There wasn’t an awful lot going on at McGinnis on my last visit, but the sight of two Sandhill Cranes foraging in the lawn right off the parking lot automatically made it a special day.
I guess McGinnis is always good for a Great Blue Heron or two. But I’m surprised I haven’t seen any Great Egrets lately.
Not a lot of swallows that day but I managed to capture this Tree Swallow.
This Song Sparrow was almost completely hidden. We compromised.
Common Grackles are here and there.
Perhaps the second nicest surprise was to see a first-year male Orchard Oriole right before I left.
The lack of light didn’t offer much contrast with these raptors flying overhead.
While I was kind of hoping to see a colt or two with the Sandhills, which I never have here, I did see two Canada Geese in the same spot as the Sandhills were earlier – and they were carefully watching one lone gosling.
Providing additional interest, a Red-Winged Blackbird trying to make sense of a piece of ice cream cone.
I am always impressed by a Robin taking a pose.
I haven’t been able to think about much besides work lately. That – and the burrowing rats in my yard. I just removed all the feeders except for the hummingbird and oriole feeders – for 10 days. The city has provided an exterminator to discourage the rats, and I can only hope for elimination as up until the pandemic, they were never around. But adding insult to injury is the drought. I take it personally, I don’t know why – but the thought of weather like Phoenix, Arizona has never been attractive to me. Nothing against anyone who loves hot, dry weather. It has its place. But not here.
Thanks for letting me rant. I do have more cheerful posts in store and what should be a fun event I will share with you in the next few weeks.
The Memorial Day weekend this year offered three beautiful days of birding at the Portage. I had no desire to go anywhere else; rather, I was interested to see what different birds I might discover each day, enhanced by the fact that a lot of birds were finally on the move to their summer homes. Here are photographs from Saturday, May 23rd.
While I think this was the last day I saw the male Scarlet Tanagers, there were plenty of Indigo Buntings. I am not aware of Scarlet Tanagers breeding at the Portage, but the Indigo Buntings certainly are a presence now every year. I suspect some of them that return may have hatched at the Portage.
I don’t know where the Green Herons are hanging out – likely on the Des Plaines River or perhaps across the railroad tracks in the low-lying water-collecting areas of Ottawa Trail – but I still see them fly over nearly every visit. I was fortunate enough to capture this one in flight.
This Scarlet Tanager looks orange compared to the other one. I imagine it is a function of the intensity and angle of the light.
Not too many warblers left…
Goldfinches are everywhere but not as easy to see.
There were plenty of Baltimore Orioles and they looked like they were busy tending to their nesting sites.
I finally managed to capture a singing Song Sparrow.
The turtles never miss a sunny day.
I love this Common Grackle posing, capturing the epitome of grackleness.
I fear for Black-capped Chickadees. Lately I have seen only one at a time.
One of many House Wrens.
A slow-motion Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Gray Catbirds are more often heard than seen but I was fortunate enough to enjoy both with this one.
A questioning look from the Great-crested Flycatcher below.
Perhaps this European Starling had just taken a bath in the last photo.
I have seen more Eastern Wood-Pewee’s this year. There’s even one in my neighborhood.
Subsequent visits gave me much better views than the Red-Eyed Vireo below.
Then, most exciting of all, as I was sitting down and contemplating leaving, I heard and then saw the Red-Headed Woodpecker below. I have been waiting to see this species for an entire year. I wonder if this is the same one that I have seen on rare occasions only.
I have no idea what kind of caterpillar this is but it was my last subject as I left for the day.
i will be back with Days 2 and 3 which were also quite birdy. My next visit to the Portage will likely be more challenging but I will continue visiting to keep track of the emerging families. I hope we humans find some peaceful solutions. The days are getting so very long now.
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 hadn’t been to Montrose Point – the Magic Hedge – for years, so I thought it was a good idea when my friend Susan suggested we meet there on my one free Sunday morning this month, which turned out to be Palm Sunday on the calendar, for those of you who relate to that. It was a fine day, and not overly crowded with friendly birders or photographers, which can happen later in the season with warbler migration.
I was pleased to discover that the paths are now more clearly marked and the natural areas roped off, which likely makes the birds feel more secure.
Unfortunately I only have maybe half the pictures I took, because I neglected to make sure they had all transferred off the camera that takes compact flash (“CF”) cards as well as SD cards.
While I was in Panama I discovered that I could no longer transfer pictures off a CF card reader to the laptop, so I had to wait until I got home to find the patch cord that came with the Mark III 5D and transfer them directly from the camera. Something has apparently changed in the software and I wonder if the plan is to render CF cards obsolete.
All that said, while I was transferring my Montrose pictures, the laptop appeared to be finished ingesting them and I disconnected the camera and wiped the card clean. Only when I went to process did I realize I was missing the last hour or so of photos that I took.
I was mourning this loss for days because I had some great shots and they were gone forever. But I also knew the loss would be minimized the sooner I took more pictures, and told myself it was a learning experience. (“What’s your favorite song?” “Uh, I guess the one I just wrote.”)
Brown-Headed Cowbirds and one female Red-Winged Blackbird
I will never reformat a CF card, or an SD card, for that matter, again before I check to make sure I have transferred everything off of it. (Repeat after me…)
After some deliberation it appears all the thrushes we saw were Hermit Thrushes, below.
One generous individual pointed out to us the female Coyote below, who otherwise faded into her surroundings.
I won’t elaborate on what is missing from these pictures after we saw the coyote… I’ll be back soon with more from Panama, just needed to put this to rest.
If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until after fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him, of “what a beautiful bird you are.”
First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.
Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)
Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.
Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.
Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?
I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.
Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.
Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.
Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.
Two Blackpoll Warblers…
Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.
Two more Blackpolls below.
And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…
and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).
And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.
My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler
Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.
On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.
I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.
The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.
A late Magnolia.
Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.
I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.
I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day. 🙂
I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.
(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)
I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.
On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.
There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.
And birds drying off after the rain.
Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.
And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.
The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.
Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
Male Red-Winged Blackbird
The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.
Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.
Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.
After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.
We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.
I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.
The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.
I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.
I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.
Even though last week was consistently warmer than the weeks before, it still took a long time to turn the lakefront from ice to water. Some smaller bodies of water are still frozen, but Lake Michigan, at least on the Chicago shore, is now open to ducks. However, as soon as they leave, if not before — although I’m sure the presence of ducks is not the trigger for this event — the yacht club will start putting out the buoys for the boats.
Below is a little photographic ice check timeline.
Ice on 3-9-15
Ice on 3-10-15
No ice this part of the harbor on 3-12-15 (same dock as 3-9 above)
But ice still farther out on 3-12-15
Of course the light was great on the days when there was not much to photograph but ice.
Canada Geese on the ice, 3-12-15
And even as the ice seemed to be melting steadily all week, on Friday the 13th, as luck would have it, the ice was right up to the shoreline again. I suspect that all the ice that was farther out had floated in to the harbor.
Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)
After the warming weekend, though, ducks were beginning to show up close enough to look at, even if the light wasn’t so wonderful.
Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15
Greater Scaup 3-16-15
And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.
Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15
By the middle of the week there were some more ducks in the harbor.
Common Goldeneye 3-18-15
A pair of Common Goldeneyes.
I’ve taken better photos of Red-Breasted Mergansers but I like these guys so much I can’t resist posting this one anyway. After all, I’ve likely never taken his picture before.
Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15
The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.
And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.
I haven’t been able to get out every day this week but I’ll continue to go when I can and I look forward to documenting whatever arrives..
Up until the arrival of the famous Harris’s Sparrow in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden, I was routinely spending my late afternoon lunch hours in Lake Shore East Park. The two parks are not very far away from each other, but there is much less foot or tourist traffic in Lake Shore East Park, so I have been going there more often. Which is not to say it lacks people. There are frequently people walking their dogs or children in baby strollers.
Hermit Thrushes – I counted 11 individuals at one time (here’s 4 of them)
I have been trying to write this post since October 9. On that day, the most numerous birds in the park were predictably White-Throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes. The Hermit Thrushes were the largest group I have ever seen. Even going back the next day I counted 12 of them.
Perhaps you’ve seen Robins pull worms out of the earth, but this is the first time I’ve caught a Hermit Thrush in the act.
Juncos have shown up here and there, although not in numbers yet.
The fountains have been shut down for the winter, leaving their rocky bottoms free for exploration.
Other birds I saw that day were two Brown Creepers and an American Redstart. I did not get photographs of them, though. So here’s a couple more of Hermit Thrushes. The remaining pictures except for the last one are from October 1, but they were also taken in Lake Shore East Park.
But my most pleasant encounter on October 9 was a human one. Soon after I arrived at the park, a woman walking her dog approached me and asked about my camera equipment. This is the second time this month I have met people this way: Canon must have put some new elixir in the 70D! We got to talking about photography and birds and then she let it slip that she was from the East Coast and amazed to see a Redstart in this small park in the city. She said she was in town to sing at the opera.
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park
A brief cloud of Opera Guilt wafted over me. (I was a subscriber for several years but gave it up along with my other subscriptions a few years ago because I realized I no longer had the time or energy to do everything, so it was time to focus on birds and music.) When I told her the birds have taken over my life she understood. Then I thought to myself surely I should maybe recognize her but you rarely get to see an opera singer out of costume. I asked, and she said she was Stephanie Blythe. I confirmed later that she is singing Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera. I didn’t faint, but I will say I haven’t had a brush with fame in many, many years…!
Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park
Stephanie stopped me again to ask me about a bird or two she had seen (one turned out to be one of the Creepers I saw later after I talked to her) and I felt so lucky to have made her acquaintance. She also seemed happy to have found a kindred spirit. But as excited as I was to have met her, I was reluctant to write about it, right away. I didn’t want her to be mobbed by opera fanatics. (In retrospect, I’m thinking very few people even know the park exists.)