Three Days in Michigan, Part I

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Broad-Winged Hawk, Hartwick Pines 7-17-18

I had the good fortune to meet up with my roommate from previous trips to Ecuador and Panama, and join her for a family reunion a couple weekends ago. The lodging was a remote location near a sprawling golf resort in Michigan. I could have been out of the country because my GPS quit working right before I arrived, and I did not always have cell phone coverage, so it felt like a real getaway. Four of us were birders, so we spent the better part of the three full days we had together exploring various locations. These pictures are from the Manistee National Forest.

My car was too small to be comfortable enough for the day trips, so I was a lucky passenger. I tend not to pay close attention to where I am being taken, and I don’t keep a journal when I’m on a trip, so if it were not for my friend’s son keeping an ebird list I wouldn’t be able to recall where we went. My contribution was to bring a book on birding locations in Michigan, which I gladly handed over to Oliver and his wife, and they decided where to go. I was happy to be away and would have gone anywhere. Even though my drive up was only about 4 hours, the ecosystem and even the time zone were sufficiently different, so the feeling was equivalent to going much farther away.

I had planned to do only one blog post for the whole trip because I felt like I didn’t get very many pictures, the birds were far away and when the birds were closer the lighting was difficult, but now that I’ve processed everything it seems a better idea to break it up into a couple posts. Birds were not all that easy to find. We heard the swamp sparrow, above right, singing like crazy but until we found him and he moved around on his perch a little bit, he was half-hidden behind a leaf. The bird on the left is a Cedar Waxwing.

It was wonderful to see multiple Turkey Vultures. Not that they aren’t in Illinois but I have missed seeing one in the neighborhood this year. And we were out in the middle of some kind of nowhere, so it was possible to see groups of them soaring high in the sky. It was also nice to see a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (with all the sap holes in the tree). They breed in Michigan. At home I get to see them only in migration. That’s a Wood Duck below left-hand corner.

I think I have seen Cliff Swallows before only in Ohio and perhaps Michigan so it was hard for me to recognize the youngsters below.

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Cliff Swallows

The last pictures I took in Illinois of Dickcissels were all of their backs to me, so even though the bird below is hidden in the foliage you can at least see its pretty yellow throat. It looks like a young bird, as does the Bobolink below it.

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Dickcissel

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Boblink

I found the dragonflies more cooperative than the birds. And, in the presence of a dragonfly expert, I learned I have been misidentifying some of them. Below left is a Ruby Meadowhawk. The upper righthand ID is a female Little Blue Dragonlet, and below it is a Halloween Pennant – which I think we saw every day. More dragonfly pictures to come.

Here’s one of the Swamp Sparrow singing.

SWSP 7-15-18-6616I intend to be back soon with more from Michigan. It’s been busy at work and all of a sudden, even though the entire month of August is ahead, it seems like summer is already on the wane. I do appreciate the cooler temperatures we have had lately but I know better than to expect them to stay. However it’s heavenly to open the windows overnight.

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Quick Visit

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Red-Headed Woodpecker

After being stuck in the office all week even when there was nice weather, I decided I had to get out to the Portage early Saturday morning before the sauna-like weather baked in. I didn’t get there quite as early as planned but it was good to be back and get my mind off everything else for a couple hours.

Unsurprisingly, more birds were heard than seen. It’s breeding season and time be to inconspicuous. Also, the building intensity of sunlight didn’t suit many birds well. A lot of singers were hidden in the leaves of the treetops. And if I did see one, like the catbird below, it was backlit in the shade.

I’m almost embarrassed for the Baltimore Oriole on the left and bottom right below, I’m not sure if he’d just taken a bath but he was a disheveled mess when I caught him preening.

Then there was this iridescent green beetle on the trail…

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Green Tiger Beetle

And one of many Widow Skimmers. It seems ridiculous to be taking closeups with a 600mm lens, but the dragonfly didn’t seem to mind.

Widow Skimmer 6-16-18-5166I had only one Red-Winged Blackbird volunteer.

RWBL 6-16-18-5139And after weeks of hardly seeing any Downy Woodpeckers, I did see this one messing around in the leaves like a warbler.

But the highlight was seeing an adult Red-Headed Woodpecker. Last fall I saw a juvenile at the end of September, pictured below. I have been wondering all year if these birds would find the Portage suitable habitat now that the forest is less dense. It worked for the Great Horned Owls. And now there is a Red-Headed Woodpecker. I hope he stays.

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Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17

I am only able to finish this short post because I didn’t go swimming tonight. The threat of thunderstorms kept me home. Not that I mind thunderstorms, but I don’t relish driving in them and anyway, for whatever reason, the threat can be enough for the fitness center to close access to the pool. So I’m sitting here safe, hanging out with the indoor crowd after a long day at work, hoping for a reassuring crash of thunder. In any event, whatever weather system this turns out to be, we will be cooler than the last three days and that will be a blessing.

Black Mulberries and Odonata

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Juvenile European Starling in the Black Mulberry Tree

I went back to the Chicago Portage last Saturday and figured out the three big trees with berries. After seeing the berries in my photos, they looked like mulberries to me. Sure enough, the trees are Black Mulberry, which can get up to 50 feet high, and at the Portage over the long period of time, they look like they have.

My history with mulberries is brief, but years ago one tree made an impression on me. There was a White Mulberry (Chinese) in my yard when I first moved in, and I quickly tired of the Starlings leaving a berry mess all over the place, not to mention the fact that you can never entirely get rid of mulberry trees, so I had the tree removed but I have to remain constantly vigilant, cutting down shoots here and there, if I can’t dig them up. More pictures of a Black Mulberry Tree below.

Maybe it was too early in the day for butterflies as there were absolutely none, but there were dragonflies and damselflies.

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Female 12-Spotted Skimmer

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Common Whitetail

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possible Female Powdered Dancer

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Eastern Forktail

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Blue-Ringed Dancer

Predictably, many of the birds were juveniles, like the Red-Winged Blackbirds below.

And most of the birds were quite far away. For the record, a Cedar Waxwing and a Northern Flicker.

The Mourning Doves below were at first a bit closer but didn’t wait for my shot (left) and then were cautiously distant (right).

It was nice to see an Osprey fly over, for a change.

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And a flying cigar (Chimney Swift).

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And quite unexpectedly for both of us, a young buck White-tailed Deer on the trail ahead of me.

Young Buck Portage 08-05-17-7439Wildflowers still captured my attention.

Wildflower Portage 08-05-17-7040In particular I was glad to see the Jewelweed (impatiens capensis, Spotted Touch-Me-Not) starting up again. I’ve been seeing a couple hummingbirds at the Portage the last few weeks but not close. There’s always the possibility Jewelweed will attract them when it’s in full bloom.

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Jewelweed

And sure enough, Burdock and Pokeweed are on the chopping block.

Burdock and Pokeweed Pulled Up Portage 08-05-17-7223More unfinished Starlings below…

And Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and a Baltimore Oriole.

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House Wren and Gray Catbird… Indigo Buntings abound.

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Female Indigo Bunting

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Juvenile Male Indigo Bunting

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American Robin in the Black Muberry

This coming Sunday, my flutist friend Linda and I are playing flute-and-piano music for the service at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago. Not sure I will be able to venture out again this Saturday morning. I slept in last Sunday…

Burdock and Bellflowers

Burdock & Tall Bellflower Portage 07-29-17-6488This time of year I may not be seeing many birds but everything is in a state of growth and worth attention. I visited the Chicago Portage last Saturday because I wanted to go elsewhere on Sunday and still felt like I needed to keep track of whatever was going on there. I was surprised to see the fruits of some restoration efforts in the vegetation. There is a lot of Tall Bellflower I don’t recall seeing before, mixed in with the Burdock which is about to bloom. Last time the Common Burdock was in bloom, butterflies were everywhere, so I will have to go back soon to see if that happens again.

Burdock is an invasive species but for whatever reason it’s not considered a problem at the Portage. It could be that there is just too much of it to remove entirely but by planting more native species, the County is slowly making some headway against it. I don’t mind it so much because it supports wildlife. Still need to be careful not to get caught up in it.

I became captivated by the grass below but I cannot identify it…yet. Plants are starting to drive me crazy.

There is a lot of Pinnate Prairie Coneflower, below left, but I don’t remember seeing Blue Vervain before, which is on the right. I did see the same Vervain blooming elsewhere in Cook County over the weekend.

Of course there were birds, but not so easy to photograph. I became intrigued by young European Starlings though because now is when they start looking like their name for a brief period of time as their breasts break out in little white stars which you might be able to see if you click on the picture on the bottom left.

There were a lot of Cedar Waxwings too. Seems the group name is either “earful” or “museum” of waxwings… They are notorious fruit lovers and that made it hard to capture the berry-eater at the bottom.

Cedar Waxwing Portage 07-29-17-6466There have not been a lot of dragonfly species. It’s a female Common Whitetail Skimmer on the left below. I still don’t understand the attraction to gravel. On the right is a type of Spreadwing damselfly, but I am not able to identify it.

A long view of the water, such as it is, at the Portage, looking peaceful and baked in sunlight.

Portage 07-29-17-6490Some juvenile-appearing Flycatchers below: Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe and what I’m pretty sure is an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

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Eastern Kingbird

A couple Burdock closeups…

The yellow flower below looks different from the ratibida pinnata but I have no clue…tucked away in the shadows, a bunny and a young Robin.

The bracket fungus below is quite impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen it before.

Fungus Portage 07-29-17-6487Below is a Northern Flicker in the most popular tree bearing fruit. Now I’m realizing I was so busy following the birds in it, I didn’t bother to figure out the tree itself. More challenges ahead.

NOFL Portage 07-29-17-6441I fully intended to do a post encompassing all last weekend’s experiences but there’s too much so I will be back shortly with a couple more installments.

Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now,  and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…

Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.

Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.

These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.

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This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.

CEWA 09-04-16-0301Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.

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At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.

Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.

Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.

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Magnolia Warbler

Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.

Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.

CEWA 08-14-16-9763I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!

Hanging Out

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The virtual sunniness of it all makes the summer heat seem more oppressive somehow. We had rain after rain after rain in July for weeks and then virtually for a week it was all over, the steady sunshine and heat quickly depleting water levels. So I didn’t know what to expect when I wandered over to the Portage Sunday morning. Perhaps shorebirds, but there were none. However there was the Black-Crowned Night Heron above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at this location, so that made the visit worthwhile immediately. In discovery mode I’ll take anything but for some reason a different or unexpected bird sates my hunger for more for…at least a few minutes!

GBHE Portage 8-2-15-8165GBHE Portage 8-2-15-8201The only other species near what little water was left was a Great Blue Heron who was first silhouetted as I walked in against the sun, the trail still being inaccessible from the opposite direction, and then after I emerged from a lot of burdock and butterflies, the heron decided to leave.

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Red Admiral

The butterflies almost made up for the lack of bird species.

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Eastern Comma

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Eastern Comma

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Silver-spotted Skipper

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Red Spotted Purple

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Lined Tiger Moth Caterpillar

After months of closing the hole in the fence, the gate, so to speak, is wide open. An enormous amount of vegetation has been cleared and there is a wide path leading in either direction, toward the Des Plaines River or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. I did not go far in either direction but decided to at least take a peek at the river and on my way I encountered a doe and two fawns. Below is one of the fawns passing through.
Deer Portage 8-2-15-8175There were dragonflies but they were generally less cooperative.

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White-Faced Meadowhawk

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Unidentified Damselfly

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Is this the backside of a bee?

House Wrens were still quite vocal and I managed to see this one.

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House Wren

Of all 13 species I reported, there were more American Robins than anything else. The one below will quickly lose its spottiness.

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Juvenile American Robin

Downy Woodpeckers are regulars at the Portage, if not always visible.

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Downy Woodpecker

And Indigo Buntings still rule. There have been more than ever this breeding season, and they are still singing.

INBU Portage 8-2-15-8114We’ve cooled off a bit, and the days are inching ever-so-slightly shorter, tilting thoughts toward fall migration. I’m sure there’s still plenty of hot weather left but maybe I’m finally getting used to it. If it doesn’t rain this weekend…who knows where I could go?

How Blue Is My Indigo?

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Every Sunday the forecast has been the same lately: cloudy, rainy with possible thunderstorms. But every Sunday is a bit different, as the rain and the longer days contribute to the growing of things. I have been trying to conquer the overgrowth in my backyard, but yesterday I decided to take advantage of a break in the storm activity and visit the Chicago Portage.

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18188879913_0cc498745c_zI never know what to expect, and this visit was no exception. For starters, I couldn’t take the trail entrance I normally do because it was entirely blocked off. So instead of there being a way to go through the entire site and wind up back where I started, I wound up taking two parts of the trail up and back.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Some of the species I expect to see were not present. It could have been the time of day. But I suspect a more likely explanation is the constant habitat disruption being more than some species want to put up with. Consequently I had no Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, nor White-Breasted Nuthatches. Even Mallards were not present. And not even one Gray Catbird. But this is just one visit and it was nearly mid-day, so perhaps next weekend I can confirm these absences further. In the meantime, I heard Black-Capped Chickadees so my faith in their existence is restored.

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Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings were everywhere, followed by almost as many Baltimore Orioles, although the orioles were less available for pictures, but they sang constantly. The first one I saw was carrying food, but I had to settle for this far away shot of another one later.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

My surprise bird of the day was the first-year male Orchard Oriole below. Not only do I think this is the first time I’ve had an Orchard Oriole at the Portage, but I think it might be the first time I’ve realized this is what a first-year male looks like. I tried to get his song too but recording was challenging yesterday with a lot of background noise. Maybe the cloud cover had something to do with it.

First Year Male Orchard Oriole

First Year Male Orchard Oriole

As usual there was no dearth of robins. I estimated 40, but there were probably more, including the clueless young one on the trail.

Am Ro Chi Portage 6-14-15-4851Am Ro Chi Portage 6-14-15-4873AMRO Chi Portage 6-14-15-4920

Of course Red-Winged Blackbirds were abundant too, although a bit less visible. Below could be one of the reasons why.

Fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird

Fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird

I looked for a Green Heron and found it easily.

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Later I had another heron perched way on top of a dead tree hanging over the water. It was hard to get its coloring in this light or the lack thereof but it was apparently wet and going through some trouble to dry off.

GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5014GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5019GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5020GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5021

If anything became apparent yesterday, it was that next time I should bother to take my closeup lens with me, as there is a lot of little stuff going on that invites more scrutiny. Like the hundreds of tiny froglets or toadlets that suddenly sprang up under my feet.

Toadlet Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5082Toadlet Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5080Toadlets Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5105

Or the dragonflies that I knew so well last year and now have to look up all over again.

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Red-Bellied Woodpeckers seemed to be tolerating the disturbance.

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I wonder how long it will be before I can walk through this again.

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As a final note, the Chicago birding community lost a great birder and photographer on Saturday. Steve Spitzer apparently died of a heart attack. I am sorry I did not know Steve personally; I remember we had a short email exchange over a sighting at some point and he was friendly and generous in his communications. He spent a lot of time a Montrose and other lakefront places and took some amazing photographs. You can see some of them here at the link to his flickr page. He also posted a remarkable video of a young Great Horned Owl swimming in Lake Michigan to avoid harassment by two Peregrine Falcons. I hope Steve is flying with the birds now.