Colorful Fall Birds at Columbus Park

The spell was finally broken at Columbus Park on Saturday. We actually saw some migrants. It began with a couple Cape May Warblers that I simply could not take my lens off of.

Another individual almost looked like a different species altogether, he was so stripey.

They were both busy in the center of the same tree with a Yellow-rumped Warbler or two. A Yellow-rumped is in the first three photos below and the last photograph in the series shows a Cape May Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler together on the same branch.

There was a Nashville Warbler later on.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was in the same area as the Cape May Warblers but it was moving so quickly from tree to tree, I barely captured the image below.

When we first arrived, there were Mallards tooling around in the shallow water by the Refectory.

Later across the pond on the other side we spotted a juvenile Great Blue Heron standing at the back door of the Refectory.

I made a quick visit to the Chicago Portage after our walk to see if there was any extra activity there. I was going to include those photos in this post but I think I will just do a separate post as I went back there again Sunday morning and found more birds sort of in the same spot.

And actually I simply have way too many photographs of the Cape Mays at Columbus to make room for anything else. I couldn’t help myself. I was surprised to see the bug also making an escape in the first photo below.

I managed to capture a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. There were Golden-crowned Kinglets too but they were elusive this time around.

At one point someone noticed a hawk in the middle of a bare tree with grackles and robins perched all around keeping an eye on it. It turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk. None of the photos were good with all the branches in the way.

However many Yellow-rumped Warblers were present, they weren’t always easy to photograph. But I kind of like how this one blended into the background in these two shots. The bird was fairly distant so these have been cropped considerably.

Of course I have a few more of the Cape Mays. I will be back very soon with the last two visits to the Portage – before I try to get caught up again with the other visits that preceded them.

We have been blessed with the gift of beautiful fall weather the past few days. That makes it easier to get up and out earlier. With the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder, the time to observe fall migration seems precious and limited. I am grateful.

Fall Migration Continues…

It’s been a busy birding week and fall warbler migration is only getting started, but I’m already having a hard time keeping up. To add to my confusion, with the pool closed, the break in my routine is making it harder to figure out what day it is. But I have started getting up earlier to join bird walks and I will start leading Saturday walks tomorrow through the second week in October. It’s beginning to look like fall, even if it doesn’t feel like it just yet.

These photographs are from August 31st at Riverside, and I have also added the rest of the birds from August 26th at the same location.

I was happy to see a very cooperative Northern Waterthrush on Wednesday.

American Redstarts are the most numerous and well-distributed fall warbler species so far. I have seen them every day. The one immediately below looks like a first-year male.

Also fairly common are Magnolia Warblers like the one at the top of the post and below.

I discovered something about Blackpoll Warblers I never realized before. Apparently they all have orange toes – so when stumped by a decision between whether you are looking at a Blackpoll or a Bay-breasted, if you can see orange toes, that solves the problem. I was delighted to find photos showing beautiful orange toes. This is nearly impossible to see in the field, however.

I have also seen Golden-winged Warblers all week, starting on Tuesday morning at Columbus Park with Henry G.’s walk. They seem to have all come into the area at once and I have seen them everywhere I have been. I’m sneaking this photo in from Tuesday as it is the best one I have of the whole bird.

Below is another Golden-winged I just barely captured the next morning at Riverside.

Cape May Warblers seem to be numerous this season.

And not a day goes by without a Tennessee Warbler.

Below is a barely-captured Black-and-white Warbler

Thrushes are starting to appear as well. This is a Swainson’s Thrush.

Juvenile Gray Catbirds can’t get enough of the camera. They demand attention.

I don’t think this molting Northern Cardinal wanted to be seen like this but I couldn’t help myself.

In answer to the question, “Where have all the blackbirds gone?”, I have seen huge flocks all week at Riverside.

And Cedar Waxwings are on the move in flocks as well.

I have a feeling House Wrens will be gone soon but the youngsters are still around.

And Great Egrets are busy fishing. The water level has improved in the river.

I will try to come back sooner and more frequently, as the birds just keep coming. I also have some stored surprises still to share. We are starting out very warm going into the Labor Day weekend, with a promise of cooler weather after tomorrow. We could see a lot more warblers with winds from the north.

First Fall Warblers – and Green Ballerinas

I have seen some fall warblers, if sparingly, over the past week, so I have pulled the best images from birds seen at the Chicago Portage or Riverside Lawn, just to get a little warbler anticipation going here. Tomorrow morning might actually be a good day because we are experiencing a little storm activity tonight. And since I can’t swim this week – the pool is being cleaned – I will likely be walking a little farther and seeing more birds.

Right off the bat, the bird at the top of the post is a female Cape May Warbler seen at Riverside Lawn on August 24. The bird below, I am not sure but I think is a Blackburnian Warbler seen at the Chicago Portage on August 27. I didn’t get any other shots, oddly enough, to help me identify it.

It’s been a good year all around for Bay-breasted Warblers. They are coming through. And I think I’m getting used to their contact calls. This Bay-breasted Warbler was at Riverside Lawn on August 26.

I don’t remember taking the photos of these two Tennessee Warblers, oddly enough, the same day at Riverside Lawn, but it’s likely I was just too mesmerized by them.

Here’s another Bay-breasted Warbler from that day at Riverside Lawn.

And another Cape May female-type or juvenile, on August 24 at Riverside Lawn.

Yet another Cape May from the same day and location.

Not a great photo, but definitely a Bay-breasted Warbler I saw on the 24th. There have been many more warblers seen along the lakefront, but I will be out a lot this week and I expect to see more around here.

Meanwhile back in my yard, I have two female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that usually show up individually but sometimes make chases through the yard together. I have taken to calling them my Green Ballerinas.

Over the past couple weeks I have been fortunate enough to capture them…somewhat.

But what really became fascinating to me was seeing them attracted to the Tall Ironweed – of all things. I can’t figure out why, exactly – it doesn’t look like a flower a hummingbird would enjoy – but they keep revisiting it and I can’t imagine it’s for nothing.

A view of the Tall Ironweed in the backyard jungle

So I set out trying to capture one of the birds in the Tall Ironweed.

At first, where I can sit in the middle of the yard, I was close to a hummingbird at the flowers but could barely see the bird on the other side. I decided to stand by the front gate instead and see if one would come to the flowers right by the back steps. Within a moment or two of standing there with the camera, a hummingbird obliged (the second and third photos below).

I am enjoying these little birds so much more now that I have the time to engage with them. Yesterday as I was refilling the birdbaths, the two of them flew right over my head, clicking away, in greeting. The other day when it was cool enough to have the windows open, one came and sat on a branch outside the kitchen window and we discussed refilling the feeders with fresh sugar water. I believe it was later that day, early evening, when I went out to clean and refill the feeders one by one. No sooner did I bring out the freshly refilled one that hangs from the dead Staghorn Sumac tree right by the kitchen window than one of these little charmers came to check it out. I am thrilled to be of service to such a grateful customer.

Now that fall warbler migration has begun, I expect to be back soon – not to mention all those other birds that are emerging, such as juvenile birds that are barely recognizable Needless to say, I am putting the book on hold for a while. But I am learning so much these days from the birds, it’s addicting. Well, something has to fill the swimming void for a week.

Migrant Morning at the Portage

I had a lot of other photographs I was going to post from previous visits but they will have to wait. In spite of the rainy forecast Saturday morning, I went to the Portage and even though it was overcast, it was magical. Within a minute or two I had heard 10 bird species. I saw most of them and many more.

Perhaps the first bird I saw and heard was a Baltimore Oriole. There were easily half a dozen males staking out territories. This was the only one sitting out in the open.

I encountered a small flock of warblers fairly early. I was lucky to be able to sit on a big fallen log that has become permanent enough to attract graffiti. The opportunity to sit and look up into the trees was welcome. Below, couple Yellow-rumped Warblers.

I encountered small groups of White-Crowned Sparrows. They were delightful to see, but they weren’t singing. I have had them in my yard for a couple weeks and they have always started singing the minute I open the door. It was nice enough of these guys to pose for pictures.

I’ve been hearing Yellow Warblers for a couple weeks but hadn’t seen one yet at the Portage. But I found this one in my photos.

Yellow Warbler

And then, of course, the Indigo Buntings. I underestimated their ability to look gorgeous even in poor light.

Below is a series of Black-and-White Warblers. There have been times I haven’t been able to capture these guys and girls, so this was a real treat for me.

I think I’ve decided Hackberries are my favorite trees. The birds like them a lot, and the Portage now seems to be full of them. They are in the elm family and I suspect were planted to fill the gaps left by all the elms we lost over the years to Dutch Elm Disease.

Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee demonstrating why he likes Hackberries. They seem to attract good worms.

A few birds I would expect to see all summer…

This female American Robin looks a bit exhausted. She also appears disheveled with her brood patch.
A male American Goldfinch
Gray Catbird
Great Blue Heron flyover

There were at least 30 swallows over the water. I had three species – Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. They are all represented in the slide show below.

I looked up and saw this Scarlet Tanager. I’m going back to see if I can find another.

I always hear at least one White-Breasted Nuthatch but I haven’t seen any for quite a while. This one made up for all the ones I missed.

Song Sparrow

Here’s what a Magnolia Warbler might look like straight above you. Below I have grouped several views of the “Maggies” who always seem to engage with the camera.

There were some barely-there birds…

Blue Jay
Female Cape May Warbler
Female Downy Woodpecker

With one more Magnolia Warbler photo, I am done with this post. We are going to get warm over the next few days. I wish I didn’t have to work, it would be ideal weather to see more birds. But the somewhat crummy weather this morning created conditions for some nice encounters with beautiful birds. I really can’t complain.

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.