Double-dipping Goose Lake Natural Area

After groveling about making the long drive all the way up to McHenry County around Memorial Day, I went back on July 5th to celebrate my birthday and then again on July 25th. Needless to say now I’m getting used to the drive and the trail and I may have a hard time staying away before October which is when I plan to go back for Sandhill Cranes that purportedly congregate in the fallow farm fields.

I feel like I could start giving some of the individual birds names, like the Willow Flycatcher at the top of the post. I even heard a confirming “fitz-bew” on the last Saturday.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (male)

I expected to see more Yellow-headed Blackbirds. On the fifth, the males were really too far away for decent photographs, but I did get to see a female close to the observation deck. I went back on the 25th because I wanted to see many juveniles like I did years ago, but I couldn’t find one Yellow-headed Blackbird anywhere. I must have just missed them. But that’s okay, because I saw some other interesting birds, and it’s just so peaceful to be there. In fact on the second visit when I got there, I had the whole place to myself. I didn’t stay long though because it was very hot.

I found the Gallinule below in my photographs from both visits. This is a great place to go if you carry a spotting scope. But I don’t have the energy to carry a scope and a telephoto lens. Perhaps I should rethink my philosophy of cutting corners. For instance, the combination of two visits in this blog post – it’s becoming evident as I write it that it’s entirely too long.

I did see a pair of Sandhill Cranes on each visit. I have not seen any with offspring, which is a bit disappointing.

Another “only in my photos” discovery – a last Black Tern seen on the 5th. Well, my camera saw it.

Here’s the turtle covered with duck weed that appeared in the background of one of the Yellow-headed Blackbird photos above. If you click on the pictures you can see how the duck weed makes it look like something from another planet.

There are still a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds here and everywhere. They are in no hurry to leave, I suppose, because they won’t have so far to go in the fall.

Not a Red-winged Blackbird but a juvenile Cedar Waxwing

I was hoping I would find a Yellow-headed Blackbird when I blew this up but it turned out to be a Red-winged Blackbird. That’s okay, it’s kind of nice to see the feather pattern, albeit faded. Below the photo, two different Red-winged calls I heard on these visits.

A Killdeer in flight…

The “other” blackbird – Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Dragonflies like this place.

On both occasions there were swallows, but in particular on the 25th there seemed to be a lot of them. It was nice to see the Bank Swallows – I don’t see them very often.

The Song Sparrow below was on the 5th. There are two more individuals further down the post whose songs I recorded and put underneath their photographs.

This Yellow Warbler was the last one I saw, on the 5th.

I am quite sure this is probably the same Great Blue Heron, although the photos are from both occasions.

I always seem to startle this Great Egret, which must have been right by the viewing platform as I approached.

A Green Heron flew by twice on the 25th.

Here’s Song Sparrow No. 1 and Song Sparrow No. 2. Song Sparrows reportedly have thousands of songs so it’s not unusual that they were singing different tunes…

And another singer I was happy to record – and manage to photograph, as they are often elusive in the marsh – a Marsh Wren.

My most cooperative subject at this location has been a Willow Flycatcher.

There were a couple distant Wild Turkeys hanging out not far from the Sandhills on the 25th.

Always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly… – I stand corrected. The two on the left are Viceroys!

I think it might be a ground squirrel on the left… there are holes on the trail that look perfect for a ground squirrel. But they could both be Chipmunks…

I found this feather interesting on my walk back to the car on the 25th. I thought it might belong to a hawk or a turkey, even, but none of the extensive feather identification webpages have given me the answer. My first thought was a crow, actually. Maybe I should go with that…

My reward for showing up on the later visit was to see these two Black-crowned Night-Herons arrive and perch not far from the viewing platform. One is an adult, and the other a juvenile.

Black-crowned Night-Herons (adult and juvenile)

Many thanks for making it to the end of this long post. As hot as it was a week and a half ago, as I finish writing this, we have dropped down into fall-like temperatures for a couple days. A reminder. I suppose, that nothing stays the same, as if I needed it. No, honestly, it’s absolutely delightful to have the windows open: I feel less confined and it’s delightful. Stay safe and I will see you again soon in another post. 🙂

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.

There were a couple Eastern Kingbirds for a day or two, and I haven’t seen them since. Maybe they were shopping for nesting spots and decided to go elsewhere.

Below is a trail at the Portage I have only walked recently. For years I stayed away from the gravel road that ran between the official forest preserve and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property because it used to be patrolled by police and photographers were not welcome. The past couple years now, I think, restrictions to access have been lifted, but it took this year along with the impression of having extra time to decide to walk the extra mile as it were. The road itself runs along some woods that border the Des Plaines River, and then splits in two, with the one fork below wooded on both sides. This might have been a very good place to look for the earlier warblers back in April. I will definitely keep it on my agenda of places to visit in the fall. Recently, although it’s getting very buggy there were not very many birds available.

Birds that fly over on occasion and if I’m lucky, I can capture them. This time it was more as a record of their presence than anything else.

Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier – considered rare at this location but I don’t know why, as I have seen them every so often

Indigo Buntings and House Wrens will be available all summer.

The Downy Woodpecker below was challenging to capture.

If you click on the photos below, you will be able to see a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher that looks more like a Blue-Green Gnatcatcher. This was another ID I struggled with a bit when going through the pictures, but the eye ring in the first photo and the cocked tail in the next give the bird away. It’s a testament to how lighting can change everything. I have never seen this bird look green before.

American Goldfinches foraging in the duckweed
American Robin of the Day (there are always at least 20-30 of them about)
Baltimore Oriole – too busy now to pose for pictures

I’ve been to the Portage a few times since the big weekend and I will likely be visiting regularly to check up on summertime birds, and I anticipate a return of dragonflies and butterflies. I have been a couple other places too and plan to publish those posts when possible. Lately it’s easier to sit inside on a hot day, slaving over a laptop in air conditioning. Thanks again for stopping by, and congratulations making it to the end of another long post!

Cloudy Afternoon

I never intend to go birding in the afternoon, but on Friday I jumped at the chance when we were encouraged to take the afternoon off. It was cloudy, and you can never count on what birds will be up to after lunch. Sometimes I like the cloudiness, though, because it reminds me of birding in South America.

Cloudy at the Portage

Maybe cloudy was okay for capturing this Cape May Warbler.

Then there was a very active, backlit Warbling Vireo. This is likely the only Warbling Vireo I will photograph this year. There’s always one. But they are all very busy singing now and protecting their territories.

Sometimes I hardly ever see goldfinches, and at other times they seem to be everywhere. All I know is they’re not in my yard too much anymore so I suspect many of them are at the Portage or other nearby forest preserves.

With all the rain and now warmer temperatures, the green-up is happening rapidly.

I often hear Killdeer but don’t always see them. I managed to capture this one flying across the compost piles on the MWRD property.

Starlings have been entertaining. I have seen one doing happy dances a couple times, although unfortunately it was hard to get him in focus on this trip. But I did capture him flying.

And now how about paying some attention to the ladies? It seemed to be a good day to capture pictures of the girls. Maybe they thought they were less noticeable on a cloudy day.

Mallard female
Brown-headed Cowbird (male)

I found the female Indigo Bunting below quite fascinating, in that she was preening or otherwise trying to get a grip on her feathers and the photos reveal her black and bluish feathers underneath. Who knew? (Forgive me for thinking “only her hairdresser knows for sure.”)

As a comparison to the above, here’s the male in all his glory and various feather colors.

Song Sparrows are more often heard than seen so it was nice to catch this one foraging for something.

And it’s not often I see a pair of Downy Woodpeckers. Maybe afternoons are lazier for the birds.

Pair of Downy Woodpeckers

I had a wonderful encounter with a Philadelphia Vireo a couple years ago. I hope to see more of this species. And this was the first day I saw the Eastern Kingbird. By Memorial Day there were two Kingbirds hunting for bugs from their perches over the water.

Early on there was a small flock of Cedar Waxwings but they were hard to distinguish in the shadows and blended in perfectly with the tree colors.

Cedar Waxwing

Another elusive Black-and-White Warbler. These warblers are relatively easy to see, but so far had been defying my lens. However stay tuned because I have had some more productive encounters.

Part of a Black-and-White Warbler

Even the Baltimore Orioles looked a bit washed out. But I noticed a nest, and that was a welcome sign. The female builds the nest, so I can only imagine she was inside of it.

Baltimore Oriole Nest

It has been hard to go back to work after a long weekend, even though I have not yet returned to the office. Most amazing to me has been the time spent in the field, so to speak. I never feel like I have this luxury to fully absorb my surroundings except when I am on vacation. But something about the pandemic has slowed down everything after eliminated many social commitments. I can embrace birding religiously three days straight as a spiritual exercise. Even though I am encountering several more people on the trails, there is still enough space and quiet, with many moments left to witness how life continues beyond our immediate concerns.

Half a Well Day Off for Migration

Chestnut-sided Warbler

After last Sunday’s chilly, gloomy rain, I had my eye on Tuesday morning and notified the work team that I was taking it off. Tuesday came, starting out cool but sunny, and I went to the Portage to see if any warblers I barely glimpsed at on Sunday were there for a better view.

The green-up is in progress and the treetops are full of tiny bugs and worms we can’t see, but the birds know where to look for them.

After hearing and then eventually seeing a couple Chestnut-sided Warblers, I was lucky enough to have an intimate moment with this individual. We exchanged thoughts about spring and sunshine.

I always hear five or more House Wrens, but rarely see them. Tuesday morning was a special day, though, because it seemed like all these guys were out and showing off. The very last photograph below shows one going into his nest.

Another very vocal group rarely seen are the Warbling Vireos. I followed this one around with the camera.

There were still a couple Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there. Only now, like the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, when you’re looking for warblers, these birds become “distractors,” to quote one of my favorite guides, Mitch Lysinger.

Even Blue Jays seem to be more visible. I’ve had one in my yard all week, too, although he leaves the minute he sees me.

On this beautiful morning I was delighted to find one of my favorite sparrows, Lincoln’s.

There were still a few Blue-Winged Warblers. It’s been a good year to see them.

Female Goldfinches never get much press so I thought I’d share these two photos.

I always hear White-Throated Sparrows’ little chip notes before I see them. It was nice to have one posing.

In the Big Bird Flyover Department, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an Osprey. I used to see one flying over the Des Plaines River when I visited Ottawa Trail, but that location is no longer available. I haven’t been back since they built a levy. It will be interesting to see what happens with the river, with all the rain we are getting this week.

Osprey

A rare glimpse of Mrs. Bluebird Tuesday morning.

Eastern Bluebird

Early on I saw this Least Flycatcher from the bridge, at quite a distance.

Most of the warblers were distant and high in the trees, so much so that I didn’t always know what I was looking at until I processed the photos.

Black-and-White Warblers have been a bit evasive this year.

Something about the cool, slow start to spring has made the moss look happier.

Here’s a bird I never thought I’d see. It was really far away so I had no idea what it was until later.