraging in my front yard which is small but full of native vegetation. They’re not easy to see – watch for movement and then you will see the birds her and there eventually, albeit they are very small! I put this up on Facebook Tuesday but wanted to share again for those who didn’t see it there. I feel like this is a testament to my native plant experiment that seem to get better every year. It’s almost as if the warblers got out their GPS and found “Certified Wildlife Habitat”. 🙂

May Migration Memories

Canada Warbler (female)

It’s hard to believe but spring passerine migration has come and gone again. I never made it to the lakefront, where I’m sure most of the migrants coming through the city were. The trees in the park near my office were late in leafing out, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see any warblers, and then, the last two days of May, there were a few pretty birds in that last push.

I took all these photographs trying out my new mirrorless camera. The purchase was inspired by the fact that one guide and one participant were using the Sony RX10 on the Texas trip, so I took that fact alone as a recommendation. I really haven’t had time to investigate all the features, but it’s more compact and easier to carry than my Canon 70D with the 300mm lens attached, so I have this now for situations when I don’t want to carry quite as much gear.

Eastern Towhee

After all the Hermit Thrushes that were in the park weeks before (not as many as last year, but I think I got pictures with the other camera…), I was surprised to see this Wood Thrush on May 30, after I had gone back to try to get a picture of the Eastern Towhee above who showed up on May 29 but eluded my efforts.

White-throated Sparrows were more prevalent in April – they seem to be all gone now

More shots of the Canada Warbler. She was in the park for two days. I often think that someone should name shades of yellow after particular warblers, but the steel-blue gray back of a Canada Warbler always stands out for me.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers – because they tend to move more slowly and deliberately in the trees! And I recognize Wilson’s Yellow, which is a good thing because I don’t always get to see that trademark skullcap.

It was especially challenging to get a photograph of this male Mourning Warbler. Usually they are closer to the ground, but this guy was up in the trees after their burst of foliage attracted just the bugs or worms he was looking for.

Mourning Warbler

Was surprised to see this flycatcher on May 30. Even more surprised to get a picture of it.

One of the last Ovenbirds – they were on the ground in the park for at least two weeks before the end of May

I don’t expect to see much along the Chicago River in the next month or two, save a Ring-Billed Gull or Herring Gull, or the occasional Mallard. Every once in a while there is a Black-Crowned Night-Heron making its way slowly along the river. But birds move and there’s always the possibility of a surprise somewhere.

I have many pictures I want to share from several Portage visits, and of course I will get back to the Texas adventure as soon as possible. Looking for more space in my non-blogging life. Survived the annual choir appreciation dinner and talent show Wednesday — the offerings from the choir members were outstanding and seem to get better and more varied every year. The “survival” part was debuting a flute-and-piano piece with my flutist extraordinaire friend Linda Rios, based on a melody I had written 50 (?) years ago to the lyrics of a Robert Frost poem, “The Vindictives.” Which has led me back to Frost and poetry in general. Looking for my next melody to show up sooner than another 50 years …And I hope to be back to this page soon!

On-Again-Spring Migration

Female Mourning Warbler, Columbus Park

As we climb back out of yet another spell of wintry, inclement weather, I have to wonder what effect this fitful spring is having on the migrants we are all too happy to observe. I have had a Swainson’s Thrush in my yard the last two days. I’m happy to provide for this bird and maybe it doesn’t have too much farther to go to get to its breeding grounds, but likely it will be dodging more storms on its way.

Last Saturday I attended a small informal walk at Columbus Park and then went to the Portage. Sunday birding was off the table, as I committed to choir-singing all day. Here it is Wednesday: I just finished going through these pictures last night. I will be leading one more walk this Saturday at the Portage if the current “morning thunderstorms” forecast does not pan out. It’s ever crazier to be paying attention to the forecast when it changes every five minutes, but I can’t help it.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Columbus Park

It’s always nice to see the herons at this location. My list of species totaled 32 which is not spectacular but it was great to have sunshine which the birds were enjoying too. I’ll do a separate post about the Portage later.

Red-winged Blackbird

This is the first time I’ve seen Wood Ducks hanging out on the lawn…but the Mallard was quite comfortably snoozing.

There are two Spotted Sandpipers in the photograph below the ducks, but the second one is a bit harder to see…

Spotted Sandpipers

I found the Philadelphia Vireo in my photographs last night. A surprise to me as I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of one before.

One more of the Mourning Warbler…

So this is the time of year when I have more photographs than I have time to post… Looking forward to the holiday weekend and hoping it’s not raining too much so I can get a handle on the rapidly increasing jungle that is my yard and maybe see some more birds.

Spring Returns

Black-throated Green Warbler

When I came back from Texas two weeks ago, the weather in Chicago was fairly pleasant and I mused I could have two springs! No matter that the Saturday before I got home there was snow on the ground. But just as we slipped into May, when it seemed reasonable to expect things would start warming up a bit, northeast winds picked up and although we weren’t freezing, the windchills were in the 30’s. It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain. The downpours have brought most of the trees into leaf and encouraging emerging plant life everywhere. Then, this past Thursday morning, a lot of migrant birds were down from the skies from the previous evening’s rainstorm.

I’m too far away from the lakefront now to go off searching for rarities on my lunch hour, but I took Friday off so that I could scope out the Portage before my bird walk on Saturday. It turned out to be the nicest day of my three-day weekend. Although it started off chilly and windy, when the sun emerged a little before 10:00 AM all was forgiven.

Magnolia Warbler

I just finished getting through Friday’s pictures last night – it seemed there were way too many, but I discovered three more species in them to add to the list with a grand total of 54 species, 13 of them warblers. Which isn’t super fantastic but it’s credible for the Portage.

As for the Texas pictures, I managed to send some to Field Guides Saturday night and now with that off my plate I can go back through all of them and start developing for my own purposes. Time, technology and energy being available in inconsistent quantities, this will take me a while.

So in the meantime, here are some of the spring migrants from my walk on Friday, and there will likely be some more from this visit and Saturday’s outing as I try to keep up with everything that seems to be happening this month.

American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) (robber baron pose)

This is all I can manage for now. I hope to report back soon with lots more!

Black-throated Green Warbler

Lakefront Parks and Confusing Warblers

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Palm Warbler

Before I left for downtown two Sundays ago, there was a young rabbit outside my front door between me and my car. There was also a very nicely kept spider web attached to one of my front stair railings.

Rabbit 9-16-18-0273Web 9-16-18-0274This will be brief, as was my last warbler flock experience.

My first lakefront park stop was the area north of Buckingham Fountain.

I saw more warblers than I was able to photograph. In all, there were maybe 8 species. Above, Cape May Warblers, below, American Redstart.

Also available, a Red-Breasted Nuthatch…

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Palm Warblers (above) dominated the flock. Across from all the activity was a fenced-in garden area where this transforming Northern Cardinal was feasting on seeds.

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Northern Cardinal through a fence

Then there is the warbler below. I struggled over this ID but now I’m thinking it is a Cape May too.Unknown 9-16-18-0480

I made my way over to Millennium Park and went up the stairs to Lurie Garden. The only warbler I found is below. Since it resembles nothing else, even though the mask is barely visible, it must be a Kentucky Warbler. It remained low in the foliage and everything else about it said Kentucky Warbler to me.

Below, one more of my best subject – the Palm Warbler enjoying a worm.

PAWA 9-16-18-0297There was no noticeable activity elsewhere that morning, and it’s been slow ever since. A strange, fitful migration season. But I am grateful for whatever birds I have seen and hope they are making safe trips to their winter homes.

Fall Warbler Fall-Out

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Connecticut Warbler

Last Friday after some rain and wind, I was called down to the front of our office building by a coworker who had gone down for a cigarette. She said there was a little bird in distress. As it turned out there were two birds in distress, the one she saw flopping around almost as if it was having seizures being a first-year Cape May Warbler, and another, the stunned Chestnut-Sided Warbler you can see below on the left. I called the Bird Collision Monitors hotline and got their voicemail. After waiting to hear back for about twenty minutes, I thought I could not leave the two birds alone on the sidewalk surrounded by foot traffic, glass and steel, so I took them both to the park-like setting about a block away at 311 South Wacker Drive. You can see them both on the grass below. I sat with them and observed the Cape May was dead, but when I reached for the Chestnut-Sided, it chirped and flew away, so I felt better for having rescued it. When the Bird Collision Monitors did finally call me, they said they had picked up over 200 birds that day. The little bird you see below on the building ledge wasn’t stunned but it was lost, as it flew up from the sidewalk looking for a way out of the buildings. I believe it’s a Least Flycatcher.

There were a lot of birds in the park Friday, so I went back on Monday afternoon with the camera. But not before checking the potted trees in the front of my building, where I found among other more common species, the Connecticut Warbler at the top of this post.

BPWA 9-10-18-9765

Blackpoll Warbler

There were a lot of Blackpolls but it was difficult to get a decent picture. Although I am thankful for the landscape architects planting lots of locust trees which are great for migrants, the trees are quite tall and I only carry my 300mm lens around with me during the week, so it was a challenge.

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Wilson’s Warbler

The Wilson’s Warbler never got low enough for me to capture his trademark skullcap but there’s something so Wilson’s about the shade of yellow. I really think whoever names colors could come up with an entire Warbler Collection. For as many field marks as my brain has memorized, I think I sometimes recognize these birds by the shade of yellow, if there’s good light.

MAWA 9-10-18-0083

Magnolia Warbler

There’s a familiar phrase, “warbler neck,” which is what you get looking up at these birds in the tall trees.

How nice of this Chestnut-Sided to almost come down to my level.

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Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Then there are the birds that prefer ground level, like the Common Yellowthroat below.

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Common Yellowthroat

On the other hand I was surprised to find this Pine Warbler in the grass when I later went through my photographs.

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Pine Warbler

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Pine Warbler

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten close enough to get a good picture of a Black-and-White Warbler and Monday was no exception. This was the best I could do.

American Redstarts come in several color combinations this time of year. The second-year or more adult males are black and orangey-red. The young males are yellow where the red would be, but it’s a warmer yellow than the females. I seem to have captured a bird that is somewhere in between the first and second-year males below the pictures of the older bird, judging from the darker gray on its head and back.

(Click on the pictures just below to see how this male’s plumage is changing.)

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American Redstart (female)

The biggest surprise perhaps was to see another Connecticut Warbler. These birds are normally hard to find, and here on the same day I had two within a block of each other.

COWA 9-10-18-0060Suffice it to say that the lure of fall migration is irresistible, especially with nice weather. The birds are taking advantage of the calm skies in this part of the country as well. I have been going back to the park every day this week and as of Tuesday all these birds seem to have left and no new ones have come in. I would like to think they all took off Monday night, navigating well out of the city and continuing their trips to Central and South America.

AMRE 9-10-18-9824I’ll have lots more to report if I can manage it. Hope you are having decent weather wherever you are.

Portage Vacation Day

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Cedar Waxwing

I took today off. It was a bit difficult getting up early this morning after swimming last night but I managed to get over to the Portage a little after 8:00 a.m. and took note of how deserted the place was on a weekday. No dog-walkers or cyclists. Only one runner, who was probably as amazed to see me as I was him.

img_2889img_2888A long shot of the duckweedy water above and just below it, an untrimmed path I decided not to take.

AMRO 8-31-18-8397The robins are back, and the waxwings are still numerous. Literally nobody in the mucky water. I was treated to American Redstarts and a couple Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds early on, which gave me hope to find a few more migrants.

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American Redstart (First Year Male)

Ruby-Throated Hummers above, an adult male American Redstart below.

The only other warblers I could barely photograph were the Chestnut-Sided below left and the Black-Throated Green on the right. I missed the Ovenbird that landed briefly in  the tree I later found them in.

In the beginning with the immature male Redstarts was a chattering young House Wren.

Butterflies were out for the sunshine today. Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent and Monarch butterflies.

I saw a few White-Breasted Nuthatches too.

WBNU 8-31-18-8715I heard the Eastern Wood-Pewee long before I saw the one below.

EAWP 8-31-18-8745This time of year I expect to see lots of Indigo Bunting children and I did, but they were playing hard to get with the camera.

Yellow is the predominant color this time of year and I found a bumblebee and a goldfinch taking advantage of it.

One Eastern Kingbird…

EAKI 8-31-18-8640There was a lot of chatter from catbirds but I only barely saw the youngster below.

GRCA 8-31-18-8474A couple more Cedar Waxwings. The one on the left is an immature.

The last photograph I took was of this stunning little Silvery Checkerspot.

Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly 8-31-18-8756My walk tomorrow will take place if we are not totally rained out. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast. We shall see… This evening as I write this I have just heard the rumble of thunder. And now it is starting to pour.

By the way it feels nice to have the time to do a same-day blog post. Perhaps if I – no, let’s say when I retire – I will be up to the task more often.

 

In the Vicinity

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

The weather has turned suddenly hot and it’s hard not to wonder what effect that’s having on spring migration. I sense that to a large degree, no? pun intended, the heat wave has sent those who move farther north packing. I had hoped we would still see a few warblers yesterday on my second time leading a walk at the Portage, but we only heard a couple Yellow Warblers and never saw them. I’ll be back later with a few pictures from yesterday. But this is a more historical post, with a few pictures from the trip two weeks ago to the Portage, and a few more from a walk I took at Ottawa Trail just to see what was going on closer to the Des Plaines River.

Magnolia Warblers move predictably enough to photograph. This time the easiest bird to capture was a female; I caught only glimpses of a male.

 

One bird that I haven’t seen in quite a while appeared toward the end of our walk two weeks ago. It’s a Yellow-Throated Vireo.

 

It’s gotten so hot in the last few days it’s hard to believe that last weekend it was still cool enough to warrant layered clothing in the morning.

The Green Herons were both on site two weeks ago, and the turtles were starting to emerge to soak up what little sunlight was occasionally available.

 

I think this was my last Hermit Thrush of the season.

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Hermit Thrush

I likely won’t see another Lincoln’s Sparrow until fall either.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

But it looks like I might be seeing a Great Egret from time to time at the Portage this year. We saw it a couple times yesterday.

 

The pictures below are hardly worth sharing, but this is my last Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

 

I used to see shorebirds more frequently but in the last couple years they have been few and far between, so I was happy we had a Spotted Sandpiper on the left, and the Killdeer on the right. I usually hear or see Killdeer flying, but sandpipers have been generally absent.

 

House Wrens are here to stay for the summer.

HOWR 5-19-18-4292A female American Redstart below.

 

And more shots of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. Yesterday we heard them constantly but didn’t see one.

 

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White-Tailed Deer at Ottawa Trail

It’s rare to see a Chipmunk sitting still but this one wasn’t self-conscious at all.

Chipmunk 5-19-18-4137Indigo Buntings, male and female.

 

And the surprise two weeks ago was an Orchard Oriole.

 

Often more heard than seen, the Northern Cardinal below, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a Song Sparrow, all at Ottawa Trail.

 

The heat may keep me indoors more than I’d like. That could mean more blog posts, however. For the moment it’s time to get out in the yard before the heat of the day takes over. Lots of work to do there. Happy Summer to All…

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Slow Walks through the Portage

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Baltimore Oriole

I have never been a hurry-up-let’s-get-this-over-with birder, but I am certainly moving more slowly these days because of my knee. But life in the slow lane has its advantages and the reduced speed has paid off. Two weeks ago I managed to count 55 species when I visited the Portage for four hours instead of the usual two, and last week with my first group we had 51 species in nearly about the same amount of time due in part to the fact that we got off to a late start because of the weather. Between the two lists I had 73 different species total. Of course it is spring migration, and it is not hard to spend a lot of time when you keep seeing more birds. Needless to say I did not get pictures of them all, or some pictures were useful later only for the purpose of identification. But in spite of having hardly any time or place to bird during the week, I feel as if I have seen some nice migrants in spite of my physical limitations. I took these pictures two weeks ago. I felt bad about not being able to do the Spring Bird Count, but I’m glad I managed to get out.

Breeding birds are back, and the most numerous after the Robins, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches are probably Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

Lots of Indigo Buntings are on site too. Many of them are first-year males like the ones below.

There are also several Warbling Vireos that have set up territories. I usually hear them more than I see them, but I got good views of this individual.

Some Yellow Warblers will likely breed here too.

I don’t think the Portage has breeding Ovenbirds but it was nice to see this one out in the open.