I’ve been trying to get back to this page for a long time, but between busy weekends and even more hectic workdays, it’s been difficult to even imagine a blog post. Good intentions being what they may, I am resurfacing briefly here with some pictures from last Saturday morning in Columbus Park – before it rained on that day.
No less surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I cancelled my walk that was supposed to take place at Thatcher Woods this morning because it was thunderstorming off and on all night and with Thatcher Woods being in a flood plain, even though the rain has stopped, it would still be too challenging to slosh around in the soggy grass looking for bedraggled, wet migrants. Indeed the entire weekend promises to be raining or cloudy. Maybe I can get caught up with some overdue blogging, as it is definitely an indoor pursuit.
Fall warblers look a lot less flashy in general than they do in the spring, and it can be a bit challenging to determine who’s who. Luckily I got a lot of observation time with Blackpolls a few years ago when I used to go to Lake Shore East Park so they’re kind of stamped on my brain.
Below is a little video I took with my phone on Tuesday morning, which was beautiful and sunny. I had just stepped out the front door to walk to the train when I heard, and then saw, about six Tennessee Warblers foraging in my front yard which is small but full of native vegetation. They’re not easy to see – watch for movement and then you will see the birds her and there eventually, albeit they are very small! I put this up on Facebook Tuesday but wanted to share again for those who didn’t see it there. I feel like this is a testament to my native plant experiment that seem to get better every year. It’s almost as if the warblers got out their GPS and found “Certified Wildlife Habitat”. 🙂
I think fall must be my favorite season at the Chicago Portage. The birds blend in with the autumn colors, the leaves start to fall from the trees and then every once in a while a bird takes a quick leaf-like descent as well. This past Saturday, after my morning commitment to Thatcher Woods where we had scores of Yellow-Rumped and Palm Warblers, I decided to see what was up at the Portage. Below are two of perhaps 100 Robins…
Directly below, two Common Yellowthroats at Thatcher Woods.
I always take a picture of the water, such as it is, at the Portage to document how it changes from season to season…
There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.
Red-Winged Blackbird (male)
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…
And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.
Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.
Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.
I missed seeing a flashy male Black-Throated Blue Warbler this year but I’m glad to have found a female of the species, wearing her muted fall clothes.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female)
Blackpoll Warblers in their fall plumage are stamped permanently on my brain after a few years ago when there were many for several days at my old stomping grounds, Lake Shore East Park, so I was delighted to find this lovely individual.
At one point I encountered some workers who were taking down a tree. I spent some time talking to one while another was driving wedges into what was soon to be the stump. It turns out the trees were not birch but white poplar, which is an invasive species and that is why they were removing it. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing a bird in those trees although they had become a landmark and I thought they were rather attractive. After I was given clearance to go beyond the workers, I grabbed two quick clicks in the distance as the tree fell.
For all the Robin activity there were only a few Cedar Waxwings…
My view from the first bridge at the Portage yielded a Mourning Dove and a House Wren.
I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.
Northern Cardinal (female)
I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…
Just starting to see Dark-Eyed Juncos, the harbinger of colder weather coming, I suppose. But after not seeing them all summer I am glad to have them back.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.
The Des Plaines was so low, this Great Egret was wading out into it quite a ways from the shoreline.
We had a lot of Northern Flickers at Thatcher Woods. Here’s one of them checking out a future home, perhaps.
Yes I am a Yellow-Rumped Warbler
And Monarch Butterflies are still migrating. I love the way the Poke Weed looks this time of year. I knew the birds were attracted to it but I guess the Monarchs like it too.
After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.
This last photograph is of a Downy Woodpecker who was foraging low and obscured by the vegetation but I like the pastel colors.
More to come, I have three more Saturday bird walks, weather permitting. We seem to be entering a rainy spell but from the looks of the Des Plaines last week we can use it.
Last Friday after some rain and wind, I was called down to the front of our office building by a coworker who had gone down for a cigarette. She said there was a little bird in distress. As it turned out there were two birds in distress, the one she saw flopping around almost as if it was having seizures being a first-year Cape May Warbler, and another, the stunned Chestnut-Sided Warbler you can see below on the left. I called the Bird Collision Monitors hotline and got their voicemail. After waiting to hear back for about twenty minutes, I thought I could not leave the two birds alone on the sidewalk surrounded by foot traffic, glass and steel, so I took them both to the park-like setting about a block away at 311 South Wacker Drive. You can see them both on the grass below. I sat with them and observed the Cape May was dead, but when I reached for the Chestnut-Sided, it chirped and flew away, so I felt better for having rescued it. When the Bird Collision Monitors did finally call me, they said they had picked up over 200 birds that day. The little bird you see below on the building ledge wasn’t stunned but it was lost, as it flew up from the sidewalk looking for a way out of the buildings. I believe it’s a Least Flycatcher.
There were a lot of birds in the park Friday, so I went back on Monday afternoon with the camera. But not before checking the potted trees in the front of my building, where I found among other more common species, the Connecticut Warbler at the top of this post.
There were a lot of Blackpolls but it was difficult to get a decent picture. Although I am thankful for the landscape architects planting lots of locust trees which are great for migrants, the trees are quite tall and I only carry my 300mm lens around with me during the week, so it was a challenge.
The Wilson’s Warbler never got low enough for me to capture his trademark skullcap but there’s something so Wilson’s about the shade of yellow. I really think whoever names colors could come up with an entire Warbler Collection. For as many field marks as my brain has memorized, I think I sometimes recognize these birds by the shade of yellow, if there’s good light.
There’s a familiar phrase, “warbler neck,” which is what you get looking up at these birds in the tall trees.
How nice of this Chestnut-Sided to almost come down to my level.
Then there are the birds that prefer ground level, like the Common Yellowthroat below.
On the other hand I was surprised to find this Pine Warbler in the grass when I later went through my photographs.
It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten close enough to get a good picture of a Black-and-White Warbler and Monday was no exception. This was the best I could do.
American Redstarts come in several color combinations this time of year. The second-year or more adult males are black and orangey-red. The young males are yellow where the red would be, but it’s a warmer yellow than the females. I seem to have captured a bird that is somewhere in between the first and second-year males below the pictures of the older bird, judging from the darker gray on its head and back.
(Click on the pictures just below to see how this male’s plumage is changing.)
American Redstart (female)
The biggest surprise perhaps was to see another Connecticut Warbler. These birds are normally hard to find, and here on the same day I had two within a block of each other.
Suffice it to say that the lure of fall migration is irresistible, especially with nice weather. The birds are taking advantage of the calm skies in this part of the country as well. I have been going back to the park every day this week and as of Tuesday all these birds seem to have left and no new ones have come in. I would like to think they all took off Monday night, navigating well out of the city and continuing their trips to Central and South America.
I’ll have lots more to report if I can manage it. Hope you are having decent weather wherever you are.
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.
I haven’t seen many warblers this fall for various reasons but from what I can gather numbers have been down, if not sightings of individuals. So it’s not just my itinerant schedule but factors like weather and habitat changes play in.
So right about now the “last” warblers are most visible, led by the Yellow-Rumped (Myrtle) (above) and Palm Warblers. Below are a couple pictures of my most cooperative Palm Warbler at the Chicago Portage last weekend.
Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to join Chicago Ornithological Society’s walk at Humboldt Park, a location I had always wondered about but never gotten to, and we were fortunate enough to have a little flurry of Black-Throated Green Warblers. I have missed seeing this favorite of mine for a couple years or more. They were always easy to find when my most-frequented haunt was Daley Bicentennial Plaza.
Below is a Blackpoll Warbler I managed to capture Thursday afternoon at the Boeing garden down by the Chicago River, only a few blocks away from my new office location. While I am not wildly ecstatic about the limited opportunity offered at this place, it gives me hope for the future if I can manage to take a walk after noon. The garden was less congested with lunchers than it would have been under the noonday sun, and my little flurry of warblers happened just as I turned around to head back to the office.
Often confused with the Blackpoll above this time of year is the Bay-Breasted Warbler below, thus the name “Baypoll”. This Bay-Breasted I managed to see the one early morning I paid a visit to Lake Shore East Park before work.
Except for the bird perched in the oak tree below, this Nashville Warbler was foraging radiantly at the Chicago Portage on September 30.
And the Wilson’s Warbler below was not in the best of light that early morning at Lake Shore East Park, but I have consistently seen Wilson’s down there for a couple years so I have to wonder if it is one of the same individuals.
The last of the American Redstarts to come through were girls.
Still a Magnolia Warbler here and there, also a likely female.
Not a warbler, below, but when the flocks of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets start coming through, it’s a sure sign of the end of fall warbler migration. This one was also down by the river at the Boeing garden.
A couple more photos…not very sharp but lingering like the birds.
We’ve had some rain now, temperatures are still warm during the day although falling blissfully at night, doesn’t look like we’ll be hitting the 80’s again as the days are getting shorter… But the sunshine was surprisingly warm yesterday around 10:00 AM. I’ll be back soon with new discoveries from the Chicago Portage.
If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until after fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him, of “what a beautiful bird you are.”
First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.
Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)
Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.
Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.
Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?
I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.
Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.
Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.
Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.
Two Blackpoll Warblers…
Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.
Two more Blackpolls below.
And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…
and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).
And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.
My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler
Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.
On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.
I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.
The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.
A late Magnolia.
Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.
I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.
I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day. 🙂
You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now, and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…
Scarlet Tanager female
Scarlet Tanager female
Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.
Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.
Common Whitetail Skimmer
Common Whitetail Skimmer
These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).
The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.
Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods
Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods
The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.
This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.
Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.
At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.
Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.
Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.
Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.
Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.
I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, scaling a building wall next to 155 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago
I could just as easily re-title this post to “Where Has All The Time Gone?” since I’m still trying to make adjustments to my ever-changing schedule. But this will be a brief tribute to some of the birds I have seen passing through downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. (There will be still more photographs from the rest of the month in a future post.)
The following warblers were present at Lake Shore East Park on September 28. This was probably the last “peak” of warbler migration along the lakefront.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers tend to come through and hang around a bit later, so I was not surprised to see this one the following week.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler, October 6, 2015
But I was surprised to find the Connecticut Warbler below poking around in the grass as I was walking through Millennium Park on my way to Lake Shore East. There wasn’t much light and the bird was under some trees so this was the best I could do with the photograph.
Connecticut Warbler, Millennium Park, October 5, 2015
I have seen only a few White-Crowned Sparrows this fall, like the one below which popped out at 100 N. Riverside Plaza.
White-Crowned Sparrow, October 2, 2015
I think the White-Throated Sparrow below was also from this new location. I will have more pictures and more to say about this newly discovered green space area along the Chicago River in a future post.
White-Throated Sparrow, October 5, 2015
There have been a lot of Brown Creepers this fall migration.
Brown Creeper, Lake Shore East Park, October 6, 2015
And Ruby-Crowned Kinglets…
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015
For a couple weeks, almost, the most ubiquitous bird seemed to be Hermit Thrushes. I am still seeing an individual here and there.
Hermit Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are now all gone.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, October 6, 2015
At first I thought the bird below was yet another Hermit Thrush but on closer inspection I have decided it’s probably a Gray-Cheeked Thrush. Light can be tricky, but the heavy spotting on the breast and the darker flanks give him away almost more than his facial pattern.
Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, September 28, 2015
And for the longer view, here he is again sharing tree space with a shy Lincoln’s Sparrow.
So the warblers are all gone until spring. I did have a late Black-Throated Green Warbler on October 22nd which I posted on my flickr page before I realized I could now just upload it directly into ebird. It was my last “rare bird” sighting.
Below is another picture of the beautiful Blackpoll Warbler from September 28.
I have more posts in mind and am just working on finding the time and mind space!
Here are a few pictures taken at various times over the past few weeks, all in downtown Chicago…
I never manage to see enough of any one species to tire of them. Although Tennessee Warblers often appear abundant, they are not always easy to capture. For comparison with a species they resemble, I have an Orange-Crowned Warbler below.
There seemed to be fewer birds altogether this year, but I don’t know if it is due to loss of habitat, weather patterns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination of all three.
I frequently see Northern Waterthrushes on the ground, but less often perched in trees.
The day I saw the Kentucky Warbler, there were so few birds altogether at Lake Shore East Park I wasn’t even aware I had seen this rarity until I checked my photographs later. The bird kept ducking in and out of hydrangeas planted near the east end of the park and I was consumed with trying to stop it long enough for a picture.
First-year male American Redstarts seem to be born exhibitionists, on the other hand.
This Blackpoll was pretty cooperative too on the day I saw it.
And Common Yellowthroats, as difficult as they are to see on their breeding grounds…are frequent park visitors.
A Hermit Thrush reminding me It’s The Food, Stupid.
At 155 N. Wacker there haven’t been very many birds, but last week there was this sapsucker scaling a wall.
And a White-Crowned Sparrow popped out last week at a new spot on the river that looks promising for future visits.
Perhaps the strangest thing I saw this fall was a frog in the corner of one of these wrought-iron-encased planters on Randolph near Wacker. How it got there boggles the mind.
It’s time to say goodbye to the warblers until spring. But many more sparrows are likely to be showing up. I’m thankful for that because they tend to be easier to see! And at least I can always carry on a conversation with White-Throated Sparrows.
I don’t get out as often as I’d like to during the week, and there are fewer places to go, which should make it easier, I suppose, but it doesn’t. I have been spending most of my mid-afternoons in Lake Shore East Park. Although one morning a couple weeks ago I did get up an hour early and trekked before work through the north part of Jackson Park, Butler Field, and then Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, where the day before Dave Johnson had reported Cape May Warblers in droves. I was lucky to find them still there, foraging in the hazelnut trees.
Cape May Warbler, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park 9-25-14
There were also American Goldfinches plucking seeds from the grasses.
American Goldfinch, Lurie Garden
And an Orange-Crowned Warbler, which at first glance confused me, since I haven’t seem them for a while.
Orange-Crowned Warbler, Lurie Garden
Later that day, I saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at Lake Shore East Park.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Lake Shore East Park, 9-25-14
And Red-Winged Blackbirds enjoying someone’s discarded rice.
Red-Winged Blackbird Takeout, Lake Shore East Park
And a beautiful juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.
Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park
The day before, at Lake Shore East Park, there were several Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park
And a Brown Thrasher trying to hide behind the branches and almost succeeding.
Brown Thrasher, Lake Shore East Park
This was the last Common Yellowthroat I found this fall.
Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park
And one of a few Dark-Eyed Juncos that arrived on September 22.
Dark-Eyed Junco, Lake Shore East Park
Also on September 22, the photographs below.
Adult White-Crowned Sparrow
A lingering Blackpoll Warbler.
As the days grow shorter and the weather gets cooler, a new crop of crows has emerged to entertain me with their peanut antics. A short Crow Post is on the way.