It never fails, when I have no expectations of seeing anything unusual, something unexpected occurs. It began last Saturday morning when I decided to visit the Portage. I was on my way out the last leg of the trail when I encountered a perched Bald Eagle. And then a moment or two later, his mate appeared. I took way too many pictures, never having an unobstructed angle, and the birds were distant, but their immense size made up for the lack of proximity.
It also seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t manage a timely blog post. But before I belabor that point, I promise this will be short.
There’s always a bit of a let-down in the fall with the shorter days and colder weather, but the colder months bring a whole new perspective to birding and once you figure out how to stay warm enough, it’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.
When the eagles finally took off they flew north toward Ottawa Trail. I suspect they have a nesting spot somewhere or were shopping for one. I hope to see one or both of them again soon.
Also at the Portage when I first arrived, were two Red-Tailed Hawks, ushered in by Ten Crows. I have never seen so many crows at the Portage. Likely the hawks got their attention and drew them in. But I didn’t even know there were Ten Crows in the vicinity. A Mini Murder.
As it turned out, only one hawk remained to soar around for quite a while, at a reasonable distance for a few photographs. The light was poor but the flight was skillful.
On Sunday morning I went downtown to visit the Lakefront Crows and had a couple raptorous moments there too. Like this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk…and then a Peregrine Falcon.
I will return with a full report on the Lakefront Crows and other recent avian encounters. The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments. We always seem to be in a hurry. As we rush toward the end of the year… I hope you are finding some moments of peace.
Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.
As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.
Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.
Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.
This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!
One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.
A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.
It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.
Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!
When I came back from Texas two weeks ago, the weather in Chicago was fairly pleasant and I mused I could have two springs! No matter that the Saturday before I got home there was snow on the ground. But just as we slipped into May, when it seemed reasonable to expect things would start warming up a bit, northeast winds picked up and although we weren’t freezing, the windchills were in the 30’s. It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain. The downpours have brought most of the trees into leaf and encouraging emerging plant life everywhere. Then, this past Thursday morning, a lot of migrant birds were down from the skies from the previous evening’s rainstorm.
I’m too far away from the lakefront now to go off searching for rarities on my lunch hour, but I took Friday off so that I could scope out the Portage before my bird walk on Saturday. It turned out to be the nicest day of my three-day weekend. Although it started off chilly and windy, when the sun emerged a little before 10:00 AM all was forgiven.
I just finished getting through Friday’s pictures last night – it seemed there were way too many, but I discovered three more species in them to add to the list with a grand total of 54 species, 13 of them warblers. Which isn’t super fantastic but it’s credible for the Portage.
As for the Texas pictures, I managed to send some to Field Guides Saturday night and now with that off my plate I can go back through all of them and start developing for my own purposes. Time, technology and energy being available in inconsistent quantities, this will take me a while.
So in the meantime, here are some of the spring migrants from my walk on Friday, and there will likely be some more from this visit and Saturday’s outing as I try to keep up with everything that seems to be happening this month.
This is all I can manage for now. I hope to report back soon with lots more!
Christmas Eve morning was bright, sunny and cold. I thought the sunshine would at least bring forth a few birds, and I was right. Not many species were present, but when I finally caught up with the flock of Tree Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, Juncos, Cardinals and Goldfinches, it was possible to get a few photographs, particularly of the Tree Sparrows. And we had very few interruptions. Unlike other times of the year, there were no runners, cyclists or dog walkers.
There must have been a dozen Cardinals but they weren’t all that easy to capture. Indeed everybody seemed to be looking for as much cover as possible. It stands to reason. Without leaves on the trees there aren’t too many places you can quickly disappear to.
I’m contemplating going a bit farther afield tomorrow as I crave some open space to match the open space I feel mentally and emotionally this weekend.
Downy Woodpeckers are apt to forage along with the sparrows in the winter, looking for dormant bugs in the dead stalks. Here’s one enterprising little bird.
I hope to be back before the new year, but if I don’t manage it, best wishes for all our positive thoughts, compassion and love to come together and make a better world. I can only hope we have hit bottom or will very soon, so that the only way is up.
It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.
I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.
The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.
Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.
Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.
Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise.
I had no plans to go out yesterday. I slept in and so did my birds, even after one or two Zebra Finches announced theoretical sunrise around 6:28 a.m., because it was dark and cloudy. But then the sun broke out during breakfast and after I checked the radar it looked like we had a two-hour rainless window so I decided to see what was happening at the Portage. No sooner did I leave than the sun went behind the clouds.
Photography in next-to-no light was almost not an option, but I couldn’t imagine going out without the camera. I hadn’t gotten too far beyond the Mallards and Canada Geese before I encountered a Golden-Crowned Kinglet in distress.
The bird had a long, skinny twig caught in its primaries. I put my camera down to help, but when I reached for the bird it flitted a few inches to avoid me. I managed to grab the offending plant matter and the Kinglet immediately wrested itself free. Glad I could help this little bird continue, and it gave some purpose beyond my need to escape the “other reality” for a while. After the encounter, it seemed I was seeing more Golden-Crowned Kinglets than anything else. Unfortunately they move so quickly they were hard to capture in low light.
It just so happened that I had to replace my cell phone on Friday. It was a case of new software meets old hardware: the latest update wreaked havoc on the old phone. So I put the new cell phone camera to use to capture some stirrings of autumn color at the Portage.
Hawk migration continues. Below, some aerial dynamics of a Northern Harrier.
I was going to visit the dirt road that runs along the railroad tracks and faces the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property but when I encountered the buck below staring at me, I changed my mind.
Common Milkweed was everywhere this past summer and I have a feeling it will be even more prevalent next year.
Two Turkey Vultures flew over in the grey sky…
The only birds that stood up to the lack of light were Mallards and Canada Geese, and then just barely.
Not much else to report, really. I’m surprised the Mourning Doves showed up as well as they did.
I still have images from the previous weekend’s last organized walk…and then I’d better be focused on preparation for the choir’s three-day tour to St. Louis. I may not be seeing many wild birds for a few weeks. Maybe I can recruit the indoor crowd.
At least today, on Labor Day, I decided to be lazy by not getting up two hours before dawn so I could go birding. After meeting at the destination on Saturday, we canceled the walk due to thunderstorms looming in the wings. Even so, I had stayed back with another participant to get a handle on the layout of the trail setup when suddenly a crash of thunder and lightning striking right in front of us convinced us it was indeed time to leave.
So yesterday I got up and decided I would not go far, but as long as it wasn’t raining or threatening to, I may as well try to see what I could find. I went to Ottawa Trail Woods and encountered some obstacles on the trail (above). It became even more evident that I was the only person to have traversed the river trail in a while as I managed to avoid only one of two spider webs strewn above the footpath. The first sign of life was the deer below.
There were not a lot of birds. Or at least not a lot of species. But this time I got to see an Ovenbird for a few seconds although it was nearly the only warbler I saw.
A dozen Common Grackles showed up in the trees right above my head. So much for dark backlit birds.
Ottawa Trail is usually good for Thrushes and I was not entirely disappointed. At least I got to see this Gray-Cheeked long enough to photograph it.
Early on I saw one Cedar Waxwing, but knew there was no such thing as a solitary Cedar Waxwing and on my way back on the trail I encountered at least sixty in the branches of one tree. Click on the upper righthand photo below if you don’t believe me.
The bottomlands by the river were flooded from all the recent rain and I was able to relocate this Great Blue Heron after it flushed, when I surprised it by my walking the path even though at a considerable distance.
I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…
So it was mostly distant unspectacular sightings . A Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Kingbird…
Indigo Buntings were nearly unrecognizable. The one on the right was an up-and-coming male hiding from me at the Portage which was where I went next.
The Portage still had a couple hummingbirds, perhaps the same ones I saw on Friday. Plenty of Jewelweed everywhere. A few years ago on a September day I saw what seemed like a hundred Ruby-Throated Hummers in one visit, all over the Jewelweed, but it was not repeated yesterday. If you look closely at the third image of the hummer you an see a little bit of red emerging on his young throat.
By the time I got to the Portage it was closer to midday, the heat was becoming oppressive and I didn’t expect to see many birds. So I appreciate one Gray Catbird after hearing them but never catching even a glance at one Friday.
All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…
In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.
There were fewer dragonflies than last week. And I keep running into Eastern Commas that don’t want to pose correctly: or is it a Question Mark???
The Robins all seemed to be at Ottawa Trail yesterday with only a few at the Portage. I imagine it’s the same flock going back and forth.
Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…
I came up with a new mantra this weekend, so I guess it’s only appropriate on Labor Day that I share it with you. I have been muttering “I have to stop working” for far longer than I want to recall. But I decided now my mantra should be, “I have to start writing.” I have been thinking about a book for the last several years. It changes every five minutes, but I think it’s finally starting to come together in my head because I found the first sentence yesterday. So it’s time to start writing it. Which may make my contributions to this page even more infrequent, I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine writing anything after working all day at a computer in an office. But by declaring my intentions sometimes I can force myself to get going so as not to risk eternal embarrassment. Thank you.
I took today off. It was a bit difficult getting up early this morning after swimming last night but I managed to get over to the Portage a little after 8:00 a.m. and took note of how deserted the place was on a weekday. No dog-walkers or cyclists. Only one runner, who was probably as amazed to see me as I was him.
A long shot of the duckweedy water above and just below it, an untrimmed path I decided not to take.
The robins are back, and the waxwings are still numerous. Literally nobody in the mucky water. I was treated to American Redstarts and a couple Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds early on, which gave me hope to find a few more migrants.
American Redstart (First Year Male)
Ruby-Throated Hummers above, an adult male American Redstart below.
The only other warblers I could barely photograph were the Chestnut-Sided below left and the Black-Throated Green on the right. I missed the Ovenbird that landed briefly in the tree I later found them in.
In the beginning with the immature male Redstarts was a chattering young House Wren.
Butterflies were out for the sunshine today. Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent and Monarch butterflies.
I saw a few White-Breasted Nuthatches too.
I heard the Eastern Wood-Pewee long before I saw the one below.
This time of year I expect to see lots of Indigo Bunting children and I did, but they were playing hard to get with the camera.
Yellow is the predominant color this time of year and I found a bumblebee and a goldfinch taking advantage of it.
One Eastern Kingbird…
There was a lot of chatter from catbirds but I only barely saw the youngster below.
A couple more Cedar Waxwings. The one on the left is an immature.
The last photograph I took was of this stunning little Silvery Checkerspot.
My walk tomorrow will take place if we are not totally rained out. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast. We shall see… This evening as I write this I have just heard the rumble of thunder. And now it is starting to pour.
By the way it feels nice to have the time to do a same-day blog post. Perhaps if I – no, let’s say when I retire – I will be up to the task more often.
As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.
A Slough in name only…
I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.
There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.
There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.
Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red
When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.
It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…
There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.
There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…
The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.
And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.
I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.
I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.
The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.
Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.
I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.
So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.
My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.
I’m not quite up to more adventurous birding spots yet, or so I’ve been telling myself, so I went back to the Portage again last Sunday morning. One of my first most delightful encounters was the Sphinx Moth above. It might also be called a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. I didn’t see any hummingbirds, although I keep looking for them ever since one zipped by one of my feeders a couple weeks ago.
Great Blue Heron
All the herons that have been hanging out were present, if difficult to get close to. The Great Egret in particular has been trying to stay as far from the trails as possible.
Great Egret, at a distance
One of the Green Herons landed in a nearby tree, and then took off for another location. The other one stayed glued to a small stump in the water and was barely visible.
So much for the one Red-Winged Blackbird that was temporarily available.
Even though I know there are many Indigo Buntings on site, I was only able to see the male below who looks like he had just taken a bath, compromising his ability to reflect very much blue. Below him, a well hidden female, who I found only after hearing her persistent chip note.
Summer sun is just what the painted turtles crave. At least I think they were all painted turtles.
Even the robins were hunkered down somewhat. Below, one serious adult and a couple youngsters.
There are several Song Sparrows, I always hear them singing, but it’s been hard to see one. I did manage to glimpse this one at a distance.
It was a day for bathing and rearranging feathers, I think, such as the Baltimore Oriole below.
The biggest surprise was to see two young Hooded Mergansers. I had to look them up as I’ve never seen juveniles of this species before but I recognized that they had to be mergansers from their bill and head shape. Nice of them to stop by the Portage. I’m sure they were touring several bodies of water. I didn’t expect them to stay very long as the water is hardly deep enough for diving.
Even the one Northern Cardinal I could get to pose was having a bad hair day.
I caught the Great Blue Heron as it left for another one of its haunts.
A couple more pictures of the Sphinx Moth. The Common Milkweed is in full bloom everywhere including my front yard, where it has smelled so strong I could detect its scent halfway down the block.
I can’t believe it’s taken me the whole week to finish this post. I’ve been very busy at work and that takes a lot out of me. I graduated physical therapy Tuesday night so I am looking forward to having that night free again. If nothing else the knee is improving ever so incrementally and I look forward to not having its excuse to curtail any activity.
Beyond that, I just got back this morning from another visit to the Portage. I hope to be back much sooner with that report. The heat has taken hold for a few days, so I should relish sitting here in the air conditioning. I hope you are safe and cool wherever you are!