Cold Storage

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Red-Breasted Mergansers at Saganashkee Slough

Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…

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Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.

The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.

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Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines

Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…

And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”

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Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.

In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.

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Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough

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Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…

Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)

I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.

Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂

Surprises at the Chicago Portage

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Sora behind duckweed-covered Mallards

Last Sunday I got up early enough to pick up Susan at 7:15 and get to the Chicago Portage, only to find the cable barring entry to the parking lot was still strewn across the entrance. I locked the car and we walked around the parking lot area for about 10 minutes before the designated person showed up. It was well past sunrise, which is when the preserves are supposed to be open… But it was still early enough to see a Sora Rail across the duckweed not long after we started down the trail.

I have never seen a Sora at the Portage. Rails are hard enough to see just about anywhere. The usual scenario is that I might hear their beautiful song and take for granted I will never find them. This one was silent, but virtually out in the open. Susan looked across the water with her binoculars and said, “Is that a Sora?” and then I spent the next several minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.

The other surprise Sunday was a Marsh Wren, also a first for me, for the Portage. But though we saw it well for a half second, it was not interested in seeing us again so I got no photographs.

I do have one more surprise, though, from the previous weekend. I saw a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker, another species I have never seen at the Portage and only infrequently anywhere, and I managed to get the pictures below. I can’t help but wonder if the change in habitat, the opening up, so to speak, of more marshy areas, will attract this species more often.

Birds became visible from their foraging behavior. The tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet below was interested in something contained in the bark of a tree down the trail from us.

I caught the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet below in a more contemplative phase.

Not to be outdone by other species adopting its favorite foraging spots, here is one of two Brown Creepers we saw.

BRCR10-8-2017-9579Closer to the end of our walk the intense sunlight started playing tricks with color and it wasn’t until I got home and processed the next few photos that I realized what we had.

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White-Throated Sparrow

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below looked so blue in the light, I didn’t recognize it while taking the pictures.

The Black-Capped Chickadee below would not show its face but I was intrigued by its foraging calisthenics anyway.

And we managed to find one more Magnolia Warbler to add to the list.

Downy Woodpeckers are common all year round at the Portage but not always available for picture-taking. But this one was so busy with whatever it was working on, she put on a little show.

When we checked the Des Plaines River, the Belted Kingfisher was still hanging out.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were the most numerous species on our visit, but it was still tempting to take the pictures below. At least you can see the yellow rump…

Shadowy images of a White-Breasted Nuthatch on the left and a Cedar Waxwing on the right. We didn’t have a huge flock of waxwings but there will still a dozen or so.

We saw some other thrushes but this was the only one I managed to capture. I have never seen more than one Gray-Cheeked Thrush at a time which makes me think maybe they tend to be solitary.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Others have been to the Portage since our visit and a couple rarities, at least for the time of year, have been reported. I want to go back soon but this weekend is already booked with people activities, unless the forecast for rain and thunderstorms changes Saturday morning.

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Hanging Out

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The virtual sunniness of it all makes the summer heat seem more oppressive somehow. We had rain after rain after rain in July for weeks and then virtually for a week it was all over, the steady sunshine and heat quickly depleting water levels. So I didn’t know what to expect when I wandered over to the Portage Sunday morning. Perhaps shorebirds, but there were none. However there was the Black-Crowned Night Heron above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at this location, so that made the visit worthwhile immediately. In discovery mode I’ll take anything but for some reason a different or unexpected bird sates my hunger for more for…at least a few minutes!

GBHE Portage 8-2-15-8165GBHE Portage 8-2-15-8201The only other species near what little water was left was a Great Blue Heron who was first silhouetted as I walked in against the sun, the trail still being inaccessible from the opposite direction, and then after I emerged from a lot of burdock and butterflies, the heron decided to leave.

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Red Admiral

The butterflies almost made up for the lack of bird species.

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Eastern Comma

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Eastern Comma

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Silver-spotted Skipper

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Red Spotted Purple

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Lined Tiger Moth Caterpillar

After months of closing the hole in the fence, the gate, so to speak, is wide open. An enormous amount of vegetation has been cleared and there is a wide path leading in either direction, toward the Des Plaines River or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. I did not go far in either direction but decided to at least take a peek at the river and on my way I encountered a doe and two fawns. Below is one of the fawns passing through.
Deer Portage 8-2-15-8175There were dragonflies but they were generally less cooperative.

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White-Faced Meadowhawk

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Unidentified Damselfly

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Is this the backside of a bee?

House Wrens were still quite vocal and I managed to see this one.

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House Wren

Of all 13 species I reported, there were more American Robins than anything else. The one below will quickly lose its spottiness.

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Juvenile American Robin

Downy Woodpeckers are regulars at the Portage, if not always visible.

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Downy Woodpecker

And Indigo Buntings still rule. There have been more than ever this breeding season, and they are still singing.

INBU Portage 8-2-15-8114We’ve cooled off a bit, and the days are inching ever-so-slightly shorter, tilting thoughts toward fall migration. I’m sure there’s still plenty of hot weather left but maybe I’m finally getting used to it. If it doesn’t rain this weekend…who knows where I could go?

Meanwhile Back at the Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I am nearly finished going through all the Costa Rica photographs, I think, but in between it seemed like time to check in with the local birds over the holiday. The weather was still warm and pleasant last Sunday, so I visited the Chicago Portage. I was the only human for the first forty minutes or so. I had no expectations, which is my general approach to the Portage – that way I can always be pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be a nice visit, with Fox Sparrows predominant of the 19 total species I encountered.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Dark-Eyed Juncos were present, and they have been in my backyard regularly since the beginning of November. I don’t know if I’ve seen American Tree Sparrows at the Portage before but they were certainly well-represented. And White-Throated Sparrows, a little harder to see here than they are in the city but I got at least one to cooperate.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

On the way out, I couldn’t help but notice the growth below.

Shelf Fungus

Shelf Fungus?

Downy Woodpeckers are always present at the Portage. Sometimes they are easy to see, other times not, but somehow the camera managed to capture this one in flight.

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Female Downy Woodpecker

Perhaps my biggest surprise was to discover pictures of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker feeding on dried berries, entangled enough to show off its red belly. I honestly don’t remember taking these pictures but I must have. Unless now the camera has completely taken over my brain (beware the warnings about artificial intelligence).

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker, in a more likely pose

The Portage itself is always in a state of flux and it looks like this now.

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Also on the way out, about when I thought I would never see a chickadee, this Black-Capped Chickadee and a few of his buddies were foraging in dried stalks that complement their coloring perfectly.

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Black-Capped Chickadee with a worm

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Another view of the Portage and its low water levels. No birds in the water at all. There was one Canada Goose on the lawn by the parking lot and five flew over but nobody came down to hang out in the creek.

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One last photo of the Fox Sparrow who is at the top of the page. Fox Sparrows come in different races across the country (Sibley identifies four subspecies and says they’re sometimes considered separate species). The one we get here is the “red” Taiga race and this guy certainly fits the description. I just checked the Cornell website and they mention 18 subspecies within 3 or 4 groups. They are not always so easy to see, so I suppose you could spend a lot of time and effort trying to track down different types of Fox Sparrows across the continent.

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More to come from Costa Rica, and eventually a report from the home front.

Unexpected at the Portage

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird managing to pose nicely but hiding its rufous undertail coverts

After hours spent slaving over a hot laptop (not really, just metaphorically speaking), I am still not entirely finished processing last weekend’s photographs, and there are some from this weekend as well… but the last two visits to the Chicago Portage, last Sunday and yesterday late morning after attending the Douglas Park walk, about which I hope to do my next post, produced surprises.

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Nothing was as surprising as seeing Wild Turkeys on the gravel path yesterday. Even more surprising was the fact that they did not dash off, but rather seemed to keep their slow, cautious pace, as if they were new here and checking out the place. I suspect they are the same turkeys I saw last summer by the railroad track bed.

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The remainder of the photographs here are from last Sunday, the 21st. I am not sure if I realized when I took the pictures of the Canada Geese that three of them very obviously had neck bands, I was so busy paying attention to No. 63B harrassing No. 68B. I have to look up the Fish and Wildlife Service webpage to see if these geese are reportable.
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Canada Geese with neckbands

Canada Geese with neckbands

Last weekend I finally got a chance to see a few Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in the gobs of Jewel Weed. Surprisingly they were not far from the south side entrance to the preserve, where I normally hardly see anything. The light was poor so I was not able to get anything sharper or more representative than what is below. I haven’t been able to catch the few hummers that have found my feeders either.

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

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Below is a Chestnut-Sided Warbler looking nothing like its spring version.

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The turkeys always remind me of Joe Hutto and his book, Illumination in the Flatwoods, upon which the film “My Life As A Turkey” was based.
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Somewhere over the last few days my eyes grazed past an article I have not yet read, in the New York Times: “When Blogging Becomes a Slog.” Maybe I’m afraid to read it. However, there’s apparently an entire whole industry devoted to the phenomenon. I am not burned out on the blog yet, but it has become harder to find the time to devote to it, so I apologize if my posts are getting to be less frequent than twice a week. I am still trying to figure out how to balance life and the new work situation, and now the choir commitment. But I will keep coming  back here because in some small way, it’s good for the birds, and I realized years ago that what’s good for the birds is good for me.

 

A Flicker of Gold

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

I have longed to capture one of the most beautiful and amazing sights from several years ago when I was birding in the old Daley Bicentennial Plaza. A Northern (Golden-Shafted) Flicker flew right over my head and I was absolutely stunned by the shining gold of its spread wings. I never again wondered about the origin of the name “Golden-Shafted.”

Golden-Shafted Flicker

Golden-Shafted Flicker

Sunday morning at the Chicago Portage, I encountered what may have been a family group of Northern Flickers and spent time observing them. Individually Flickers can be pretty shy, so I was not about to pass up this opportunity. Although I was not able to get one to repeat my earlier experience, I did manage to capture a glimpse or two of the golden shafts, albeit from the back side.

Checking to make sure they left nothing behind?

Checking to make sure they left nothing behind?

Earlier this spring, a pair of Flickers spent much time discussing the nesting possibilities of this same dead stump. I never managed to check to see if they used it for that purpose but I imagine they did, their nesting experience was a successful one, and now they are reluctant to leave.

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Sometimes that white rump speeding away from me is all I will see of one of these birds. The light is rarely so fortunate to capture all this color.

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By the photo below, I now think the Flickers may have been attracted to this stump because they can blend in so well with it.

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More will follow eventually from Sunday’s excursion, in a subsequent post.