Slow Walks through the Portage

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Baltimore Oriole

I have never been a hurry-up-let’s-get-this-over-with birder, but I am certainly moving more slowly these days because of my knee. But life in the slow lane has its advantages and the reduced speed has paid off. Two weeks ago I managed to count 55 species when I visited the Portage for four hours instead of the usual two, and last week with my first group we had 51 species in nearly about the same amount of time due in part to the fact that we got off to a late start because of the weather. Between the two lists I had 73 different species total. Of course it is spring migration, and it is not hard to spend a lot of time when you keep seeing more birds. Needless to say I did not get pictures of them all, or some pictures were useful later only for the purpose of identification. But in spite of having hardly any time or place to bird during the week, I feel as if I have seen some nice migrants in spite of my physical limitations. I took these pictures two weeks ago. I felt bad about not being able to do the Spring Bird Count, but I’m glad I managed to get out.

Breeding birds are back, and the most numerous after the Robins, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches are probably Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

Lots of Indigo Buntings are on site too. Many of them are first-year males like the ones below.

There are also several Warbling Vireos that have set up territories. I usually hear them more than I see them, but I got good views of this individual.

Some Yellow Warblers will likely breed here too.

I don’t think the Portage has breeding Ovenbirds but it was nice to see this one out in the open.

Two more warblers I was able to photograph…but they won’t be staying.

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Northern Parula

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Male American Redstart

My best surprise was to briefly see a Hooded Warbler and manage to get a picture of him. These are far less common. I used to see them on the lakefront occasionally. This was a real treat.

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Hooded Warbler

The Great-Horned Owls appear to have just one owlet but it’s gotten pretty big and last week we saw all three of them all take off from their tree. I took these pictures of junior and mom two weeks ago.

The Downy Woodpeckers are busy.

Migrant thrushes, like the Gray-Cheeked on the left and the Swainson’s on the right, below, are passing through.

I don’t think there are enough places left at the Portage for Tree Swallows to nest.

Goldfinches are in full breeding plumage now.

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On the sparrow front, I found a Chipping Sparrow, a few White-Crowned Sparrows who have all flown north by now, and one hard-to-see Song Sparrow. The Portage is home to breeding Song Sparrows, but I’m not sure about Chipping Sparrows.

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Song Sparrow

As ubiquitous as Red-Winged Blackbirds are, they can still be beautiful.

House Wrens breed at the Portage. They’re always singing a lot, and every once in a while I might even see one… But it always takes me a few repeats to remember their song.

I have one more walk to lead at the Portage this coming Saturday. The last time I checked the weather the prediction was for thunderstorms, but that was the forecast last Saturday and we still managed to dodge the rain and see a lot of birds, so I am hopeful. It should be warmer too, which will add a whole new dimension – mosquitoes – after all the rain. As much as I find mosquitoes a nuisance, I also realize they’re food for a lot of birds.

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A Walk in the Woods

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Northern Shoveler

I’ve been back from Panama for two weeks and I’m still not done going through my pictures. Even staying home instead of going swimming a few times hasn’t gotten it done between software updates…

So I went for a walk at the Portage yesterday even though it was cloudy, because spring migration is upon us, and I wanted to get out with the camera, especially after I forgot to take it with me on Saturday when I joined Illinois Ornithological Society’s trip to lakes in Lake County looking for Common Loons and other waterfowl, named “Loonapalooza” by my friend and the organizer and leader of the trip, David Johnson. I drove for an hour to get to the meeting place only to discover that I had remembered everything (scope, tripod, water bottle, binoculars, backpack, and I thought my brain) but left my best camera with its new lens at home. It never made it out the door. Next time I’m leaving that early in the morning I suppose I should write a list and put “brain” first, camera second… I’m blaming it on my medication, but there’s no need to go there now.

Above all this useless information is a young deer that appeared across the water, came across the bridge and walked almost toward me, very unusual for after-nine-ish in the morning.

Below, a Red-Tailed Hawk flying over.

The good news is I am in love with the new lens, which until recently I didn’t even know existed because there are times when I quit looking for any more camera stuff, but the two guys with cameras on the Panama trip informed me that Canon had finally come out with a new, improved 100-400mm lens. I had stopped using the old one, which I still have, but had hardly any use for. Instead I have been struggling with the monster Tamron lens for the last two years, which was getting harder and harder to carry around and focus. I think that lens might be going on the recycle list too. Because the new Canon 100-400mm lens and my Mark III 5D are really happy together, and an extra 200mm doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a decent picture, especially if you can’t hold the equipment still.

CAGO 4-2-17-0090That said, there’s still only so much you can do with anything in poor light. Like the very cooperative and friendly Golden-Crowned Kinglet below, he was pretty dull and drab yesterday.

GCKI 4-2-17-0263The dead wood in the water was perhaps more suited for the weather. It is transforming into…I’m not sure what bird that resembles on the right, below.

I was happy to see a Belted Kingfisher on the water. Although even he looks gray.

BEKI 4-2-17-0006Sparrows were abundant. White-Throated Sparrows, which are a dime a dozen on the lakefront, seem special here. There were lots and lots of Song Sparrows singing like crazy, even though I managed to capture a silent one. Below these two, a couple hidden shots of a fairly distant Fox Sparrow, whose rufous caught my eye and brightened up the surrounding gloom. And the final sparrow at the bottom, a Chipping Sparrow, is my first one of the season, although I’m sure I heard one in neighborhood last week.

CHSP 4-2-17-0154Lots of woodpeckers but they were hard to get on. Below is a Red-Bellied on the left. The little bird on the right is a Brown Creeper, not a woodpecker, but spends as much time on trees as woodpeckers if not more, and it’s also the first one for me this spring. Click on the pictures to enlarge, and look at how beautifully the creeper blends in.

There was a bench at one end of the water but it has disappeared. However, there are a few other places to sit. I stopped to rest on a boulder that is near one of the information boards, and watched five Canada Geese flying in together and then starting to squabble over positions.

I don’t think I saw Wood Ducks last year, so it was nice to see a pair yesterday. Here’s the guy, his mate was less accommodating.

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Couldn’t resist one more of the Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler 4-2-17-0036Okay, well, tonight I’m going swimming unless there are thunderstorms, and I promise I will finish The Panama Pictures so I can start sharing them with you.

Thanks to everybody for stopping by, for following my inconstant blog. Happy Monday.

Back in the Yard

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The last two Saturdays have been great mornings to work in the yard, last Saturday in particular as it was cool and cloudy, but I have slept in so that by the time I do get out, the heat and humidity begin to creep in, and the day is replete with the rest of Saturday’s routine. But I have managed to take a few more yard pictures before playing piano, swimming, grocery shopping…

The one bloom on the Swamp Milkweed was visited by a Monarch Butterfly last Saturday. I saw the Monarch again yesterday but it did not stay, only flying over the entire yard and right past me a few times, I suppose because the one milkweed blossom is spent and there was little else of interest. Next year, I promise, will be different.

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Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3420There were two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the purple coneflowers last Saturday. They wouldn’t pose together but this one was available.

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And yesterday I finally managed to get a Red Admiral to cooperate.

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Young birds are now in the yard in droves. Last Saturday, they were still begging a lot.

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juvenile House Sparrow

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Juvenile House Finches

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Juvenile House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Last Saturday I had the windows open and heard Chipping Sparrows in the yard. I could not photograph them outside, as they were right by the back door and I would have scared them away, but I managed to get a few pictures through the kitchen window.

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

I suspect there is more than one pair breeding in south Berwyn.

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Adult Chipping Sparrow

Someone else I can only photograph through the window, as she is well attuned to the squeaks of my back doors…

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I discovered this spider last weekend in a shady spot.

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Garden Spider

The front yard is more established this year, one year after its planting. This is the main section, the other smaller portion being on the other side of the front walk. I have seen butterflies now and again but the biggest hit lately was the Sweet Joe-Pye Weed: the bees were literally bathing in it. But this weekend it’s looking rather spent and frazzled. I watered it last night and am hoping we get some rain.

Front Yard

Front Yard

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

I seem to have two types of cardinal flower. The first photograph is from the ones that have been in the backyard for years, and the second from the new one in the front.

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Below is a plant that mystifies me. I have no idea where it came from but it planted itself between two bricks. I don’t recall if it flowered last year but this year it has done a nice job. Even if it is an invasive, it doesn’t appear to be spreading. It’s in one shady spot under the hawthorn. If anybody knows what this is, please let me know.

I don't know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I don’t know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I thought there was something a bit different about this fox squirrel. For sure, it’s a she. The one I am used to seeing all the time has been a male. She is a bit shy, but every bit as polite as he is.

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Invariably dill comes up here and there in the yard. I thought I planted some this year but it didn’t come up where I put it. Nevertheless a few plants have managed to grow and I leave them hoping they will attract female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies to lay eggs. I was very happy to see this caterpillar yesterday. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these in the yard. I’m going to plant more dill for next year too.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

I did manage to work in the yard even though it was nearly midday: it wasn’t buggy and my trees keep me cool. At any rate, it’s looking a little tamer I suppose because we haven’t had too much rain lately so the weeds actually stay pulled for a while. I think I will start photographing and cataloguing all the weeds before I yank them out next weekend, in part because I see them often enough elsewhere, and in the process of looking them up I will learn about others. I know a lot of them by sight but have forgotten some of their names. The macro lens is making a nerd out of me.

I will be back later with a few photos from my weekend excursion.

 

TGIF and Miscellaneous Observations

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal's Lodges

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal’s Lodges, Uvalde County, Texas

It’s been a long week short on inspiration, and the weekend promises to be full of rain so I will not be birding far away, if at all. As it turns out I have made plans to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen for a while. Perfect timing to include a visit to my dentist as well. My People Weekend. And with the coming July Polar Vortex, I am already dreaming of doing yard work without sweat.

I took off work early yesterday to be on hand for the tow truck driver who eventually showed up and whisked away the old car. This has been one event foremost in my mind, of things I really wanted to get done. The Taurus started happily after sitting idle in my backyard for 3 months, as if looking forward to its next destination. The cell phone picture below shows its better side with the intact side mirror. Maybe you can see the rust underneath where the side panel fell off if you click on the picture.

Final Farewell

Final Farewell

Goodbye, Old Paint

Goodbye, Old Paint

Like Gregory the dachshund my parents gave away to an adoring childless couple after my brother was born, the car didn’t even look back at me. I suspect the car knows it’s going to a better place too.

After I came in from the yard, with the cell phone still handy, I took a picture of some of the finches waiting in the kitchen for me to resume the snack service. They seemed oblivious to cell phone pictures, but I still have hopes of stalking them with the real camera, which they resist, at an opportune moment. The four newest Society Finches (Bella, Johnnie, Franklin and Marty) are huddled together on the right with a male Zebra Finch (it could be Zorro), and one Spice Finch is preening himself at the far left.

Finches on the Pot Rack

Finches on the Pot Rack

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I managed to put my pictures from our Texas trip back on the laptop and started going through them, which explains the Roadrunner at the top and the rest below. There will be more to come as I rediscover them. It’s more fun to go back two-plus months in time than I thought it would be.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow possibly shopping for nesting material...

Barn Swallow shopping for nesting material.

Chipping Sparrows were everywhere.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

And it seemed after we saw the first Clay-Colored Sparrow, by the end of the trip, they too were everywhere.

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow

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I went to check our ebird list for April 30th when we birded around Neal’s Lodges that morning, and the Blue Grosbeak was not on it. I have now added it to the list.

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

I will be back with more discoveries from the Texas trip and a bird song or two.

Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend.

After the Flood, Part Two

Flooding at Emiquon

Flooding at Emiquon

So as not to forget the biggest weather event of the year so far, at least around here… here are a few more photos from last weekend’s Emiquon expedition, part of the Illinois Audubon Spring Celebration. In the picture above, the water beyond the first row of trees is the Illinois River, which was at 26.8 feet: flood stage is 14 feet. Normally the depth of water on the near side of the trees would not be there…instead there would be more puddles and shorebird habitat.

Spoon River College Arboretum

Spoon River College Arboretum

So Saturday morning instead of the original plan, we visited Spoon River College Arboretum, which is a beautiful 10-acre tract of natural habitat and wood chip trails. I saw my first-of-year Wood Thrush early on in the walk.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Brown-Headed Cowbirds, more often heard than seen, but this one was glistening when the sun made it through the clouds for a few moments.

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

One of many Chipping Sparrows…

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

At some point we found a Blue-Headed Vireo, but he was elusive.

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Blue-Headed Vireo

I remember walking through a crop field to get to the parking lot as the walk was winding down, so this must be it.Field IMG_6907_1

After lunch we went out again to see as much of Emiquon as was possible. This road was washed out.Flooded Road IMG_7029_1

Blue-Winged Teal were everywhere.

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-Winged Teal

And invariably some were flushed. But then you get to see the blue on the wing that they’re named for…

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Not much more than the profile of a Double-Crested Cormorant, but it is distinctive.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

Along the side of a road going back to Dickson Mounds, which if the mounds had not been underwater might have made for interesting photographs…there was a lone Snow Goose.

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Snow Goose

On Sunday morning, we decided to head home instead of go farther out of our way for yet more flooding… so we stopped by Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights on the way back home. Tufted Titmouses (Titmice? Titmeese?) were everywhere.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

And although this is out of chronological order, maybe it’s a good place to stop: a perfectly-formed flowering Magnolia tree.

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Tomorrow morning I am participating in my first Spring Bird Count. Wish me luck getting up at 2:30 a.m. 🙂

Before the Deluge

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The picture above was taken on April 14 at the Chicago Portage. There had been some rain, but the deluge was yet to come. The colors were still muted, with hardly any green. After the Portage, I continued on to part of Ottawa Trail Woods for the first time, searching for signs of spring.

Female Ruddy Duck

Female Ruddy Duck

I was a bit surprised to see this lone female Ruddy Duck at the Portage, napping. A little farther down stream were Blue-Winged Teal. Perhaps this couple was looking for a nesting spot.

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-Winged Teal

The Canada Goose below was sleeping peacefully on her nest, incubating her brood. But I am afraid she has probably been washed out by all the rain that followed.

Canada Goose on nest

Canada Goose on nest

An early female Red-Winged Blackbird was sitting quietly off to the side.

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Ruby-Crowned and Golden-Crowned Kinglets were everywhere. This particular Ruby-Crowned seemed to be having a little trouble controlling his crown in the wind. But in the second photo it really looks like a Crown sitting on top of his head.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

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Here’s a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, for comparison.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

The sunshine, which had been in short supply, brought the turtles out of their sleep. This is but a small group: there were at least thirty.

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A freight train crosses the Des Plaines River.

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This Chipping Sparrow disappears right into the tree colors surrounding him.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers almost blend into the birch trees.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Oh, just one more turtle. I couldn’t resist.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

At the end of the day, the emblematic first warbler of spring, the Yellow-Rumped, still vies for my attention.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

More to come…after the downpours.

 

The Other Half of Last Sunday

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

After I visited the Chicago Portage last Sunday, I went to McGinnis Slough, another of my favorite haunts, to see what was up besides the wind.

Although the big draw for McGinnis is the slough, often most species are too far away to photograph over the phragmites. With a scope one could see lots of Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Canvasback, Bufflehead and two Trumpeter Swans, to name a few species. But the best picture I could get was of two happy Mallards.

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On land, I did see two Eastern Bluebirds. Here’s one.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

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Soon there will be Wood Ducks hanging out in the backwater sections of the slough.

Just like last time I was here, I found one warbler, a Yellow-Rumped, looking a bit spiffier.

Yellow-Rumped Warble

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And then when I thought I had seen everything, a small flock of Chipping Sparrows appeared, foraging in the grass where a path is cut to walk to the south end of the slough.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

I got lucky when one Chipping Sparrow flew up into a nearby tree and decided to model all his sides for me. The last photo might make an excellent quiz shot. 🙂

Chipping Sparrow McGinnis IMG_4687_1Chipping Sparrow McGinnis IMG_4688_1Chipping Sparrow McGinnis IMG_4692_1