Spring Preview: Columbus Park

I had planned to write a post before my departure for Big Bend but it didn’t happen. Now I am back from an amazing trip, but even though I have started processing my pictures, it will probably take me a couple of weeks given the busy schedule I am returning to, so I will see if I can manage this post for the moment.

I did a Columbus Park walk on the Saturday before I left, and it was to witness the first hint of migrating birds, but our spring has been anything but spring-like, with snow occurring the next day and from what I hear, another wet, fluffy snowfall the Saturday before my return. Yet I’m planning on putting out the hummingbird feeders tomorrow morning. C’mon, it’s May!

The big wading and diving birds were easiest to spot… It was particularly entertaining to watch the Double-Crested Cormorants drying off in the sun. Maybe the Canada Goose thought I was trying to take its picture.

We had several Wood Ducks, but this was perhaps the closest view I got of a male swimming in front of a female Mallard.

A little army of hungry Golden-Crowned Kinglets appeared on the grass in front of us at one point, reminding me of the very first time I ever saw them years ago doing the same thing on the lawn at Millennium Park.

The female Belted Kingfisher below was pretty far away but nice to see.

This Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by us before landing in a tree.

American Robins have been on their territories for weeks now and we saw many.

Swamp Sparrows outnumbered Song Sparrows (4 to 2!) but were hard to photograph.

Eastern Phoebe arrivals are always a sign of spring. The similarly-colored bird below the Eastern Phoebe is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.

You know the Red-Winged Blackbirds are ready for business when the girls start arriving.

Northern Flickers put on a show for us but they were hard to capture as well.

Our last “lawn” species was Killdeer.

I got caught up on my sleep last night, but I’m heading into a busy weekend. Saturday morning is the Spring Bird Count, Saturday night is the Spring Music Festival…and with any luck on Sunday, I can start cleaning up my yard, as green things, both wanted and invasive, are starting to emerge. The recommendation to not clear anything until the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will be difficult to adhere to… we are still dropping into the 40’s, albeit the higher 40’s, overnight. I do remember seeing a butterfly or two before I left. I hope to see some insects Sunday and maybe a better forecast.

Birding the 3-day Weekend

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American Goldfinch (female)

I’m finally getting around to these pictures from the Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday morning I led the second walk at the Portage and the weather could not have been more different, shall we say – weather is becoming more than an idle topic for conversation lately as we keep having these 40 degree temperature swings in either direction – than the first walk which was rainy and chilly: this time we had plenty of sunshine and it was getting downright warm. We saw fewer species than the first group, as migration had progressed substantially in the two weeks between walks, but we had a good time.

GREG 5-26-18-4606It was nice to get good looks at the Great Egret that seems to be back in the area. The Green Herons were absent this visit but I suspect all the herons go back and forth between the Portage, Ottawa Trail and the Des Plaines River, so I am sure they are still around.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were a presence. We didn’t even hear a Downy Woodpecker which is really unusual as I always expect to see or hear at least four any time of year but they must have been very busy being quiet.

It’s occurred to me that Song Sparrows are likely the only breeding sparrows at the Portage. Habitat requirements being what they are, I never thought this was odd but at the same time it seems there are a couple Chipping Sparrows that come back to my neighborhood every year so I wonder even about that. I guess it’s location, location, location.

Early on we saw one of many Warbling Vireos we would hear constantly.WAVI 5-26-18-4581And the Indigo Buntings did not disappoint.

This was as close as I could get to a Northern Flicker.NOFL 5-26-18-4620Two surprise birds below, neither of which were very visible, but I can now look forward to finding them again. Great Crested Flycatcher on the left, which we saw on our way out, and the camera just barely caught the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo on the right. I had pointed the camera lens at its curious-looking eyes peering out at me from where it was perched, and then it flew. I’ve heard cuckoos before at the Portage but have never seen one there until now.

For all the warmth and midges swarms, there weren’t many swallows that morning. Below is a Tree Swallow taking a break.

TRSW 5-26-18-4642There were likely more Common Grackles than we saw, but this one was foraging in the bottomlands by the Des Plaines River.

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Two days later on Memorial Day, I decided to go birding early at McGinnis Slough and then swim in the Orland Park fitness center pool, my dream scenario ever since I’ve had to go to Orland while my usual swimming hole has been under remodeling. I’ve been driving by the Slough at night after work to go swimming, often seeing deer foraging in the grass before the days got longer and thus lighter at that hour, but now I had the entire day free and it was hot so a swim after birding seemed to be the perfect idea. I haven’t been able to swim well with my knee out of whack, but the pool has been excellent therapy.

Below is a Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, which we also had at the Portage. A reminder it’s time to get ready for dragonfly identification again.

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Wood Duck

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Double-Crested Cormorants

It was nice to see families at McGinnis, like the Mallards below.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are more numerous here.

RWBL 5-28-18-4745RWBL 5-28-18-5043Two distinct silhouettes below: Double-Crested Cormorant and Turkey Vulture.

Song Sparrows like McGinnis too.

Another Goldfinch…

AMGO 5-26-18-4685Waterfowl at McGinnis are usually distant and hard to see. Sometimes I take pictures and blow them up later to see what I was looking at, not that I ever get a very good image. Below the Mallard family are a couple pictures of a Great Blue Heron in flight and more Wood Ducks. I was surprised to not see any Great Egrets yet at McGinnis, as they can be everywhere. Likely they’ve been thrown off by the crazy weather too and I’m more confused than they are. I’m sure I’ll see them as we slide into summer.

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Here’s one more picture of a most accommodating Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

RBWP 5-26-18-4695I’ll be staying close to home, there’s much work to do in my yard. Not feeling up to rushing yet. Still savoring life in the slow lane.

 

Flight of the Equinox

Shoveler followed by Wigeon McGinnis 09-17-17-8293

8 American Wigeon following a Northern Shoveler

Getting up earlier now for work, so it should be a little easier to convince myself to continue getting up early on the weekend and look for migrating birds. I still curse the alarm clock – it’s quite dark at 4:15 A.M. and it won’t be getting any lighter for a while. But even my Zebra Finches have gotten into the new routine. They start in with their morning chorus call well before sunrise.

I have yet to record the morning Zebra Finch reveille, but the week I was off in between jobs, I did manage to get a clip or two of Arturo T., and so I have finally added his arpeggio song to the sidebar. He has more songs I will try to publish soon.

DCCO Ottawa Trail 09-09-17-5364

Double-Crested Cormorant

It was officially fall sometime Friday afternoon, but we have been trapped in the middle of a hot spell longer than anything we had during the summer. Even worse, the forecast for rain keeps diminishing. But I guess compared to other parts of the planet our weather woes are mild by comparison.

These miscellaneous flight shots are primarily from a visit to McGinnis Slough the weekend before last.

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Blue Jay

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Great Egret

MALL McGinnis 09-17-17-8283

Wood Ducks

The two Great Egrets below were flying over the Des Plaines River near the Portage the day before.

GREG Portage 09-09-17-7938I’ll let the pictures talk for themselves…

WODU McGinnis 09-17-17-8230WODU McGinnis 09-17-17-8233

DOWP Portage 09-09-17-8029

Downy Woodpecker

Below a little sign that the trees are getting ready for a long winter’s nap even if the weather won’t cooperate.

Fall Color McGinnis 09-17-17-8172I went into the city an hour earlier this morning to see if it was possible to see any birds before getting to the office. It wasn’t easy. The light wasn’t good until I had to leave Lake Shore East Park, after it took me half an hour to get there. I will simply have to find birds close to the river. I will miss the lakefront parks, and particularly my crows. I may have to go downtown a few weekends to see if I can find the crows, because I miss them terribly. I refuse to believe they aren’t around as much because I have been absent, I still think it’s the hot weather. I hope I’m right.

GREG McGinnis 09-17-17-8178I will try to be back sooner. Still getting used to the new regime. I hope the autumnal equinox finds you safe and sound, wherever you are.

 

Big Marsh, Hegewisch Marsh and a Lifer

Least Bittern Big Marsh 07-30-17-6896

Least Bittern at Big Marsh

Last Sunday I joined Chicago Ornithological Society’s trip led by Walter Marcisz to a couple areas he knows so well, far south in the Cook County limits and to which I had never been. So tempting was this offering, there were an almost unmanageable 40 of us. But all went well, thanks to Walter’s skillful leadership.

The photograph above is of a Least Bittern which was a life bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a sharper image but we were all caught quite unawares standing around looking out when suddenly this bird decided it needed to go somewhere, so I consider myself lucky i got it at all. The rest of my shots of this bird have someone’s head in them so maybe that gives you an idea.

The parking lot where we met before taking off for the marshes not far away afforded these two captures below: a Double-Crested Cormorant on a light fixture and two Barn Swallows hanging out on the barbed wire.

The wildflower investigation continues. The plant below seemed to be everywhere at Big Marsh and I think there was some at Hegewisch too although by that time I was so tired of seeing it I may have been ignoring it. Someone identified it as Spotted Knapweed, so I looked it up on my wildflower app and sure enough, it is an invasive, with somewhat nasty properties. If handled a lot it can cause tumors on the hands. Yuck. Made one bee happy however.

Bee on the Invasive Plant Big Marsh 07-30-17-6934I grew tired of trying to figure out the one below but it’s pretty in its isolation. I believe it was at Hegewisch. I didn’t take many pictures at Hegewisch – we weren’t there long. We went to see the Common Gallinules – who used to be Common Moorhens – that have been breeding there this year. We caught glimpses but not much else behind the tall grasses.

Wildflowers Big Marsh 07-30-17-6958I was happy to see Northern Rough-winged Swallows as I have missed seeing them in my usual haunts this year.

More birds in flight. A Killdeer on the left, and a Great Egret on the right.

Always happy to see a Caspian Tern hunting in good view. This was also at Big Marsh where we spent the most time.

And Eastern Kingbirds still seemed to be everywhere.

HOFI Big Marsh 07-30-17-6946

Female House Finch, Big Marsh

As close in proximity as these areas are to the city, they are big enough to afford an unobstructed view of the sky which was gorgeous that day.

Cloudscape Big Marsh 07-30-17-6960One more swallow.

Northern RW Swallow Big Marsh 07-30-17-6950

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Back very soon with a report from my yard as my wishes are slowly being fulfilled!

Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

BWTE McGinnis 4-23-2016-7010

Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6863

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

Orland 4-23-2016-7143

A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Weightless,
Wait-less,
Into the rafters

Too Many Distractions

BEKI 4-26-15-9483

Belted Kingfisher – Chicago Portage

I keep trying to get through all the pictures from Colombia and identify everybody who’s recognizable, but life keeps getting in the way…further complicated by signs of spring. Like the Belted Kingfisher above. He seems to have made the stripped-down Chicago Portage his summer home. I have seen him two weekends in a row.

RWBL 4-26-15-9465

RWBL 4-26-15-9464

Red-Winged Blackbird, McGinnis Slough

These pictures were all taken last weekend. I went to McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage on Sunday because the weather was reasonable. We’ve been otherwise chilled by northerly wind blasts all week, even going down to freezing one night, I forget which, I only remember having to dump the ice out of the bird baths because I had already unplugged them.

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Great Blue Herons at McGinnis

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Gadwall

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Gadwall

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Gadwall – check out the one that’s dabbling – if this is the only part of the bird I see next time I’ll know it’s a Gadwall!

GBHE 4-26-15-9321

Great Blue Heron

Not a lot to photograph at the Slough, most everyone was too far away in the water, but it was nice to hear Soras calling, and to count eleven Great Blue Herons and a lot of Gadwall.

CATE 4-26-15-9406

Caspian Tern

CATE 4-26-15-9410

Also nice to see a Caspian Tern. But perhaps the biggest surprise was a deer making its way across the smaller part of the slough, which I guess gives an idea of how not very deep it is. Below the deer is a Double-Crested Cormorant drying out after a dive.

Doe Going For a Swim 4-26-15-9124

DCCO 4-26-15-9448Something else I don’t know if I’ve ever seen well before – the “ring” on a Ring-Necked Duck’s neck. Click on the picture to see what I mean.

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Not a lot different happening at the Portage yet… I could have had a substantial turtle count.

WODU 4-26-15-9582

Wood Duck

Turtles 4-26-15-9555

Turtles, Chicago Portage

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Dabbling Mallards

Brown Creepers are always a surprise for some reason.

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And this Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher was cooperative as long as he felt hidden behind the twigs, which he certainly was.

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BGGN 4-26-15-9672 BGGN 4-26-15-9686 BGGN 4-26-15-9694Caught the Kingfisher taking a break.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbirds are starting to arrive, but I don’t have a picture of one from last weekend, so I’m just including this guy-bird again.

RWBB 4-26-15-9185

As far as the Life List Project goes (this proved to be a Major Distraction!), I still have a few more checklists to locate, but at the moment the count is 1,942. I’m trying to count only birds I have seen, so a lot of those Tinamous, Tapaculos and Rails aren’t making it onto my list. But there are also a few species that are not on the app, as hard as I have tried to find them under other common names, so I don’t know if that’s because they’ve been reclassified or split or lumped or what, but in general having the list will probably come in handy on my next far-flung trip and maybe even motivate me to pay more attention. Who knows, if I had time to go through all my pictures from all my trips again I might find even more species… I guess I save that distraction for when I can’t travel anymore. 🙂

Goose Lake Prairie and Copley Nature Park

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

I don’t know what it is about Goose Lake Prairie, but I like going there, so that was my destination on the Fourth of July. I didn’t get out as early as planned but after the hour-plus drive I was walking the gravel trail from the Visitor’s Center around 7:45 AM. The Visitor’s Center is always closed on the Fourth of July. One of these days I’ll have to go when it’s open.

Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot

Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot

Not seeing a lot of bees these days so I try to pay attention when I do. This bee appears to be virtually bathed in pollen. I think it’s the little hairs on the flower petals that make it look that way. Click on the picture to see.

The first bird I managed to photograph was a Common Yellowthroat. From the coloring it looks like a juvenile.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Female Common Yellowthroat 7-4-14-0520

But there were still plenty of males singing on territory, like the one below. A sample of his song is in the link between the pictures. You might also hear a Song Sparrow and an Eastern Meadowlark singing in the background of the recording: the Common Yellowthroat is the one singing in triplets.

Male Common Yellowthroat

Male Common Yellowthroat

plug
Common Yellowthroat 7-4-14-0569

I also saw a male Northern Harrier soon after I started out, but only because it had been chased into and then out of a tree by a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds. It was the only raptor I had until I saw a Turkey Vulture from the car as I was driving away.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Below, some of the many juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out in groups.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds

The Tree Swallows below were probably too far away to photograph, but I like the tandem effect of this picture anyway.

Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows

For the record, here’s a juvenile Song Sparrow. I could not seem to locate the adults that were singing.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

This is the time of year when anything that flies catches my eye. One thing I’ve noticed is the different dragonflies as they occur in different habitats. Butterflies, anywhere, are entirely another matter; they seem to be scarce and do not like to be photographed except from far away.

Widow Skimmer Male

Widow Skimmer Male

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy Butterfly

The other prominent singer yesterday was a Dickcissel. The bird below eventually tolerated my presence so I could get these pictures. One version of his song is in below his pictures.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel 7-4-14-0833

Although the weather was relatively cool starting out, the sun was hot and by 10:00 a.m. or so I felt I had probably seen all I was going to see. It’s not the kind of place you want to go off trail.Hunting Sign 7-4-14-2356

Hunting Sign 7-4-14-2367

I decided to stop by Lake Renwick on the way back home, which has a heron rookery. There is a small viewing area at Copley Nature Park, accessible from Route 30 at the edge of Lake Renwick. Lake Renwick rookery itself is closed during the breeding season. This is another place I need to check out when it’s open for business.

A distant family of Great Blue Herons tempted me to shoot a few fuzzy pictures.

Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick

Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick

Great Blue Nest Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0895

And birds flying by, like this Double-Crested Cormorant, with its distinctive silhouette.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

Perhaps the most numerous species of the day besides Red-Winged Blackbird was Eastern Kingbird. There were many at Goose Lake and several at Copley Nature Park, this one being particularly cooperative.

Eastern Kingbird Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0950

In case I had any doubt about the heron rookery, this Great Egret flew overhead after I had been out of the car only a few minutes.

Great Egret Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0885

Oh well, one more early morning and then it’s back to business as usual. I’m joining Chicago Ornithological Society at Bartel Grassland in Tinley Park tomorrow. It’s an early start and an hour’s drive away, so I should be turning in very soon. After three days off I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of it. Being off, that is.

Today also marks my third year blogging with WordPress. I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of that too. Thanks to you all for making it fun! 🙂