Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now,  and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…

Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.

Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.

These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.

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This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.

CEWA 09-04-16-0301Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.

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At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.

Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.

Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.

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Magnolia Warbler

Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.

Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.

CEWA 08-14-16-9763I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!

Meanwhile Back at the Portage

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Scarlet Tanager (female)

I decided to take a walk around the Portage last Sunday. It was my first birding outing since my return from Ecuador. I was almost more interested to see if there were any butterflies since I have noticed a distinct lack of them this year and I am not happy about that.

I got out a bit later than I should have, and I forgot the insect repellent which might have afforded me a few more butterflies, but I came away determined to go back this coming Sunday, get up earlier, and maybe visit McGinnis Slough too. We shall see how far I get with that thought.

There were some butterflies so I have to go through my once-a-year trying-to-identify routine. I figured out the two above, a Silver-Spotted Skipper and an Eastern Comma, but I am stumped by the one below. It appears to be in the Brush-Footed family but I haven’t managed to match it up exactly with anything yet. Identification is most welcome.

There were not a lot of birds, but I found more of them in my pictures later than I could see with my binoculars at the time. A recent visit to the eye doctor has helped me figure out why this is and I am scheduled for the first of two cataract surgeries next month. Maybe I can forego buying new binoculars.

Song Sparrows above, Indigo Buntings (male and female) below…

It’s always encouraging to see a Green Heron, although I haven’t seen two in at least a couple years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another one around.

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Green Heron

Below on the left, two Cedar Waxwings my camera discovered, and a juvenile American Robin.

The water level is very low and what water there is, is covered with duckweed. I guess this is good for the American Goldfinches below.

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Indigo Bunting Female

I will be back very soon with more from Ecuador.

Breeding Birds

PRWA IDSP 05-29-2016-2349Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.

Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.

There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.

Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.

Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.

We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.

Cedar Waxwings above, at IDSP on the left and the other one from the Chicago Portage.

The Portage had at least four male Baltimore Orioles, and I was able to spot a female not entirely hidden on the right, above.

To add to my list of not-often-seen woodpeckers, I had a Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage. Usually I see Downies everywhere, but this was the only woodpecker that I was able to photograph.

Tree Swallows were abundant. And below, it was a good day for turtles at the Portage.

And for Mallard ducklings…looking almost full grown.

Below, a newly fledged American Robin and an adult.

One more look at the Red-Headed Woodpecker.

RHWP IDSP 5-29-2016-2453I’ve been busy writing silly songs, working, gardening and starting to get ready for a trip that will begin on July 1. I am now glad I inadvertently planned to be away before the Democratic National Convention. I’m growing weary of the daily drama and it will be good for my head to be totally oblivious to politics for a couple weeks.

I’ll try to get back to this page a few times before I go. Thanks for stopping by!

 

Waiting for Change

Monarch in my Yard 8-30-15-0318I am waiting for the heat to go away, for the rains to come and cool us off. Also waiting for life to settle down again into some sort of routine, keeping the structure of the old and shimmying in parts of the new. The office move is complete but getting things to work properly is taking longer. I have suddenly added choir practice every Wednesday to the mix and am wondering how that will go as I have to reassign parts of my life to other schedules. At least to accommodate some kind of birding…

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And then Oliver Sacks died. For as much warning as he gave us, it still seems hard to believe. I have all his books to remember him by, though, and would like to get back to reading them.

Swainson's Thrush, LaBagh Woods

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods

And passerine migration, that thing that depends so much on the weather, isn’t really happening as much as one would want it to, especially when I finally had a little time this weekend to look for birds.

Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage

Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage

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Swainson’s Thrushes are pretty much everywhere but particularly closer to the lakefront. I have only seen a handful of warblers and not really had a chance to capture them with the camera.

Swainson's Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

Swainson’s Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

The pictures are from the last week or so, some taken in the downtown parks and others from local haunts or somewhere in between. No theme, no meme.

American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

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At the Chicago Portage for the last two weeks, the most numerous species has been juvenile Indigo Buntings. They are literally everywhere. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I was counting half a dozen brilliant blue males on territories all summer. It appears moms and dads have moved on and left their offspring to find their way.

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

INBU at Portage 9-6-15-0694There are still a few other straggling species too like Gray Catbirds and Cedar Waxwings.

Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage

Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage

And the insects are still going strong. I saw a larger group of Monarch butterflies at LaBagh Woods this weekend than I have seen all year. Milkweed is everywhere. I hope it helps.

Butterfly at Portage 9-6-15-0665These insects were very patient with the 650mm lens.

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I’m a bit exhausted by all the changes and yet there always seems to be more coming. I will try to be post once more before I take off next week for a short trip to the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Rally. I hope to have something to share from that experience.

Black-Crowned Night Heron on the Chicago River – Part 2

BCNH Chicago River 6-24-15-5588As 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.

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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.

NOCA Millennium 6-24-15-5620And there were Cedar Waxwings, heard and then seen. I seem to be encountering more of these birds downtown lately.

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And now I must bid you all goodnight.

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Fall Farewell

Song Sparrow, Springbrook Prairie

Song Sparrow, Springbrook Prairie

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.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Mallards

Mallards

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.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

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!

Mallards

Mallards

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

It’s amazing how a difference in light can almost obscure the identity of a bird like the American Goldfinch below.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

I haven’t seen many Field Sparrows this year so it was nice to catch this one.

Song Sparrow

Field Sparrow

No matter how big the lens, a bird that is far away remains…far away.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

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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.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

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.

 

Sunday’s Remainder

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Ottawa Trail Woods

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Ottawa Trail Woods

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

Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

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

American Robin, Portage

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Of course I was looking for more warblers. There were not very many. Three views of a Magnolia Warbler…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

MAWA Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5415MAWA Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5418

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.)

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Likely Blackpoll Warbler

BBWA Portage 9-7-14-5187BBWA Portage 9-7-14-5188Among a few other species present, I managed to catch a Tennessee Warbler and an Ovenbird.

Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage

Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage

Ovenbird, 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. RBWP Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5366 RBWP Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5382

Juvenile Indigo Bunting

Juvenile Indigo Bunting

Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage

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

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.

August at the Chicago Portage: Finale

Green Heron

Green Heron

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

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

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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

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.

What's this?

What’s this?

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

European Starling Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree – too far away, really, but good enough for numbers.

Mourning Dove Tree

Mourning Dove Tree

There was a group congregating in the water too. A family of Wood Ducks getting ready to depart.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

Shorebird migration is in full force, but the Portage isn’t a hot spot. Still I had the two most likely suspects in attendance.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Killdeer

Killdeer

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

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

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.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Down by the second bridge was a very friendly Eastern Phoebe enjoying flying off his perch for insects,

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

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.

Unidentified Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

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

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don’t know

More birds–and bugs — pardon me, insects — to come.

Busy Breeding Birds

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Sunday morning I got up early before the predicted heat ensued and went to the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook…

Sign-1709Sanctuary-1694

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.

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There were a few other birds on the wire…

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

The first bird, the parking lot bird, if you will, was a Great Blue Heron flying over.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings moving through. I caught one laggard.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

But the dominant species overall was Red-Winged Blackbird.

Red-Winged Blackbird

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

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

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

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The Sanctuary is a small place, but it managed to make the House Sparrow below look exotic.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

After about an hour in Oak Brook, I decided it was time to head back east and check in at the Portage.

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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…

Killdeer

Killdeer

and a Song Sparrow…

Song Sparrow

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.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Juvenile Wood Duck

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.

Green Heron

Green Heron

And after not seeing any Mallards the last two or three times I visited, now there is an entire family.

Mallards

Mallards

Also ubiquitous at the Portage are House Wrens. There were at least four males singing on territories. Here’s one of them.

House Wren

House Wren

Juvenile American Robin

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

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.

Great Egret

Great Egret

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.

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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.

 

From the Ridiculous to the Sub Lime…Green?

Parking lot immature American Robin

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

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

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.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

The Northern Cardinal below saw me, flew toward me, perched and started singing. He must have wanted to distract me from his nest.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Still short on butterflies, this Tiger Swallowtail is missing its tail.

Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail

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

Unknown Damsel Fly

I caught a glimpse of a few Wood Ducklings as they swam back into the reeds.

Wood Ducklings

Wood Ducklings

Everybody was fairly cooperative, as long as they felt safe behind one twig or another…

American Robin

American Robin

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

Red-Tailed Hawk with rabbit

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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.

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And then he decided he’d had enough of my attention…

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and landed in a tree where he could blend in.

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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!