As promised, here are a few photos from this morning’s fortunate encounter with the Black-Crowned Night Heron. What attracts him to this portion of the Chicago River is anybody’s guess. Must be something about the morning commute. For sure no one is paying attention to him…except for some annoying birder with a camera.
Later this afternoon I took a walk through Millennium Park and found a singing Northern Cardinal who must know me because after I took his picture he waited patiently while I shelled a three-peanut nut for him.
And there were Cedar Waxwings, heard and then seen. I seem to be encountering more of these birds downtown lately.
I am trying hard to get my head around my imminent departure. There are simply too many things to do, and I seem to have left them all to the last moment. The laundry list gave me an excuse to stay home this weekend, although it would have been a beautiful one to be out birding. But perhaps my one triumph was to rearrange the feeders a bit and stump the gray squirrels. Watching one squirrel slide off a baffle guarding the peanut feeder, which has not been up for months, gave me hope. And I haven’t seen a squirrel sitting on the “squirrel proof” sunflower seed feeder either. Of course I have been gone all day and it’s pitch dark now when I get home, so I won’t know if any of this is working until I get back. The squirrels have always proven to be smarter than I am and I am sure they will come up with a new plan. But I have a sizable investment in birdseed from the Audubon sale and I’d like as much of it as possible to go to the birds.
The pictures are from a couple weeks ago when I paid a visit to Springbrook Prairie in DuPage County. I didn’t see all that many birds and definitely missed the legendary Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed and LeConte’s Sparrows, but it was another chance to wield the Tamron 150-600mm lens around and try getting used to it.
As much as I look forward to my trip, I hate to leave my birds. It’s also frustrating to find myself thinking about what I will do when I get back, when I haven’t even left yet!
It’s amazing how a difference in light can almost obscure the identity of a bird like the American Goldfinch below.
I haven’t seen many Field Sparrows this year so it was nice to catch this one.
No matter how big the lens, a bird that is far away remains…far away.
It’s hard to capture the enormity of Springbrook Prairie. I did not walk the entire trail, which can take hours. Nevertheless, several cyclists and runners kept passing me by again and again.
I will try to come back with one more post before I disappear for a while, as a few last minute contributors to my inner and outer landscape have vied for my attention.
I wrote most of this last night…It’s hard to believe–as I sit here with the windows closed not because it is too hot but because it is unseasonably cold outside–that Sunday was hot and buggy. Every time I stopped to get a photograph or look about for telltale movement, I was sampled by some mosquito accessing a bug-spray-free spot on me. At some point one merely gives up or gives in. The insects know the end is nigh for them, so they partied hardy, like 1999.
Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage
Juvenile Cedar Waxwing
The birds certainly know something is up. Large flocks of Blackbirds, Robins, Cedar Waxwings and Mourning Doves assembled at the Chicago Portage last Sunday. I also had perhaps ten Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, finally, although it was still not possible to photograph them.
American Robin, Portage
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Of course I was looking for more warblers. There were not very many. Three views of a Magnolia Warbler…
I sometimes do not know how the camera finds these birds when I can barely see them. A few views of a Confusing Fall Warbler…see if you can find the bird in this tangle! At first I thought it was a Bay-Breasted, but then on closer inspection it is likely a Blackpoll. We affectionately refer to these quandaries as Baypoll Warblers. (You will have to click on the pictures to enlarge them.)
Likely Blackpoll Warbler
Among a few other species present, I managed to catch a Tennessee Warbler and an Ovenbird.
Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage
Ovenbird, Chicago Portage
My hunch that there might be more warbler action at Ottawa Trail, over by the Des Plaines River, did not prove to have any merit whatsoever. There were fewer birds altogether. But I did get a rather nice look at a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Juvenile Indigo Buntings were present in both places and also Gray-Cheeked Thrush, which is a less common thrush to see.
Juvenile Indigo Bunting
Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage
It was only fitting to have a Red-Tailed Hawk fly by and put its stamp on the end of my outing.
Red-Tailed Hawk, Ottawa Trail Woods
Tomorrow I plan on going on Chicago Ornithological Society’s walk at Columbus Park. I haven’t been there in a couple years, even though it’s not far away. It will be interesting to see what we find. I was really looking forward to the original plan, which was to go to Humboldt Park as I have never been there, but the Chicago Park District has organized a weekend event called “Riot Fest” there, which makes conditions less promising for the birds and those who watch them.
Tempering the “Riot Fest” and maybe even our bird walk will be the forecast for early rain and cloudy skies! We are cloudy, rainy and in the 50’s today, so I can get in the mood when I go out later. Oh well.
I did not make it to the Chicago Portage this past weekend to check on the possibility of hummingbirds again. But maybe it’s still worth commenting on the remaining creatures I encountered on the 17th.
Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird
It’s that confusing time of year again. Young birds are as big as their parents, but distinguishing them is sometimes difficult, especially in poor light. Often I take a picture I know will be lousy just to blow it up later, adjust the exposure and see if I can figure out what it was I was looking at. As it is, the “sparrowy” looking birds all turned out to be Song Sparrows (except for the Red-Winged Blackbirds). There were several Indigo Buntings too but due to poor light and whatever else they hid themselves within, they did not make the cut.
Juvenile Song Sparrow
Now that you’ve seen both the juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird and the Song Sparrow, see if you can figure out what the bird is below. You could almost make a case for either one, I think.
Then there are the group photos. The birds don’t always cooperate but sometimes the challenge of how many you can fit in the frame takes over.
European Starling Tree
Cedar Waxwing Tree – too far away, really, but good enough for numbers.
Mourning Dove Tree
There was a group congregating in the water too. A family of Wood Ducks getting ready to depart.
Shorebird migration is in full force, but the Portage isn’t a hot spot. Still I had the two most likely suspects in attendance.
I love the look of juvenile European Starlings. Until they turn mostly black, it’s possible to see they do have eyes.
Juvenile European Starling
Another black bird, but instead of a shiny navy blue head, this juvenile Common Grackle is a rich dark chocolate brown.
Juvenile Common Grackle
The Cedar Waxwing below strikes me as an adult, but chances are some of those in the Waxwing Tree above, if only we could see them, were youngsters.
Down by the second bridge was a very friendly Eastern Phoebe enjoying flying off his perch for insects,
Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The bugs that I cannot identify. This beetle looked to me like it would be easy to find in my Big Beetle Book (not the title) but so far I have been unable to identify it. While I don’t think I’ve discovered a new species, I am beginning to understand this confusion is often the way it is with insects. Period.
The ladybug could be the most common native species, but I’m not going out on any limb.
I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don’t know
More birds–and bugs — pardon me, insects — to come.
Sunday morning I got up early before the predicted heat ensued and went to the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook…
because I felt like I hadn’t had a proper Eastern Bluebird yet this year. I found only one Bluebird but he did not let me down. He even chirped a slight song but it was not strong enough to beat out the surrounding chorus.
There were a few other birds on the wire…
Juvenile Barn Swallow
The first bird, the parking lot bird, if you will, was a Great Blue Heron flying over.
Great Blue Heron
There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings moving through. I caught one laggard.
But the dominant species overall was Red-Winged Blackbird.
And the Blackbirds were no less shy taking on Turkey Vultures than they had been the Red-Tailed Hawks at McGinnis a couple weeks ago.
Turkey Vulture chased by Red-Winged Blackbirds
Indeed it was a little dicey walking around the paths. Being the height of breeding season, the Red-Wingeds were not in the mood to tolerate my presence. Click on the picture below to see the spider in this female Red-Winged Blackbird’s bill.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
The Sanctuary is a small place, but it managed to make the House Sparrow below look exotic.
After about an hour in Oak Brook, I decided it was time to head back east and check in at the Portage.
The water levels are high, in large part, I suspect, to the felling of so many trees. There were puddles directly in front of me on the path, visited by a Killdeer…
and a Song Sparrow…
There were Warbling Vireos singing up a storm here, as they had been at Dorothy and Sam’s place too. In the sample below, the Warbling Vireo is the very busy-sounding song going on behind all the other noises.
Juvenile Wood Duck
The Portage was full of juvenile birds, like the Wood Duck above. I was glad to see a Green Heron fly over and another, albeit far away, ensconced foraging over the water. I am glad the Green Herons are back.
And after not seeing any Mallards the last two or three times I visited, now there is an entire family.
Also ubiquitous at the Portage are House Wrens. There were at least four males singing on territories. Here’s one of them.
Juvenile American Robin
There are always loads of American Robins at the Portage, and now there will be even more as the youngsters start figuring things out.
The big surprise, perhaps, was on the other side of the fence. I followed the path that leads down to the train tracks and the Des Plaines River. I stopped halfway to peer into the bottomlands and saw a Great Egret. I think this is the first time I have seen a Great Egret at the Portage.
Behind the Portage looking down to the Des Plaines River
Changes in habitat create subtle changes in the creatures that use it. It will no doubt continue to be an interesting year at the Chicago Portage.
When I went back to my car, I met Adrian and Stella, whom I have seen walking their dogs at the Portage. We had a delightful visit and I look forward to seeing them again.
And now I must get back to work, looking for my old car title, and going through more photographs. The weather forecast is for rain and thunderstorms much of the week so there may be hope for inside endeavors.
McGinnis Slough parking lot, immature American Robin
Sunday I was looking forward to visiting my local haunts. The plan was to visit McGinnis Slough and then go to the Chicago Portage. I got to the Slough, started unpacking the trunk of the car and realized I didn’t have my binoculars with me. This was doubly frustrating as I saw and heard a Red-Shouldered Hawk and caught a glimpse of a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. I couldn’t even see this Cedar Waxwing when I took its photograph.
Cedar Waxwing, McGinnis Slough
Undeterred, I decided to venture forth anyway with the scope and camera. But as I started walking north along the mowed path, I was soon greeted by swarms of deer flies. Or they could have been horse flies, if there is a difference I am unaware of it. The more I swatted at them, the more they dug in. Bug spray seemed to attract them even more.
I cannot recall this having ever happened before at McGinnis, but I guess conditions were just right for hungry flies. It had been a few days without rain and temperatures were increasing. As I retreated rather hastily toward my car, it occurred to me I could invest in protective clothing for these unpredictable but miserable situations. I figure I already look nerdy with my pants tucked into my socks to ward off ticks, so why not go one step further and surround myself with netting the flies can’t get through?
Common Grackle, Chicago Portage
Leaving McGinnis in such a hurrry gave me the opportunity to go home, trade my scope for binoculars and set out for the Portage. I got there about 8:20 a.m., still fairly early, although the heat was increasing. I got a few pictures of the usual suspects. Oddly enough, nothing was biting me.
The Northern Cardinal below saw me, flew toward me, perched and started singing. He must have wanted to distract me from his nest.
Still short on butterflies, this Tiger Swallowtail is missing its tail.
I showed the picture below briefly to the Insect Guy (I don’t know his name, but I’ve run into him before at Portage, he takes pictures of insects) while it was still on my camera and he said it was a Jewel Wing but I’m not so sure after looking in my little field guide, so I am not identifying it.
Unknown Damsel Fly
I caught a glimpse of a few Wood Ducklings as they swam back into the reeds.
Everybody was fairly cooperative, as long as they felt safe behind one twig or another…
Shortly after the Insect Guy and I stopped to talk on the trail, he suddenly called my attention to a Red-Tailed Hawk carrying a rabbit to a tree behind me.
Red-Tailed Hawk with rabbit
The heat and humidity have turned the duckweed thick and split-pea-soup green. On my way out, one of the Green Herons that spends its summer hunting inhabitants of this soup was sitting perched close enough for me to get a few pictures.
And then he decided he’d had enough of my attention…
and landed in a tree where he could blend in.
The weather is beastly hot outside as I finish writing this from the confines of the cold air conditioned office, but we are promised cooler temperatures this weekend after some rain tomorrow. I am looking forward to it!
I have been thinking about visiting Paul Douglas Forest Preserve, which is way up northwest in Cook County, in Hoffman Estates, to be exact, for quite a while, and I finally managed to get up at 3:15 AM Sunday morning so I could get there before the heat became unbearable. It turned out to be a pleasant, sunny morning with quite a breeze going at times.
Paul Douglas is a huge preserve, surrounded by one continuous paved trail that extends 7.5 miles – and so it is a destination for runners and bike riders. Not an ideal birding situation, but it’s good for the birds because they can nest there relatively undisturbed. I did not perhaps prepare as I should have, I just figured out how to get there and went. I walked about a mile from the parking lot and at birding pace that took me almost two hours, so I walked back. I’ll see the rest of it some other time.
Tree Swallow nesr
The target bird, if there was one, was Yellow-Headed Blackbird, but either because I didn’t find out specifically where they were located or else they were not present, I did not see or hear any. But I saw some beautiful birds anyway, even if most of them were too far away to get great photos. Often the best birds are when you least expect them, anyway.
My first bird was a Willow Flycatcher. The camera wasn’t ready for him but he cooperated anyway and I managed to get his song as well. His song is the sneezy little “fitz-pew” below the picture.
It turns out I’ve been trying to put this post together for days but always when I’m falling asleep at the end of the day, so it looks like it might take me at least one more installment. And now that one of the lights that’s on a timer has gone out, my indoor birds are telling me to go to sleep.Of course they’re right. Blogger guilt may be getting to me, but it’s been a busy week.
I will be back tomorrow with more notes from the field.
I visited the Chicago Portage on Sunday. Not as early as I wished, but I went out Saturday night and couldn’t get up before dawn. While I suspected by 8:00 a.m. I missed quite a bit not being there at sunrise, it was still nice to hear a lot of birds and even see a few now and then. The surprises were more the omissions: only a few Canada Geese flying over, no ducklings or goslings, not one Mourning Dove, no raptors. Yet the place was brimming with life. The deer came closer to the lens than most of the birds.
Cedar Waxwings often appear in flocks. But this was the only one I saw.
This Tree Swallow let me take his picture while he caught a breath in between sallies for insects.
This Song Sparrow was… not singing.
But this Catbird was. Actually, the song clip below is from another Gray Catbird that serenaded me but never showed his face.
Everything is so green, including the carpet of duck weed, after all the rain.
Painted Turtles were sunning themselves here and there.
Deadly Nightshade, also known as Beladonna, is in full bloom. I pull a lot of this stuff out of my yard every year, even if the bumblebees seems to like its pretty flowers.
Deadly Nightshade and the Bumblebee
Most cooperative was this beautiful damselfly, an Ebony Jewelwing.
I start out counting Red-Winged Blackbirds and then give up. It’s impossible to tell if this is the same one I heard over there..I estimated the entire preserve had about 40 total.
And below is a fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird, stuck on a dry spot, waiting to see what happens next.
I might not have seen the Green Heron below if a Red-Winged Blackbird had not chased him into this tree.
This sole female Mallard Duck looks like she’s got a secret. Maybe I’ll see ducklings on my next visit.
It’s hard to believe this little preserve, sandwiched in between the Chicago Metropolitan Water District, railroad tracks and an Interstate, has room for young deer.
A female and a young buck, just beginning to grow antlers. Growing season for everything.
Almost two weeks ago, I went with a friend to the Chicago Portage to see what birds turned up after the snow. It was a beautiful, sunny day. My pictures of the most numerous species, Red-Winged Blackbird, aren’t worth publishing (maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to get a picture), but other early visitors and some regulars complied.
Winter is hanging on a bit longer, but it sure beats the freakish 80-degree temperatures of last year. Undeterred, the Cedar Waxwings have begun to arrive on schedule, finding sustenance in leftover freeze-dried berries.
The Downies have been here all year, but I cannot ignore them.
We were delighted to see this Brown Thrasher.
Phragmites at the Portage
The invasive Phragmites remain mighty, barren stalks that provide cover for the arriving sparrow species.
The trees are like old friends along the path.
We found this Red-Bellied Woodpecker tending to a hole…
and one of several cardinals enjoying the sunshine…
On our way out, a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks flew over: here’s one. Red-Tails used to nest at the Portage. I hope this pair decides to stay.
Well, I was writing this post, and just as I added another picture I lost the whole thing, so let me start over. I think I started out by saying I can’t believe it’s July already, although we’ve had July-like weather for weeks.
Trumpeter Swans and a Great Blue Heron
I went to McGinnis Slough early this morning, just to see how the habitat and the birds were faring with the drought and the heat. The water level is so low, the Trumpeter Swans that are usually way over on the far side were in what is now the middle of the slough, so I was able to get some sort of picture even though they were still far away. I think I like the reflection in the water about this shot, and the fact that they had the Great Blue Heron between them.
When I first ventured from the parking lot, this juvenile Barn Swallow was waiting to be fed by a parent. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to get that shot as the parent swooped in to drop off a bug and kept going.
Also found these Cedar Waxwing kids holed up in a nearby tree.
Walking down the mowed path in either direction summoned deer flies, which I was forever swatting. I wished I was a horse with a tail I could switch at them (in which case then I would have called them horse flies). Stopping along the way was prohibited.
Great Blue Herons
I saw easily 30 or more Great Blue Herons, most of them in the water, although these two are in the trees. The only Great Egret I found was in a tree also. Normally when the water level is higher, I have seen what seemed like hundreds of Great Egrets at McGinnis. I suppose that could still happen, summer has a long way to go.
There were a lot of Caspian Terns but they weren’t close enough for a picture, unlike this Herring Gull.
My reward for enduring the heat this morning was getting to see a Marsh Wren singing. I heard at least 10 of these guys in the grasses along the path, but hearing Marsh Wrens is always easier than seeing.
I stopped at the Portage on my way home. Here’s a House Wren for comparison.
And now a word of thanks to all who follow this blog! I apologize for not responding immediately to your likes and comments. At the same time, it occurs to me this blog is almost one year old. So I guess my “new year’s” resolution is to try to be a more conscientious blogger.
And to remember to save every draft so I don’t have to start over!