Surprises at the Chicago Portage

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Sora behind duckweed-covered Mallards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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White-Throated Sparrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

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

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Lasting Impressions

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

Somewhere the images I manage to capture of birds over the years accumulate in well-organized collages in my mind’s eye, and from those conglomerations comes empathy for the individuals of the any species and an appreciation for their irreplaceable contributions to life on the planet.

I haven’t seen many species of late, due  somewhat to my inability to frequent the lakefront parks, but when I revisit some of these photographs I took from weekends ago at the Chicago Portage and Ottawa Trail, I am reminded of how special birds surprisingly show up–because birds are creatures of flight, they can fly and land anywhere, and no ultralight aircraft will ever be a match for a bird–and I am lucky to be alive to see them. Like the Golden-Winged Warbler below that popped up at Ottawa Trail on September 9. I couldn’t get great pictures but I am grateful I got to see such a beautiful and sometimes rare bird.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below must be a youngster. Colors aren’t quite set yet, still has a fluffy, unfinished look about him.

I never tire of seeing a Magnolia Warbler. Below is either a female or a young male.

Flycatchers were still around during the first days of our heat wave, which is thankfully over except now we are approaching drought. The facing pictures of the Phoebe below were from the Portage and the one below them from Ottawa Trail.

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Eastern Phoebe

Usually I only hear Pewees but that day I got to see this one.

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Eastern Wood-Pewee

Swainson’s Thrushes were abundant but not always easy to see. After going back and forth I have decided the larger picture below is of a Gray-Cheeked Thrush.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And the last of the young Indigo Buntings were preparing to leave the Portage.

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Indigo Buntings

I have never seen a Chipmunk sit still long enough for me to point a camera lens at it. This is worth sharing.

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Eastern Chipmunk

More recent memories to come and if I see a few more migrants before the passerine migration is over, I will try to share them with you.

Fall Migration Begins

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Tennessee Warbler

There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.

Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.

The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.

The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.

On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.

GBHE and GREG Portage 09-02-17-3862Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.

INBU Portage 09-03-17-4235INBU Portage 09-02-17-3666Likely INBU Portage 09-02-17-3973INBU Portage 09-02-17-3901Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.

So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.

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Warbling Vireo

The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.

Portage 09-03-17-4557Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.

The shelf fungus seemed a bit diminished on this visit.

 

Shelf Fungus Portage 09-02-17-3790Below, three first-year birds.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

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European Starling

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Mourning Dove

The cardinal is a likely candidate for first-year status as well.

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Northern Cardinal

Another view of the Portage, showing off all the native wildflower planting done lately.

Portage 09-02-17-4016I couldn’t decide which photograph of the Common Yellowthroat below to include, so here are both.

COYT Portage 09-02-17-3671COYT Portage 09-02-17-3670And one more of a Tennessee Warbler, adorning Giant Ragweed. Tennessees were most numerous yesterday.

TEWA Portage 09-03-17-4459Apologies for being absent of late. My work situation is in flux, which creates a different kind of distraction. But I promise I’ll be back soon with an update from the yard. It’s been cool enough overnight to leave the windows open all weekend. I think Fall is my Favorite Season.

 

Remnants from the 4th of July Weekend

Here are a few remnant pictures from the Cook County Forest Preserves I visited over the weekend. We’re enduring a hot spell right now with high humidity and while rain looms in the forecast, it’s pretty unpredictable. As much as we could use the rain, I also expect the timing of it might interfere with any as-yet-unformed weekend plans to go birding Sunday. I might just swing by the Schoolhouse and look for the Prairie Warbler again tomorrow.

Below is a Tufted Titmouse from last weekend’s visit to the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Actually the first sound to greet me was that of Bullfrogs. I’ve included a recording below the pictures.

And below, a couple Eastern Towhees – a youngster barely visible on the left, and an adult male on the right.

American Robins are everywhere, but predominately at the Chicago Portage which is where I dropped in a bit late on Tuesday morning.

Also at the Portage, a fly-by Killdeer.

Blue Jays were everywhere too, normally heard but not seen, but they were unusually visible at McGinnis Slough.

Yes, below is another Red-Winged Blackbird chasing, this time, a Red-Tailed Hawk, but the hawk has a snake of some sort in its talons.

Enjoying the low water levels at McGinnis were several Great Blue Herons.

Also finding things to do, a Gray Catbird and one of two Raccoons swimming in the shallow water.

At the Chicago Portage, where the week before I had no trace of Green Herons, I saw this one, although I doubt they are nesting here.

The Caspian Tern below was over the water at the Little Red Schoolhouse. I also saw a tern at McGinnis but not as clearly.

At the Portage, Baltimore Orioles feeding young.

Below, an interesting grass and a female Brown-Headed Cowbird at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

And another Baltimore Oriole, this one a female, with food for her brood.BAOR 07-04-17-5338If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve a reward. I invite you to enjoy the beautiful song of a Wood Thrush recorded at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Thank you to all of you reading and following my blog! Wednesday was the anniversary of my 6th year doing this thing and was also my birthday. This is convenient for me as I have a hard time remembering dates in general so the more things I can associate with my date of birth, which I have to remember, the better.

Timing Is Everything

GBHE & RWBL McGinnis 07-02-17-4884I got up early this morning so I could go to the Little Red Schoolhouse Forest Preserve and then stop by McGinnis Slough. I haven’t been to the Schoolhouse in a long time so I made sure I covered every inch of it. I never heard or saw a Prairie Warbler, which would have been a life bird. I was satisfied to see a couple Tufted Titmice and to record a beautiful song of a Wood Thrush. In all, it was a pleasant visit for an hour and a half.

The Slough is hardly a slough, the water levels have receded and it is covered with plant life, which has made it less attractive to a number of species I would have expected to see there. But there were several Great Blue Herons.

I got home just before noon and threw myself in the shower to wash off the insect repellant, had a little beet salad and farofa for lunch (this has become one of my favorite combinations), and quickly fell asleep on the futon. I was too tired to think about whatever pictures I might have taken. A quick nap, I thought, and then some piano practice and cleaning the dining room, as last night we did the living room, complete with almost a dozen new residents: I’m making sure there are no more babies in the making for at least a week…

When I checked my email, it became apparent that someone heard, saw and photographed the Prairie Warbler at the Schoolhouse yesterday, because it made the Rare Bird Alert which comes to my mailbox. That was disheartening. But I managed to get up the energy to download my pictures from the camera and start going through them, and that’s when I found this wonderful series of a Red-Winged Blackbird harassing a Great Blue Heron.

I had been sitting on the picnic table that overlooks the slough from the northern end of the preserve, and suddenly these two characters were in front of me. I hadn’t even remembered taking these pictures until I saw them – that’s how quickly it all happened. One cannot plan for these things. The only thing I changed today was I finally set up my Mark III so I no longer have to use the shutter button to focus. I had done this already to my 70D over a month ago. I don’t know if it had anything to do with anything but I just feel really lucky to have taken these pictures.

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The Red-Winged Blackbird’s shadow makes two of him on the heron’s back!

Weather permitting, I’m going to Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County tomorrow. I had already planned to go, before someone found a King Rail there. That would be another life bird for me, but I’m not going with any expectations. Timing is everything.

Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

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Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

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Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

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Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

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Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

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Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Bullfrog Break

Bullfrog 4-15-17-0899Bullfrog 4-15-17-0886A few weeks ago I took my car to the dealer for its annual checkup and then went to McGinnis Slough to see how spring was progressing. As I walked through the path next to the marshy area the grass started to move, and I determined there had to be frogs hopping into the water out of sight. After stopping  and waiting for a while, I was able to finally see some Bullfrogs and photograph them. They were capable of moving so quickly, I’m glad a few sat still for me.

Not a lot of birds present yet, but the Song Sparrows were abundant.

This female Red-Winged Blackbird was an indication that some breeding birds are ready to get down to business.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Always nice to see a male Wood Duck even as he started swimming away from me.

Still seeing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets even three weeks after I took these pictures. I suspect the cold winds still pushing down from the north is keeping them from progressing to their breeding grounds. Have not been able to get one to reveal its Ruby Crown.

The male Belted Kingfisher below was busy.

We’re a lot leafier now, but the trees were just beginning to show some green for the robin below.

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American Robin

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There were likely more American Coots like the one at left, but I didn’t see a lot of them even skulking around in the marsh.

 

 

 

As I was panning on the Red-Tailed Hawk below it flew into the sun and even though it was somewhat cloudy that was not something I was planning to do, but I like the way it turned out.

RT Hawk in the Sun 4-15-17-0838One more Bullfrog shot. Who knew they could be so pretty?

Bullfrogs 4-15-17-0904And as promised a few more from the Science March.

Hope to be back soon with a report from the indoor crowd, the Spring Bird Count, more from Panama, Migration Central…wherever the wind blows me next (it’s unseasonably chilly and windy today).