Slow Walks through the Portage

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Baltimore Oriole

I have never been a hurry-up-let’s-get-this-over-with birder, but I am certainly moving more slowly these days because of my knee. But life in the slow lane has its advantages and the reduced speed has paid off. Two weeks ago I managed to count 55 species when I visited the Portage for four hours instead of the usual two, and last week with my first group we had 51 species in nearly about the same amount of time due in part to the fact that we got off to a late start because of the weather. Between the two lists I had 73 different species total. Of course it is spring migration, and it is not hard to spend a lot of time when you keep seeing more birds. Needless to say I did not get pictures of them all, or some pictures were useful later only for the purpose of identification. But in spite of having hardly any time or place to bird during the week, I feel as if I have seen some nice migrants in spite of my physical limitations. I took these pictures two weeks ago. I felt bad about not being able to do the Spring Bird Count, but I’m glad I managed to get out.

Breeding birds are back, and the most numerous after the Robins, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches are probably Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

Lots of Indigo Buntings are on site too. Many of them are first-year males like the ones below.

There are also several Warbling Vireos that have set up territories. I usually hear them more than I see them, but I got good views of this individual.

Some Yellow Warblers will likely breed here too.

I don’t think the Portage has breeding Ovenbirds but it was nice to see this one out in the open.

Two more warblers I was able to photograph…but they won’t be staying.

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Northern Parula

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Male American Redstart

My best surprise was to briefly see a Hooded Warbler and manage to get a picture of him. These are far less common. I used to see them on the lakefront occasionally. This was a real treat.

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Hooded Warbler

The Great-Horned Owls appear to have just one owlet but it’s gotten pretty big and last week we saw all three of them all take off from their tree. I took these pictures of junior and mom two weeks ago.

The Downy Woodpeckers are busy.

Migrant thrushes, like the Gray-Cheeked on the left and the Swainson’s on the right, below, are passing through.

I don’t think there are enough places left at the Portage for Tree Swallows to nest.

Goldfinches are in full breeding plumage now.

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On the sparrow front, I found a Chipping Sparrow, a few White-Crowned Sparrows who have all flown north by now, and one hard-to-see Song Sparrow. The Portage is home to breeding Song Sparrows, but I’m not sure about Chipping Sparrows.

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Song Sparrow

As ubiquitous as Red-Winged Blackbirds are, they can still be beautiful.

House Wrens breed at the Portage. They’re always singing a lot, and every once in a while I might even see one… But it always takes me a few repeats to remember their song.

I have one more walk to lead at the Portage this coming Saturday. The last time I checked the weather the prediction was for thunderstorms, but that was the forecast last Saturday and we still managed to dodge the rain and see a lot of birds, so I am hopeful. It should be warmer too, which will add a whole new dimension – mosquitoes – after all the rain. As much as I find mosquitoes a nuisance, I also realize they’re food for a lot of birds.

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Suddenly Spring

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Northern Waterthrush

I almost could have called it “Suddenly This Summer” because on May 1 we skipped spring and went straight into summer temperatures by noon. But along with the sudden push of warm air from the south came a lot of migrating birds, and after all, it was finally the real start to Spring Migration.

As luck would have it I was near the lakefront for the last part of the stem cell procedure on my right knee, which consisted of a blood draw early in the morning and then having a few hours before a return to the doctor’s office for the final injection. I realized the location’s potential the week before when I had the major procedure done. The medical building is virtually right across the street from North Pond, which is a favorite hot spot with lakefront birders. The week before it was blustery and cold with only a few of the hardiest migrants. But now I had a birder in my friend Lesa to whom I am grateful for being my chauffeur for the day. I was walking without crutches if moving slowly, but I was walking, and slow is generally good for birding. The slower you move, the more birds you eventually will see. And seeing birds was a great distraction from whatever pain I was feeling.

Perhaps the first warblers to greet us were four or five Ovenbirds poking about in the grass. Even though the weather was warmer, the trees and accompanying insects had not caught up with it yet and so a lot of birds were foraging on the ground for something to eat. The ground is an Ovenbird’s preferred foraging spot anyway. Ovenbirds can be nearly impossible to see on their breeding grounds, but in migration on the lakefront they are all over the place this year. I have seen them since everywhere I go for midday walks near my workplace.

Then it seemed there were Black-Throated Green Warblers everywhere.

Predictably, especially in the grass, were Palm Warblers. A note about these pictures, being my first warbler photographs of the season. The morning started off a bit overcast, and then I had only my 75-300mm lens as it seemed ridiculous to be carrying around anything larger in my compromised condition, so I didn’t get quite the clarity I wanted for many of these birds. But it was just such a joyous way to spend a medical day and provided an extra therapeutic perk altogether.

I am always so happy to see a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s not quite rare, but you never see more than one of them at a time, and they’re such delicate-looking little birds.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were predictable, but not easy to capture as they frantically searched for food.

Our look at the Pine Warbler below was brief, but this is a more unusual species in migration so I am glad I got this shot.

PIWA 5-1-18-1893The three species below are Yellow, Black-and-White, and Nashville Warblers.

Another spring migrant that seems to be showing up in force is the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Meanwhile, on their way out were Golden-Crowned Kinglet on the left and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet on the right, below.

Then there are the migrating Thrushes. Two below are a Swainson’s Thrush on the left and a Gray-Cheeked Thrush on the right.

I have been out since last Tuesday and have a lot more pictures to process and share with you, but it’s been really difficult to get caught up. All I can say is every day I’m a little bit better and there have even been a few moments when I’ve forgotten about my knee altogether!

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White-Crowned Sparrow

Below, two glimpses of a female Eastern Towhee…

I will be back soon with more from Instant Spring Migration. Until then, spring on!

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Tennessee Warbler

 

Wish Fulfillment

RTHU 08-19-17-2963I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.

I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.

Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.

After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.

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Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.

And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.

There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.

It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.

CEWA 08-20-17-3189I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.

AMGO 08-20-17-3044Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.

When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.

BWWA 08-20-17-3264I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.

I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.

McGinnis 08-20-17-3357There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.

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Indigo Bunting

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

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Cedar Waxwing

One more bird from the Portage…

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Juvenile Song Sparrow

I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.

Black Mulberries and Odonata

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Juvenile European Starling in the Black Mulberry Tree

I went back to the Chicago Portage last Saturday and figured out the three big trees with berries. After seeing the berries in my photos, they looked like mulberries to me. Sure enough, the trees are Black Mulberry, which can get up to 50 feet high, and at the Portage over the long period of time, they look like they have.

My history with mulberries is brief, but years ago one tree made an impression on me. There was a White Mulberry (Chinese) in my yard when I first moved in, and I quickly tired of the Starlings leaving a berry mess all over the place, not to mention the fact that you can never entirely get rid of mulberry trees, so I had the tree removed but I have to remain constantly vigilant, cutting down shoots here and there, if I can’t dig them up. More pictures of a Black Mulberry Tree below.

Maybe it was too early in the day for butterflies as there were absolutely none, but there were dragonflies and damselflies.

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Female 12-Spotted Skimmer

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Common Whitetail

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possible Female Powdered Dancer

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Eastern Forktail

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Blue-Ringed Dancer

Predictably, many of the birds were juveniles, like the Red-Winged Blackbirds below.

And most of the birds were quite far away. For the record, a Cedar Waxwing and a Northern Flicker.

The Mourning Doves below were at first a bit closer but didn’t wait for my shot (left) and then were cautiously distant (right).

It was nice to see an Osprey fly over, for a change.

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And a flying cigar (Chimney Swift).

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And quite unexpectedly for both of us, a young buck White-tailed Deer on the trail ahead of me.

Young Buck Portage 08-05-17-7439Wildflowers still captured my attention.

Wildflower Portage 08-05-17-7040In particular I was glad to see the Jewelweed (impatiens capensis, Spotted Touch-Me-Not) starting up again. I’ve been seeing a couple hummingbirds at the Portage the last few weeks but not close. There’s always the possibility Jewelweed will attract them when it’s in full bloom.

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Jewelweed

And sure enough, Burdock and Pokeweed are on the chopping block.

Burdock and Pokeweed Pulled Up Portage 08-05-17-7223More unfinished Starlings below…

And Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and a Baltimore Oriole.

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House Wren and Gray Catbird… Indigo Buntings abound.

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Female Indigo Bunting

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Juvenile Male Indigo Bunting

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American Robin in the Black Muberry

This coming Sunday, my flutist friend Linda and I are playing flute-and-piano music for the service at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago. Not sure I will be able to venture out again this Saturday morning. I slept in last Sunday…

Spring Bird Count

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Eastern Towhee

Here are some pictures from last Saturday’s Spring Bird Count. I did the morning half at McKee Marsh. I have yet to manage lasting long enough to do the afternoon half at Blackwell. It’s hard to get up at 3:00 AM on Saturday after working all week. Maybe next year I can take some vacation days to coincide with migration.

There was still not much going on with warblers, although the storms we have had since have caused considerable fallout along the lakefront and likely this area too.

It was a pleasant surprise to get to the observation deck over the largest portion of water and see a contented looking Bald Eagle, who later reappeared in flight.

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Another Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher on yet another gray day. And there were more gray birds in and around the water…most everything was too far away to focus.

Tree Swallows were abundant.

And it’s always special to see the return of Bobolinks.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are getting down to business.

We were lucky to accomplish as much as we did in spite of periods of rain. The Song Sparrow below did not let the lack of sunshine dampen his song.

SOSP McKee Spring Ct 5-7-2016-9426Except for brief warm spells, the weather is unseasonably cool, but the rain has caused the trees to leaf out in abundance, offering cover for many migrants while making them that much harder to see! I’ll be back soon with a small migration report from downtown Chicago.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron (BCNH) on the Chicago River – Part One

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Black-Crowned Night Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

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

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, 5-23-15

Great Blue Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh

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

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Kingbird, 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

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

Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15