Summer Slowdown at the Portage

I went rather late to the Portage yesterday morning. I chalked it up to being tired after swimming late Friday night and not happy getting up in the dark. I have been to the Portage a few more times that I haven’t written about yet, but I didn’t take too many pictures yesterday so this is about the size of a blog post I can handle at the moment.

Sometime this past week, after picking up my new prescription glasses, it occurred to me that the viewfinder on my camera might be dirty. I have had a snap-on cover over the LCD display since 2013, and I don’t think I ever removed it to clean it! There was dust and dirt and who knows what else, and while it doesn’t exactly cover the viewfinder, it snaps onto it to align with the LCD display. So after ordering another cover in case I messed up trying to remove and clean, I cleaned the cover, the LCD display and the viewfinder, replaced the cover and solved the main reason why I haven’t been able to focus the camera. One of those “Duh, is it plugged in?” moments…

There weren’t many birds to see yesterday, and for the most part those that I did see were very far away. But now that I am able to focus…sometimes it’s easier to see them with the camera than my binoculars. Two distant male American Goldfinches below…

There were several male Baltimore Orioles about but they didn’t sit still for long.

I was surprised to find what looks like a juvenile Blue Grosbeak in my photographs. I was listening to chip notes that sounded very metallic like a cardinal’s but wasn’t exactly sure who I was following with my lens in the photos below, due to the backlighting making it difficult to see. Blue Grosbeaks are not common at the Portage.

Just when I was about to give up on Robins, I did find the flock as I was heading out of the woods. I caught this one on its way to join a few others in the bare tree branches below. And way in the upper left is an Eastern Kingbird which otherwise would never have made it to the list. So it pays sometimes to take pictures of distant backlit birds.

Pretty well-disguised, I had to look at this photograph more than a few times before I could find the bird in it, which appears to be a young Gray Catbird. I heard several along the trail, but did not see the ones I heard.

My best close encounter was this juvenile male House Finch.

I have been looking for these Damselflies on the back trail that leads out to the train tracks and runs parallel to the river. This one was nice enough to stop and pose for me.

Blue Dancer Damselfly

More pollinators…

This young-looking House Wren was quite far away…

Even farther away was a flock of birds that, until I could blow them up on my laptop later, I couldn’t identify. They turned out to be Cedar Waxwings.

My favorite shelf fungus…

I have become more interested in the plant life that seems to be forever changing at the Portage as more and more invasive species are removed. Having said that, there’s still a potpourri of natives and non-natives. The distant fruits on the left appear to be Pokeweed. The pink flowers in the upper righthand corner are persicaria longiseta which I have been pulling out of my yard for years, as it is non-native (it seems to have a million common names, among them, Oriental Lady’s Thumb). The white flowers are White Snakeroot which I have also been pulling out of my yard before they ever got to bloom. It’s native but weedy.

We’re in a moderate drought again, with periodic promises of rain that so far have not amounted to much.

The Des Plaines is low again.

One more photo of the Silver Spotted Skipper which, in this cropping, at least, makes me appreciate Giant Ragweed a bit more.

Silver Spotted Skipper

I have seven more days of work. It seems hard to believe.

I didn’t go out this morning because I wanted to be home for the “live” videotaped broadcast of Unity Temple’s last virtual service. My friend Linda Rios and I contributed with our musical offering recorded about a month ago, after several false starts and some procrastination. We played Schubert’s Sonatine in D Major for the Prelude and two other shorter pieces: Hommage a J.S. Bach by Hans Andre-Stamm for the anthem and Wait There by Yiruma for the postlude. We will be going back to live services which to be streamed online, but without the congregation as originally planned. The choir also had its first rehearsal outdoors in another church’s garden, complete with chairs set up, a keyboard for the accompanist, new music to learn and a cicada chorus which never stopped singing. We are going to continue to rehearse in this format until we run out of daylight, I guess. See what happens…

I know I am always making promises but I will be back with more from previous Portage visits – before fall migration clamors for my remaining disk space.

Texas Day Two

Yellow-breasted Chat, in a class by itself

It seems a good time to go back to my Texas trip photo memories before I lose track of it entirely. Day Two was a travel day from Del Rio, where we had spent the night, to Big Bend National Park where we stayed three days. Of course we birded along the way.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Yesterday I turned on the reluctant travel laptop to see if it was in any mood to let me look at my Texas pictures. Lo and behold I found more images, and the amazing thing is that I was allowed to process them, so here is everything from that travel day, including the domestic waterfowl below which adorned the first stop.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal

Travel notes from my cell phone… I love the rugged terrain of Southwest Texas.

A view of the Rio Grande along the way

It was nice to revisit species I have seen before. Some I saw much better than on previous occasions, while others like the Rufous-Crowned Sparrow below, eluded the camera, even though fairly common. And then there were the life birds.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbirds
Olive Sparrow – a lifer which looked much better than the lighting allowed

The Morelet’s Seedeater is not exactly new, if I can believe I have seen a White-Collared Seedeater before. Anyway, it’s been split into its own species, so that makes it a life bird. We searched for this guy for a while and then he practically followed us around for the next quarter hour or more.

Lesser Goldfinch I have seen before, maybe not so well.
Orchard Oriole we get in the Chicago area, though not as common as Baltimore Oriole.
House Finch (of the original population!), not the ones that crowd my backyard.

It would have been nice to see a Western Meadowlark but this Eastern Meadowlark posed nicely for us.

Eastern Meadowlark

I’ve glimpsed Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in New Mexico but have never seen them so well as on this trip.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Then to see some old friends really well…

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (female) with White-Winged Dove
Lark Sparrow
Hepatic Tanager
Blue Grosbeak

We arrived at the Chisos Mountain Lodge in Big Bend National Park, checked into our rooms and witnessed this sunset outside the dining hall that evening.

Chisos Mountains sunset

Meanwhile back home, it’s intermittent thunderstorms and cooler weather. I am fond of rain, but not so much.

TGIF and Miscellaneous Observations

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal's Lodges

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal’s Lodges, Uvalde County, Texas

It’s been a long week short on inspiration, and the weekend promises to be full of rain so I will not be birding far away, if at all. As it turns out I have made plans to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen for a while. Perfect timing to include a visit to my dentist as well. My People Weekend. And with the coming July Polar Vortex, I am already dreaming of doing yard work without sweat.

I took off work early yesterday to be on hand for the tow truck driver who eventually showed up and whisked away the old car. This has been one event foremost in my mind, of things I really wanted to get done. The Taurus started happily after sitting idle in my backyard for 3 months, as if looking forward to its next destination. The cell phone picture below shows its better side with the intact side mirror. Maybe you can see the rust underneath where the side panel fell off if you click on the picture.

Final Farewell

Final Farewell

Goodbye, Old Paint

Goodbye, Old Paint

Like Gregory the dachshund my parents gave away to an adoring childless couple after my brother was born, the car didn’t even look back at me. I suspect the car knows it’s going to a better place too.

After I came in from the yard, with the cell phone still handy, I took a picture of some of the finches waiting in the kitchen for me to resume the snack service. They seemed oblivious to cell phone pictures, but I still have hopes of stalking them with the real camera, which they resist, at an opportune moment. The four newest Society Finches (Bella, Johnnie, Franklin and Marty) are huddled together on the right with a male Zebra Finch (it could be Zorro), and one Spice Finch is preening himself at the far left.

Finches on the Pot Rack

Finches on the Pot Rack

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I managed to put my pictures from our Texas trip back on the laptop and started going through them, which explains the Roadrunner at the top and the rest below. There will be more to come as I rediscover them. It’s more fun to go back two-plus months in time than I thought it would be.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow possibly shopping for nesting material...

Barn Swallow shopping for nesting material.

Chipping Sparrows were everywhere.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

And it seemed after we saw the first Clay-Colored Sparrow, by the end of the trip, they too were everywhere.

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9450

I went to check our ebird list for April 30th when we birded around Neal’s Lodges that morning, and the Blue Grosbeak was not on it. I have now added it to the list.

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

I will be back with more discoveries from the Texas trip and a bird song or two.

Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend.

Summer on the Prairie

IMG_4809_1

Summer at last. Booming thunder in the distance. Heat and humidity have arrived. Bites that beg to be scratched. It seems inevitable that I will put on the wrong pair of shoes and rub my heels raw to blisters after walking the two miles to work, and finish them off on the way home.

Bunker - remains of the former military installation

Bunker – remains of the former military installation

The primary source of my bites most likely was a trip to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie on Saturday afternoon. Midewin was established on the former site of the Joliet Arsenal. It was a beat-the-heat strategy to meet at 4:00 p.m. in the diminishing intensity of the sun. There were perhaps 25 of us, a large group by birding standards. Possibly the large group kept the birds at a mostly non-photographable distance, but the beauty of the vast landscape prevailed. We managed to see most of our target species, namely Blue Grosbeak, Northern Mockingbird and Loggerhead Shrike.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Midewin (pronounced “Mid-DAY-win”) was by all accounts Dickcissel and Field Sparrow Heaven on Saturday. I didn’t get a Field Sparrow image this time but this Dickcissel was happy to show us the boundaries of his territory, quite near the road we walked on.

Loggerhead Shrike at Midewin IMG_4872_1

In the picture above, the second bump from the left on the fence is a Loggerhead Shrike. Not that you can tell. Too far away, but the rolling fence posts and endless grass give you an idea of the shrike’s preferred habitat.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

This was as close as I could get to one Mockingbird, who then took off and clinched his identity with the trademark white patches in his wings.

Mockingbird IMG_4884_1

The Blue Grosbeaks were even farther away… flying below…

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

And landing, to sing a little.

Blue Grosbeak IMG_4960_1

Later we got a much better look at the female version.

Female Blue Grosbeak and Dickcissel

Female Blue Grosbeak and Female Dickcissel

Eastern Meadowlarks were also abundant that day.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

But the Dickcissel had the last word.

Dickcissel IMG_4869_1

Milkweed IMG_4807_1