Three Days at the Portage – Day 2

There were still some warblers on May 24, but the Bird of the Day for me was Red-Eyed Vireo. I had been wondering where these birds were, and then they all seemed to show up at once. Usually you hear them singing and don’t see them very well as they move through the trees chasing insects. But this time they were more often seen than heard. In some of these photographs you might actually be able to see the red eye for which they are named.

Red-eyed Vireo

Many of the warblers I saw that day were females. The females tend to migrate later than the males who are in a hurry to set up their territories. Spring migration this year seemed strange for many reasons – the pandemic affecting where you could go to find birds, the weather which is always a factor, and I guess the knowledge in the back of your mind that birds are in decline and you wonder just how many you’re going to see anyway.

Below is a Yellow Warbler who likely is on territory for the summer. I recorded him singing, and you can hear him three times in the little clip below his picture. Some people find the mnemonic “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” helpful in distinguishing this song from others they might be hearing.

Yellow Warbler

I feel fortunate to have seen a Canada Warbler more than once this spring. Unfortunately they prefer somewhat shady spots which I guess they blend into better than bright sunlight. I love the steel-gray blue color of their backs. I would support a Pantone color called Canada Warbler Blue.

Northern Cardinals are all around but not seen too often. This one was far away but distinct.

A Blue Jay on the fly.

Baltimore Orioles are getting harder to see now that they are busy rearing families.

Indigo Buntings are busy too but there are so many of them, they are easier to see.

Indigo Bunting (female)

This might have been the last time I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Actually I’m surprised I got to see more than its tail. I still hear them, but only on occasion, certainly not constantly like a few weeks ago when they first arrived.

Even Red-Winged Blackbirds are assuming a lower profile.
Two Mallards navigating the flood waters adjacent to the Des Plaines River which were still quite high that day.
Double-Crested Cormorant – an occasional flyover
The back of a Chipmunk

A couple more warblers – there seemed to be fewer American Redstarts this year, at least where I was. And I just learned something I never bothered to look up before about distinguishing the female Chestnut-sided Warbler from the male – the bright chestnut sides don’t extend as far down the side on the female. So the pictures below are of a female. And since I continue to hear a male singing at the Portage I can only wonder if there might be an actual breeding pair.

I still hear the Eastern Wood-Pewee but this might have been the last time I got photo ops.

The big surprise walking back in the opposite direction across the first bridge was to see this Robin’s nest right off the side of the bridge, in plain sight – and I had never noticed it before. Mom was in a nearby tree, waiting to revisit her brood.

A bird more often heard than seen..Gray Catbird.

Red-eyed Vireo

I love this last picture of the Red-eyed Vireo. Having said that, I realized a few days ago that I need to bring more control to my blog posts when I take so many pictures and can’t decide what to do with them and invariably end up with too many – believe it or not, this is a pared-down selection. I really need to use my flickr page more often, so I stuck some other photographs there and if you’re really curious, follow the link to them. I will try to be back sooner with the final installment of the Memorial Day weekend excursions and reports from other destinations since. Hope you are staying safe and well and rising to the daily challenges.

Three Days at the Portage – Day 1

Scarlet Tanager

The Memorial Day weekend this year offered three beautiful days of birding at the Portage. I had no desire to go anywhere else; rather, I was interested to see what different birds I might discover each day, enhanced by the fact that a lot of birds were finally on the move to their summer homes. Here are photographs from Saturday, May 23rd.

While I think this was the last day I saw the male Scarlet Tanagers, there were plenty of Indigo Buntings. I am not aware of Scarlet Tanagers breeding at the Portage, but the Indigo Buntings certainly are a presence now every year. I suspect some of them that return may have hatched at the Portage.

Indigo Bunting

I don’t know where the Green Herons are hanging out – likely on the Des Plaines River or perhaps across the railroad tracks in the low-lying water-collecting areas of Ottawa Trail – but I still see them fly over nearly every visit. I was fortunate enough to capture this one in flight.

This Scarlet Tanager looks orange compared to the other one. I imagine it is a function of the intensity and angle of the light.

Not too many warblers left…

Goldfinches are everywhere but not as easy to see.

There were plenty of Baltimore Orioles and they looked like they were busy tending to their nesting sites.

I finally managed to capture a singing Song Sparrow.

The turtles never miss a sunny day.

Daisy Fleabane opening up now – I had some in my yard last year, hope it returns

I love this Common Grackle posing, capturing the epitome of grackleness.

I fear for Black-capped Chickadees. Lately I have seen only one at a time.

One of many House Wrens.

A slow-motion Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Gray Catbirds are more often heard than seen but I was fortunate enough to enjoy both with this one.

A questioning look from the Great-crested Flycatcher below.

Perhaps this European Starling had just taken a bath in the last photo.

I have seen more Eastern Wood-Pewee’s this year. There’s even one in my neighborhood.

Subsequent visits gave me much better views than the Red-Eyed Vireo below.

Another Indigo Bunting

Then, most exciting of all, as I was sitting down and contemplating leaving, I heard and then saw the Red-Headed Woodpecker below. I have been waiting to see this species for an entire year. I wonder if this is the same one that I have seen on rare occasions only.

I have no idea what kind of caterpillar this is but it was my last subject as I left for the day.

i will be back with Days 2 and 3 which were also quite birdy. My next visit to the Portage will likely be more challenging but I will continue visiting to keep track of the emerging families. I hope we humans find some peaceful solutions. The days are getting so very long now.

A Little More from Ecuador Part 2

Golden-tailed Sapphire 11-24-2017-1724

Golden-tailed Sapphire

Here’s the other half of my previous post. Maybe it doesn’t hurt to remember there is still a lot of beauty left in the world. Hummingbirds are a good place to start. A Golden-Tailed Sapphire above and a Many-Spotted Hummingbird below.

Another beauty is the White-Tailed Hillstar.

In my next life, if I return quickly, maybe I can study butterflies.

Perhaps less spectacular but still interesting, a Western Wood-Pewee, Barred Antshrike and Deep Blue Flowerpiercer.

Another unique species below: the Thrush-Like Wren.

I have seen Cliff Flycatchers before but do not remember seeing the gray on the face like I did on this bird.

We were lucky to see a Chestnut-Eared Aracari which was not on our list.

Reality check. Tomorrow I am going to what promises to be a colder-than-last-year Gull Frolic, as we have chilled down again after two rather balmy days. With any luck I will get some fun photos to share with you. Fun as in Frantic Gulls. Until then, I wish you peace, safety and beauty wherever you are.

Many-spotted Hummingbird 11-24-2017-1784

Many-Spotted Hummingbird

P.S. A Blackburnian Warbler on the left (“distracters” on this trip!) and a Social Flycatcher on the fly.

Fall Migration Begins

TEWA Portage 09-03-17-4449

Tennessee Warbler

There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.

Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.

The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.

The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.

On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.

GBHE and GREG Portage 09-02-17-3862Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.

INBU Portage 09-03-17-4235INBU Portage 09-02-17-3666Likely INBU Portage 09-02-17-3973INBU Portage 09-02-17-3901Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.

So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.

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Warbling Vireo

The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.

Portage 09-03-17-4557Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.

The shelf fungus seemed a bit diminished on this visit.

 

Shelf Fungus Portage 09-02-17-3790Below, three first-year birds.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

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European Starling

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Mourning Dove

The cardinal is a likely candidate for first-year status as well.

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Northern Cardinal

Another view of the Portage, showing off all the native wildflower planting done lately.

Portage 09-02-17-4016I couldn’t decide which photograph of the Common Yellowthroat below to include, so here are both.

COYT Portage 09-02-17-3671COYT Portage 09-02-17-3670And one more of a Tennessee Warbler, adorning Giant Ragweed. Tennessees were most numerous yesterday.

TEWA Portage 09-03-17-4459Apologies for being absent of late. My work situation is in flux, which creates a different kind of distraction. But I promise I’ll be back soon with an update from the yard. It’s been cool enough overnight to leave the windows open all weekend. I think Fall is my Favorite Season.

 

Brief Blackburnian Blitz

 

BLWA 5-14-17-2050BLWA 5-13-17-1511

I readily admit to obsession and distraction. Warblers are here. While there has been no definitive all-at-once-get-it-now-or-never rhythm to this spring’s warbler migration, the fits and starts due to divergent weather patterns have made it all the more challenging to find and photograph these elusive creatures.

This is just a quick post devoted to a couple Blackburnian Warblers seen over the weekend. The one in the oak tree directly above was at Jarvis Bird Sanctuary along the lakefront, and the other in what is likely a cottonwood tree, at the Chicago Portage. More of the Portage bird below, showing off striking black and white plumage. This bird was really distant so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

Many more birds to come, just needed to take a breath before diving back in.

BLWA 5-13-17-1519

BLWA 5-13-17-1521

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.

BAOR Portage 5-1-2016-7997

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.

Spoted Sandpiper Portage 5-1-2016-7644

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.

BRTH Portage 5-1-2016-7945

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

Eclectic Mix

Black-Capped Donacobius

Black-Capped Donacobius

I keep coming up with lots of valid excuses for not finishing anything. I seem to have everything half-started and that of course includes the project of going through the pictures from Colombia… But I am including a few pictures here although I am nowhere near done cropping and identifying everyone.

Yellow-Green Vireo

Yellow-Green Vireo

I have succumbed to the addictive distraction of the new BirdsEye app on my phone, which I downloaded before I went to Colombia along with the collection of Colombian bird songs. I added the monthly world-birder subscription (why not?) which automatically tells me where a bird was reported if I have an Internet connection. Another feature of the app is that it allows me to enter my life list without asking all the annoying questions like what day, what time, where were you precisely when you saw this bird…while at the same time syncing with whatever has been entered in ebird…so at last count I was somewhere around 1,236 with 5 or 6 countries to go… I still don’t consider myself a lister but I am just getting curious about the tally.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler, wintering in Colombia, now thinking about Boreal Forest breeding grounds

You will eventually hear more about the home birds, but Blue the Last Budgie died of ripe old age last week and Dudlee Ann the Diamond Dove did not stop talking to me or perhaps to his memory, so I promised to get her a new budgie (not wanting to cross the line and try to find her a mate of her own species…!) and since Saturday we have been getting used to Jer (short for Jeremy or Jerry, we haven’t decided yet what’s going to stick) and he to us. He is a lovely green and yellow youngster. I wanted to go with traditional color even as the PetSmart attendant tried to push a pure white or yet another blue budgie on me.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

While we’re on distraction, how about that weather, huh? Warm one week and cold, raining and windy the next (presently). If I were migrating I wouldn’t be venturing north at the moment.

As you may be able to tell, we ran into some familiar species like the Neotropical migrant warblers above, in addition to those not so familiar.

Speckled Tanager

Speckled Tanager

Speckled Tanager

Speckled Tanager

I promise there will be more tanagers when I get them all organized. These just snuck in with the Yellow-Green Vireo when I forgot to change the name as I processed the photos (either before or after I fell asleep?).

I leave you with two more photos of the Black-Capped Donacobius which seemed so thrilled to see us they posed for a lot of pictures, making it that much harder for me to choose!

Black-Capped Donacobius 04-2-15-5511 Black-Capped Donacobius 04-2-15-5505

Hummingbird Moth Migration

Hummer Moth IMG_0335_1

White-Lined Sphynx Moth

Last week for two days in a row in downtown Chicago, I saw Hummingbird Moths, also known as Sphynx Moths, with the first one being on my way to work Thursday morning in the flowering plants at 100 South Wacker Drive. Now that fall warbler migration has begun I have had my camera ready. But I think even if I had to stop and put the lens on the body, this moth would still have waited for me. It seemed to respond to attention.

Hummer Moth IMG_0293_1

If you know the name of this plant please tell me: it’s installed everywhere which makes me think it’s rather common and very hardy.

When I got to 155 N. Wacker Drive a few minutes later, I did manage to see a Nashville Warbler out in the open. I had a female Mourning Warbler too but she was not so cooperative.

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Later in the afternoon, at Lake Shore East Park, I was hearing birds but not seeing them, so I started imitating some call notes and this Blackburnian Warbler emerged to check me out.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Also had a brief encounter with a Swainson’s Thrush.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Few and far between are Monarch Butterflies. I can remember only a few years ago seeing scores of them at a time and now I am lucky to see one. I would like to see this species recover; I hope it’s not too late.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

On the way back to work, at the Aon Center, was another hummer moth.

Hummer Moth IMG_0367_1

This one was a bit easier to capture. Click on the pictures for an enlarged view. I think the eyes are fascinating.

Hummer Moth IMG_0375_1

Indeed these moths look to me like some kind of magical made-up creatures that belong in a Pixar movie.

Hummer Moth IMG_0373_1