It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.
I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.
The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.
Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.
Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.
Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise.
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.
Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17
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.
Closer 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.
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.
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.
If 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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.
McGinnis 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!
I wrote most of this last night…It’s hard to believe–as I sit here with the windows closed not because it is too hot but because it is unseasonably cold outside–that Sunday was hot and buggy. Every time I stopped to get a photograph or look about for telltale movement, I was sampled by some mosquito accessing a bug-spray-free spot on me. At some point one merely gives up or gives in. The insects know the end is nigh for them, so they partied hardy, like 1999.
Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage
Juvenile Cedar Waxwing
The birds certainly know something is up. Large flocks of Blackbirds, Robins, Cedar Waxwings and Mourning Doves assembled at the Chicago Portage last Sunday. I also had perhaps ten Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, finally, although it was still not possible to photograph them.
American Robin, Portage
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Of course I was looking for more warblers. There were not very many. Three views of a Magnolia Warbler…
I sometimes do not know how the camera finds these birds when I can barely see them. A few views of a Confusing Fall Warbler…see if you can find the bird in this tangle! At first I thought it was a Bay-Breasted, but then on closer inspection it is likely a Blackpoll. We affectionately refer to these quandaries as Baypoll Warblers. (You will have to click on the pictures to enlarge them.)
Likely Blackpoll Warbler
Among a few other species present, I managed to catch a Tennessee Warbler and an Ovenbird.
Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage
Ovenbird, Chicago Portage
My hunch that there might be more warbler action at Ottawa Trail, over by the Des Plaines River, did not prove to have any merit whatsoever. There were fewer birds altogether. But I did get a rather nice look at a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Juvenile Indigo Buntings were present in both places and also Gray-Cheeked Thrush, which is a less common thrush to see.
Juvenile Indigo Bunting
Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage
It was only fitting to have a Red-Tailed Hawk fly by and put its stamp on the end of my outing.
Red-Tailed Hawk, Ottawa Trail Woods
Tomorrow I plan on going on Chicago Ornithological Society’s walk at Columbus Park. I haven’t been there in a couple years, even though it’s not far away. It will be interesting to see what we find. I was really looking forward to the original plan, which was to go to Humboldt Park as I have never been there, but the Chicago Park District has organized a weekend event called “Riot Fest” there, which makes conditions less promising for the birds and those who watch them.
Tempering the “Riot Fest” and maybe even our bird walk will be the forecast for early rain and cloudy skies! We are cloudy, rainy and in the 50’s today, so I can get in the mood when I go out later. Oh well.
Sunday morning I got up early before the predicted heat ensued and went to the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook…
because I felt like I hadn’t had a proper Eastern Bluebird yet this year. I found only one Bluebird but he did not let me down. He even chirped a slight song but it was not strong enough to beat out the surrounding chorus.
There were a few other birds on the wire…
Juvenile Barn Swallow
The first bird, the parking lot bird, if you will, was a Great Blue Heron flying over.
Great Blue Heron
There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings moving through. I caught one laggard.
But the dominant species overall was Red-Winged Blackbird.
And the Blackbirds were no less shy taking on Turkey Vultures than they had been the Red-Tailed Hawks at McGinnis a couple weeks ago.
Turkey Vulture chased by Red-Winged Blackbirds
Indeed it was a little dicey walking around the paths. Being the height of breeding season, the Red-Wingeds were not in the mood to tolerate my presence. Click on the picture below to see the spider in this female Red-Winged Blackbird’s bill.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
The Sanctuary is a small place, but it managed to make the House Sparrow below look exotic.
After about an hour in Oak Brook, I decided it was time to head back east and check in at the Portage.
The water levels are high, in large part, I suspect, to the felling of so many trees. There were puddles directly in front of me on the path, visited by a Killdeer…
and a Song Sparrow…
There were Warbling Vireos singing up a storm here, as they had been at Dorothy and Sam’s place too. In the sample below, the Warbling Vireo is the very busy-sounding song going on behind all the other noises.
Juvenile Wood Duck
The Portage was full of juvenile birds, like the Wood Duck above. I was glad to see a Green Heron fly over and another, albeit far away, ensconced foraging over the water. I am glad the Green Herons are back.
And after not seeing any Mallards the last two or three times I visited, now there is an entire family.
Also ubiquitous at the Portage are House Wrens. There were at least four males singing on territories. Here’s one of them.
Juvenile American Robin
There are always loads of American Robins at the Portage, and now there will be even more as the youngsters start figuring things out.
The big surprise, perhaps, was on the other side of the fence. I followed the path that leads down to the train tracks and the Des Plaines River. I stopped halfway to peer into the bottomlands and saw a Great Egret. I think this is the first time I have seen a Great Egret at the Portage.
Behind the Portage looking down to the Des Plaines River
Changes in habitat create subtle changes in the creatures that use it. It will no doubt continue to be an interesting year at the Chicago Portage.
When I went back to my car, I met Adrian and Stella, whom I have seen walking their dogs at the Portage. We had a delightful visit and I look forward to seeing them again.
And now I must get back to work, looking for my old car title, and going through more photographs. The weather forecast is for rain and thunderstorms much of the week so there may be hope for inside endeavors.
The past week and a half has been catch-as-catch-can on the birding front while juggling all those other things that get in the way of it, like work, home and sleep. I have taken a lot of pictures and in the process have several unfinished posts which are barely started.
So while trying to regain some balance in my life I thought I’d show you pictures of Ospreys I took yesterday and today. Seeing an Osprey is always special. Seeing and photographing these magnificent birds in two different locations on consecutive days is almost too good to be true. I will never utter the words, “Oh no, not another Osprey.”
The picture at the top of the post is from the Chicago Botanic Garden. More images from that outing will appear in a future post. Weather-wise, what a difference a day makes. Yesterday morning was for the most part sunny and beautiful.
Chicago Botanic Garden
The following images are from this morning, under intense cloud cover. I started out a bit later and it didn’t matter, since there was very little activity until I got down to the Des Plaines River area at Ottawa Trail Woods.
Osprey on the Des Plaines River
If you click on the picture above you can see some fishermen across the river and the Osprey flying over. I followed the bird with the camera and prayed.
This bird circled back and flew over again.
I have to wonder what these powerful raptors think of somebody like me standing below, pointing a big lens up at them. They seem so nonchalant about the paparazzi.
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
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.
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
An early female Red-Winged Blackbird was sitting quietly off to the side.
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.
Here’s a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, for comparison.
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.
A freight train crosses the Des Plaines River.
This Chipping Sparrow disappears right into the tree colors surrounding him.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers almost blend into the birch trees.
Oh, just one more turtle. I couldn’t resist.
At the end of the day, the emblematic first warbler of spring, the Yellow-Rumped, still vies for my attention.
It’s been raining on more than off all week, so the farther I get from last Sunday’s excursion, the harder it is to visualize.
The Chicago Portage is still asleep but starting to wake up now with the rain and intermittent spells of warmer temperatures.
Turtle sunning itself
Last week I purchased a Roland hand-held recorder to use in the field. I have had a Marantz with a very sensitive microphone for years, but it’s a lot to carry and I wanted something more portable. I figured by now technology had caught up with me. I’m still learning how to use it, but I managed to get a few sounds.
The picture above is not of the Goldfinch that is singing–albeit in the background overshadowed by a Red-Winged blackbird–in the clip below. The actual singer, although I did photograph him, was rather far away.
This was our songster.
A bit later there was a wonderful Song Sparrow singing, and although he wouldn’t let me get the classic shot while he was performing, he did give me a nice picture anyway.
I will keep experimenting with the recorder and from time to time share the best songs with you.
Just to taunt me, two Great Blue Herons flew over, followed by three Monk Parakeets. I managed to get a fleeting picture of one Great Blue.
Great Blue Heron
This huge fallen tree just next to the path that leads down to the Des Plaines River behind the Portage was recently dismantled. Part of its core looks diseased, making it easy prey for the strong winds.
Not too hard to find a Red-Winged Blackbird here, singing his head off.
Fox Sparrows are still at the Portage.
And the Downies are busy as usual.
upside-down Downy Woodpecker
I have seen an Eastern Phoebe almost every day this week somewhere.
The water levels should be higher this week after all the rain. If we get another break in the clouds I’ll go back and check.