Inertia (aka Summer Doldrums)

Female Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-15-1137Spoiled 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.”

Construction Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7581

Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.

INBU Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7603

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.

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There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7706

KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7731Also 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.

Deer Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7678Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.

BAOR Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7809

The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.

RWBL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7793Of 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.

GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7853GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7870The 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.

Red Admiral Yard 7-18-15-1111

Red Admiral

Monarch Yard 7-18-15-1113

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.

Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-18-15-1085One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.

EAKI Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7746

Eastern Kingbird Fantastical Portage  7-19-15-7748The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.

A Bird in the Hand

Mourning Warbler

Mourning Warbler

As I start to go through the pictures from Costa Rica, some of the best bird images are invariably closeups of birds shown to us by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr. These were invaluable teaching moments on the part of Bill and the birds themselves.

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Although the focus of the Operation Rubythroat trip to chayote fields in Ujarras Valley, Costa Rica, was ultimately to trap, band and release as many Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds as possible over six days in the field (more about all this in a future post), invariably, other birds sometimes got trapped in the nets. Any bird trapped was a potential teaching opportunity. Neotropical migrants were retained for banding. But after we had seen a species native to Costa Rica once at the banding table, which is where we gathered for these demonstrations, all future caught birds of that species were immediately released.

Bananaquit

Bananaquit

With field guides in hand, we studied the birds until we were able to identify the species. Bill would only help by pointing out various field marks, but he also elaborated on other features you might never see unless you had the bird in your hand. Some species were familiar, but the opportunity to study them so closely was absolutely phenomenal. For those who are squeamish about the trapping and handling, I admit I once was too, but Bill treats the birds with the utmost respect and care. You can go to a museum and study skins, but for color and presence there is nothing like a live bird.

Blue-Grey Tanager

Blue-Grey Tanager

I have seen Blue-Grey Tanagers virtually every time I have visited the American tropics. They are ubiquitous and easy to identify. But I have never seen a Blue-Grey Tanager like this before.Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9026

The afternoons invariably turned cloudy and sometimes rainy, which made taking pictures of other birds anything from challenging to impossible. Nevertheless I managed to get some good photographs, and I will be back with many more.

These are just a sampling of some of the earliest birds we saw in the hand, and I will be back with others, as well as eventually adding pictures to my flickr page.

House Wren - the same species, but not the same population we have at home

House Wren – the same species, but not the same population we have at home

As for the timing of this post, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the past week. Sleep has been erratic at best, and I’ve been emotionally exhausted. I went to bed early last night, so I guess it’s not altogether strange that I am awake at 3:00 a.m. Trying to go back to sleep I started reviewing the past week, and that wasn’t all good, so I shifted my thoughts to things I want to accomplish, which woke me up even more. When I started thinking about this post which I started to work on last night before I conked out on the futon, it seemed prudent to just wake up and finish the post. I apologize for any detectible grogginess. I think I’ll grab a drink of water and go back to sleep for a couple hours.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warblers and Tennessee Warblers were the most-frequently-caught neotropical migrants. At some point, we had caught so many Tennessee Warblers, we released them from the nets without banding them.

Tennesee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tyrant Flycatchers can be confusing.

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

One more of the Blue-Grey Tanager, up close and personal.

Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9068

 

Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Never uncommon during fall migration, this year Swainson’s Thrush wins my award for Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant. And although all these pictures were taken at LaBagh Woods on Sunday, where there may have been 100 but I reported 45 of these birds, I have seen Swainson’s Thrushes downtown daily and there were plenty at Columbus Park on Saturday, though not always offering themselves up for photographs. I’m sure Safety In Numbers had a lot to do with the pictures I took Sunday. Not that there were that many other birds vying for my attention.

SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5987SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6209SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5880SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5869SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6316

I give the bird below the award for Best Concealed Swainson’s Thrush Out In The Open.

SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6375

I hope to be back with more from recent near travels. I might not get out to see birds this weekend at all, so that could give me time to sit at the computer: I have a wedding to attend Saturday and rain is predicted for Sunday morning.

One Species at a Time

Blackpoll Warbler, Columbus Park

Blackpoll Warbler, Columbus Park

I have been trying to catch up with my blog and everyone else’s to no avail, so this is a quick one-species-post offering in the meantime. Over the weekend I attended the Chicago Ornithological Society walk through Columbus Park on Saturday and then went to LaBagh Woods on Sunday. Two bird species outnumbered all the others. In the warbler category, the most prominent was the Blackpoll.

Blackpoll Warbler, LaBagh Woods

Blackpoll Warbler, LaBagh Woods

This is the time of year when Blackpoll Warblers don’t look like Blackpoll Warblers do in the springtime. They are often confused with Bay-Breasted Warblers. Sadly I don’t have any recent Bay-Breasted photographs to compare these with. Overall, they appear more yellow than they do black and white (as in spring).

BPWA LaBagh Woods

BPWA LaBagh Woods

BPWA LaBagh

BPWA LaBagh Woods

B{WA Columbus Park

B{WA Columbus Park

BPWA Columbus Park

BPWA Columbus Park

The cool thing about going through so many shots in different settings is that I learn more about the “gizz” of the species through the constant review. So that next time I see a Blackpoll Warbler walking down the street in a crowd I will be able to pick it out immediately!

BPWA Columbus Park

BPWA Columbus Park

I will be back as soon as possible with photos of the Most Prominent Species (not a warbler) from last weekend.

Pedernales Falls

White-Winged Dove

White-Winged Dove

I’m taking a breather from warbler migration (and so, it seems, are the warblers, for the moment, at least) to start visiting pictures taken last week in Texas,

Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub Jay

Our first full day of birding in Texas began at Pedernales Falls State Park. At that point all the birds were all new, even if we had seen them before. Pedernales has two blinds from which you can get excellent views of the birds that visit their feeders. It was the perfect introduction to species we were to see again and again nearly every day of the trip, no matter where we went.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

The day was overcast and taking pictures through the slanted glass of the blind made some of these pictures fuzzy. When we entered the largest blind there were two photographers ensconced in the side bays which are completely open to the outside with no windows in the way. Neither one of these gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, offered to share his spot for a moment. I did not bother to ask, figuring my large lens spoke volumes already. But it became frustrating when a male Painted Bunting appeared and all those click-click-clicks were not mine.

Black-Crested Titmouse

Black-Crested Titmouse

Black-Crested Titmouse Pedernales 4-26-14 7396.jpg-7396

As birds would have it, I walked over to the other blind, which had a less accessible, smaller hole, but it was open, and shortly thereafter a male Painted Bunting came to the suet feeder and put on a show for me. These are two of more shots than I can count. Although I would later get photos of this species in better light, I will always treasure these for their intimacy.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Feel free to click on any photo to see an enlargement.

Painted Bunting 4-26-14 7696.jpg-7696

One quick aside: I was pleased and surprised to see the Clay-Colored Sparrow from the last post on top of the feeder pole this evening when I got home. It’s nice to know he’s still enjoying his visit.

Shivering in the Snow and Sunshine

Bald Eagle L&D 1-19-14 1723.jpg-1723

Yesterday three of the Four Elles joined the DuPage Birding Club outing to Starved Rock in LaSalle County, Illinois. Although the fourth Elle could not join us, she participated in the same field trip with two of us last year. We met a large group of birders at the Lock and Dam across the river from the main entrance to Starved Rock State Park, where we watched birds on the Illinois River from the comfort and convenience of the deck behind the visitor’s center.

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers L&D 1-19-14 1753.jpg-1753The Bald Eagle pictures are from this location. The birds were not always close enough, but they were active and in general viewing them turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

Bald Eagle L&D 1-19-14 1794.jpg-1794Bald Eagle L&D 1-19-14 1774.jpg-1774

Bald Eagle L&D 1-19-14 1787.jpg-1787

There were not many species of waterfowl, but we did have a couple Great Blue Herons, one of which is flying below.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We then caravanned across the river to the visitor’s center adjacent to the lodge at the state park, where they have well-stocked bird feeders. There were many Blue Jays, not willing to sit still for the most part; this one looks pretty cold.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On and around the feeders, White-Breasted Nuthatches were common, like the one below.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And invariably, we saw Downy Woodpeckers. And Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow and Black-Capped Chickadees, although less available for good shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

After lunch, the field trip took off for Lee County instead of further down the river this year, a change driven as much by the weather as the opportunity to search for a previously reported Snowy Owl. We scanned field after field like the one below. Unable to keep up with the 4-wheel drive vehicles in the blowing snow on the roads, after an hour or two we turned homeward and did not see the eventual Snowy. Luckily there are still opportunities closer to home.

Lee County farm field

Lee County farm field

(Last weekend on another field trip, I saw a Snowy in Bolingbrook but could not get a decent picture. Three individual birds have been spotted near this location, so there may yet be a chance to return and try again.)

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Bolingbrook Snowy Owl

Fermilab Shorebirds

Coyote, Dusaf Pond, Fermilab

Coyote, Dusaf Pond, Fermilab

I met my friend Leslie at Fermilab’s Dusaf Pond Saturday morning on another shorebird quest. A variety of birds had been seen in the last week or so and we were hopeful. The moment I got out of my car I saw a coyote, who seemed to be virtually ignored by the herons. As soon as I started taking his picture, though, he moved on.

Pectoral Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpipers

I hadn’t been to Fermilab since the Christmas Count and felt like I owed it at least one visit this year. Click on the pictures for larger images, but for the most part, the birds were too far away to get much detail. And again, we did not see anything unusual. The only thing predictable was the lack of rain would likely produce good shorebird habitat. The rest was up to the birds. Other than the species depicted here, we saw Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs, and one Black-Bellied Plover.

Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper

The lack of water has done something else, too. There has been a large fish kill. We drove down to one end to walk through plowed stubble where the smell of rotting fish was not welcoming.

Fish Skeleton

Fish Skeleton

Here’s a Great Egret with a fish and a Lesser Yellowlegs maybe waiting for the egret to drop a piece of it. This picture was taken on the other side of the A&E Sea, another Fermilab body of water.

Great Egret and Friends2 1I2A1451

Great Egret & Lesser Yellowlegs 1I2A1471

Invariably there were Killdeer and maybe since we don’t pay inordinate attention to them they don’t seem to mind the occasional photograph.

Killdeer 1I2A1481

Killdeer

Great Egret 1I2A1514

Great Egret

Summer is winding down. It’s hard to believe all these birds will be gone soon.

And the butterflies too…

Orange Suplhur  Butterfly

Orange Suplhur Butterfly