Surprises at the Chicago Portage

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Sora behind duckweed-covered Mallards

Last Sunday I got up early enough to pick up Susan at 7:15 and get to the Chicago Portage, only to find the cable barring entry to the parking lot was still strewn across the entrance. I locked the car and we walked around the parking lot area for about 10 minutes before the designated person showed up. It was well past sunrise, which is when the preserves are supposed to be open… But it was still early enough to see a Sora Rail across the duckweed not long after we started down the trail.

I have never seen a Sora at the Portage. Rails are hard enough to see just about anywhere. The usual scenario is that I might hear their beautiful song and take for granted I will never find them. This one was silent, but virtually out in the open. Susan looked across the water with her binoculars and said, “Is that a Sora?” and then I spent the next several minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.

The other surprise Sunday was a Marsh Wren, also a first for me, for the Portage. But though we saw it well for a half second, it was not interested in seeing us again so I got no photographs.

I do have one more surprise, though, from the previous weekend. I saw a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker, another species I have never seen at the Portage and only infrequently anywhere, and I managed to get the pictures below. I can’t help but wonder if the change in habitat, the opening up, so to speak, of more marshy areas, will attract this species more often.

Birds became visible from their foraging behavior. The tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet below was interested in something contained in the bark of a tree down the trail from us.

I caught the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet below in a more contemplative phase.

Not to be outdone by other species adopting its favorite foraging spots, here is one of two Brown Creepers we saw.

BRCR10-8-2017-9579Closer to the end of our walk the intense sunlight started playing tricks with color and it wasn’t until I got home and processed the next few photos that I realized what we had.

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White-Throated Sparrow

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below looked so blue in the light, I didn’t recognize it while taking the pictures.

The Black-Capped Chickadee below would not show its face but I was intrigued by its foraging calisthenics anyway.

And we managed to find one more Magnolia Warbler to add to the list.

Downy Woodpeckers are common all year round at the Portage but not always available for picture-taking. But this one was so busy with whatever it was working on, she put on a little show.

When we checked the Des Plaines River, the Belted Kingfisher was still hanging out.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were the most numerous species on our visit, but it was still tempting to take the pictures below. At least you can see the yellow rump…

Shadowy images of a White-Breasted Nuthatch on the left and a Cedar Waxwing on the right. We didn’t have a huge flock of waxwings but there will still a dozen or so.

We saw some other thrushes but this was the only one I managed to capture. I have never seen more than one Gray-Cheeked Thrush at a time which makes me think maybe they tend to be solitary.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Others have been to the Portage since our visit and a couple rarities, at least for the time of year, have been reported. I want to go back soon but this weekend is already booked with people activities, unless the forecast for rain and thunderstorms changes Saturday morning.

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Bullfrog Break

Bullfrog 4-15-17-0899Bullfrog 4-15-17-0886A few weeks ago I took my car to the dealer for its annual checkup and then went to McGinnis Slough to see how spring was progressing. As I walked through the path next to the marshy area the grass started to move, and I determined there had to be frogs hopping into the water out of sight. After stopping  and waiting for a while, I was able to finally see some Bullfrogs and photograph them. They were capable of moving so quickly, I’m glad a few sat still for me.

Not a lot of birds present yet, but the Song Sparrows were abundant.

This female Red-Winged Blackbird was an indication that some breeding birds are ready to get down to business.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Always nice to see a male Wood Duck even as he started swimming away from me.

Still seeing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets even three weeks after I took these pictures. I suspect the cold winds still pushing down from the north is keeping them from progressing to their breeding grounds. Have not been able to get one to reveal its Ruby Crown.

The male Belted Kingfisher below was busy.

We’re a lot leafier now, but the trees were just beginning to show some green for the robin below.

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American Robin

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There were likely more American Coots like the one at left, but I didn’t see a lot of them even skulking around in the marsh.

 

 

 

As I was panning on the Red-Tailed Hawk below it flew into the sun and even though it was somewhat cloudy that was not something I was planning to do, but I like the way it turned out.

RT Hawk in the Sun 4-15-17-0838One more Bullfrog shot. Who knew they could be so pretty?

Bullfrogs 4-15-17-0904And as promised a few more from the Science March.

Hope to be back soon with a report from the indoor crowd, the Spring Bird Count, more from Panama, Migration Central…wherever the wind blows me next (it’s unseasonably chilly and windy today).

A Walk in the Woods

Northern Shoveler 4-2-17-0029

Northern Shoveler

I’ve been back from Panama for two weeks and I’m still not done going through my pictures. Even staying home instead of going swimming a few times hasn’t gotten it done between software updates…

So I went for a walk at the Portage yesterday even though it was cloudy, because spring migration is upon us, and I wanted to get out with the camera, especially after I forgot to take it with me on Saturday when I joined Illinois Ornithological Society’s trip to lakes in Lake County looking for Common Loons and other waterfowl, named “Loonapalooza” by my friend and the organizer and leader of the trip, David Johnson. I drove for an hour to get to the meeting place only to discover that I had remembered everything (scope, tripod, water bottle, binoculars, backpack, and I thought my brain) but left my best camera with its new lens at home. It never made it out the door. Next time I’m leaving that early in the morning I suppose I should write a list and put “brain” first, camera second… I’m blaming it on my medication, but there’s no need to go there now.

Above all this useless information is a young deer that appeared across the water, came across the bridge and walked almost toward me, very unusual for after-nine-ish in the morning.

Below, a Red-Tailed Hawk flying over.

The good news is I am in love with the new lens, which until recently I didn’t even know existed because there are times when I quit looking for any more camera stuff, but the two guys with cameras on the Panama trip informed me that Canon had finally come out with a new, improved 100-400mm lens. I had stopped using the old one, which I still have, but had hardly any use for. Instead I have been struggling with the monster Tamron lens for the last two years, which was getting harder and harder to carry around and focus. I think that lens might be going on the recycle list too. Because the new Canon 100-400mm lens and my Mark III 5D are really happy together, and an extra 200mm doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a decent picture, especially if you can’t hold the equipment still.

CAGO 4-2-17-0090That said, there’s still only so much you can do with anything in poor light. Like the very cooperative and friendly Golden-Crowned Kinglet below, he was pretty dull and drab yesterday.

GCKI 4-2-17-0263The dead wood in the water was perhaps more suited for the weather. It is transforming into…I’m not sure what bird that resembles on the right, below.

I was happy to see a Belted Kingfisher on the water. Although even he looks gray.

BEKI 4-2-17-0006Sparrows were abundant. White-Throated Sparrows, which are a dime a dozen on the lakefront, seem special here. There were lots and lots of Song Sparrows singing like crazy, even though I managed to capture a silent one. Below these two, a couple hidden shots of a fairly distant Fox Sparrow, whose rufous caught my eye and brightened up the surrounding gloom. And the final sparrow at the bottom, a Chipping Sparrow, is my first one of the season, although I’m sure I heard one in neighborhood last week.

CHSP 4-2-17-0154Lots of woodpeckers but they were hard to get on. Below is a Red-Bellied on the left. The little bird on the right is a Brown Creeper, not a woodpecker, but spends as much time on trees as woodpeckers if not more, and it’s also the first one for me this spring. Click on the pictures to enlarge, and look at how beautifully the creeper blends in.

There was a bench at one end of the water but it has disappeared. However, there are a few other places to sit. I stopped to rest on a boulder that is near one of the information boards, and watched five Canada Geese flying in together and then starting to squabble over positions.

I don’t think I saw Wood Ducks last year, so it was nice to see a pair yesterday. Here’s the guy, his mate was less accommodating.

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Couldn’t resist one more of the Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler 4-2-17-0036Okay, well, tonight I’m going swimming unless there are thunderstorms, and I promise I will finish The Panama Pictures so I can start sharing them with you.

Thanks to everybody for stopping by, for following my inconstant blog. Happy Monday.

Secrets of the Chicago Portage

Portage 5-1-2016-8019The 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.

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Baltimore Oriole

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.

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Spotted Sandpiper

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.

Blue-Winged Teal Portage 5-1-2016-7661The 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.

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So I have to hand it to the woodpeckers for keeping things lively.

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I was a bit surprised to see a male Belted Kingfisher land and sit still.

BEKIPortage 5-1-2016-8052And 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.

SCTA Portage 5-1-2016-8444

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.

YRWA Portage 5-1-2016-7891

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.

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White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15

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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.

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Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15

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Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15

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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.

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Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

INBU Ottawa Trail 5-17-15-2379

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.

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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

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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.

Too Many Distractions

BEKI 4-26-15-9483

Belted Kingfisher – Chicago Portage

I keep trying to get through all the pictures from Colombia and identify everybody who’s recognizable, but life keeps getting in the way…further complicated by signs of spring. Like the Belted Kingfisher above. He seems to have made the stripped-down Chicago Portage his summer home. I have seen him two weekends in a row.

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RWBL 4-26-15-9464

Red-Winged Blackbird, McGinnis Slough

These pictures were all taken last weekend. I went to McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage on Sunday because the weather was reasonable. We’ve been otherwise chilled by northerly wind blasts all week, even going down to freezing one night, I forget which, I only remember having to dump the ice out of the bird baths because I had already unplugged them.

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Great Blue Herons at McGinnis

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Gadwall

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Gadwall

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Gadwall – check out the one that’s dabbling – if this is the only part of the bird I see next time I’ll know it’s a Gadwall!

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Great Blue Heron

Not a lot to photograph at the Slough, most everyone was too far away in the water, but it was nice to hear Soras calling, and to count eleven Great Blue Herons and a lot of Gadwall.

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Caspian Tern

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Also nice to see a Caspian Tern. But perhaps the biggest surprise was a deer making its way across the smaller part of the slough, which I guess gives an idea of how not very deep it is. Below the deer is a Double-Crested Cormorant drying out after a dive.

Doe Going For a Swim 4-26-15-9124

DCCO 4-26-15-9448Something else I don’t know if I’ve ever seen well before – the “ring” on a Ring-Necked Duck’s neck. Click on the picture to see what I mean.

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Not a lot different happening at the Portage yet… I could have had a substantial turtle count.

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Wood Duck

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Turtles, Chicago Portage

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Dabbling Mallards

Brown Creepers are always a surprise for some reason.

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And this Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher was cooperative as long as he felt hidden behind the twigs, which he certainly was.

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BGGN 4-26-15-9672 BGGN 4-26-15-9686 BGGN 4-26-15-9694Caught the Kingfisher taking a break.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbirds are starting to arrive, but I don’t have a picture of one from last weekend, so I’m just including this guy-bird again.

RWBB 4-26-15-9185

As far as the Life List Project goes (this proved to be a Major Distraction!), I still have a few more checklists to locate, but at the moment the count is 1,942. I’m trying to count only birds I have seen, so a lot of those Tinamous, Tapaculos and Rails aren’t making it onto my list. But there are also a few species that are not on the app, as hard as I have tried to find them under other common names, so I don’t know if that’s because they’ve been reclassified or split or lumped or what, but in general having the list will probably come in handy on my next far-flung trip and maybe even motivate me to pay more attention. Who knows, if I had time to go through all my pictures from all my trips again I might find even more species… I guess I save that distraction for when I can’t travel anymore. 🙂

Autumn Leaves at Douglas Park

PHVI Douglas 9-28-14-7071

Philadelphia Vireo, Douglas Park, 9-28-14

Last Sunday’s Chicago Ornithological Society/Illinois Young Birders Field Trip to Douglas Park in Chicago was well-attended. Fall colors had just begun, enhancing the park’s landscaping. Upon reviewing the warbler photographs, it’s interesting to see how the subtleties of the birds’ fall colors blend so well with the trees. For the most part the birds were too far away to get good photos but I’m including a few blenders-in anyway.

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MAWA Douglas 9-28-14-6993

Magnolia Warbler

American Redstart

American Redstart

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasted Warbler

BBWA Douglas Park 9-28-14-6901Warblers are always a challenge to photograph. As it turned out, the Bay-Breasted Warbler above was the only one that sat out long enough, and still I am not entirely sure it’s not a Blackpoll.

Birders Douglas 9-28-14-6942

I couldn’t help but photograph the back of this participant’s shirt.

BEKF Douglas Park 9-28-14-6958

Belted Kingfisher

BEKF Douglas Park 9-28-14-6961

Birds in flight were at least easier to find against the blue sky background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much white on a Cooper’s Hawk before, with this particular angle and the light.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

There were so many Chimney Swifts, all filling up to start that long flight back to Chile. It’s only because they were so numerous and at times flying low that I was able to manage a fairly clear shot.

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

Canada Geese flying might not be anything spectacular, but I like the way this flight pattern plays against the tree branches.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

CAGE Douglas Park 9-28-14-7113

and later, three coming in for a landing…

I could not resist taking a picture of the back of this participant’s shirt.

Birders Douglas 9-28-14-6942Below, the last Eastern Phoebe I’m likely to see this year.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

All in all, it was the trees’ fall colors reflecting on the water that stayed with me.

Douglas Park 9-28-14-6915

Douglas Park 9-28-14-6920I’m falling asleep sitting on the futon listening to the New York Philharmonic on the radio with intermittent thunderclap accompaniment going on outside. I’ll be back with more city visitors.