Two weeks after the last formal walk at Columbus Park on May 14, I joined the two Eds from those walks to see what was up after it seemed all the warblers were gone. Suffice it to say that the water birds made up for the lack of passerine diversity. In spite of an event going on at the park, two Great Blue Herons and two Black-crowned Night Herons tolerated all the noise and our attention and gave us some great looks.
There’s invariably a Great Blue Heron here but I’ve never seen one up in a tree like the one in the series below.
These photos are from April 16, May 14 and May 28 so the vegetation keeps changing.
On April 16 we were lucky to see an early Northern Parula.
Although I saw this species on a few other occasions these were the best looks I had all spring.
Also in the old reeds left over from last year was an American Tree Sparrow.
A Northern Rough-winged Swallow posed over the water
There was one little Field Sparrow back on the April visit.
There’s usually at least a pair of Wood Ducks but they don’t always offer such great photo opportunities.
Below from the last visit, a Wood Duck hen with six ducklings.
Once the Red-winged Blackbirds show up, they stay for the summer.
On the last visit there were some more grown up goslings than an on earlier visit.
Back in April, two Double-crested Cormorants swimming together.
The Black-crowned Night Herons are sometimes so well camouflaged.
Back in April I followed this Great Blue Heron in flight.
On May 14, there was a visible Red-eyed Vireo.
And on the last visit two weeks later, a Warbling Vireo made itself known.
Here’s an earlier photo of a Great Blue Heron.
The Black-crowned Night Herons are simply photogenic.
But I’ll let the Wood Duck have the last word.
A rainy forecast for today gave me the time to sit here and put this together. I’ll be back out on the trail tomorrow morning. There will likely be more photographs of dragonflies coming, like the female Eastern Forktail Damselfly below – if that is indeed what this is. I noticed it at Columbus Park on the last visit.
Here’s the rest of the pictures from the day in my previous post. This was our first of two trips in a panga boat down the Rio San Cristobal near San Blas, Mexico. I was more often than not on the wrong side of the boat this time, but as we were slowly and quietly passed through the water, I managed to get some photos.
Though we saw mostly herons of one sort or another, the likely river raptor is the Snail Kite. This one I caught in flight. Yes, they eat snails.
We saw lots of White Ibis nearly every day, but for the most part they weren’t very easy to capture. This one stood out against the dark background from a distance.
It was still possible to see some of the usual passerines. Not so usual were the Red-Billed Pigeons. I wish I’d gotten a closer look at them.
Green Herons are some of the most cooperative subjects. I suspect they are really focused on their quest for food, to not mind me clicking away.
For good measure, more birds I will likely see this spring and summer: Great Egret, Black-Crowned Night-Heron and Great Blue Heron.
It was a real treat to see this Bare-Throated Tiger Heron out in the open.
Little Blue Herons aren’t so blue until they are adults, like the one below.
As dusk curtailed our excursion, we managed to capture good looks at a nocturnal species, the Northern Potoo.
A couple more of two foraging herons…
It’s especially nice to look at these photographs today, as a distraction from the accumulating snow that continues into the afternoon, to be followed by drastically dropping temperatures on my way home from work. It’s supposed to be somewhere between 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow morning, not counting the windchill, when I walk to the train. But all is not lost. We warm up on Saturday so it can start snowing again. Maybe I can catch a few photographs of the hearty goldfinches at my feeders. The snow was beautiful this morning but it was too early for decent light.
As we climb back out of yet another spell of wintry, inclement weather, I have to wonder what effect this fitful spring is having on the migrants we are all too happy to observe. I have had a Swainson’s Thrush in my yard the last two days. I’m happy to provide for this bird and maybe it doesn’t have too much farther to go to get to its breeding grounds, but likely it will be dodging more storms on its way.
Last Saturday I attended a small informal walk at Columbus Park and then went to the Portage. Sunday birding was off the table, as I committed to choir-singing all day. Here it is Wednesday: I just finished going through these pictures last night. I will be leading one more walk this Saturday at the Portage if the current “morning thunderstorms” forecast does not pan out. It’s ever crazier to be paying attention to the forecast when it changes every five minutes, but I can’t help it.
It’s always nice to see the herons at this location. My list of species totaled 32 which is not spectacular but it was great to have sunshine which the birds were enjoying too. I’ll do a separate post about the Portage later.
This is the first time I’ve seen Wood Ducks hanging out on the lawn…but the Mallard was quite comfortably snoozing.
There are two Spotted Sandpipers in the photograph below the ducks, but the second one is a bit harder to see…
I found the Philadelphia Vireo in my photographs last night. A surprise to me as I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of one before.
So this is the time of year when I have more photographs than I have time to post… Looking forward to the holiday weekend and hoping it’s not raining too much so I can get a handle on the rapidly increasing jungle that is my yard and maybe see some more birds.
I had planned to write a post before my departure for Big Bend but it didn’t happen. Now I am back from an amazing trip, but even though I have started processing my pictures, it will probably take me a couple of weeks given the busy schedule I am returning to, so I will see if I can manage this post for the moment.
I did a Columbus Park walk on the Saturday before I left, and it was to witness the first hint of migrating birds, but our spring has been anything but spring-like, with snow occurring the next day and from what I hear, another wet, fluffy snowfall the Saturday before my return. Yet I’m planning on putting out the hummingbird feeders tomorrow morning. C’mon, it’s May!
The big wading and diving birds were easiest to spot… It was particularly entertaining to watch the Double-Crested Cormorants drying off in the sun. Maybe the Canada Goose thought I was trying to take its picture.
We had several Wood Ducks, but this was perhaps the closest view I got of a male swimming in front of a female Mallard.
A little army of hungry Golden-Crowned Kinglets appeared on the grass in front of us at one point, reminding me of the very first time I ever saw them years ago doing the same thing on the lawn at Millennium Park.
The female Belted Kingfisher below was pretty far away but nice to see.
This Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by us before landing in a tree.
Swamp Sparrows outnumbered Song Sparrows (4 to 2!) but were hard to photograph.
Eastern Phoebe arrivals are always a sign of spring. The similarly-colored bird below the Eastern Phoebe is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.
You know the Red-Winged Blackbirds are ready for business when the girls start arriving.
Northern Flickers put on a show for us but they were hard to capture as well.
Our last “lawn” species was Killdeer.
I got caught up on my sleep last night, but I’m heading into a busy weekend. Saturday morning is the Spring Bird Count, Saturday night is the Spring Music Festival…and with any luck on Sunday, I can start cleaning up my yard, as green things, both wanted and invasive, are starting to emerge. The recommendation to not clear anything until the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will be difficult to adhere to… we are still dropping into the 40’s, albeit the higher 40’s, overnight. I do remember seeing a butterfly or two before I left. I hope to see some insects Sunday and maybe a better forecast.
I miss my crows. Terribly. I miss their inventive, gentle camaraderie and sense of humor. And their joy for peanuts. I will have to see if I can find them one of these weekends when I’m not conscripted to be elsewhere and it’s not pouring rain.
I started writing this in the midst of a constant downpour. Contemplating how I am getting more used to the new workplace. My mood improved about the new gig after managing to get out for a couple short walks along the river last week. Birding along the river wasn’t half bad.
It turns out the Black-Crowned Night Heron at the top of this post was a rarity for this time of year. I had no idea what it was when I took the picture, I only pointed my camera lens at it and followed it as it flew by. It was darker than a first cycle gull and that’s all I knew about it until I took the picture. And then checking it on the camera when I got back into the office I misidentified it, but kept thinking it over and later it occurred to me that it was a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron.
Below, a more likely suspect for a darker bird – a first cycle Herring Gull.
Not to be confused yet, at least, with the more prevalent adult Ring-Billed Gulls that have not yet left the area.
I got over to the Boeing garden a couple times last week. On Thursday I was faced with convincing two security guards that I was not taking pictures of the building, but of birds. Not sure if showing them my American Birding Association cap helped, but they left me alone after kindly admonishment.
I pondered a spy novel about a terrorist disguised as a bird photographer but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler above was still hanging out in one of the young oak trees. (No suspense in that sentence.)
Below is one of my favorite migrating sparrows, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This one has been hanging out by the train station.
Likely the last Golden-Crowed Kinglet I will see before spring.
A Gray-Cheeked Thrush…
And a more ubiquitous Hermit Thrush…
The White-Crowned Sparrow below flew into a plexiglas barrier and then I found it hiding in a dark spot by some low vegetation on Friday morning. I called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and then, following their instructions, dropped it off in their parked vehicle, after placing the bird in a paper sandwich bag I have been carrying around for weeks just for this very purpose. It was taken with other survivors to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rest and rehabilitation.
White-Throated Sparrow requiring help
Below, another White-Throated Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush foraging in the not-so-pristine leaf litter at Boeing.
Thursday was the last time I saw the Blackpoll Warbler that was there for a few days.
At last we are experiencing fall-like weather, finally, following the spate of weekend thunderstorms. As the weather changes, so will migration. I hope to find more birds following the river’s path.
The virtual sunniness of it all makes the summer heat seem more oppressive somehow. We had rain after rain after rain in July for weeks and then virtually for a week it was all over, the steady sunshine and heat quickly depleting water levels. So I didn’t know what to expect when I wandered over to the Portage Sunday morning. Perhaps shorebirds, but there were none. However there was the Black-Crowned Night Heron above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at this location, so that made the visit worthwhile immediately. In discovery mode I’ll take anything but for some reason a different or unexpected bird sates my hunger for more for…at least a few minutes!
The only other species near what little water was left was a Great Blue Heron who was first silhouetted as I walked in against the sun, the trail still being inaccessible from the opposite direction, and then after I emerged from a lot of burdock and butterflies, the heron decided to leave.
The butterflies almost made up for the lack of bird species.
Red Spotted Purple
Lined Tiger Moth Caterpillar
After months of closing the hole in the fence, the gate, so to speak, is wide open. An enormous amount of vegetation has been cleared and there is a wide path leading in either direction, toward the Des Plaines River or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. I did not go far in either direction but decided to at least take a peek at the river and on my way I encountered a doe and two fawns. Below is one of the fawns passing through. There were dragonflies but they were generally less cooperative.
Is this the backside of a bee?
House Wrens were still quite vocal and I managed to see this one.
Of all 13 species I reported, there were more American Robins than anything else. The one below will quickly lose its spottiness.
Juvenile American Robin
Downy Woodpeckers are regulars at the Portage, if not always visible.
And Indigo Buntings still rule. There have been more than ever this breeding season, and they are still singing.
We’ve cooled off a bit, and the days are inching ever-so-slightly shorter, tilting thoughts toward fall migration. I’m sure there’s still plenty of hot weather left but maybe I’m finally getting used to it. If it doesn’t rain this weekend…who knows where I could go?
As promised, here are a few photos from this morning’s fortunate encounter with the Black-Crowned Night Heron. What attracts him to this portion of the Chicago River is anybody’s guess. Must be something about the morning commute. For sure no one is paying attention to him…except for some annoying birder with a camera.
Later this afternoon I took a walk through Millennium Park and found a singing Northern Cardinal who must know me because after I took his picture he waited patiently while I shelled a three-peanut nut for him.
And there were Cedar Waxwings, heard and then seen. I seem to be encountering more of these birds downtown lately.
Almost every work morning without fail, even in inclement weather, I have hauled the camera backpack downtown so I could be prepared, should the Black-Crowned Night Heron I have been seeing every spring downtown on the Chicago River show up again. Up until now I have not kept track of its visits on ebird, so I don’t know exactly when I saw it the last two or three years. I did find a picture of a piling in the river from June 4, 2014 on my cell phone, which must have been when I saw it last, but it’s hard to even see if there was a bird in it.
So I did take pictures of a Black-Crowned Night Heron at another part of the Chicago River, specifically LaBagh Woods, on May 23 this year when I joined Chicago Ornithological Society on a field trip. This was the first time I had been to the slough part at LaBagh. I hope I can find the slough again on my own next time I visit. It’s a magical place, reminding me of the Chicago Portage. The rest of the pictures in this post are from the LaBagh trip.
Mallard on Nest, LaBagh Woods
I had all but given up on seeing the Black-Crowned Night Heron downtown, but I have been thinking about him, so I decided to do this post anyway today featuring the other one I saw up river last month.
Great Blue Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh Woods
As luck would have it, this morning, on the way in, as I was walking north along the river which I have started doing now that the work has been completed that the city or the building owners were doing on the west side between Adams and Madison–there are enough trees and low-lying plants that make me think this could turn out to be a good place to visit during migration–I suddenly saw the downtown Black-Crowned Night Heron flying across the river and landing on the other side! By the time I took out my camera and put it together, it had flown back across the river again, underneath me, to where I could not see it.
Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
Eastern Kingbird, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
But I did get pictures when it flew again, and I will post them tonight! I find it amusing that I was focused on seeing the heron and then it showed up this morning. Who was sending who messages?
Gray Catbird, LaBagh Woods
In previous years I can recall only seeing the downtown heron for one morning, but now I believe anything can happen.
Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
The days are getting shorter, there are still fall migrants coming through, the weather has been beautiful the last day or two and I feel like I’m running around in circles just trying to get normal things accomplished, and then I’m out of time for everything. Everything being the moment to sit still, observe, reflect, be…
Magnolia Warbler, Columbus Park
Truth be told I did not stay in last Sunday because the rain was threatening but not really materializing, so I managed to visit the Portage and almost envisioned doing a post about what surprises were there, but I keep succumbing to that temptation (“What’s your favorite photograph?” “The one I just took”) and then I never get back to documenting previous outings. So while I have been recalcitrant catching up with other bloggers I am going to try at least to catch up a bit with myself.
Whatever my obsession to try to hold on to the last experience, these pictures are more from the 13th trip to Columbus Park, which is a park on the west side of Chicago, making it barely a stone’s throw away. There’s a nice water feature going on at the park, and perhaps the star was a juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron contemplating how to make a living.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
Also present, a Pied-Billed Grebe and a Great Blue Heron. I don’t recall if I realized the Blue-Winged Teal was eating a crabapple when I took the picture but it seems a little odd.
Great Blue Heron
Blue-Winged Teal eating crabapple
There were two young Cooper’s Hawks present.
A fellow participant pointed out the caterpillar to me. I did not have my macro lens handy so it’s not a great picture, but I think it looks like a sphinx moth. I confess to being very lazy and I have not tried to look it up.
I must leave this page, it’s getting late and I have to get up and go to work. I hope to return in a better mood. Tomorrow night is the first rehearsal for the choir I have signed up for. I have received the first email from Bill Hilton about November’s Costa Rica trip. There’s room for more participants: he didn’t say how many we were but the optimum number is 12. Time for me to start thinking about this trip. I’m looking forward to contributing to Bill’s research for a week.
Even if there is not much in the way of birds to see or photograph – a distant Baltimore Oriole, a flock of blackbirds flying by – I am still committed to going somewhere every Sunday morning, weather permitting. It has become part of my routine. Routine is great to fall back on when I feel unfocused, overwhelmed or just plain lazy.
So last Sunday I decided to visit Lake Katherine again, and then hop over to McGinnis Slough, which wasn’t far. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, which in reality never happened. The first bird near the parking lot was this skeptical-looking female Northern Cardinal.
Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine
I decided to skip the garden portion and walk around the lake. The first bird to record was likely the same Black-Crowned Night Heron I saw a couple weeks ago in the trees. Although his attempt to hide behind the grasses seemed successful to me, he wasn’t pleased with it and he took off before I could snap a picture of him in flight. When I am the cause of a bird’s flight, I don’t like to photograph it anyway, I feel too much like I’m taking advantage of the situation I created. Not to mention that usually the bird is gone long before I can get myself organized enough to capture it.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
It was a cloudy day which made it difficult to photograph anything in flight, actually. But these three helicopters sure were noisy.
Helicopters over Lake Katherine
Back on the ground, taking note of dragonflies, a Sphinx (“Hummingbird”) Moth and the geometry of a completely stripped thistle blossom.
Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine
Thistle, Lake Katherine
Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine
Juvenile Mallards as big as their parents and at this time of year, looking much the same.
Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine
There was a Great Blue Heron stalking prey, but after taking maybe 15 pictures of him crouched low, I grew tired and never did see him catch anything.
Great Blue Heron
The heron was a bit closer when I got around to the other side of the lake.
In the middle of the lake is a small island, and in addition to two small rookery platforms which I did not photograph, there are heron sculptures which looked a lot more interesting.
But my attention to the island was first drawn by a bright orange bird on the other side of it. It’s a Baltimore Oriole that hasn’t left yet. Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph, but I like the branches hanging over the pond lilies anyway.
Lots of Chimney Swifts, which are impossible to follow, but they were so close, I had to try. At least I got one flying cigar photo.
I believe the flower below is a form of evening primrose, of which I understand there are an unbelievable number of varieties. Anyway it looks similar to what has taken over part of my yard.
Evening Primrose, Lake Katherine
By the time I got to McGinnis Slough, it was 10:30 AM or so, which is getting late by bird standards. There was not an awful lot happening. Maybe the best bird was a very close Green Heron, but with the clouds and backlighting, it doesn’t appear colorful at all.
Green Heron, McGinnis Slough
It’s impossible to look out on whatever water there is at McGinnis without a scope, so I did the obligatory scan and counted some Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants, and I forget what else – I still have to input my ebird list – there wasn’t much. But there was a Deer Fly who was fascinated by the scope cover. Better the scope cover than me. I am usually swatting at these things, but this one was a model insect. My what beautiful eyes you have.
Deer Fly on the scope
On the way back to the car, a few Barn Swallows taking a preening break.
Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough
The American Goldfinch below is likely a juvenile male, if the faint darkness on his crown is any indication.
American Goldfinch, Lake Katherine
Summer continues, although for the moment we’re having brisk fall weather. The days are still long but they get shorter and shorter, and every other week it seems I have to make an adjustment to the length of the timers on the lights in the house, so the indoor birds can see where they’re going during people hours.