McGinnis Magic

Trumpeter Swans

After reading one birder’s report of McGinnis Slough being nearly under water, I decided to go see for myself. It was after 11:00 when I got there, so I didn’t expect to see many land birds, but you don’t necessarily go to McGinnis for land birds anyway.

Part of the flooded trail last Saturday.

The parking lot wasn’t flooded, in fact there were more cars there than usual. I got out of my car and started walking toward the water, and I saw the two Trumpeter Swans swimming slowly by – right in front of me. Normally these birds are way far away on the other side of the slough, visible only with binoculars if not a scope. I suppose they were checking out the other side of the pond now that the water had deepened it.

No sooner did I start taking pictures of the swans than I heard a commotion from behind where I was standing. Thus began several hundred if not eventually a couple thousand Sandhill Cranes passing overhead. This was the magical part. I am invariably stuck in the office when cranes are flying over, and now I had them practically all to myself.

Sandhill Cranes
As the groups of cranes began swirling above and around each other, there were what looked like some near collisions.

There were a few ducks close to the western edge, too, that I normally would not see.

Lesser Scaup female with a male Bufflehead in the background
Blue-Winged Teal
Greater Scaup
My only land bird photograph – a Black-Capped Chickadee

I walked as far as I could around the flooding and made it to the usual overlook where there were several young women who appeared to be part of a class outing. That explained the extra cars in the parking lot. They were absorbed in their conversation and I did not interrupt them. After my feast of birds I was not interested in trying to make out the usual dots on the water.

I have to start going back to McGinnis more often. It just occurred to me that on my last visit, there was hardly any water!

Sandhill Cranes

Gull Frolic 2017 – More Frolic than Gulls

find-the-thayers-challenge-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8476Quipped attempts to describe Illinois Ornithological Society‘s Saturday’s 16th Annual Gull Frolic were “Duck Frolic” and perhaps “Herring Gull Frolic.” To paraphrase the observation of Amar Ayyash, our local gull expert extraordinaire who organizes the event, when the weather is good for people, it’s bad for gulls. In other words, there wasn’t enough ice on the lake to draw the gulls in to the shore. We can be fairly positive the rarities were somewhere out in the middle of Lake Michigan, if not totally on the other side of it.

Even with only a few species present, I have to review and refresh my sparse knowledge of gulls again because often this is my only chance to see anything other than a Herring or a Ring-Billed.

So disinterested were the birds in us, at one point there was more bread floating around in the water than gulls.

The first bird I photographed was a male Common Goldeneye, below.

goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8084And as for other ducks, there were a few here and there, although none too close.

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Female Greater Scaup and Redhead

bufflehead-and-goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8175

Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye

Above, a female Bufflehead on the left and more Bufflehead and a Greater Scaup on the right. Below, Mallard and Bufflehead flying.

The Common Mergansers were perhaps the most numerous. Two shots of a close female below and more flying.

Other waterfowl present but not photographed were American Coots, a few Long-Tailed Ducks I did not see, and a very distant group of White-Winged Scoters.

Gulls were quick to seize the opportunity to stand on whatever little ice there was. Among the Herring Gulls below there is one Thayer’s, if you like a challenge.

hegu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8684Of the two Thayer’s Gulls spotted, I was fortunate to get a shot of the one below when it finally decided soggy bread was worth bothering with. There was a flyover Great Black-Backed Gull I did not see because I was inside attending one of two lectures given by Jean Rice regarding her study of shorebirds in St. James Bay. At some point a Kumlien’s Gull appeared, but I was not seeing it. Maybe the camera saw the Kumlien’s but if I’m not aware of it, I prefer not to go back over all my pictures to find one. Perhaps an expert can spot this gull in the grouping at the very top of my post, but I suspect there is not enough information in a static shot.

thgu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8653

Below is one of only a few Ring-Billed Gulls.

rbgu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8396

So I decided to survey the gulls present and make it an exercise in photographing different Herring Gull plumages. The darker they are, the younger.

first-year-herring-gull-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8158

First Year Herring Gull

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Adult Herring Gulls

I was happy to see this shot of a female and male Common Merganser in my pictures.

common-mergs-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8462

We appear to be continuing with warmer weather, which is neither here nor there as far as birds are concerned, but the wintering avians are starting to think and sound a lot like spring. And no matter how bad things seem to get, spring will always feel like renewal.

Wetlands and Bottomlands

Hennepin-Hopper

Hennepin-Hopper

Last Sunday my friend Lesa and I joined Jeff Smith’s DuPage Birding Club outing to the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin-Hopper Lakes in Bureau County, Illinois.  The weather was cooler than predicted and cloudy, but it was good to get out. As you can read the link, the refuge is fairly new. Twenty years ago the water was still drained out of it for soybean and corn fields. Since restoration, Hennepin-Hopper has attained Audubon Important Bird Area status and in February of 2012 was listed as a wetland of international importance.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

On the map, Hennepin-Hopper inhabits an area to the south and east of the crook in the Illinois River when it changes course from west to south. In addition to marshes and lakes, there are a lot of bottomlands close to the river as well. We walked a trail through the marshes that border the lakes, and there we saw and heard plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows proclaiming their territories.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I believe we had all seven woodpecker species: Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Red-Bellied, Red-Headed, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Pileated, which is the rarest of all, but for some reason the Pileated was the only one I got representative pictures of, and it was far away.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

We had a couple Red-Tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. One Red-Tail was close enough to photograph. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

At one point we heard Blue Jays harassing something and it turned out to be a Barred Owl, distant and well-hidden behind several trees. The only thing making this photograph possible, I suppose, is the absence of leaves.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Also a bit rare, Rusty Blackbirds. We’re always on the lookout for them as they pass through. The drab backlighting doesn’t do them justice unfortunately.

Female Rusty Blackbird

Female Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird

This Great Blue Heron blended in, even in silhouette.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

So where are the lakes and the waterfowl, you say? A lot of pictures like the one below, but hardly ever close enough to take pictures of the several species we had.

Waterfowl at Hennepin-Hopper

Waterfowl at Hennepin-Hopper

A few species hung a bit closer to the edges, like Bufflehead…

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

and Northern Shovelers.

Northern Shovelers

Northern Shovelers

And our only shorebird species was a Killdeer.

Kildeer

Kildeer

American White Pelicans were a presence. Below, several flew over shortly after we arrived.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans

Later we caught up with them or some others on the Illinois.

Pelicans on the Illinois River

Pelicans on the Illinois River

Here’s a closer view of one that flew overhead.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Perhaps the bottomlands left the greatest impression on me. The reflection of the tree trunks in the water is mesmerizing.

Bottomlands

Bottomlands

Turning homeward, we stopped by some bottomlands to see Wood Ducks and Mallards, but were eventually distracted by a Little Brown Bat hunting over the water.

Little Brown Bat

Little Brown Bat

It’s been a hellishly busy week but I will be back.

 

Is It Spring Yet?

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Any prediction of warmer temperatures and sunshine, however brief, is all it takes to make me a little nuts these days, especially if it falls on a weekend. So Sunday I tested the forecast for the last days of March and headed toward the Palos Forest Preserves of Cook County, starting with my favorite, McGinnis Slough.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbirds were singing on territory, but much of the water was still frozen. I managed to see ten species of ducks, including Ring-Necked, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Blue-Winged Teal and Green-Winged Teal, plus American Coots and there was one Trumpeter Swan at the far side of the larger expanse of water.

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Not much in the way of land birds, save a few skittish Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Even the closer ducks at McGinnis’s south end were still too far away to photograph, but that never stops me.

Ducks McGinnis Slough 3-30-14 5869.jpg-5869Ducks McGinnis Slough 3-30-14 5880.jpg-5880Ducks McGinnis Slough 3-30-14 5875.jpg-5875

From McGinnis, I went next to Saganashkee Slough, where American White Pelicans and Common Loon had been reported. I saw neither, but added Red-Breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, White-Winged Scoter, Pin-Tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye to my duck list. There was also a distant Horned Grebe and an immature Bald Eagle soaring over the water. It was even more useless to photograph anything here but I’m still including a picture of a lot of white blobs that were Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee Slough

On the way home, I stopped at The Chicago Portage to see if anything new was going on since last week. It was midday so I didn’t expect to see many birds. But there was a lot of melt and mud.

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And a White-Breasted Nuthatch, heard first and seen at a distance later.

Portage WB Nuthatch 3-30-14 5948.jpg-5948

Also heard before seen, a male Belted Kingfisher. This guy was really far away but the camera saw him. I think this might be the first one I have actually seen at the Portage.

Portage Belted Kingfisher 3-30-14 5962.jpg-5962

I decided to capture a close-up of some lichens growing on a dead stump, the only green going on.

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So much for the early spring report, it’s back to finishing going through my Belize pictures. It won’t be long before McGinnis is full of Great Blue Herons like this one. Only the vegetation will look a bit different… 🙂

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

 

Hope Spring(s) Eternal

Carolina Wren, Chicago Portage

Carolina Wren, Chicago Portage

However deceiving the weather may be, the birds are on schedule. I checked on the Portage and McGinnis Slough last Sunday morning. A grey, chilly day, with a forecast of some snow in the arfternoon. But this lovely singing Carolina Wren was my reward at the Portage. He was a bit too far away to get the clearest image, but he kept on singing.

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

And of course a Song Sparrow announced his presence.

Portage Goose IMG_3102_1

And a Canada Goose blowing in the wind.

Mallard IMG_3043_1

However common Mallards, the males are beautiful this time of year.

Robin Portage IMG_3173_1

And an American Robin for good measure.

Portage IMG_3017_1

The Portage was just barely waking up.

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

So I went to check McGinnis Slough.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Most of the waterfowl was, as usual, far away, but I managed a picture of this male Bufflehead.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

One of two Red-Bellied Woodpeckers checking out this tree stump.

Grackle IMG_3082_1

Many Grackles, this one caught in flight.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And my first warbler of the year – predictably a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, but still very nice to see.