Putzing Around the Portage

Too far away for a sharp image but still lovely to see.

The signs of spring are evident. Birds are moving, the days are getting longer even if we artificially shortened the morning hours, but I still needed to be reminded by the official first day of spring on the 20th. The last two weekends I have visited the Portage just to see what signs of life are emerging, however slowly. Robins are back and setting up territories in the woods as well as in my neighborhood. Red-Winged Blackbirds were audible on both visits to the Portage, if not displaying yet. Perhaps most exciting last Saturday was seeing my first Eastern Bluebird of the year, even if it was clear across the creek.

I started imagining what it must have been like before all the House Sparrows and accompanying civilization…when I envision Bluebirds ruled. Then I started reading about how Bluebirds have made a come back of sorts, thanks to people putting up nest boxes, and they prefer open fields for habitat, so as the Portage loses more trees maybe I’ll see them a bit more often there. But for the most part I don’t live near Bluebird territory.

Juncos have been photographically elusive for me this winter and last Saturday was no exception. I probably was looking at the last ones I’d see for a while. On the other hand I was surprised to see a Pine Siskin (below) but likely their occurrence in my yard this winter is part of a trend.

There were more American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows hanging out by the thawed pond than anything else.

There was open water last weekend, as opposed to the weekend before, but only one pair of Canada Geese and a Mallard or two.

Otherwise, a White-Tailed Deer, and below her, what the frozen raging Des Plaines looked like two weekends ago, from a distance.

I have only heard/seen one Red-Bellied Woodpecker so far…

My plan is to go back out tomorrow morning, when we are promised sunshine, to see if there are any more changes occurring. On my way to the train this morning, I noticed the Silver Maples are budding on the neighborhood streets. We are still flirting with a few overnight temperatures below freezing, but it looks like March will go out like a lamb.

Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂

A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie for the Fourth of July

Young male Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie, 7-4-15

Young male Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie, 7-4-15

To celebrate my fourth year of this blog (my how time flies) I am publishing two posts today, which doesn’t hardly make up for my lack of posting lately but it’s good to be relaxed and sitting in the air conditioning and not afraid of falling asleep over a million photos.

Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

It took me a while to get to this point, I had two months of pictures to go through or remove from my hard drive just so I could download what’s been accumulating on the camera the past two weeks.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

EAME Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6398

I went to Goose Lake Prairie yesterday morning. I didn’t get there early enough to catch the Blue Grosbeak and Bald Eagle seen by another birder, but I was happy enough to find a cooperative Grasshopper Sparrow, lots of Henslow’s Sparrows that eluded my sight, let alone photographs, Sedge Wrens, and of course a plethora of Dickcissels.

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird, Goose Lake Prairie

I also believe I took really crummy photographs of an American Bittern flying but I am too shy to edit my ebird report seeing as how I would have to write it in. Maybe I’ll gain courage as the week goes on. Least Bittern is on the list for Goose Lake Prairie but for some reason American Bittern is not.

Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird

Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird

This is the time of year when the youngsters start to get a bit confusing. Like the Brown-Headed Cowbird above.

Common Yellowthroat, Goose Lake Prairie

Common Yellowthroat, Goose Lake Prairie

Common Yellowthroats are always singing and you never see them, so I was happy to have one finally show himself. Ironically, the recording underneath the picture begins with his song, which gets fainter I suppose as he moved farther away, but a Henslow’s Sparrow can be heard clearly in front of him and these were the birds I couldn’t see anywhere. I must have heard five or six of them singing.

Female Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Female Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Bluebird, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Bluebird, Goose Lake Prairie

The Sedge Wrens were vocal too but I didn’t get a recording of them. And ironically for all the Dickcissels I don’t seem to have them either. I think I just have to start out an hour earlier next time.

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6616

A pair of Dickcissels

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6350

Female or juvenile Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Below is that butterfly I was too lazy to take out my other camera that had the closeup lens attached to it.

Mourning Cloak, Goose Lake Prairie

Mourning Cloak, Goose Lake Prairie

On the way back I stopped at the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery, which I was surprised to find open to the public, if only for half an hour. There were three staff on hand to make sure no one lingered in the park, which is normally off limits entirely during the breeding season. I have seen it from the other side but never this view before. I will have to go back now that I know it’s sometimes accessible.

Lake Renwick Heron Rookery

Lake Renwick Heron Rookery

Thanks to all who visit my blog and followers and friends! It’s been a fun four years and I hope to be back soon with many more observations inspired by my feathered friends.

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Busy Breeding Birds

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Sunday morning I got up early before the predicted heat ensued and went to the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook…

Sign-1709Sanctuary-1694

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.

EABB-9921

There were a few other birds on the wire…

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

The first bird, the parking lot bird, if you will, was a Great Blue Heron flying over.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings moving through. I caught one laggard.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

But the dominant species overall was Red-Winged Blackbird.

Red-Winged Blackbird

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

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

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

RWBB-0085

The Sanctuary is a small place, but it managed to make the House Sparrow below look exotic.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

After about an hour in Oak Brook, I decided it was time to head back east and check in at the Portage.

Portage-0119

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…

Killdeer

Killdeer

and a Song Sparrow…

Song Sparrow

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.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Juvenile Wood Duck

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.

Green Heron

Green Heron

And after not seeing any Mallards the last two or three times I visited, now there is an entire family.

Mallards

Mallards

Also ubiquitous at the Portage are House Wrens. There were at least four males singing on territories. Here’s one of them.

House Wren

House Wren

Juvenile American Robin

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

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.

Great Egret

Great Egret

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.

Portage-0146

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 Other Half of Last Sunday

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

After I visited the Chicago Portage last Sunday, I went to McGinnis Slough, another of my favorite haunts, to see what was up besides the wind.

Although the big draw for McGinnis is the slough, often most species are too far away to photograph over the phragmites. With a scope one could see lots of Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Canvasback, Bufflehead and two Trumpeter Swans, to name a few species. But the best picture I could get was of two happy Mallards.

Mallards at McGinnis IMG_4576_1
On land, I did see two Eastern Bluebirds. Here’s one.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

McGinnis Slough IMG_4602_1
Soon there will be Wood Ducks hanging out in the backwater sections of the slough.

Just like last time I was here, I found one warbler, a Yellow-Rumped, looking a bit spiffier.

Yellow-Rumped Warble

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And then when I thought I had seen everything, a small flock of Chipping Sparrows appeared, foraging in the grass where a path is cut to walk to the south end of the slough.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

I got lucky when one Chipping Sparrow flew up into a nearby tree and decided to model all his sides for me. The last photo might make an excellent quiz shot. 🙂

Chipping Sparrow McGinnis IMG_4687_1Chipping Sparrow McGinnis IMG_4688_1Chipping Sparrow McGinnis IMG_4692_1

Ice and Eagles

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

My very first birding field trip six or so years ago was through the Morton Arboretum. It was billed as “Ice and Eagles.” That particular trip entailed a bus drive to Starved Rock State Park where, as best as I can recall, we must have seen a few Bald Eagles. Oddly enough, I remember being more impressed seeing a Red-Bellied Woodpecker for the first time.

Juvenile Bald Eagles on the ice

Juvenile Bald Eagles on the ice

Sunday I joined the DuPage Birding Club on a day trip to the Mississippi River to see eagles, waterfowl, and whatever else was present. At our first stop, Lock and Dam 13 near Fulton, Illinois, it was estimated we had more than 250 Bald Eagles. But all day the weather was the catch. When we got there it was pouring rain. While we escaped the predicted thunderstorms, when it wasn’t raining it was drizzling and foggy. Not exactly ideal conditions for photography.

Eagle on the Ice IMG_0381_1

So I’ve been poring over the pictures I did take, to see if there was anything clear enough to publish. If nothing else, maybe I can convey what a grey, miserable day it was. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all bad.

We saw two Red-Headed Woodpeckers.

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-Headed Woodpecker

And a couple Eastern Bluebirds.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Hundreds of Gulls, mostly Herring and Ring-Billed, but we did manage to find a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and a Greater Black-Backed Gull mixed in after careful perusal…

Gulls on Thin Ice IMG_0651_1

and a Thayer’s Gull or two.

3rd Cycle Thayer's Gull

3rd Cycle Thayer’s Gull

Among other waterfowl, an estimated 7,000 Canvasbacks, too far away to photograph, but here are a few thickening the air.

Canvasbacks IMG_0633_1

And we managed to find Eurasian Tree Sparrows hanging out with House Sparrows where they have been located before, at someone’s feeders. I never did get close enough for a decent photo, but it’s a life bird for me, so this is for the record.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Above all, wherever we went, Bald Eagles reigned supreme.

Eagles IMG_0541_1

My last chance for Bald Eagles this winter is on the 24th. DuPage Birding Club is featuring a field trip at Starved Rock. I think it will be the first time I’ve been back since, well, my first field trip.