Lazy Labor Day Weekend

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Common Grackle

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.

Deer 9-2-18-8770

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Ovenbird

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.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

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.

GBHE 9-2-18-8881I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…

HOWR 9-2-18-8811So 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.

GRCA 9-2-18-9002All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…

img_2910In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.

Baby Snapping Turtle 9-2-18-9026There 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.

AMRO 9-2-18-8840Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…

Monarch 9-2-18-8941I 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.

Montrose and My CF Card Snafu

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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.

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Winter Wren

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.

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Tree Swallow

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.

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Swamp Sparrow

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.

COGR 4-9-17-0448

Common Grackle

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.”)

BHCB and RWBL 4-9-17-0499

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…)

AMRO 4-9-17-0534

American Robin

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.

Coyote 4-9-17-0568I 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.

P.S. Three more days until the March For Science!

City Migrants – Fall Migration 2016

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?

starlings-9-9-2016-lse-park-0604I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.

cogr-9-16-2016-lse-molting-1005Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.

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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.

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Hermit Thrush

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.

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Bay-Breasted Warbler…?

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.

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Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.

gcki-9-29-2016-lse-park-1873On 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.

black-and-white-warbler-9-29-2016-lse-park-2118

Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.

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Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

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.

amcr-9-22-2016-loop-1301amcr-9-27-2016-lse-park-1798

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. 🙂

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

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.

Ring-Necked Pheasant on Hebron Trail 6-26-2016-3207

There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

Grackle and Brown Thrasher 6-26-2016-3225

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.

Willow-Alder Flycatcher 6-26-2016-3214

The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

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.

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American Goldfinch

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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.

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Song Sparrow

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.

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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.

Sandhill Crane 6-26-2016-3242

All Thawed Out

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup

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 3-9-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice close to shore on 3-12-15

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

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, 2-12-15

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!)

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

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

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

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

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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

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.

RBGU 3-18-15-6524 RBGU 3-17-15-6562And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.

COGR 3-17-15-6648I 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..

Strolling Through Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

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

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.

HETH LSE 9-10-14-1676

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.

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Hermit

Juncos have shown up here and there, although not in numbers yet.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

The fountains have been shut down for the winter, leaving their rocky bottoms free for exploration.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

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.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

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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

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

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.)

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

As it turns out I did not see Stephanie again (turning in ebird lists I was tempted to note “no opera singers today” but restrained myself). Chances are her rehearsal schedule and my work schedule kept us from running into each other again. But listening to the Operathon on WFMT on Saturday, October 11th, there was an offer for two tickets to any opera, and a choice of dates, with seats on the first floor, for a donation, the amount of which was much less than the cost of the tickets. This was too good to pass up: it would be wonderful to use this as an opportunity to see Stephanie sing. I have heard her on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, but was no longer a subscriber by the time she started singing at the Lyric.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

So I got tickets for opening night for Il Trovatore, an opera I have never seen. I am taking my friend from the former workplace: it will be her first opera. The way this whole thing has turned out really feels like kismet or karma or something.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Ultimately I must give the birds credit for everything. They continue to enrich my life. The birds paid attention to the music, then enticed me into green spaces every day I can manage to hang out with them. The birds know a bird person, and I think kindred spirits do too. One more time, in an entirely new context, the birds have returned the favor and my attention to the music.

WTSP LSE 9-9-14-1517

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

Juv RWBB Portage-8-17-2014-3822

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.