Beautiful Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

On May 1st, on a somewhat cloudy morning which turned sunnier, I encountered the first of a few Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers coming to claim their territories for the summer. This provided an unusual opportunity to grab some really nice photographs.

Of course there were other birds available, if not all quite as accessible. Below, my last cooperative Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Palm Warblers were around – they were in the first wave, so to speak. I may still see one or two but I think for the most part they have moved on to their breeding grounds far north of here.

I did manage to barely capture this Northern Cardinal who was convinced he was pretty hard to see.

I am not sure if Mourning Doves are in decline but according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service their numbers dropped in 2020 from 2018 and 2019. I simply feel as if I have seen fewer of them.

Here’s a little bird I could stand to see more of. Field Sparrow. I likely will see some throughout the summer in their more suitable grassland habitat.

Eastern Phoebes seem to come and go at the Portage so far.

A Canada Goose … and a Turtle. There was slightly more water three weeks ago but the drought was already affecting everyone.

There’s still always a chance to see a Bald Eagle fly over.

Here is a distant Black-Throated Green Warbler that I missed a closer view of while talking to two photographer friends – I was blocked by a tree and thought they were taking pictures of the Palm Warbler I had in the photographs above.

It’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that I have not made it to the Magic Hedge – Montrose – on the lakefront, where as many as 28 warbler species were seen last Saturday. There were also as many as 40 birders. It used to be daunting enough to drive and park when I wanted to go on occasion, and now parking meters are being installed with likely few other options if you don’t find a space. I suppose there are other ways to get to Montrose safely with optics but they all contain extra expense (like an Uber). I would endure public transportation but not with all my gear. I will have to be satisfied with whatever the places I visit have to offer. Birds can still show up anywhere. I hope next year I will not be constrained by my current schedule, and barring any more accidents, I will be able to go out more. Maybe even make a trip to the Magic Hedge.

That said, we are in the 80’s thru Tuesday with a brief drop into the 70’s after that – and praying for rain. I intend to get out early tomorrow for a cloudy walk and see what I can see.

At home, my Zebra Finches are bored with me sitting on the futon working. Up until today I was wearing something they could play with, but today my legs are bare and my half-socks are uninteresting at best. The air conditioning has already come on a couple times to keep us at 79 degrees which is made more comfortable by a couple fans blowing. Summer Mode.

Spring Slowly Unfolds

The weekend before last was warm – but very windy. I went up to the Hebron Trail/Goose Lake Natural Area anyway to see if I could find any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. I did eventually see them as tiny little yellow-headed black dots far away. It was almost too windy to see any birds well at all.

Farm buildings adjacent to the trail…
The view going…

Where there was a break in the trees, I was surprised to see this one Eastern Kingbird sitting quietly for me to take its picture. I had to think a bit about its identification at such close range!

There were several Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers but they were hard to see.

I don’t know why I make a fuss about Brown-Headed Cowbirds but I still think the males are beautiful.

I had heard Indigo Buntings the day before at the Portage but this was the first one I saw. The closer photographs below are from last year. I will likely get more opportunities this year after the birds establish their territories and start defending them.

Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to see at this location, even on a windy day.

Although it was a hard day for warblers, it was still warm enough for bugs and worms, and I managed to see this Nashville Warbler.

On the trail, coming and going, I saw a Brown Thrasher.

After I had exhausted my patience with the Yellow-headed Blackbirds heard but not seen from the observation deck, I walked a few feet past and stood – only to see a Sandhill Crane take to the air a few yards away. There is nothing quite like seeing a bird with a 77″ wingspan coming toward you.

A few more views…

I was surprised to see a Gray Catbird sitting and calmly looking at me. They are usually quite secretive.

Playing the hiding game was a Yellow Warbler.

Even Song Sparrows were laying low…

A little more Sandhill Crane action…

One more warbler – a Palm Warbler…

Canada Geese are easily dismissed, but they are still striking looking birds.

We are not on the Brood X Cicada a/k/a 17-year locust map this year, but here is a cooperative Cicada from last summer. It hitched a ride into my post with the Indigo Bunting photos.

I have as many more photographs to share as I have other obligations preventing me from doing so. I hope the space between posts will narrow a bit in the not-too-distant future. Hope for the promise of spring.

Weekends at the Portage

I spent the mornings of July 4th and Sunday, June 28th, at the Chicago Portage, mainly to see how the birds that spend their breeding season there are doing. Fledglings are starting to show themselves. Sometimes they look so different from the adults it takes a moment or two to figure out exactly who they are.

American Goldfinch

A Green Heron occasionally stops by to see what’s happening, perhaps to see if the water it used to fish in has returned. I suspect the herons miss the water even more than I do. A frequent dog-walker I have exchanged conversation with for years told me that he heard the amount of water flowing into the Portage was being controlled to discourage beavers. That’s extremely disappointing to me, if true. I had read somewhere that efforts were being made to restore the habitat to its original state but I really don’t know how that could happen. I will keep trying to find out the true story. In the meantime the habitat change attracts other species that were absent before, but I miss the old “regulars.”

All that vegetation in the middle used to be water…

Something else: just as I was beginning to explore farther afield, the fence gate has been closed and locked. I am not surprised, with all the extra foot and bicycle traffic – I am sure it is a matter of liability between the water reclamation district and the railroad. Of course I would be able to crawl through the opening on the righthand side of the gate but I don’t think it’s worth doing now. It might be hard to resist during fall migration though. I guess it will depend on how many people are still using the trails.

So the stars of both visits were the male Indigo Buntings. There were plenty of them everywhere and quite a few volunteered for photographs. Since I always take too many pictures and have a hard time deciding which ones to use I have just piled them up here.

There seems to be a good number of Northern Flickers this year.

I am always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly. But sadly I haven’t seen more than two at a time.

Starting to see more dragonflies too.

European Starlings always look more interesting to me in their juvenile plumage.

I never know when I’m going to run into a deer.

Red-winged Blackbirds are less visible now that they’ve accomplished their mission of setting up territories and making babies. This may be the last time I will have seen a male singing.

I found the photos below confusing until I realized, upon closer inspection, that the breast is yellow and the tail has rufous coloration to it. Voila, this is a juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a juvenile before, so I am really happy I managed to capture it.

Another Indigo Bunting…

Here’s a Baltimore Oriole feeding his fledgling.

These are juvenile Red-winged Blackbirds checking out their surroundings.

This is the time of year when robins take on all kinds of plumage variations, particularly among the juveniles.

Downy Woodpecker (juvenile)

Below are photos of an adult Red-bellied Woodpecker and a juvenile, for comparison.

I was intrigued by the House Wren below who disappeared into the cavity in the tree…

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher below seems to have a strange sort of tumorous growth on its back.

My lucky one-shot of a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I haven’t seen any of this species otherwise for quite a while so it’s nice to know they are here.

Well it’s taken me almost two weeks to write this post… I will try to keep up with posting. Today was a gift in that there were clouds and thunderstorms to keep me inside and less tempted to go out. If it were up to me, I would have as many mornings as I wanted each week to do everything I like to do.

Three Days at the Portage – Day 3

Well here it is, the long-anticipated last act to the Memorial Day weekend of birding at the Chicago Portage. Compared to the previous two days, I didn’t have a lot of photographs. I reported as many species as the previous day (41), but between extremely bright light conditions and my inability to focus, perhaps in part due to the light shining in my eyes, the day had a different feel to it.

But it was a great day for discovery and observation. The bird of the day was a Prothonotary Warbler. I have been looking for this species to appear at the Portage for years every spring or fall when the Des Plaines River floods the lowlands because then the habitat reminds me of the Cache River Basin in southern Illinois where I saw my first of many Prothonotary Warblers.

Flooding on the Des Plaines River

As it turns out, I didn’t see it in the flooded area but directly across the trail from it. Although I got great views with the naked eye, I was not able to capture the bird well with the camera, so going back through these photographs I had my doubts. But the photograph above with the head cut off confirms the ID for me because of the white undertail coverts showing. I confess I still have my doubts about the other photos, but I know I saw the bird, so maybe there will be a next time.

Just so you can appreciate how frustrating this can be and why I sometimes spend entire days thinking about identification challenges, below is a Wilson’s Warbler I photographed on the same day, if not in the exact same spot. I do know the gizz of a Wilson’s since I have seen them frequently enough for years. When I saw the Prothonotary, it appeared larger and moved more slowly and deliberately than the Wilson’s.

And now for another sort-of warbler challenge, the American Redstart below. I have seen this coloration a few times before so I was not confused, only fascinated. The tail immediately gives this bird away as an American Redstart, but it is showing yellow and white with black coming in on the body. What you are seeing is a soon-to-be second-year male American Redstart. When the summer is over he may be entirely black and orange in place of the gray and yellow, and will be considered an adult.

And below is a female American Redstart. She will always be gray, yellow and white. Not the best photograph but you might be able to see just a little of the yellow peeking out on her breast.

That was about it for the warblers that day. I just took a tally for the season and I have seen 24 warbler species this spring. That’s 2/3 of the possible number I might have seen. But given the fact that I was basically birding in only one area I feel pretty fortunate to have seen all these warblers, sometimes even seeing them very well.

On to the rest of the birds I managed to photograph on Memorial Day. Below are some male Brown-headed Cowbirds who don’t seem to have much to do except hang out on bare branches.

I don’t remember how I managed to get the photos below of a flying Red-Bellied Woodpecker but I don’t get this lucky very often! I was probably trying to focus on it perched somewhere and it took off.

Red-winged Blackbirds…are a given. The bird in the second photograph knocked the Northern Flicker in the photos below off its perch, which enabled me to get pictures of some of those elusive but brilliant golden shafts underwing.