Saturday’s Spring Bird Count and Mother’s Day Rain

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in the Spring Bird Count in DuPage County. I have done this count for a number of years, but this time, with social distancing, it was different. We split up so we each covered one area. I was assigned the Silver Lake part of Blackwell Forest Preserve, a location I was not familiar with, but was easy to navigate with the map Jody gave me, and I can get lost anywhere. Since I could only do the morning and there was no time limit, I had a wonderful experience listening for and spotting all the birds I could identify at a leisurely pace.

One of several Yellow-Rumped Warblers

I felt especially privileged because under the current New Normal, I would not have been allowed to visit DuPage County preserves because I am not a resident. The county decided last month to limit parking to its residents. We speculated there was an overflow of people from Cook County, where I live, due to the closing of the lakefront. So I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit this lovely place, but now that I am more familiar with it, I plan to do so when restrictions end.

Eastern Bluebird (male)

I was beginning to feel like I am the only person on earth who hadn’t seen a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak yet so I was happy to find one singing high up in a tall tree.

Love was definitely in the air, albeit chilly after freezing temperatures overnight, for local breeders. I usually can’t get a glimpse of a Blue Jay long enough to photograph, but this pair united for some courtship behavior, exchanging some tiny seeds you might be able to see if you click on the images below.

And when it was all over I somehow managed to catch this Blue Jay in flight.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are usually quite common, however brief the period of spring migration, so it’s easy to overlook how truly beautiful they are. This one was happy to display all his yellow parts except for his namesake.

I have no idea what was going on with this European Starling but I could swear he was dancing and singing.

This Tree Swallow was saving his energy for later when the sun would start warming up the ground and the air and there would be bugs to catch.

At some point Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are going to become impossible to find, let alone photograph, but that hasn’t quite happened yet.

Here’s two more of the goldfinch pair featured at the top of this post.

This distant Northern Flicker would have been impossible to capture were it not for the bright, clear sunshine.

I kept hearing this Common Yellowthroat and he was confusing me by not singing his “witchety-wichety” song, only a slow trill, if you will. So finally he came and sat right in front of me and continued singing. I have never had a Common Yellowthroat volunteer to be photographed. He must be a novice. Anyway, you can see in the third photo how windy it was.

Another warbler, only this one was harder to capture. Black-throated Green Warbler.

Robins are predictably everywhere but they get short shrift. I try not to take them all for granted and capture at least one.

A less-frequently-seen bird, also in the thrush family – a handsome Veery.

Song Sparrow taking a break.

This Canada Goose flew right in front of me so I couldn’t resist.

I heard the Orchard Oriole before I saw him. What a lovely tune.

Palm Warblers become commonplace too, but they are still pretty birds.

I miss seeing spectacles like 150 White-Crowned Sparrows or more on the lakefront, but am glad I was able to report the only White-Crowned Sparrow seen in our area on Saturday.

There were at least four Baltimore Oriole males. These two got into a little bit of a stand-off.

The victor for this spot.

Downy Woodpeckers are busy this time of year and not quite so visible.

Here’s another one of the Bluebird.

So this morning I wasn’t planning on going out at all because of the forecast for all-day rain, but the rain stopped, so I went to the Portage to see if I could find anything. The cloudy sky was a more dramatic backdrop than usual.

I took a snapshot of Pere Marquete from the parking lot sculpture to see what kind of exposure settings I might be able to use.

Just my luck – the male Bluebird who has been at the Portage now for weeks happened to be hanging out. The exciting news which I meant to report a couple weeks ago is that we have a breeding pair. I saw his mate with nesting material a couple weeks ago. As long as I have been going to the Portage, Bluebirds have never nested there. Apparently they found a log or a tree stump with a suitable cavity for a nest. So I will be watching for their offspring in the coming weeks.

It started to rain, and I had to decide what to do – go back to the car, or keep walking? I put my camera in my backpack, kept walking, and then ran into a flock of warblers high up in the trees. Oh great – no light, it’s raining, and the tiny warblers are nearly impossible to see. These few images are what I could capture.

Palm Warbler

Tuesday morning I am going to try to go to the Portage early in the morning – when there is sunshine and warmer temperatures – and come home to work in the afternoon. I hope I get permission to do this because the forecast from Wednesday through the weekend is for rain and thunderstorms. My hope is to see more warblers. You’ll hear about it if I do!

House Finch

Spring Bird Count

Yellow Warbler, McKee Marsh

Yellow Warbler, McKee Marsh

Saturday was a beautiful day for a bird count. Even though the sun was often shining in our eyes, we saw some great birds at McKee Marsh which is part of the Blackwell Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Even though much of the time the birds were too far away or backlit. it was still worth it to take photographs to document the effort.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

In one case, the photographs helped clarify an ID. We couldn’t see the eye-ring on this bird below, and called it a female Mourning Warbler…

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

But the photographs taken as the bird moved around in the top of the tree proved the bird did indeed have an eye-ring, and so it is a Nashville Warbler.

Although I have done the Christmas Bird Count for years, this was my first Spring Bird Count. I don’t exactly know why I never did one before, but I suspect I was never asked before this year and I never volunteered because Saturday mornings still sometimes carry that sacred sleep-for-the-week designation after an exhausting work week.

Identifying the Plastic Bag Bird

Identifying the Plastic Bag Bird

But this spring has been so long in coming, it’s hard to resist getting out every chance I get, and so far the last two weekends have been rescheduled around birding.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Finally we are warming up with spring-like weather and the trees are starting to leaf.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Common Yellow-Throat

Common Yellow-Throat

We split into two groups to cover different areas. I’m not sure if my group had Bay-Breasted Warbler on the list, but I found the female below in my photographs. Sometimes it seems prudent to focus on capturing an image before the bird disappears and figuring it out later. I know there are purists who look down on this method, but the photographs help me pay attention to detail I might miss while trying to follow the bird’s movements with my binoculars.

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasted Warbler

The other half of the group likely saw more waterfowl than we did when they took off in the direction of the marsh (we headed towards the woods), but at some point we came around to open water and a flotilla of American Coots seemed to appear suddenly out of nowhere.

American Coots

American Coots

Busy Red-Tailed Hawks were presnet too. One was carrying nesting material in its talons, and another had what appeared to be a snake.

Red-Tailed Hawk with Nesting Material

Red-Tailed Hawk with Nesting Material

Red-Tailed Hawk with Snake

Red-Tailed Hawk with Snake

Toward the end of the morning we found a marshy area which had a few shorebirds. Compare the similarities and differences between Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

We stopped at a shelter with picnic tables for lunch, and there were Barn Swallows waiting patiently on the grill for us to finish getting settled so they could get back to tending their nest.

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallow Nest McKee 5-10-14.jpg-1259I managed to do only the first half day of the count. But I will be better-prepared next year, maybe even take off from work the afternoon or the day before so it will be easier to get up early and last all day.

When I got home after grocery shopping, I took a nap. Later in the afternoon after I got up, I noticed White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard and decided to take my chances at photographing one of them.

White-Crowned Sparrow - Yard Bird

White-Crowned Sparrow – Yard Bird

After taking pictures of one foraging on the ground by the feeders as I sat still on a bench, a White-Crowned Sparrow landed in the tree right in front of me and posed.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Yesterday when I returned from more errands, there were four White-Crowned Sparrows bathing in the bird baths. I’m glad they like my bird-and-breakfast. This morning however there are no signs of them so they may have finally decided to go north to their breeding grounds.

Photos of more spring visitors to come soon. Click on any picture to see an enlargement. 🙂