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
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.
I had only one Red-Winged Blackbird volunteer.
And 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
possible Female Powdered 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.
And a flying cigar (Chimney Swift).
And quite unexpectedly for both of us, a young buck White-tailed Deer on the trail ahead of me.
Wildflowers still captured my attention.
In 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.
And sure enough, Burdock and Pokeweed are on the chopping block.
More unfinished Starlings below…
And Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and a Baltimore Oriole.
House Wren and Gray Catbird… Indigo Buntings abound.
Female Indigo Bunting
Juvenile Male Indigo Bunting
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…
Here are a few remnant pictures from the Cook County Forest Preserves I visited over the weekend. We’re enduring a hot spell right now with high humidity and while rain looms in the forecast, it’s pretty unpredictable. As much as we could use the rain, I also expect the timing of it might interfere with any as-yet-unformed weekend plans to go birding Sunday. I might just swing by the Schoolhouse and look for the Prairie Warbler again tomorrow.
Below is a Tufted Titmouse from last weekend’s visit to the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Actually the first sound to greet me was that of Bullfrogs. I’ve included a recording below the pictures.
And below, a couple Eastern Towhees – a youngster barely visible on the left, and an adult male on the right.
American Robins are everywhere, but predominately at the Chicago Portage which is where I dropped in a bit late on Tuesday morning.
Also at the Portage, a fly-by Killdeer.
Blue Jays were everywhere too, normally heard but not seen, but they were unusually visible at McGinnis Slough.
Yes, below is another Red-Winged Blackbird chasing, this time, a Red-Tailed Hawk, but the hawk has a snake of some sort in its talons.
Enjoying the low water levels at McGinnis were several Great Blue Herons.
Also finding things to do, a Gray Catbird and one of two Raccoons swimming in the shallow water.
At the Chicago Portage, where the week before I had no trace of Green Herons, I saw this one, although I doubt they are nesting here.
The Caspian Tern below was over the water at the Little Red Schoolhouse. I also saw a tern at McGinnis but not as clearly.
At the Portage, Baltimore Orioles feeding young.
Below, an interesting grass and a female Brown-Headed Cowbird at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
And another Baltimore Oriole, this one a female, with food for her brood.If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve a reward. I invite you to enjoy the beautiful song of a Wood Thrush recorded at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Thank you to all of you reading and following my blog! Wednesday was the anniversary of my 6th year doing this thing and was also my birthday. This is convenient for me as I have a hard time remembering dates in general so the more things I can associate with my date of birth, which I have to remember, the better.
I spent three hours at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area this morning. I saw and heard a lot of birds, if not necessarily a lot of species. Most of the birds I photographed were quite far away. Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows below, then a Field Sparrow.
Did I see the King Rail? I’m not sure. Maybe I did, so maybe it’s half-a-lifer, but without a scope to clarify anything, my binoculars could not discern any detail on the likely suspect and my camera lens was no better at deciphering a preening bird at the water’s edge.
But rarer birds have a way of showing up when you least expect them. So it is with the Yellow-Breasted Chat. When I think of all the Chats I have heard and never seen on their breeding grounds, seeing and photographing one this morning had all the sweetness of any surprise. I was first drawn to the yellow bird by its behavior kiting after insects. Then when it perched I realized it was a Chat, however far away. This species is still considered a warbler.
I was photographing anything I could focus on before identifying it. So it was with the Grasshopper Sparrow below.
And this elusive Sedge Wren too.
This Indigo Bunting was right out in the open. With the abundant sunshine, he picked the right day to do it.
Likewise with this young Baltimore Oriole, but so far away.
Some wildflowers in bloom…the first one is not Blazing Star but similar, and then Bergamot which is now in my yard, and in the lower right hand corner, Wild Parsnip, something I never noticed before but recognized right away this time after all the parsnip growing in my yard.
For all the abundance of Red-Winged Blackbirds I almost tend to ignore them, and in some measure it’s a defensive action because they can get testy this time of year, as you probably noticed in my last post.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
But sometimes they can be fun to capture anyway.
Male Red-Winged Blackbird
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a young Eastern Kingbird before, so this was a treat.
Juvenile Eastern Kingbird
And although Common Yellowthroats are constantly announcing themselves, they’re often hard to see, so I was grateful to these two.
I still have a few photos to share from Sunday’s adventures and that could still happen. The remedy for all this is to just stop taking pictures but there is always more to see.
I’m glad I got to Goose Lake Prairie, I missed it last year. The other Goose Lake Conservation Area awaits exploration.
If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.
Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.
Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).
Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.
Juvenile Baltimore Oriole
Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …
After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.
One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.
Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.
And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.
Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.
I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.
One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.
Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.
The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.
All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.
On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.
Unidentified Invasive Plant
A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.
And one more of the Carolina Wrens.
McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!
Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.
Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.
Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.
There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.
Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.
Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.
We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.
Cedar Waxwings above, at IDSP on the left and the other one from the Chicago Portage.
The Portage had at least four male Baltimore Orioles, and I was able to spot a female not entirely hidden on the right, above.
To add to my list of not-often-seen woodpeckers, I had a Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage. Usually I see Downies everywhere, but this was the only woodpecker that I was able to photograph.
Tree Swallows were abundant. And below, it was a good day for turtles at the Portage.
And for Mallard ducklings…looking almost full grown.
Below, a newly fledged American Robin and an adult.
One more look at the Red-Headed Woodpecker.
I’ve been busy writing silly songs, working, gardening and starting to get ready for a trip that will begin on July 1. I am now glad I inadvertently planned to be away before the Democratic National Convention. I’m growing weary of the daily drama and it will be good for my head to be totally oblivious to politics for a couple weeks.
I’ll try to get back to this page a few times before I go. Thanks for stopping by!
The fact that this place always looks like it may have started on another planet never escapes me, and now I may have some insight into why.
But first I’d like to share a few photos from last Sunday, just as the rain was stopping. I managed to count 40 species, some of which I never saw but recognized by their vocalizations. So spring migration, in spite of whatever weather challenges the birds face, goes on regardless.
My first bird willing to pose was this Spotted Sandpiper. I can’t recall ever seeing one so true to its name. Later I encountered two other common shorebird species, the Killdeer and Solitary Sandpipers below.
Waterfowl was present but not much worthy of a photo except for a solitary Blue-Winged Teal.
The only warblers willing to engage with the camera were Yellow-Rumped and Black-Throated Green Warblers. All the warblers I saw were in the same tree. I had a Blackburnian Warbler which is always a treat, but the poor light just wouldn’t do him justice.
Still here’s the Blackburnian on the left and a Palm Warbler on the right.
And for a blue-gray day, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.
Below is a Brown Thrasher who was singing enthusiastically. I neglected to take my recorder with me but shot the video beneath his picture which recorded some of his song. This is a mimid species, which means he imitates other calls and recites them, singing each call twice. Toward the end of the video a Red-Winged Blackbird sings.
So I have to hand it to the woodpeckers for keeping things lively.
Oops – another Yellow-Rumped Warbler imitating a woodpecker
I was a bit surprised to see a male Belted Kingfisher land and sit still.
And this Red-Tailed Hawk became a bit annoyed with me when I noticed him sitting very still and trying to blend in with the tree.
Close to the end of my outing I found the female Scarlet Tanager below.
But now for the surprise. As I was almost leaving, a cyclist stopped on the bridge where I stood to talk about the Portage. He said he had been visiting this place for 40 years. He didn’t look a day over 52 so I guess he’s been visiting since he was a youngster. Anyway, he told me years ago companies were dumping chemicals here and the water turned numerous bright colors. He also said he had talked to some of the Cook County foresters who were removing trees and they told him they had never seen such strange decay in some of the trunks.
I tried to find some documentation about what he told me but so far I have been unable to find anything specific to the Chicago Portage. I suspect the Environmental Protection Agency postdates the dumping, of course. This explains a lot to me about this strange little oasis in development. It’s sad, but then it’s also encouraging to see how nature rebounds, I guess.
It remains to be seen what the county’s plans are for this place. The cyclist also mentioned something about a commuter train going all the way to Joliet running along I-55 and a transportation hub at Harlem. Just a stone’s throw from the Portage. I can wait.
Spoiled by earlier dramatic fluctuations in temperature which at times were chilly, I find myself now wiped out by the heat and humidity, albeit expected weather but nonetheless daunting. The only way to avoid overheating is to remain motionless. I did as much of that as possible on Saturday.
However Sunday morning was sunny, so I felt compelled to see how things are going at the Chicago Portage. Construction persists. Access to the trail entrance that heads west is still blocked, but both bridges are open again, which made it easier to take the loop on the other side of the creek back to where I started. On the way out, my eye caught a sign that referred to construction of a “new” shelter being among the improvements. I am unaware of there ever having been an old shelter, so this will be interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into the word “new.”
Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.
After that for a while it was simply making a record of what I was seeing, even if the picture wasn’t perfect. The distant Great Blue Heron below took off about ten minutes after I took this picture.
There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.
Also on the other side where I would eventually wind up, a young deer had come down to drink. I have seen deer before but never one so young, alone. I seemed to be catching the last gasp of the early morning activity, which was heartening considering I took my time getting out the door.
Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.
The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.
Of course just when I think I’ve seen everything I’m going to see or have been unable to get pictures of something ephemeral like the glimpse of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a surprise occurs. Walking by a large tree at the edge of the water, I saw something huge move in it, determined it couldn’t have been a giant squirrel but had no idea. Then the tree exploded with three large birds scattering in all directions. This turned out to be the Green Heron roosting tree. And one of their offspring flew to a perch in the middle of the water where it sat in surprise for several moments.
The other great surprise was to run into a human being. Specifically a young man on his bicycle who asked me if there were many birds at the Portage. It then turned out that he was interested in finding out more about birds. What an absolute delight to have been present for him to quiz me on what direction he could take. I sincerely hope he follows his interest. I restrained myself and did not warn him of the addictive nature to this activity. Probably understood anyway if he at all sensed my passion. This is the magic of the Portage for me. I literally never know what to expect.
I should also know better than to expect anything. I was hoping to see butterflies, so I carried around the second camera and lens in my backpack and never took it out. Virtually no butterflies Sunday morning. There were a few dragonflies, but I was unmoved.
But Sunday afternoon seemed to bring butterflies into my garden. The Red Admirals outnumber all the others but at least there were a few more species.
Monarch Butterfly in swamp milkweed. I can’t believe I managed this shot with a 100mm closeup lens from quite far away.
The swamp milkweed has taken over two areas of the yard. I keep hoping, as in Plant It And They Will Come.
One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.
The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.
Every Sunday the forecast has been the same lately: cloudy, rainy with possible thunderstorms. But every Sunday is a bit different, as the rain and the longer days contribute to the growing of things. I have been trying to conquer the overgrowth in my backyard, but yesterday I decided to take advantage of a break in the storm activity and visit the Chicago Portage.
I never know what to expect, and this visit was no exception. For starters, I couldn’t take the trail entrance I normally do because it was entirely blocked off. So instead of there being a way to go through the entire site and wind up back where I started, I wound up taking two parts of the trail up and back.
Some of the species I expect to see were not present. It could have been the time of day. But I suspect a more likely explanation is the constant habitat disruption being more than some species want to put up with. Consequently I had no Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, nor White-Breasted Nuthatches. Even Mallards were not present. And not even one Gray Catbird. But this is just one visit and it was nearly mid-day, so perhaps next weekend I can confirm these absences further. In the meantime, I heard Black-Capped Chickadees so my faith in their existence is restored.
Female Indigo Bunting
Indigo Buntings were everywhere, followed by almost as many Baltimore Orioles, although the orioles were less available for pictures, but they sang constantly. The first one I saw was carrying food, but I had to settle for this far away shot of another one later.
My surprise bird of the day was the first-year male Orchard Oriole below. Not only do I think this is the first time I’ve had an Orchard Oriole at the Portage, but I think it might be the first time I’ve realized this is what a first-year male looks like. I tried to get his song too but recording was challenging yesterday with a lot of background noise. Maybe the cloud cover had something to do with it.
First Year Male Orchard Oriole
As usual there was no dearth of robins. I estimated 40, but there were probably more, including the clueless young one on the trail.
Of course Red-Winged Blackbirds were abundant too, although a bit less visible. Below could be one of the reasons why.