Open Windows Weekend

The events of this past weekend have made me even more aware of whatever beauty remains on this planet, and it’s hard not to want to hold on for dear life. As everything changes and challenges one’s perceptions of reality, it’s almost amazing to find and appreciate what is still intact.  The weather was relatively cool and dry, which made it perfect for leaving the windows open. I never turned on the air, and with the intermittent cloud cover and breezes the birds and I were quite comfortable both days.

For future reference, I keep meaning to get around to a post about the indoor crowd but for the moment all I have to share is a couple quick pictures when I came back into the kitchen from the yard and the Zebra Finches were playing in the kitchen sink. This is their favorite weekend pastime, as I keep the door to the kitchen closed during the week when I go to work. My last flock did the same thing. The other totally instinctive behavior seems to be the chorus response after I open one squeaky drawer… Anyway, the little brown and white Zebra Finch is one of the last hatchers and I must admit she had me quite confused until her orange bill and feet came in. I’m finding the color variation quite interesting. A standard-looking male Zebra Finch is on the left, and the plainer-looking bird behind her on the right is a normal hen.

Not a lot going on in the backyard. But it’s always nice to see a female cardinal or a male goldfinch.

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Thanks to Jason at Gardeninacity for making me more aware of two flowering plants in my front yard this past week, Nodding Wild Onion and Wild Petunia.

Saturday morning I went to McGinnis Slough just to see what was going on. Although it was remarkably un-buggy on the ground, there must have been plenty of insects in the air, because swallows and Chimney Swifts were feeding in full force.

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Mostly Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

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Barn Swallows on break

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows and Barn Swallows were flying low over the marshy area which was covered in dried out water lilies or whatever they are, I can’t really tell.

BASW 08-12-17-7516

McGinnis 08-12-17-7664At first I didn’t see many Chimney Swifts, but then they seemed to be everywhere, even though they wouldn’t pose for a group photo.

I heard the Red-Tailed Hawk first, and then there it was soaring above me.

No butterflies. There were Meadowhawk dragonflies but they were too busy for photos as well. So I settled for this bee-like individual on what appears to be Field Sow-Thistle.

Flower McGinnis 08-12-17-7525I couldn’t leave without a photograph of some Swamp Rose Mallow, even though there didn’t seem to be as much as previous years.

One more look at the Red-Tailed Hawk.

RTHA McGinnis 08-12-17-7576Linda and I had a lovely time playing music at the Second Unitarian Church on Sunday. We performed “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part before the service began and “En Bateau” by Debussy later in the service. The Part kind of takes over and mesmerizes. But I found it much easier to play the Debussy after much standing and singing along with the congregation. And now we go back to choir rehearsal at Unity Temple tonight for what should be an exciting and challenging singing year.

Big Marsh, Hegewisch Marsh and a Lifer

Least Bittern Big Marsh 07-30-17-6896

Least Bittern at Big Marsh

Last Sunday I joined Chicago Ornithological Society’s trip led by Walter Marcisz to a couple areas he knows so well, far south in the Cook County limits and to which I had never been. So tempting was this offering, there were an almost unmanageable 40 of us. But all went well, thanks to Walter’s skillful leadership.

The photograph above is of a Least Bittern which was a life bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a sharper image but we were all caught quite unawares standing around looking out when suddenly this bird decided it needed to go somewhere, so I consider myself lucky i got it at all. The rest of my shots of this bird have someone’s head in them so maybe that gives you an idea.

The parking lot where we met before taking off for the marshes not far away afforded these two captures below: a Double-Crested Cormorant on a light fixture and two Barn Swallows hanging out on the barbed wire.

The wildflower investigation continues. The plant below seemed to be everywhere at Big Marsh and I think there was some at Hegewisch too although by that time I was so tired of seeing it I may have been ignoring it. Someone identified it as Spotted Knapweed, so I looked it up on my wildflower app and sure enough, it is an invasive, with somewhat nasty properties. If handled a lot it can cause tumors on the hands. Yuck. Made one bee happy however.

Bee on the Invasive Plant Big Marsh 07-30-17-6934I grew tired of trying to figure out the one below but it’s pretty in its isolation. I believe it was at Hegewisch. I didn’t take many pictures at Hegewisch – we weren’t there long. We went to see the Common Gallinules – who used to be Common Moorhens – that have been breeding there this year. We caught glimpses but not much else behind the tall grasses.

Wildflowers Big Marsh 07-30-17-6958I was happy to see Northern Rough-winged Swallows as I have missed seeing them in my usual haunts this year.

More birds in flight. A Killdeer on the left, and a Great Egret on the right.

Always happy to see a Caspian Tern hunting in good view. This was also at Big Marsh where we spent the most time.

And Eastern Kingbirds still seemed to be everywhere.

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Female House Finch, Big Marsh

As close in proximity as these areas are to the city, they are big enough to afford an unobstructed view of the sky which was gorgeous that day.

Cloudscape Big Marsh 07-30-17-6960One more swallow.

Northern RW Swallow Big Marsh 07-30-17-6950

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Back very soon with a report from my yard as my wishes are slowly being fulfilled!

Three Weeks: Chicago Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Back on the 10th of May I was at the Chicago Portage and counted 52 species. On the 17th of May, visiting with two friends, we counted 35 species. This afternoon, after gale winds in the morning and some rain, I went over to see what was up and counted 29 species.

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Three weeks ago was the height of spring migration, and already by last weekend it was slowing down.

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

CAGO Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2361

Gosling, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Last week the goose family had dwindled to four goslings and today I was told by a woman I talked to on the trail that they were down to three. I did run into the geese today, but they were foraging in the grasses and I did not want to bother them, as they were pretty well hidden. So I am taking her word for it.

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln's Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

The Red-Eyed Vireos are still present and singing, so they probably breed here, but all the thrushes except for American Robin have left, and the sparrow species as well. There was quite an influx of Veerys this year, I don’t usually see them.

WCSP Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0022

White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9934

Green Heron, 5-10-15

But as the last of the sparrows were getting ready to leave, the Green Herons were returning. I believe there are two although I have not yet seen them both on the same visit. I think they also hang out at Ottawa Trail Woods which is also where we went last weekend. I have included a few pictures here are from Ottawa Trail Woods, as it is basically part of the same ecosystem.

SOSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9921

Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15

SPSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9908

Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15

Spotted at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9854

Spotted Sandpiper at the Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

On the 10th I saw both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, not on sandbars or mudflats but on dead wood in the water. The water levels were a bit lower though. I have not seen or heard any shorebirds since.

SCTA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0145

Scarlet Tanager, 5-10-15

The Scarlet Tanager above basically flew down and sat right in front of me. I was so surprised I barely got his photograph.

YRWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0389

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Myrtle female, 5-10-15 – You cannot see the yellow rump but this is the first year I have noticed they also have yellow on the crown

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Yellow Warbler, 5-10-15

The only warblers willing to pose were the most common ones. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers are gone, but the Yellow Warblers stay for the summer.

Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2312

Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

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Indigo Bunting, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

BASW Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2243

Barn Swallows, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

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Female Belted Kingfisher, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Indigo Buntings are everywhere. I have not seen the females yet but the Portage has at least four males singing on territory. I have also seen many Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.

Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3512

Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

BAOR Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3661

Baltimore Oriole, 5-25-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3640

Green Heron, 5-25-15 – Not as visible today as three weeks ago.

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 - There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 – There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

TRSW Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3534

Tree Swallow, 5-25-15

Red Admiral Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3562

Red Admiral on a wildflower I have yet to identify – I should know it! But I have never seen it at the Portage before. Is this some kind of monarda?

I included the butterfly picture because to me it signals the end of spring migration and the beginning of summer, when butterflies and dragonflies vie for my attention.

WODU Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2349

Wood Duck, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

I didn’t see any ducks today at the Portage. In years past there have always been a breeding pair of Wood Ducks, so I hope they are busy nesting.

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can't be all hers?)!

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can’t be all hers?)! (Ottawa Trail, 5-17-15)

I hope to be back soon with a short report on birds in Berwyn. I just saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at my hummingbird feeders this evening, which gave me the perfect reason  to clean and refill the feeders. While I was out in my yard my neighbor appeared and told me he saw the hummer yesterday! Maybe I’ll get a picture this year before September.

Is This What It Feels Like?

Cabbage White, Chicago Portage

Cabbage White on thistle, Chicago Portage

I have told everyone I know that I am retired for One Day. Today is The Day. Basically this means my last day at The Big Law Firm was yesterday, I am taking today off, and Monday I will start working Elsewhere. Elsewhere is the antithesis to The Big Law Firm except for the fact that it is another law office, but it is minuscule compared to the monolithic proportions the old place is taking on. But this blog is supposed to be about birds and music, or at least birds, so that’s all you’re going to get out of me for now, on my One Day of Retirement.

Female American Goldfinch, Chicago Portage

Female American Goldfinch, Chicago Portage

Back to business – there’s that visit to the old Chicago Portage, which, I understand, is a destination for tours open to the public on Saturdays. They had a notice on public radio which I heard driving back from the pool on Wednesday night, so I now know not to be there on a Saturday at 10:00 AM. Of course I hardly ever go out on Saturday mornings unless it’s a special occasion anyway, so this is probably why I have not seen the tours taking place. It is comforting to know that the gravel path is half a mile in length as I have been estimating it to be about that when I enter my sightings in ebird.

Burdock

Burdock

I rarely if ever see any birds at the Portage until I get to the first bridge over the water, whatever phase of swampiness it’s in. Again, we have not had much rain lately, so the duckweed has taken over, providing that solid green background behind a female American Goldfinch who was the first bird to greet me and pose willingly.

Juvenile House Sparrow waiting to be fed

Juvenile House Sparrow waiting to be fed

As I write this, there seems to have been a spontaneous if barely noticeable shower. In a way I am hoping for enough rain to make me feel less guilty about staying inside, because I have a lot of indoor tasks to attend to, even if retirement is making me feel less like doing them for One Day.

Juvenile Barn Swallows

Juvenile Barn Swallows

Juv BASW Portage 7-27-14-1928

There were plenty of baby birds waiting to be fed, but I was not able to catch the actual feeding.

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

And the Portage offered up its own Green Heron. There was another one that flew by later but I could not catch it.

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

The Canada Goose family was hanging out.

American Robin, Chicago Portage

American Robin, Chicago Portage

And one of many molting American Robins gave me that “What are you looking at?” look.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I could swear out heard more than one Kildeer but I was able to photograph only one. There was a lot of mud to support more than one shorebird.

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American Bellflower

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The wildflowers at the Portage were most cooperative.

Thistle Portage 7-27-14-3555

Not sure if this is Field Thistle or not but it sure was striking.

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So the Portage continues, as does summer, and the sun has come back out, so I better get up and get busy. I have not yet decided exactly where to go birding during the rest of my last three-day weekend until Labor Day (that sounds so sad, I was beginning to like this feeling of not having to do anything), but wherever I wind up I will take more pictures.

TGIF and Miscellaneous Observations

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal's Lodges

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal’s Lodges, Uvalde County, Texas

It’s been a long week short on inspiration, and the weekend promises to be full of rain so I will not be birding far away, if at all. As it turns out I have made plans to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen for a while. Perfect timing to include a visit to my dentist as well. My People Weekend. And with the coming July Polar Vortex, I am already dreaming of doing yard work without sweat.

I took off work early yesterday to be on hand for the tow truck driver who eventually showed up and whisked away the old car. This has been one event foremost in my mind, of things I really wanted to get done. The Taurus started happily after sitting idle in my backyard for 3 months, as if looking forward to its next destination. The cell phone picture below shows its better side with the intact side mirror. Maybe you can see the rust underneath where the side panel fell off if you click on the picture.

Final Farewell

Final Farewell

Goodbye, Old Paint

Goodbye, Old Paint

Like Gregory the dachshund my parents gave away to an adoring childless couple after my brother was born, the car didn’t even look back at me. I suspect the car knows it’s going to a better place too.

After I came in from the yard, with the cell phone still handy, I took a picture of some of the finches waiting in the kitchen for me to resume the snack service. They seemed oblivious to cell phone pictures, but I still have hopes of stalking them with the real camera, which they resist, at an opportune moment. The four newest Society Finches (Bella, Johnnie, Franklin and Marty) are huddled together on the right with a male Zebra Finch (it could be Zorro), and one Spice Finch is preening himself at the far left.

Finches on the Pot Rack

Finches on the Pot Rack

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I managed to put my pictures from our Texas trip back on the laptop and started going through them, which explains the Roadrunner at the top and the rest below. There will be more to come as I rediscover them. It’s more fun to go back two-plus months in time than I thought it would be.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow possibly shopping for nesting material...

Barn Swallow shopping for nesting material.

Chipping Sparrows were everywhere.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

And it seemed after we saw the first Clay-Colored Sparrow, by the end of the trip, they too were everywhere.

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9450

I went to check our ebird list for April 30th when we birded around Neal’s Lodges that morning, and the Blue Grosbeak was not on it. I have now added it to the list.

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

I will be back with more discoveries from the Texas trip and a bird song or two.

Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend.

Busy Breeding Birds

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Sunday morning I got up early before the predicted heat ensued and went to the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook…

Sign-1709Sanctuary-1694

because I felt like I hadn’t had a proper Eastern Bluebird yet this year. I found only one Bluebird but he did not let me down. He even chirped a slight song but it was not strong enough to beat out the surrounding chorus.

EABB-9921

There were a few other birds on the wire…

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

The first bird, the parking lot bird, if you will, was a Great Blue Heron flying over.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings moving through. I caught one laggard.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

But the dominant species overall was Red-Winged Blackbird.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

And the Blackbirds were no less shy taking on Turkey Vultures than they had been the Red-Tailed Hawks at McGinnis a couple weeks ago.

Turkey Vulture chased by Red-Winged Blackbirds

Turkey Vulture chased by Red-Winged Blackbirds

Indeed it was a little dicey walking around the paths. Being the height of breeding season, the Red-Wingeds were not in the mood to tolerate my presence. Click on the picture below to see the spider in this female Red-Winged Blackbird’s bill.

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

RWBB-0085

The Sanctuary is a small place, but it managed to make the House Sparrow below look exotic.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

After about an hour in Oak Brook, I decided it was time to head back east and check in at the Portage.

Portage-0119

The water levels are high, in large part, I suspect, to the felling of so many trees. There were puddles directly in front of me on the path, visited by a Killdeer…

Killdeer

Killdeer

and a Song Sparrow…

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

There were Warbling Vireos singing up a storm here, as they had been at Dorothy and Sam’s place too. In the sample below, the Warbling Vireo is the very busy-sounding song going on behind all the other noises.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Juvenile Wood Duck

Juvenile Wood Duck

The Portage was full of juvenile birds, like the Wood Duck above. I was glad to see a Green Heron fly over and another, albeit far away, ensconced foraging over the water. I am glad the Green Herons are back.

Green Heron

Green Heron

And after not seeing any Mallards the last two or three times I visited, now there is an entire family.

Mallards

Mallards

Also ubiquitous at the Portage are House Wrens. There were at least four males singing on territories. Here’s one of them.

House Wren

House Wren

Juvenile American Robin

Juvenile American Robin

There are always loads of American Robins at the Portage, and now there will be even more as the youngsters start figuring things out.

The big surprise, perhaps, was on the other side of the fence. I followed the path that leads down to the train tracks and the Des Plaines River. I stopped halfway to peer into the bottomlands and saw a Great Egret. I think this is the first time I have seen a Great Egret at the Portage.

Behind the Portage looking down to the Des Plaines River

Behind the Portage looking down to the Des Plaines River

Changes in habitat create subtle changes in the creatures that use it. It will no doubt continue to be an interesting year at the Chicago Portage.

Great Egret

Great Egret

When I went back to my car, I met Adrian and Stella, whom I have seen walking their dogs at the Portage. We had a delightful visit and I look forward to seeing them again.

Portage-0146

And now I must get back to work, looking for my old car title, and going through more photographs. The weather forecast is for rain and thunderstorms much of the week so there may be hope for inside endeavors.

 

More from Middlefork

Red-Winged Blackbird, Middlefork Savanna

Red-Winged Blackbird, Middlefork Savanna

The pictures are from last week at Middlefork Savanna.

I had planned to get up early this morning and go back to McGinnis Slough to pick up where I left off two weeks ago, prepared this time in case of deer flies while doubting seriously I would have any issues with insects at all due to the present cool weather. However, my water heater had a different agenda. Yesterday when I went down to the basement water was pooled in the middle of it to the sound of a trickle coming from somewhere. It wasn’t until I had mopped up four buckets full (and since the water was clean and we’ve had no rain lately, I was dousing the yard with it) that I could get closer to the source and determine it was the water heater. Luckily, I have fantastic neighbors and one of them has great expertise with this sort of thing. I purchased the new water heater this morning and he was done installing it before noon.

Barn Swallows by the bridge

Barn Swallows by the bridge

While my neighbor was working in the basement I was removing lava rock from the side of the house where I am going to plant some Blazing Star in the gaps between the hostas and sedum planted there, and then putting it down next to the chain-link fence where there is just enough soil to grow weeds and grass, which I cleared as I went along. This is a project I have envisioned for years. So in a way, it was good I had to deal with the water heater because it forced me to take advantage of great weather for yard work: cloudy and cool most of the morning.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

When we got back from buying the new appliance, there was a sick House Finch that had planted itself at the bottom of the stairwell to the basement. It was probably the same one I saw on the feeder last night, just sitting there. I think normally the cat that visits my yard would have found it. But I put it all too easily in a cage and called Willowbrook Wildlife Center to see if they would take him. Unfortunately, by the time I could leave the house in the afternoon, the bird was dead. I was not surprised, but I felt bad. Then I thought I would have felt even worse if he had died on the way.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I had also planned to go to Evanston to see Jason’s open garden but I could not muster the energy by this point. Suffice it to say I don’t take hour-long drives anywhere if I think I’m going to fall asleep in one direction or the other. I am so sorry I missed the opportunity to meet the master gardener. The bucketfuls of lava rock and water must have done me in (and now I am quite sore). After sitting down to write I wound up taking a nap, then woke up to play a bit of piano, and then potted some sage from my yard for my friend Linda.

Goldfinch, Middlefork Savanna

Goldfinch, Middlefork Savanna

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I recorded this Indigo Bunting singing but the wind noise at Middlefork was so bad I didn’t get a good recording, so I have substituted another bunting from the Portage a week earlier. Maybe it’s sort of like lip-syncing.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master

Hedge Bindweed

Hedge Bindweed

For some reason the white flowers were catching my eye.

Double-Crested Cormorants

Double-Crested Cormorants

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Some of the usual suspects, the Cormorants and the Song Sparrow, but it’s still lovely to see them.

Goldfinch 1I2A0707

Goldfinches enjoy thistle so much I am almost tempted to let it grow in my yard. Almost.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

The Barn Swallow above was stretching on one of the Elawa Farm buildings when I first got there.

However much later, after I decided it was time to go, on the way back to my car I suddenly heard a very strange sound, which was so unexpected I might have thought it was somebody’s cell phone or an odd recording coming from wherever. Shortly thereafter I came upon the cages at the back of Elawa Farm and realized I had indeed heard a Kookaburra (think Australia). I didn’t manage to get his song, but I have included a recording that seems to be the standard one on the Internet, with many birds – try to imagine only one calling instead of several.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

There were informative signs about all the captive birds but none divulged the individuals’ origins. Two Kookaburras shared the cage, I believe a pair. I could tell this was the male by his more engaged behavior. At first he shied away but then got curious and came down to pose on his perch. I would have liked to have known what he was doing there. I’ll have to go back when the visitor’s center is open so I can inquire. As far as I know, Kookaburras do not migrate. Even if they did, they certainly would not cross the Pacific ocean to Illinois.

Barn Swallows 7-21-13 Middlefork 1I2A0629A barn swallow and its reflection.

I myself have grown reflective after the water heater’s weekend. 🙂