Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

WAVI 6-25-17-0526

Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

INBU 6-24-17-0462

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

BAOR 6-25-17-0515

Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

Beaver 6-24-17-0506

Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

CAGO 6-24-17-0720

Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

Unknown Invasive 6-24-17-0419

Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Chicago Portage: A January Thaw the Day after Christmas


Red-Bellied Woodpecker

It was raining and cloudy when I woke up this morning and the forecast as read on the radio didn’t sound too promising, but then the clouds appeared to be clearing and I had no more reasons to dawdle, so I set out for the Portage.

My timing was right – there were a lot of sparrows and three species of woodpecker which isn’t phenomenal but one, a Hairy, I hadn’t seen in a while so that was special.


Hairy Woodpecker

There was a lot of fungus growing everywhere which made me realize just how much life goes on in spite of the cold and snow.

Northern Cardinals were abundant but distant, even with the long lens. I don’t know what happened with my setting on the right, I am unaware of changing anything but I must have hit a button somewhere, but maybe the contrast is interesting anyway, seeing as how the sparrows were blending in with everything.

American Tree Sparrows were most abundant.

This was the only Dark-Eyed Junco that didn’t fly away immediately.

deju-12-26-16-5797Several hardy little Song Sparrows surviving our surprise winter.

sosp-12-26-16-5669A couple pictures of the thaw. No birds in the water but some flew over as if considering it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker was enjoying the sunshine.

rbwp-12-26-16-5859Milkweed pods almost looking like birds hanging from their stalks.

milkweed-portage-thaw-12-26-16-5942It was wonderful to be out. I had the place virtually to myself and it felt like home again. I made an early resolution to spend more time in these woods, to bear witness to the changes of the seasons, the habitat, and the inhabitants.

Chicago Portage Surprise

Blue-Winged Teal 04-03-2016-5155

Blue-Winged Teal

I went to the Portage last Sunday and meant to report back earlier but the work week got the better of me. So while I am sitting here sharing the sunshine with the indoor crowd and not feeling too bad about it since there’s about a quarter of an inch of snow on the ground from last night…

The Blue-Winged Teal at the top of the post were swimming around when I first saw them but as I tried to get unobstructed views to photograph, they flushed, and sadly the best picture I got was of two in flight. I hate flushing birds but as I progressed along the path I think all 8 of them would have left anyway.

It’s still surprising to me to see people working on Sunday, but there these guys were, working on the new shelter right off the parking lot.

Chicago Portage Shelter Construction 04-03-2016-5013

With the unseasonal weather confusion, still seeing some winter species like the American Tree Sparrow below.

American Tree Sparrow 04-03-2016-5049

American Tree Sparrow

I took the photos of these two female ducks before identifying them. The one on the left appears to be a female American Black Duck. The one on the right, however, appears to be a hybrid American Black Duck-Mallard female. It took me a while to figure out the second one. My reasoning for the ID on the second one is the plumage.

There was also one Canada Goose sitting in the water but so still she appeared to be sitting on a nest.

An Eastern Phoebe was my first of the year at the Portage. Even though I saw this bird in two locations I suspect it’s the same one.

Such was the grayness of the day that even pieces of wood appeared to be possibly alive.

Portage  04-03-2016-5284

Below, two Mallards dabbling in their bottoms-up fashion and a male Mallard.

There were a few American Goldfinches present, none showing any more color than the one below.

And there are always Downy Woodpeckers.

American Robins are always here too, only now beginning to look fancy.

An average day at the Portage, perhaps. But then The Big Surprise occurred as I approached the parking lot and this Bald Eagle flew over my head. It appears to be an immature bird, Bald Eagles attaining their adult plumage after about five years, so the head, for instance, is not completely white.

But to see a Bald Eagle in my neighborhood – well, it is around the Des Plaines River, but still, barely a mile and a half from where I live – this is really amazing to me. Apparently not unusual, though, because when I reported it to ebird my sighting was not questioned.

BAEA  04-03-2016-5337Below is another shot of the Eastern Phoebe. I love these birds, they’re so cooperative.

EAPH 04-03-2016-5231I owe you one more post from Nicaragua and then maybe the snow will melt for good and we can get started with spring!

Three Weeks: Chicago Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Back on the 10th of May I was at the Chicago Portage and counted 52 species. On the 17th of May, visiting with two friends, we counted 35 species. This afternoon, after gale winds in the morning and some rain, I went over to see what was up and counted 29 species.

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Three weeks ago was the height of spring migration, and already by last weekend it was slowing down.

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

CAGO Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2361

Gosling, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Last week the goose family had dwindled to four goslings and today I was told by a woman I talked to on the trail that they were down to three. I did run into the geese today, but they were foraging in the grasses and I did not want to bother them, as they were pretty well hidden. So I am taking her word for it.

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln's Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

The Red-Eyed Vireos are still present and singing, so they probably breed here, but all the thrushes except for American Robin have left, and the sparrow species as well. There was quite an influx of Veerys this year, I don’t usually see them.

WCSP Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0022

White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9934

Green Heron, 5-10-15

But as the last of the sparrows were getting ready to leave, the Green Herons were returning. I believe there are two although I have not yet seen them both on the same visit. I think they also hang out at Ottawa Trail Woods which is also where we went last weekend. I have included a few pictures here are from Ottawa Trail Woods, as it is basically part of the same ecosystem.

SOSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9921

Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15

SPSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9908

Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15

Spotted at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9854

Spotted Sandpiper at the Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

On the 10th I saw both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, not on sandbars or mudflats but on dead wood in the water. The water levels were a bit lower though. I have not seen or heard any shorebirds since.

SCTA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0145

Scarlet Tanager, 5-10-15

The Scarlet Tanager above basically flew down and sat right in front of me. I was so surprised I barely got his photograph.

YRWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0389

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Myrtle female, 5-10-15 – You cannot see the yellow rump but this is the first year I have noticed they also have yellow on the crown

YEWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0350

Yellow Warbler, 5-10-15

The only warblers willing to pose were the most common ones. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers are gone, but the Yellow Warblers stay for the summer.

Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2312

Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

INBU Ottawa Trail 5-17-15-2379

Indigo Bunting, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

BASW Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2243

Barn Swallows, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

BEKI Portage 5-17-15-2256

Female Belted Kingfisher, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Indigo Buntings are everywhere. I have not seen the females yet but the Portage has at least four males singing on territory. I have also seen many Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.

Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3512

Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

BAOR Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3661

Baltimore Oriole, 5-25-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3640

Green Heron, 5-25-15 – Not as visible today as three weeks ago.

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 - There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 – There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

TRSW Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3534

Tree Swallow, 5-25-15

Red Admiral Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3562

Red Admiral on a wildflower I have yet to identify – I should know it! But I have never seen it at the Portage before. Is this some kind of monarda?

I included the butterfly picture because to me it signals the end of spring migration and the beginning of summer, when butterflies and dragonflies vie for my attention.

WODU Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2349

Wood Duck, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

I didn’t see any ducks today at the Portage. In years past there have always been a breeding pair of Wood Ducks, so I hope they are busy nesting.

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can't be all hers?)!

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can’t be all hers?)! (Ottawa Trail, 5-17-15)

I hope to be back soon with a short report on birds in Berwyn. I just saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at my hummingbird feeders this evening, which gave me the perfect reason  to clean and refill the feeders. While I was out in my yard my neighbor appeared and told me he saw the hummer yesterday! Maybe I’ll get a picture this year before September.

All Thawed Out

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup

Even though last week was consistently warmer than the weeks before, it still took a long time to turn the lakefront from ice to water. Some smaller bodies of water are still frozen, but Lake Michigan, at least on the Chicago shore, is now open to ducks. However, as soon as they leave, if not before — although I’m sure the presence of ducks is not the trigger for this event — the yacht club will start putting out the buoys for the boats.

Below is a little photographic ice check timeline.

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice close to shore on 3-12-15

No ice this part of the harbor on 3-12-15 (same dock as 3-9 above)

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

Of course the light was great on the days when there was not much to photograph but ice.

Canada Geese on the ice, 2-12-15

Canada Geese on the ice, 3-12-15

And even as the ice seemed to be melting steadily all week, on Friday the 13th, as luck would have it, the ice was right up to the shoreline again. I suspect that all the ice that was farther out had floated in to the harbor.

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

After the warming weekend, though, ducks were beginning to show up close enough to look at, even if the light wasn’t so wonderful.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

By the middle of the week there were some more ducks in the harbor.

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

COGO 3-17-15-6598

A pair of Common Goldeneyes.

I’ve taken better photos of Red-Breasted Mergansers but I like these guys so much I can’t resist posting this one anyway. After all, I’ve likely never taken his picture before.

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.

RBGU 3-18-15-6524 RBGU 3-17-15-6562And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.

COGR 3-17-15-6648I haven’t been able to get out every day this week but I’ll continue to go when I can and I look forward to documenting whatever arrives..

Safe Passage @ The Portage

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

I got out for a walk this morning, encouraged by the promise of sunshine and also beginning to feel more like I was walking instead of thinking about every step to the exclusion of everything else. It’s been bothering me that I missed the Christmas Bird Count at Fermilab last weekend, so when I passed by Cermak Woods on the way home yesterday from grocery shopping, I noticed a lot of Canada Geese were gathered there, and decided to go back and count them this morning. It’s not an official count, of course, but the data all goes into ebird anyway.

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods 12-28-14-9096

Likely a family group the way they were swimming

The sunshine was late in coming but so was I, yet it didn’t seem to matter. There were roughly 100 Canada Geese at Cermak Woods. No Greater White-Fronted Geese, no Cackling Geese, not even a Mallard or two. But I was encouraged by the fact that I managed to operate the camera and the huge lens, having fallen out of practice. So I continued on to the Chicago Portage.

American Tree Sparrows at the Portage

American Tree Sparrows at the Portage

Am Tree Sparrows Portage Woods 12-28-14-9422

All was quiet at the Portage until I started to walk slowly in from the south entrance which is my usual approach. I heard Black-Capped Chickadees and then began seeing lots of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, a few American Goldfinches, and I had some White-Throated Sparrows in there too.

The last time I went to the Portage there were a lot of Tree Sparrows. I cannot ever remember seeing them at the Portage in previous years, so this must definitely have to do with the removal of trees changing the habitat to suit them.

Canada Geese at Portage Woods

Canada Geese at Portage Woods

Geese started arriving at the Portage in groups shortly after I did. Since they were flying in from a direction opposite where I’d come from at Cermak Woods and they were landing in the water, I started counting them as they came in. If it were not for the BirdLog Application, I could never do this, but it’s very handy. The only thing hampering my efficacy at this point was the fact that it was cold. I had on long underwear but my hands were pretty chilly, especially every time I removed my gloves to enter more birds to the count. There were a total of five Mallards mixed in with about 100 geese.

Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage

Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage

I thought I heard Fox Sparrows, and then was lucky enough to get a recital from the bird below. I didn’t have my handheld recorder with me but I managed a quick video on the smartphone which basically has no picture worth looking at but it recorded the song this bird was singing, along with a comment or two from a Canada Goose.

Fox Sparrow, singing

Fox Sparrow, singing

As it turns out the Fox Sparrow was the “rare” bird of the day. I wondered why ebird was asking me to verify the sighting and then checked the distribution on Sibley’s app, and the northernmost part of Fox Sparrows’ winter range in Illinois is somewhere around Springfield or the middle of the state. But with climate creep, I’m not all that surprised. Besides which we have so far had a pretty mild winter.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The two birds I see regularly all year around at the Portage are Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Cardinals, and neither one of them wanted to cooperate for a photo today. But I did find this one male Northern Cardinal trying to keep warm in the top of a sunlit tree.

Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods

Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods

I’m actually looking forward to walking to the train tomorrow morning. I feel like my life has started over again. I still have a little pain and expect I will have more so I’m not going to overdo anything, but I am on the mend and that’s all I can ask for. Happy New Year!


Invasion of the Nesters

Tree Swallow Nest, Chicago Portage

Tree Swallow Nest, Chicago Portage

Yesterday, whatever holiday you may have been celebrating, was also a beautiful day in the Chicago area. For that matter, Saturday was quite wonderful as well: I had a visceral perception of my depression lifting and concluded it must have been directly related to abundant sunshine. Although having a new car to drive to the pool and grocery shopping didn’t hurt either.

Ottawa Trail Forest Preserve, Cook County, Illinois

Ottawa Trail Forest Preserve, Cook County, Illinois

Sunshine aside, it was warm yesterday as well. I started out at Ottawa Trail around 8:00 a.m. wearing a t-shirt, sweat shirt and windbreaker. I shed the sweatshirt before I left and by the time I got to the Portage at 10:00 I was minus the windbreaker too.

Robin with nesting material, Ottawa Trail

Robin with nesting material, Ottawa Trail

For all the warm weather, there weren’t an awful lot of birds at Ottawa Trail, but improvements have been made and it’s easier to walk all the way now, it doesn’t stop abruptly anymore and insist that you be in good enough shape to climb down and back up a 3-foot cement retaining wall, while still leaving enough of the former demolished structure to stop and rest, lay down your optics and take off your sweatshirt to stuff in a backpack.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

It’s always nice to see a Turkey Vulture flying overhead. Another raptor seen here was a Cooper’s Hawk but the photographs were good only for later verification of its ID.

BC Chickadee 4-20-14 Ottawa Trail 6925.jpg-6925

The designated Black-Capped Chickadee greeted me.

Blending in at the Ottawa Trail

Blending in at the Ottawa Trail

The image of a Canada Goose above explains to me how even if you have black and white markings on your body you can still blend in with the scenery.

Blending in at Ottawa Trail

Blending in at Ottawa Trail

Walking back along the Des Plaines, I saw something black and white across the river but had no idea what it was until I got it in the camera view. The nesting spot above looks like a fort.

Tree Swallow Nest

Tree Swallow Nest

I stopped at the Jewel-Osco and then went on to the Chicago Portage to see what, if anything, had changed over the week. The ground is a lot drier, leaving the bottomlands almost drained. But I was quickly awakened by chirps of dueling Tree Swallows. The one I photographed most was protecting his prime nesting spot in a dead stump right by the south foot bridge.

Tree Swallow Nest Portage 6957.jpg-6957Tree Swallow Portage 6968.jpg-6968

It occurred to me that a lot of male birds were strutting their stuff yesterday, and with good reason. “It’s my job to be beautiful – go ahead, look at me! Just don’t look at my nest!!”

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

The Canada Geese were defending their territories too, sometimes quite vigorously.

Goose Portage 7239.jpg-7239

C Geese Portage 7039.jpg-7039

C Geese Portage 7040.jpg-7040

I must have startled this Mallard, but he gave me some interesting shots.

Mallard Portage 7028.jpg-7028Mallard Portage 7026.jpg-7026

Blue-Winged Teal have decided they like the Portage. I wonder if they will stay. I counted four pairs yesterday!

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

The first picture below illustrates how well they can blend in too. The second shows a flash of that blue wing.

BW Teal Portage 6979.jpg-6979Blue-Winged Teal BWTE Portage 7185.jpg-7185

There was another warbler I have yet to identify from many crummy pictures, but below is the only Yellow-Rumped I could find.

YR Warbler Portage 7099.jpg-7099

There were two Blue-Gray Gnatcacthers chasing each other, probably over that nesting thing.

Blue-Gray Gnatcactcher, Portage

Blue-Gray Gnatcactcher, Portage

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers won’t nest here, they travel much farther north. But it sure was nice to see this guy in his breeding plumage.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

YB Sapsucker Portage 7087.jpg-7087

I am sparing you a lot of Painted Turtle Pictures this time, although they were out in great force soaking up the sun. Below is my cooperative Tree Swallow once more.

Tree Swallow Portage 6972.jpg-6972

I will try very hard to come back one more time before leaving for the Edwards Plateau in Texas on Friday.