Summer Comes to the Portage

Blue Dasher

I have been going to the Portage just about every weekend this month, and I’ve also been working my tail off during the week, so it’s been hard to sit down and make sense of anything. These few pictures are the highlights from this past Sunday morning.

Right away I was suddenly engaged following a hungry vireo as it foraged not too far away, right about eye-level. It was a Warbling Vireo, but I had never seen such a wide-eyed one before. He looked surprised to see me as well.The Portage has five or more nesting pairs and I hear them singing all the time, but rarely see them. This is the closest and longest I’ve ever observed a Warbling Vireo.

Summer brings out lots of dragonflies and some other critters I don’t often see, like this Bullfrog.

The frog fanciers were present too, although instead of fishing, I saw them only perched or in flight this time.

Maybe you’ve noticed how bouncy goldfinches are in flight, they seem to propel themselves through the air, and that’s exactly what they were doing on Sunday. The only goldfinches I saw were flying, below.

Not seeing many butterflies, but there seem to be a reasonable number of dragonflies. And then there was this metallic turquoise beetle…

Juvenile robins are gawky and spotted and just generally at an awkward stage…

In general, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t posing, and if they were still for a moment they were still quite far away. They weren’t even bothering to sing hardly at all. Everybody is busy rearing youngsters.

Baltimore Oriole

After crazy busy at work I am looking forward to the four-day weekend. Weather permitting, I hope to venture a little farther than the Portage; I feel the need to at least attempt to see some grassland birds. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s plenty more to do – like finish processing the Texas pictures and those from my previous visits to the Portage this month. One cannot plan ahead anymore. The weather changes ever five minutes, so I am going with the flow. It’s been thundering and raining tonight as I write. Even if we’ve managed to totally mess it up, weather is still something we cannot control. Haha.

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!

Robins and Red-Wingeds

RWBL 6-30-18-5698The heat is here and now more than ever the object of the game is to get up and out as early as possible, before it becomes unbearable. Birds are uniquely qualified to hide in the trees and stay cool that way. But it seemed like I was at last seeing numbers of American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds the last time I visited the Portage.

AMRO 6-30-18-5821I didn’t see any adult Baltimore Orioles but there were a couple youngsters like the one below, who was busy trying to take care of all those feathers.

BAOR 6-30-18-5770And in the same color scheme, there were a few Monarch Butterflies making their way through the patches of milkweed.

Monarch 6-30-18-5827A young rabbit paused on the trail.

Bunny 6-30-18-5943And the Indigo Buntings are quite numerous, even if it’s hard to find them. The hen below is showing off her prize which I’m sure she delivered to hungry nestlings.

 

I heard more males singing than I saw but I did manage to pluck this image out of the backlighting. The bird on the right looks more like a juvenile than a female.

 

The Great Egret was more visible this time, if still at quite a distance.

GREG Portage 6-30-18-5831I followed this Green Heron when it landed in the tree, only to realize its partner had been there hiding in plain sight all the time as two herons took off a moment later.

 

Perhaps my best find was an Orchard Oriole I could photograph. I have been seeing one or two but never long enough to take a picture. This bird was busy preening as well. Sorry to take advantage of the bird’s down-time but it seems like the only way to spend time with the summer residents.

 

The male and female Brown-Headed Cowbirds below were in the same tree but too far away from each other to catch together. On the way out of the parking lot later I saw four more cowbirds foraging in the grass.

 

Neither one of the photographs below, of a Great-Crested Flycatcher, are very good since he was partially hidden behind a twig, but I was glad to hear him and see him after I walked over by the railroad tracks to see if there was anything going on at all on the Des Plaines River.

GCFL 6-30-18-5886

GCFL 6-30-18-5871

Great-Crested Flycatcher

An inadvertent flying robin.

AMRO 6-30-18-5944And the Orchard Oriole taking off.

OROR 6-30-18-5804I have tentative plans to go out early on the 4th if possible, but rain and thunderstorms seem to be in the forecast and that might stop me. It’s awkward to have a day off in the middle of the week, but a day off is a day off. Rain might actually be good enough to quell local firecracker explosions.

 

Summer, then

Sphynx Moth 2-24-18-5529I’m not quite up to more adventurous birding spots yet, or so I’ve been telling myself, so I went back to the Portage again last Sunday morning. One of my first most delightful encounters was the Sphinx Moth above. It might also be called a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. I didn’t see any hummingbirds, although I keep looking for them ever since one zipped by one of my feeders a couple weeks ago.

GBHE 2-24-18-5447

Great Blue Heron

All the herons that have been hanging out were present, if difficult to get close to. The Great Egret in particular has been trying to stay as far from the trails as possible.

GREG 6-24-18-5631

Great Egret, at a distance

One of the Green Herons landed in a nearby tree, and then took off for another location. The other one stayed glued to a small stump in the water and was barely visible.

GRHE 6-24-18-5413Portage with Green Heron 2-24-18-5578So much for the one Red-Winged Blackbird that was temporarily available.

Even though I know there are many Indigo Buntings on site, I was only able to see the male below who looks like he had just taken a bath, compromising his ability to reflect very much blue. Below him, a well hidden female, who I found only after hearing her persistent chip note.

inbu 2-24-18-5392INBU 6-24-18-5657Summer sun is just what the painted turtles crave. At least I think they were all painted turtles.

Turtles 6-24-18-5638Painted Turtle 2-24-18-5389

Even the robins were hunkered down somewhat. Below, one serious adult and a couple youngsters.

There are several Song Sparrows, I always hear them singing, but it’s been hard to see one. I did manage to glimpse this one at a distance.

SOSP 2-24-18-5586

It was a day for bathing and rearranging feathers, I think, such as the Baltimore Oriole below.

The biggest surprise was to see two young Hooded Mergansers. I had to look them up as I’ve never seen juveniles of this species before but I recognized that they had to be mergansers from their bill and head shape. Nice of them to stop by the Portage. I’m sure they were touring several bodies of water. I didn’t expect them to stay very long as the water is hardly deep enough for diving.

Even the one Northern Cardinal I could get to pose was having a bad hair day.

NOCA 2-24-18-5542I caught the Great Blue Heron as it left for another one of its haunts.

GBHE 2-24-18-5466A couple more pictures of the Sphinx Moth. The Common Milkweed is in full bloom everywhere including my front yard, where it has smelled so strong I could detect its scent halfway down the block.

I can’t believe it’s taken me the whole week to finish this post. I’ve been very busy at work and that takes a lot out of me. I graduated physical therapy Tuesday night so I am looking forward to having that night free again. If nothing else the knee is improving ever so incrementally and I look forward to not having its excuse to curtail any activity.

Beyond that, I just got back this morning from another visit to the Portage. I hope to be back much sooner with that report. The heat has taken hold for a few days, so I should relish sitting here in the air conditioning. I hope you are safe and cool wherever you are!

 

Quick Visit

RHWO 6-16-18-5238

Red-Headed Woodpecker

After being stuck in the office all week even when there was nice weather, I decided I had to get out to the Portage early Saturday morning before the sauna-like weather baked in. I didn’t get there quite as early as planned but it was good to be back and get my mind off everything else for a couple hours.

Unsurprisingly, more birds were heard than seen. It’s breeding season and time be to inconspicuous. Also, the building intensity of sunlight didn’t suit many birds well. A lot of singers were hidden in the leaves of the treetops. And if I did see one, like the catbird below, it was backlit in the shade.

I’m almost embarrassed for the Baltimore Oriole on the left and bottom right below, I’m not sure if he’d just taken a bath but he was a disheveled mess when I caught him preening.

Then there was this iridescent green beetle on the trail…

Green Tiger Beetle 6-16-18-5168

Green Tiger Beetle

And one of many Widow Skimmers. It seems ridiculous to be taking closeups with a 600mm lens, but the dragonfly didn’t seem to mind.

Widow Skimmer 6-16-18-5166I had only one Red-Winged Blackbird volunteer.

RWBL 6-16-18-5139And after weeks of hardly seeing any Downy Woodpeckers, I did see this one messing around in the leaves like a warbler.

But the highlight was seeing an adult Red-Headed Woodpecker. Last fall I saw a juvenile at the end of September, pictured below. I have been wondering all year if these birds would find the Portage suitable habitat now that the forest is less dense. It worked for the Great Horned Owls. And now there is a Red-Headed Woodpecker. I hope he stays.

RHWO 09-30-17-9164

Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17

I am only able to finish this short post because I didn’t go swimming tonight. The threat of thunderstorms kept me home. Not that I mind thunderstorms, but I don’t relish driving in them and anyway, for whatever reason, the threat can be enough for the fitness center to close access to the pool. So I’m sitting here safe, hanging out with the indoor crowd after a long day at work, hoping for a reassuring crash of thunder. In any event, whatever weather system this turns out to be, we will be cooler than the last three days and that will be a blessing.

Slow Walks through the Portage

BAOR 5-6-18-3219

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.

Two more warblers I was able to photograph…but they won’t be staying.

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Northern Parula

AMRE 5-6-18-2837

Male American Redstart

My best surprise was to briefly see a Hooded Warbler and manage to get a picture of him. These are far less common. I used to see them on the lakefront occasionally. This was a real treat.

HOWA 5-6-18-2754

Hooded Warbler

The Great-Horned Owls appear to have just one owlet but it’s gotten pretty big and last week we saw all three of them all take off from their tree. I took these pictures of junior and mom two weeks ago.

The Downy Woodpeckers are busy.

Migrant thrushes, like the Gray-Cheeked on the left and the Swainson’s on the right, below, are passing through.

I don’t think there are enough places left at the Portage for Tree Swallows to nest.

Goldfinches are in full breeding plumage now.

AMGO 5-6-18-2820

On the sparrow front, I found a Chipping Sparrow, a few White-Crowned Sparrows who have all flown north by now, and one hard-to-see Song Sparrow. The Portage is home to breeding Song Sparrows, but I’m not sure about Chipping Sparrows.

SOSP 5-6-18-3128

Song Sparrow

As ubiquitous as Red-Winged Blackbirds are, they can still be beautiful.

House Wrens breed at the Portage. They’re always singing a lot, and every once in a while I might even see one… But it always takes me a few repeats to remember their song.

I have one more walk to lead at the Portage this coming Saturday. The last time I checked the weather the prediction was for thunderstorms, but that was the forecast last Saturday and we still managed to dodge the rain and see a lot of birds, so I am hopeful. It should be warmer too, which will add a whole new dimension – mosquitoes – after all the rain. As much as I find mosquitoes a nuisance, I also realize they’re food for a lot of birds.

INBU 5-6-18-3185

Black Mulberries and Odonata

EUST Berries Portage 08-05-17-7181

Juvenile European Starling in the Black Mulberry Tree

I went back to the Chicago Portage last Saturday and figured out the three big trees with berries. After seeing the berries in my photos, they looked like mulberries to me. Sure enough, the trees are Black Mulberry, which can get up to 50 feet high, and at the Portage over the long period of time, they look like they have.

My history with mulberries is brief, but years ago one tree made an impression on me. There was a White Mulberry (Chinese) in my yard when I first moved in, and I quickly tired of the Starlings leaving a berry mess all over the place, not to mention the fact that you can never entirely get rid of mulberry trees, so I had the tree removed but I have to remain constantly vigilant, cutting down shoots here and there, if I can’t dig them up. More pictures of a Black Mulberry Tree below.

Maybe it was too early in the day for butterflies as there were absolutely none, but there were dragonflies and damselflies.

Female 12-Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly Portage 08-05-17-7259

Female 12-Spotted Skimmer

Common Whitetail Portage 08-05-17-7320

Common Whitetail

Poss Female Powdered Dancer Portage 08-05-17-7315

possible Female Powdered Dancer

Eastern Forktail Portage 08-05-17-7312

Eastern Forktail

Blue-Ringed Dancer Portage 08-05-17-7298

Blue-Ringed Dancer

Predictably, many of the birds were juveniles, like the Red-Winged Blackbirds below.

And most of the birds were quite far away. For the record, a Cedar Waxwing and a Northern Flicker.

The Mourning Doves below were at first a bit closer but didn’t wait for my shot (left) and then were cautiously distant (right).

It was nice to see an Osprey fly over, for a change.

Osprey Portage 08-05-17-7268

And a flying cigar (Chimney Swift).

CHSW Portage 08-05-17-7206

And quite unexpectedly for both of us, a young buck White-tailed Deer on the trail ahead of me.

Young Buck Portage 08-05-17-7439Wildflowers still captured my attention.

Wildflower Portage 08-05-17-7040In particular I was glad to see the Jewelweed (impatiens capensis,¬†Spotted Touch-Me-Not)¬†starting up again. I’ve been seeing a couple hummingbirds at the Portage the last few weeks but not close. There’s always the possibility Jewelweed will attract them when it’s in full bloom.

Jewelweed Portage 08-05-17-7229

Jewelweed

And sure enough, Burdock and Pokeweed are on the chopping block.

Burdock and Pokeweed Pulled Up Portage 08-05-17-7223More unfinished Starlings below…

And Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and a Baltimore Oriole.

BAOR Portage 08-05-17-7351

House Wren and Gray Catbird… Indigo Buntings abound.

INBU Portage 08-05-17-7422

Female Indigo Bunting

INBU Portage 08-05-17-7056

Juvenile Male Indigo Bunting

AMRO Berries Portage 08-05-17-7174

American Robin in the Black Muberry

This coming Sunday, my flutist friend Linda and I are playing flute-and-piano music for the service at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago. Not sure I will be able to venture out again this Saturday morning. I slept in last Sunday…