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.

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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… 🙂

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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

Highlights from a not-too-birdy bird walk

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A young Red-Bellied Woodpecker

I joined ten hardy souls of the DuPage Birding Club on Sunday, venturing to get acclimated to the cold front we’ll be dealing with it all week. We met at Waterfall Glen which is in DuPage County surrounding Argonne National Laboratories. While the bird sightings were few, there were some nice surprises, and even though I didn’t get many pictures, it was still worth the effort.

Compare this Red-Bellied Woodpecker to the one at the top, it appears to be more of an adult.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

We counted 6 of 7 possible woodpecker species, including the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker above. I did not get a picture of the beautiful Pileated Woodpecker that flew directly overhead after responding to a tape, but it was well worth the look. The only woodpecker we did not have was a Red-Headed.

Tree Sparrows were out and about. The abundant sunshine warmed our spirits.

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American Tree Sparrow

My most cooperative subject, in the parking lot when I arrived, a legendary pair of shoes.

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The highlight of the trip’s end was an adult Bald Eagle, judged to be a female, who flew over the Des Plaines river and then perched far from us on the other side. I was blocked by a lot of tree growth but did not want to harass her to the point where she would have to move again. She was well aware of our presence and kept her stern eye on us. I’m planning to take a couple trips to see Bald Eagles in February where I hope to get more definitive shots, but it was worth documenting her presence.

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The most cooperative bird of the day turned out to be one of two White-Breasted Nuthatches who flew into a tree right in front of my car when I returned to the parking lot to head home. So I’m including this little study of a nuthatch going about his job.

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

Depending on the light and the angle, these birds can look simply black and white, or suddenly offer bursts of unexpected color. I’ve been intrigued by the rosy-colored vent lately, which I first noticed getting closeup views of these birds on my peanut feeder at home.

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Then there’s gray on the back and even some brown…

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But most surprising to me about this bird is the base of its upturned bill which has an indentation I’ve never seen before.

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