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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Post in search of a title

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A last Monarch…

As I sat here last night trying to make sense of this random conglomeration of images before I went to bed, I wondered if we would indeed finally get some rain. It seems even our impending drought cannot ignore the possible impact of Nate, the current tropical storm. We have had some constant drizzly rain and it looks like we should eventually get some cloudbursts. But appearances on the radar can be deceiving. I will keep my hopes up.CEWA Portage 09-09-17-8040RWBL Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8112Continuing with last month’s visits to nearby Cook County Forest Preserves, young birds like the Cedar Waxwing and Red-Winged Blackbird above were getting ready to leave. It’s become evident to me over the past few years that European Starlings like the one below are not necessarily winter residents either. But the young Mourning Dove blending in with the dead stump below the it will likely stay.EUST Portage 09-09-17-7747MODO Portage 09-09-17-7734Hidden in the leaves about waist-length from the ground at Ottawa Trail was the Ovenbird below.OVEN Ottawa Trail 09-09-17-8061And there just seemed to be too many ways to capture Northern Flickers. They have likely pretty much disappeared by now too. For a last look you can click on the pictures below for larger images.

 

American Robins don’t disappear completely in the winter but they will be traveling in flocks soon searching for any fruit left on trees.

Another hardy winter resident is the Black-Capped Chickadee.BCCH McGinnis 09-17-17-8303A few more Red-Winged Blackbirds.RWBL Portage 09-09-17-7794

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Ottawa Trail’s landmark tree

Last year following my cataract surgery I got all turned around and could not find the trail that runs along the Des Plaines River at Ottawa Trail, but now I am finding it easily, and one reason why is because I have always located the landmark tree above.NOCA Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8074I am grateful for Northern Cardinals. They will be here all winter to brighten up the landscape.

 

I’ll be back soon with the last warblers… Still trying to find that work/bird-and-choir-life balance. I will bow deeply at the first thunder clap.

 

 

Meanwhile Back at the Bungalow

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Monarch Butterflies have not been many, but I’ve had at least one visiting my yard every day I’m around to witness it. Glad they like the Tall Ironweed below.

American Goldfinches have been taking advantage of seed abundance everywhere.

I don’t know who will care for the Wild Senna seed pods but this is what the plant has produced below. The flowers are all gone.

Wild Senna Yard 07-30-17-2475At least one Black-Capped Chickadee is on hand to remind me to keep the sunflower seed feeder full.

BCCH Yard 08-05-17-2676The Northern Cardinals are in various stages of molt.

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Female Northern Cardinal

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Juvenile Male Northern Cardinal

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American Goldfinch

I was sitting outside on my front porch waking up from an afternoon nap after the past Sunday’s outing to Big Marsh and a beautiful female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird zoomed in to check out my front wildflower garden. Of course I didn’t have the camera with me. But I hung a feeder on the front porch. I live in hope for a future photo opportunity.

Bees, Butterflies and Birds in the Backyard

Bee on Wild Senna 07-15-17-1468Have I ever said I adore bumblebees? If not, now I am proclaiming it, and they are some of the friendliest creatures in my yard. Last weekend the one in these pictures was definitely enjoying the Wild Senna, making me take extra notice of the brown spots on the blooms which make the flowers almost look like bees themselves.

I’ve managed to spend some time the last two weekends in the yard, which is more an exercise in discovery and meditation than it is management of what decides to grow there. With all the rain we have had this year everything seems determined to grow tall and abundant.

At first the most common butterflies were the Red Admirals above. Below, a Milkweed Beetle on its namesake plant and what I suspect is a Soldier Beetle on the Rattlesnake Master. I was just happy to see somebody else enjoying my first season for Rattlesnake Master in the yard.

Saturday I was graced with the first Tiger Swallowtail that spent some time in the yard while I was out there. For whatever reason, the butterflies seem to be attracted to my field of Echinacea more than anything else.

Tiger Swallowtail 07-15-17-1688And just as I had had enough and was about to go inside, this lovely Black Swallowtail showed up. I had seen one in the yard before but leaving, not hanging around.

Black Swallowtail 07-15-17-1746Black Swallowtail 07-15-17-1747I had a staring match with the Fox Squirrel. The sunflowers growing from spilled seed are too numerous to photograph, so here’s a close-up of one.

Not sure if I have more female House Finches or if half of them are immatures. It was nice to see a Black-Capped Chickadee too. In general, when I’m in the yard, the birds aren’t.

The moon was still visible.

Moon 07-15-17-1514I’ve discovered one or two Snow on the Mountain flowers in the yard, not where it was coming up for years, but now scattered, after it disappeared entirely. Glad to have it back.

Snow on the Mountain 07-15-17-1539And if you made it this far you might recognize the flower below as the invasive monster I was trying to eradicate earlier. I discovered the name of this nefarious plant yesterday while scrolling through the Audubon Wildflower App on my cell phone. The app isn’t new, but my use of it now is a new diversion. I’ve decided to scroll all the way through everything from A to Z to find things that I can’t remember, can’t identify otherwise, or discover new. So far, this was a fortuitous decision because I was close to the beginning of the alphabet with this one. And it is every bit as terrible as I suspected. Well, maybe not where it belongs, but it’s from Europe, and here’s part of the description from the app: “spreads by underground stems and forms sizable colonies. The plant contains poisonous sapnonins (soap-like substances) that inspired the genus name (from the Latin sapo, meaning ‘soap’) and the alternate common name Soapwort. Lather can be made from its crushed foliage. The common name Bouncing Bet is an old fashioned nickname for a washerwoman.”

I think maybe I’ll start calling it Soapwort.

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Bouncing Bet, or Saponaria officinalis

So with those roots running under the soil I’m never going to get rid of this stuff, I’ll just look upon it as a nasty plant on which to take out all my frustrations every spring. And I’ll be sure never to eat it. I wonder if it’s as poisonous to wildlife. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bees attracted to it. They’re pretty smart.

Bumblebee and Wild Senna 07-15-17-1751Still wishing for a Monarch Butterfly and/or a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird or Sphinx Moth to show up on a weekend when I’m in the yard…with the camera. 🙂

We Pause for a Brief Message from…The Crows

crow-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7464Today may be Monday, but it was also a beautiful day, with ample sunshine at least in the morning and early afternoon hours, and we warmed up to 54 degrees, which is downright balmy. So I went for a walk this afternoon in search of…birds.

Unlike my most recent visits, there were no Cardinals or White-Throated Sparrows to be seen, although I heard one or two. The Black-Capped Chickadees were more vocal but hiding.

I checked the two usual places in Millennium Park before I set off for the Cancer Survivors Garden and then as I approached. I thought I saw four large black birds perched in a tree down at the southeast end. Could it be…?

crows-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7427Yes, they were Crows. And there they sat, silent and still. I wondered if maybe one of them was the individual that had flown by on Thursday and since today was such a nice day, it gathered friends to hang out with to see if I was for real.

I put peanuts and some pretty-stale-by-now Birdz cookies at the base of the tree they were in. And the Crows just sat there in the tree, still, silent.

I went to a far bench where I could sit and watch them, and they remained stone-faced. After a minute or two I decided I should probably go back to work. It was only as I started walking away, they all followed me.

I didn’t mind being tricked out of more treats. I put peanuts and the rest of the stale cookies at the base of one of the trees where we used to hang out, and sat down and watched them party. Two Chickadees showed up and also got to work on some birdseed. The Crows started to call a little bit. It was like seeing old friends and picking up right where we left off.

All I can hope for is that this is not a singular occurrence and that we meet again on a regular basis. I realize I have to hold up my end too: it’s up to me to show up more often as well.

Spring is coming.

In case you’re wondering, we didn’t talk politics. In fact it occurred to me later that the Crows really don’t like crowds, and maybe the protests and marches kept them away, so it was only fitting they had me to themselves for our reunion.

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Reflections on a Post-Groundhog Day

noca-millennium-2-2-17-7364This really has nothing to do with Groundhog Day except that, according to the official Groundhog, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. I can tell you that as annoying as that prospect might be, it’s nothing compared to dreading the “what next?” incredulity of news coming from the nation’s capitol.

The Northern Cardinals have been hanging out at the northwest corner of Millennium Park by the entrance to the Boeing Gallery.

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This is not going to be a political rant, indeed, I’m trying to escape our new reality for a few moments of sanity, as long as birds are still around to help. Sometimes I have to wait a while before the birds show up, but eventually they do. All these photos are from the last week or so, Millennium and Maggie Daley parks in downtown Chicago.

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Both colorations of White-Throated Sparrow

I haven’t seen my Crow Friends downtown for what seems like months and probably is. At least too many weeks.Here we had been spending winters together,  but this winter they have all disappeared. I am all but lost because, especially when life gets too confusing, the crows are of invaluable comfort and perspicacity. I live in hope that they return in the spring. I think they will. Where they have gone for a retreat, I have absolutely no idea. But in what seemed like an omen, as the sight of a crow often does, Thursday as I sat quietly on bench at the Cancer Survivors Garden, one crow flew silently across the sky going north, and did not stop or acknowledge my calls, but still the sight of it gave me hope. I was so hopeful I almost forgot to take a quick picture for posterity.

The Cancer Survivors Garden which has now been absorbed by Maggie Daley Park is for the most part asleep for the winter, with no birds present. I suspect every last berry has been picked off of every last bush.

The usual suspects are still around elsewhere. White-Throated Sparrows usually call before I see them, but if I stop with some treats they come out fearlessly. It’s the City Sparrow-Country Sparrow phenomenon again, like the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The White-Throated Sparrows in Chicago’s Loop parks have likely learned how to take advantage of human generosity from the House Sparrows that honed it down to a fine art.

The Black-Capped Chickadees are good at this too but they often move so quickly they’re hard to catch with the camera.

Dark-Eyed Juncos are still around too, not so many, perhaps, and on a dark background on a dark day, well, here you have it, but I was lucky to catch the one on the left with its tail feathers spread out, as you usually don’t see the white feathers except when they’re flying away from you.

And then there are those moments when we bond.

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One of the White-Throated Sparrows was starting to sing last week. Could have been this guy.

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For humans, the ice rink is a popular pastime these days.

And another popular pastime, below.

Unless something newsworthy occurs in the meantime, I’ll be back next with more from the Galapagos.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard

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Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.

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A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.

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House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Warmup to a Merry Christmas

noca-12-9-16-5033In the mad rush to the end of the year there hasn’t been much time for birding or posting but I am here to wish you all happy, good-cheer holidays, whatever you are celebrating. Last night I sang with the Unity Temple Choir for their Christmas Eve service and today I am catching up on bread gifts to distribute around the neighborhood. So while the house smells of cinnamon and yeast, Handel’s Messiah playing on the radio, and snow still on the ground even though we’ve warmed up quite a bit, I will try to compile a brief photographic history of the last few weeks.

Most of the wild birds I have seen lately have been downtown on infrequent visits to the parks. The light hasn’t been anything to celebrate but the Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows, House Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are all happy to partake of the treats I bring them.

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White-Throated Sparrow

And although I haven’t had many crows, I am usually able to find at least two, sometimes four. I don’t know where they’ve gone this year. Maybe the polar vortex has caused them to congregate elsewhere. Too bad, because I’m baking Birdz Cookies now, and I’ve perfected the recipe.

Sometimes there are a few American Robins about, although not as much now that the trees and bushes are running out of fruit.

There was that one horribly cold week and I managed to document the temperature and the steam on the river, if nothing else. I didn’t go out that day.

Two days later it had warmed up a bit, for which I was grateful, as I participated in the Fermilab Christmas Bird Count, but it was a brutal experience slogging through packed snow and seeing not many birds at all. Not surprisingly, overall, the number of species and individuals were down from previous years.

The Canada Geese flying overhead seemed to be the only ones having a good time.

I couldn’t even get the pair of Northern Cardinals below to come out from the thicket long enough to photograph them.

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What’s been really shocking to me is the lack of birds in my yard. While I don’t see them most of the time because I’m at work anyway, at least I have an idea that they’re showing up by the emptiness of the feeders. Oddly enough, just as we started the warmup this past week, my feeders remained full. You would think just the opposite would occur. I began to wonder if the sub-zero temperatures had taken more casualties than a more normal winter. I hope this isn’t a warning for the future.

crows-12-16-16-5362wtsp-12-12-16-5180I have seen birds in the yard today now that I’m home, and I’m starting to think that a good deal of the absences probably have to do with the local raptors’ hunger more than the weather. We shall see. The birds come, but they don’t stay long. I’ll try to do a census tomorrow in the yard since I would like to see my favorites beyond the inevitable House Sparrows. I may even go out to the Portage for a walk-around early in the morning. We’re supposed to have relatively balmy temperatures tomorrow morning before we go back to normal. A seesaw December. And only one week left of it.

Wishing you all love and peace!

Life Goes On

dove-family-11-24-16-0694Life goes on in the Diamond Dove Department, at least. Barely a week and a half ago, on Tuesday the 15th, I became aware of Dudlee and Drew’s new babies – two lovely little Diamond Dovelings. I came home from work and both parents were off the nest Dudlee had built in a mug, with my help. I assumed they had abandoned the nest yet again, as they had two or three times before, because the eggs were not hatching. But this time, instead of abandoned eggs, I saw two good-sized nestlings in their pin feathers. They must have been a week old. One was noticeably larger than the other. I read online that there is a lag of five to seven days between eggs hatching, so that explained the size difference. The pictures directly below are from the 20th, so they kids already had some feathers happening.

By Sunday, the oldest one had fledged! No wonder Dudlee kept craving small nests. She knew she wouldn’t need a lot of room to raise two chicks.

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First Fledged Dove Child

I am not used to this at all, having observed finches and budgies procreating for years, never seeing the fledglings until they were nearly as big as their parents, so I am learning a lot from these creatures. It’s a wonderful distraction from the political malaise, a gift of life in the midst of dystopia. It also makes staying at home more attractive. I wonder if the timing of the presidential election — November, with the inauguration postponed until January — was intended to make an uprising less likely, as in when it’s below freezing outside.

dove-kids-11-26-16-0707Anyway, fatherhood has been good to Drew, who had a twisted and overgrown bill that I kept trimming from time to time when I was able to catch him. His bill seems to be normal now as he is feeding his offspring. Not that I detect an awful lot of feeding going on. It seems to be much more sporadic than with the finches, who clamor for food every waking moment. Instead the Diamond Dovelings tend to sit around all day, waiting patiently for a parent to bestow some food on them. I’m not getting into this, it’s totally up to Dudlee and Drew. They must know what they’re doing because the kids are growing exponentially every day, in spite of my perception that they are being somewhat ignored.

Dudlee and Drew seem to be hell-bent on having more children, unfortunately, and I think their timing is off. Not to mention that I think I have enough doves now. But success has gone to their heads and they spend a lot of time flirting. Dudlee has asked me for her mug back several times. I keep telling her she has a family to raise already. Likely wasted effort on my part, but it’s at least nice to see them all waking up together as they were this morning all perched on the microphone cable.

dove-family-11-26-16-0708The four-day weekend had already gone to my head by Thursday, and I could envision retirement being worthwhile if only it was attainable. The relaxation of a long weekend is persuasive. I’ve done all my major cleaning, I made my first loaf of bread in almost a year, playing piano and trying to get back to writing songs with the guitar… But I’m not ready to share that yet, so below are a couple short videos of the Diamond Doves. Drew’s singing to his chicks in the second one.

Yesterday’s weather was better than today’s which was supposed to start out rather pleasant but it’s been chilly and gloomy all day. Nevertheless I went out to the Chicago Portage this morning to see lots of American Tree Sparrows (a couple pictured below) and a few other species. There was evidence of a lot of new fencing, I assume to protect plants. Save for one cyclist, I was the only human present.

House Finches hang out at the Chicago Portage too.

There were perhaps five Downy Woodpeckers. Here’s one.

I always hear more Black-Capped Chickadees than I see but this one wasn’t too skittish.

The duck weed is all gone, so there actually was water underneath it, and there were Mallards in the water.

There were almost as many Dark-Eyed Juncos as Tree Sparrows but they weren’t posing. The overcast contributed to the lack of focus.

deju-11-27-16-4821Two views of the ever-changing but somehow always familiar Chicago Portage.

The statue of Joliet and Marquette wasn’t looking too cheery either.

statue-joliet-marquette-11-27-16-5014I’ll be back. Looking forward to my remaining cataract surgery on Wednesday, hoping to finally start fixing things up sight-wise. Then I’ll have no excuse for not being focused!

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Birdz Cookies: 1 Week Later

AMCR 1-29-16-0446As planned, I got out to Millennium Park again on Friday, with pretty much the same menu options. The Birdz Cookies were one week older, but the Crows didn’t seem to mind. The snow was for the most part gone and the sun poked out from behind the clouds every now and then.

The squirrels may turn their noses up at hot dogs, but they like the Birdz Cookies.

There were a lot more birds than last time. See if you can pick out the White-Throated Sparrow among these House Sparrows.

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Visitors included a male Northern Cardinal and a couple Black-Capped Chickadees.

But what I really wasn’t expecting to see was a Brown Thrasher! They normally start showing up around April.

I knew this was going to make my list exciting so I was that much more pleased when the Thrasher gave me several good pictures.

BRTH 1-29-16-0683The photographic data I submitted to ebird was more than sufficient. I found it funny though that the Thrasher was the only sighting on the Rare Bird Alert for the entire county on Friday.

What I suspect is going on with the Thrasher is that it is expanding its year-round range, which now cuts off at the southern tip of Illinois. This is likely the effect of global warming. So the data is important for that reason alone. This particular bird might be related to the male declaring his territory near the BP Bridge a couple years ago.

What I didn’t know about Brown Thrashers is that they eat seeds, so that explains why the bird came back to explore the food some more.

The crows got their fill of hot dogs.

On the way back I stopped at the Boeing sculpture garden and saw two beautiful female Northern Cardinals and a couple more White-Throated Sparrows.

So even though I hardly get out during the week, it’s still possible to find something unexpected. This is part of the magical attraction to birding. You can never predict what will happen.

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