In Search of Shorebirds

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Shorebirds are not confined to the shore. Indeed, any place where water accumulates and then recedes creates an instant migratory shorebird feeding ground. But the birds are often very far away from wherever you have stopped to observe them. Unless you are lucky enough to find a deserted beach where you can hide behind something, chances are you will be looking at shorebirds either on a remote sandbar or, inland, across quite a distance.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

On Sunday morning, I joined a joint-sponsored Chicago Ornithological Society/Evanston North Shore Bird Club event led by the venerable local birder par excellence Walter Marcisz. The destination was the sludge ponds at the Calumet branch of the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. The field trip was prearranged months ago and required background checks of all participants, since this is government property, not a designated birding hotspot.There was a decent variety of birds, although nothing out of the ordinary except for three beautiful Black-Bellied Plovers. But due to the nature of the location, cameras were not allowed. So the two shorebird pictures you see here were taken last weekend at Chautauqua or Emiquon. At least I got a good picture of the Emiquon sign.

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If I was ever unsure about Pectoral Sandpipers I have made up for it this year already; everywhere I have been there have been several.

Pectoral Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpipers

There were other birds too last weekend, like this Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

And an Indigo Bunting who would have qualified for my previous post about blending in.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

In any event, the sludge pond trip left me far south enough to cut west over to McGinnis Slough. Even though it was by then mid-day, it seemed prudent to check it out. The Swamp Rose Mallow is in full bloom now.

Rose Mallow

Swamp Rose Mallow 

Periodically, flocks of blackbirds would rise up from the marsh where they were no doubt feeding alongside shorebirds I could not see. There were also huge flocks of Chimney Swifts but I was at a loss to photograph them adequately.

Red-Winged Blackbirds

Red-Winged Blackbirds

Chimney Swifts

Chimney Swifts

Further south I was delighted to find the Sandhill Cranes, possibly the same birds from a couple weeks ago. There were again three, but only two fit in one picture frame. All that brown stuff on the ground is dried up pond lilies, which completely camouflaged smaller birds feeding in it.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

So our weather has changed from cool, cloudy and rainy to hot and dry in little more than a week. Much of my time for blogging has instead been spent watering my front yard. More about that eventually (assuming watering and praying for rain works).

Great Blues

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

It’s taking me much longer than I expected to go through my photos from last Sunday, so I have decided to post some Great Blue Heron pictures for now and get around to everyone else who obliged my lens, including a few singers, a bit later.

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On the recommendation of a coworker, I ventured to Middlefork Savanna in Lake County. I had heard of it, perhaps on the IBET listserve, but because it’s a long drive, Middlefork and much of Lake County remain mysterious to me. It didn’t matter that it was early Sunday morning, it still took me almost an hour to get there. But I think I will have to make more trips north, if they promise to be as worthwhile as this one. I need to go back to see the rest of Middlefork, too. What a very special place it is.

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The tract of land is home to a unique ecosystem, with tallgrass prairie, wetlands, woods and one of the best remaining oak savannas in the country. A gravel path that runs the length of the property and is used by bike riders and runners, but it’s wide enough to walk without getting run over. Also, the property is not in a flight path and not close to major highways, like most of Cook County, so it was very quiet, except for an occasional freight train. Not far from the visitor’s center at adjacent Elawa Farm is a mown grass trail that is off-limits to bike-riders. That’s where I went first.

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The preserve is named after the Middle Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River, which runs through it.

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Click on any photo for a larger view.

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More to come from Middlefork Savanna.

City Visitors…Part One

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

While wading through weekend photos and recordings, I’m overdue getting caught up with the workday bird visitors who have proved so astonishingly cooperative. Whatever is this Field Sparrow doing hanging out with House Sparrows in the nicotine-stained bushes of the Thompson Center?

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As I recall, he flew away when I first noticed him, and then after I stood there awhile, he came back and started finding excuses to forage close to me. I had to step back a bit to get these pictures.

The Chicago Loop/Lakefront welcome mat isn’t out like it used to be. The former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now looks like this:

Daley destruction

Daley destruction

Millennium Park is under heavy maintenance, particularly in the bird-friendly areas, so that’s not a destination anymore. Northerly Island was designated habitat for a while, but the “temporary” Charter One pavilion is now being expanded to a concert arena for crowds of 22,000 people. Where’s a migrating bird to go, let alone a birder?

This Ring-Billed Gull was faring pretty well the last warm day I walked through Millennium.

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There are other areas along the lakefront north and south of the city, of course, but they’re no longer part of the stretch that included downtown.

So on the way in to work I still stop by 155 North Wacker Drive. It has not been incredibly birdy lately, but there have been a few migrants, like this eager-to-please Common Yellowthroat (his initial reaction was the same as the Field Sparrow’s, and then he got curious, I guess).

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Common Yellowthroat

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Directly outside Union Station a few days ago, I saw this Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

I didn’t get to go out today for lunch, giving in to the threat of thunderstorms which have not occurred, a sudden burst of activity at work, and the need to leave early (thunderstorms be damned) to attend a DuPage Birding Club meeting. So I’ve spent my lunch finishing this post.

More to come from Lake Shore East Park, which has become my lunchtime refuge (and that of a couple crows I know as well).

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Sights and Sounds: Chicago Portage

Brown Creeper, Chicago Portage

Brown Creeper, Chicago Portage – a sign of spring

It’s been raining on more than off all week, so the farther I get from last Sunday’s excursion, the harder it is to visualize.

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The Chicago Portage is still asleep but starting to wake up now with the rain and intermittent spells of warmer temperatures.

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Turtle sunning itself

Last week I purchased a Roland hand-held recorder to use in the field. I have had a Marantz with a very sensitive microphone for years, but it’s a lot to carry and I wanted something more portable. I figured by now technology had caught up with me. I’m still learning how to use it, but I managed to get a few sounds.

American Goldfinc

American Goldfinch

The picture above is not of the Goldfinch that is singing–albeit in the background overshadowed by a Red-Winged blackbird–in the clip below. The actual singer, although I did photograph him, was rather far away.

Goldfinch Portage IMG_4369_1This was our songster.

A bit later there was a wonderful Song Sparrow singing, and although he wouldn’t let me get the classic shot while he was performing, he did give me a nice picture anyway.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I will keep experimenting with the recorder and from time to time share the best songs with you.

Just to taunt me, two Great Blue Herons flew over, followed by three Monk Parakeets. I managed to get a fleeting picture of one Great Blue.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This huge fallen tree just next to the path that leads down to the Des Plaines River behind the Portage was recently dismantled. Part of its core looks diseased, making it easy prey for the strong winds.

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Not too hard to find a Red-Winged Blackbird here, singing his head off.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Fox Sparrows are still at the Portage.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

And the Downies are busy as usual.

upside-down Downy Woodpecker

upside-down Downy Woodpecker

I have seen an Eastern Phoebe almost every day this week somewhere.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

The water levels should be higher this week after all the rain. If we get another break in the clouds I’ll go back and check.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

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