Snow: Before and After

Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage

Yesterday morning I got up and went to see how the birds were doing at the Portage. It was a cold, windy, bleary morning, and as far as I could tell, nobody was having a good time.

When the large black blob in the distance turned out to be a windblown Bald Eagle, I was encouraged to investigate. I couldn’t get very close to where it was perched high above the railroad tracks.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t singing much. This one appeared to look as if he was reconsidering his early arrival.

I did finally manage to see one of perhaps four Song Sparrows who were carrying on vocally as if spring had sprung. But he wasn’t flaunting his presence.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was an Eastern Phoebe. I felt for him, though, as there were no bugs to eat and it made me wonder what else he could get by on a couple days before the scheduled warmup.

Even the Robins weren’t having a good time.

The cardinals have been singing for weeks. They started earlier than the Robins. There was one singing along with the piano a few days ago. I was surprised, since the windows aren’t open. He must have heard the keyboard through the front door and I assume he was perched on the little apple tree outside of it. Below is a recording of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and just at the end where I start playing some other chords you can hear the cardinal singing along.

Northern Cardinal at the Portage
Cardinal singing with us toward the end of this clip

This Downy Woodpecker was foraging low with the sparrows.

I never did see if there was a hen sitting on a presumably well-hidden nest who belonged to this Mallard but he was definitely taking it easy.

I really hoped we were done with this snow stuff, although it was less than a minor inconvenience considering I didn’t have to go anywhere and it has now melted away. These few photos are from yesterday afternoon through the porch windows. The wet snow was falling and I didn’t feel like joining the birds in it, but I wanted to commemorate its arrival since I banished all my snow-in-the-yard photos from this “past” winter to external storage to make room for spring.

I’ve gone back to the photos from my August trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan and hope to follow with a post or two featuring bright sunshiny blue skies shortly.

I hope you are in good health, and pray you are making some sense out of all the chaos. We will get through this.

Portage Promise

Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.

Baltimore Oriole (female)

As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.

Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.

Tree Swallow

Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.

This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!

One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.

A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.

Red-winged Blackbird (female)
American Goldfinch (female)

It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.

Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!

Embracing Zero

NOCA 12-25-17-3476Well, maybe more like Enduring Zero. Sitting inside reliving Ecuador did not seem to be the best way to spend Christmas Day, so I went out for a walk through the Portage and later visited with the yard birds. We had snow on Christmas Eve so the setting was perfect, and if a little cold, at least the sun was shining in the morning. Little did I know at the time that Christmas Day’s weather would be considered balmy by the next day’s standard. And this morning I walked to the train in -4 degrees Fahrenheit, before the wind chill.

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Deer tracks in the snow at the Chicago Portage

I drove around for 40 minutes to various Cook County Forest Preserves beyond the Portage, all with closed parking lots. I am not fond of driving but it was pleasant enough listening and singing along with a Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) CD, and there were hardly any cars and the sun was shining brightly. When I did returned to find the Portage parking lot open, I was the only visitor. The trails were covered the deer tracks.

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White-Throated Sparrow

When I did find a few birds, for the most part they were half hidden.

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The most commanding presence was snow covering everything. Beyond that, I found a few geese and ducks on the Des Plaines River.

Just as I was leaving, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t get a picture, but below is a juvenile from last week’s Christmas Count on the Fox River.

BAEA 12-16-17-3400I decided to go home, fill the feeders and hang out with whoever showed up in the yard.

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House Sparrows have learned to hang upside down if necessary…

There were a number of House Finches, and although the light was waning, I was surprised to see the males looking as red as they did.

 

HOFI 12-25-17-3667I am always happy to see Mrs. Cardinal and any hardy little Dark-Eyed Junco.

NOCA 12-25-17-3632DEJU 12-25-17-3562My male cardinal swooped in for a remaining hawthorn berry and posed with it. As if to verify his supreme redness.

NOCA 12-25-17-3657I still have the weather for Quito on my phone. The temperature seems to stay around 58-60 degrees. I think it’s time to go back to the pictures from Ecuador. If you made it this far, your reward is three pictures of Long-Tailed Sylphs. More to come in the next post.

Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0813Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0817Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0801I find some satisfaction in knowing the days are already getting longer.

March On

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Great Horned Owl on nest, Salt Creek Forest Preserve, Cook County

I started writing this post on March 1. WFMT’s Carl Grapentine kicked off March 1’s morning program by playing, what else? Various marches. I was just getting over February.

The end of February was sufficiently balmy to lock  it into the record books with January as being the first time both months went without snow in Chicago.

I birded with my friend Susan last Sunday. We went to Bemis Woods South and the Salt Creek Forest Preserve. It was so quiet I didn’t bother to do a list. We were about to give up on the Salt Creek portion when a man walking in the opposite direction told us to look for an owl, so we continued. The Great Horned Owl at the top of this post made the day. Its nest was easily seen from the trail, and it sat and watched as people went by.

Two more birds from Bemis below, a White-Breasted Nuthatch and Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

March came in like the proverbial lion, returning to chilly, windy temperatures. My reward for venturing out of the office last week was to see my first Yellow-Rumped Warbler in Millennium Park. Nothing rare, but an earliest first for me.

It’s a busy time of year for the birds, as they prepare for spring. Today I visited the Chicago Portage, and although by the time I got there the sunny start was disappearing, and the number of Canada Geese and Mallards was increasing, and there were some more unusual visitors in the air, like the Bald Eagle below with nesting material and a small flock of Sandhill Cranes. The Sandhills were oddly quiet.

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The Bald Eagle was flying east, but I have no idea where the nest might be. That direction was industrial, with the Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Saw and heard my first male Red-Winged Blackbirds today at the Portage, where they have come to establish territories.

There were maybe 40 Mallards spread out wherever there was water, and 5 pair of Canada Geese were checking out nesting spots. I haven’t seen any banded geese this year.

Other than the Red-Winged Blackbirds there were very few passerines, with the exception of a few American Robins and European Starlings. I heard a Song Sparrow, Chickadees, Killdeer, and a couple Downy Woodpeckers were flitting about.

The last Downy Woodpecker I photographed was last week in Millennium Park.

Also present that day, a couple Northern Cardinals and the White-Throated Sparrows who literally yelled their calls from the bushes when they saw me approach our favorite spot.

More Portage views…

cago-and-mallards-portage-2-26-17-9953I hope to be back once more if possible, with an update on my indoor crowd – before I leave for a quick trip to Panama. I’ve been planning this trip for months and unbelievably, all of a sudden it’s here.

noca-millennium-3-2-17-0390Thanks to you all for checking in. Until next time… Peace and Think Spring.

Spring Bird Count

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Eastern Towhee

Here are some pictures from last Saturday’s Spring Bird Count. I did the morning half at McKee Marsh. I have yet to manage lasting long enough to do the afternoon half at Blackwell. It’s hard to get up at 3:00 AM on Saturday after working all week. Maybe next year I can take some vacation days to coincide with migration.

There was still not much going on with warblers, although the storms we have had since have caused considerable fallout along the lakefront and likely this area too.

It was a pleasant surprise to get to the observation deck over the largest portion of water and see a contented looking Bald Eagle, who later reappeared in flight.

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Another Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher on yet another gray day. And there were more gray birds in and around the water…most everything was too far away to focus.

Tree Swallows were abundant.

And it’s always special to see the return of Bobolinks.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are getting down to business.

We were lucky to accomplish as much as we did in spite of periods of rain. The Song Sparrow below did not let the lack of sunshine dampen his song.

SOSP McKee Spring Ct 5-7-2016-9426Except for brief warm spells, the weather is unseasonably cool, but the rain has caused the trees to leaf out in abundance, offering cover for many migrants while making them that much harder to see! I’ll be back soon with a small migration report from downtown Chicago.

Chicago Portage Surprise

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Blue-Winged Teal

I went to the Portage last Sunday and meant to report back earlier but the work week got the better of me. So while I am sitting here sharing the sunshine with the indoor crowd and not feeling too bad about it since there’s about a quarter of an inch of snow on the ground from last night…

The Blue-Winged Teal at the top of the post were swimming around when I first saw them but as I tried to get unobstructed views to photograph, they flushed, and sadly the best picture I got was of two in flight. I hate flushing birds but as I progressed along the path I think all 8 of them would have left anyway.

It’s still surprising to me to see people working on Sunday, but there these guys were, working on the new shelter right off the parking lot.

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With the unseasonal weather confusion, still seeing some winter species like the American Tree Sparrow below.

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American Tree Sparrow

I took the photos of these two female ducks before identifying them. The one on the left appears to be a female American Black Duck. The one on the right, however, appears to be a hybrid American Black Duck-Mallard female. It took me a while to figure out the second one. My reasoning for the ID on the second one is the plumage.

There was also one Canada Goose sitting in the water but so still she appeared to be sitting on a nest.

An Eastern Phoebe was my first of the year at the Portage. Even though I saw this bird in two locations I suspect it’s the same one.

Such was the grayness of the day that even pieces of wood appeared to be possibly alive.

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Below, two Mallards dabbling in their bottoms-up fashion and a male Mallard.

There were a few American Goldfinches present, none showing any more color than the one below.

And there are always Downy Woodpeckers.

American Robins are always here too, only now beginning to look fancy.

An average day at the Portage, perhaps. But then The Big Surprise occurred as I approached the parking lot and this Bald Eagle flew over my head. It appears to be an immature bird, Bald Eagles attaining their adult plumage after about five years, so the head, for instance, is not completely white.

But to see a Bald Eagle in my neighborhood – well, it is around the Des Plaines River, but still, barely a mile and a half from where I live – this is really amazing to me. Apparently not unusual, though, because when I reported it to ebird my sighting was not questioned.

BAEA  04-03-2016-5337Below is another shot of the Eastern Phoebe. I love these birds, they’re so cooperative.

EAPH 04-03-2016-5231I owe you one more post from Nicaragua and then maybe the snow will melt for good and we can get started with spring!

We Pause for a Brief Commercial from Spring

RWBL 3-6-2016-3523I may have said I didn’t want to get distracted in my last blog post, but I felt the need to go out for a little exploration Sunday morning, and so became distracted by a few birds at McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage. And if I don’t pay them due respect now they will likely never get another chance.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds are back in force at McGinnis, with likely more to arrive. I counted maybe a dozen males singing on their territories. There were Red-Winged Blackbirds back in Millennium Park downtown yesterday, along with some of their Common Grackle cousins. (The photo below is from McGinnis.)

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I have been checking off all my little Signs of Spring since I got back: the appearance of the first American Robin in my yard last week, then hearing Robins singing in the neighborhood yesterday (looking forward to those 2:00 AM serenades!), the Northern Cardinals singing their descending scale song, and I’m even distracted by the return of the Canada Geese to the Jackson Street Bridge. A Horned Grebe on the lakefront. Every year around this time someone sees a Red-Throated Loon by Monroe Harbor. I may have been the first to report one a few years back. I have missed the bird ever since but wonder if it’s the same individual returning year after year.

It was cloudy, cold and windy on Sunday, perfect Red-Tailed Hawk weather at McGinnis. We have warmed up since then and have relatively balmy temperatures predicted for the entire work week, along with attendant rain and thunderstorms.

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McGinnis Slough

The other raptor at McGinnis was a juvenile Bald Eagle. There are more and more frequent sightings of these birds in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Not many surprises at the Chicago Portage but it was brimming with the promise of renewal. There were several White-Breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers.

One of the pairs of Canada Geese ready to set up housekeeping was the same tagged couple from the last two years, No’s. 16 and 11. If I recall correctly 16 is the male. This time I noticed the bands on their legs as well although they are not decipherable.

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Chicago Portage

Among the Mallards and Canada Geese was one Northern Shoveler. I just barely managed to capture him before he took off.

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There were about a dozen Dark-Eyed Juncos but with the sweep of warm air coming in, this may be the last time I see them.

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It looks as if the badgers have been busy…

I’m not changing the header on this page because I do intend to get right back to the photographs from Nicaragua! Maybe all the rain this week will keep me inside long enough to finish that task.

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Is It Spring Yet?

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Any prediction of warmer temperatures and sunshine, however brief, is all it takes to make me a little nuts these days, especially if it falls on a weekend. So Sunday I tested the forecast for the last days of March and headed toward the Palos Forest Preserves of Cook County, starting with my favorite, McGinnis Slough.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbirds were singing on territory, but much of the water was still frozen. I managed to see ten species of ducks, including Ring-Necked, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Blue-Winged Teal and Green-Winged Teal, plus American Coots and there was one Trumpeter Swan at the far side of the larger expanse of water.

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Not much in the way of land birds, save a few skittish Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Even the closer ducks at McGinnis’s south end were still too far away to photograph, but that never stops me.

Ducks McGinnis Slough 3-30-14 5869.jpg-5869Ducks McGinnis Slough 3-30-14 5880.jpg-5880Ducks McGinnis Slough 3-30-14 5875.jpg-5875

From McGinnis, I went next to Saganashkee Slough, where American White Pelicans and Common Loon had been reported. I saw neither, but added Red-Breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, White-Winged Scoter, Pin-Tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye to my duck list. There was also a distant Horned Grebe and an immature Bald Eagle soaring over the water. It was even more useless to photograph anything here but I’m still including a picture of a lot of white blobs that were Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee Slough

On the way home, I stopped at The Chicago Portage to see if anything new was going on since last week. It was midday so I didn’t expect to see many birds. But there was a lot of melt and mud.

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And a White-Breasted Nuthatch, heard first and seen at a distance later.

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Also heard before seen, a male Belted Kingfisher. This guy was really far away but the camera saw him. I think this might be the first one I have actually seen at the Portage.

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I decided to capture a close-up of some lichens growing on a dead stump, the only green going on.

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So much for the early spring report, it’s back to finishing going through my Belize pictures. It won’t be long before McGinnis is full of Great Blue Herons like this one. Only the vegetation will look a bit different… 🙂

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

 

Shivering in the Snow and Sunshine

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Yesterday three of the Four Elles joined the DuPage Birding Club outing to Starved Rock in LaSalle County, Illinois. Although the fourth Elle could not join us, she participated in the same field trip with two of us last year. We met a large group of birders at the Lock and Dam across the river from the main entrance to Starved Rock State Park, where we watched birds on the Illinois River from the comfort and convenience of the deck behind the visitor’s center.

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers L&D 1-19-14 1753.jpg-1753The Bald Eagle pictures are from this location. The birds were not always close enough, but they were active and in general viewing them turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

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There were not many species of waterfowl, but we did have a couple Great Blue Herons, one of which is flying below.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We then caravanned across the river to the visitor’s center adjacent to the lodge at the state park, where they have well-stocked bird feeders. There were many Blue Jays, not willing to sit still for the most part; this one looks pretty cold.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On and around the feeders, White-Breasted Nuthatches were common, like the one below.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And invariably, we saw Downy Woodpeckers. And Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow and Black-Capped Chickadees, although less available for good shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

After lunch, the field trip took off for Lee County instead of further down the river this year, a change driven as much by the weather as the opportunity to search for a previously reported Snowy Owl. We scanned field after field like the one below. Unable to keep up with the 4-wheel drive vehicles in the blowing snow on the roads, after an hour or two we turned homeward and did not see the eventual Snowy. Luckily there are still opportunities closer to home.

Lee County farm field

Lee County farm field

(Last weekend on another field trip, I saw a Snowy in Bolingbrook but could not get a decent picture. Three individual birds have been spotted near this location, so there may yet be a chance to return and try again.)

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Bolingbrook Snowy Owl

Owls on an Afternoon

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I’ll spare you some really bad puns I had for the title of this post.

Sunday afternoon, three of us Elles went on a DuPage Birding Club field trip led by intrepid Jeff Smith. The purpose of the trip was to see owls that Jeff had located previously. Owl etiquette also dictates that owl locations not be widely publicized.

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Our first stop was at Isle a La Cache in Will County, a new spot for me. I can only imagine what it looks like in warmer weather; it was beautiful and a bit mysterious under snow and ice. There were times we were walking on the ice, retreating when we heard  creaking beneath our feet.

We might have found the Great Horned Owl eventually on our own, but five or six crows noisily called our attention to it, and they kept at it for a long time – I estimate five to eight minutes. And here I had been musing about crows finding owls the previous weekend; it’s as if I got my wish. Crows are expert owl spotters, and they also make real nuisances of themselves. Every time this owl perched, the crows harassed it until it moved again. Eventually, it flew close enough into an open space where I got the photograph below, much to my surprise.

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Some other birds of the day, a Black-Capped Chickadee…

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One of a few Red-Bellied Woodpeckers…

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One of two Bald Eagles…

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One of many American Tree Sparrows…

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but no more owls. We moved on to a location where we might have at least heard a Barred Owl, but no luck there.

We wound up at Goose Lake Prairie, if a bit early, expecting to see a Short-Eared Owl hunting at dusk. Before dusk we had several Northern Harriers hunting over the grassland.

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Much of the field trip had been akin to a forced march, and now we stood shivering in the cold on a platform that overlooks the preserve. Our patience did finally pay off. We saw a Short-Eared Owl floating mothlike over the grass just as it began to hunt. It was way too dark by then to take pictures, the light disappearing quickly.

Goose Lake Prairie

Goose Lake Prairie