Summer at the Portage

A couple lazy uneventful Saturdays at the Portage the first two weekends yielded a few photographs and a little singing to go along with it.

Below is the last time I saw an Eastern Bluebird. I barely saw it – it was in the darkness of the trees as I first walked in and I had no idea what it was until I adjusted the exposure and cropped the photograph. I will likely never know if the two bluebirds stayed and raised a family. But it was still nice to realize maybe they were still around two weeks ago.

Then I got lucky and saw a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, just like the one that visits my feeders.

This was the last hurrah for Indigo Buntings too. They are still present but not as visible. This one had a distinctive song.

Here’s a little recording of this Indigo Bunting’s song

Below is a female Indigo Bunting with an insect prize.

Two photographer acquaintances I run into frequently, Steve and Mike, were taking photographs of the juvenile Wood Duck below. Another mystery. I had seen a couple Wood Ducks early in the season but I have no idea whether they nested. I can’t imagine with the water levels so low what they would have done with their ducklings once they fledged (if you can call falling out of a tree nest onto the ground fledging).

There are still Robins around although not so many. Most I am seeing are juveniles like the ones below.

Goldfinches are abundant now. They never really disappeared but because their breeding season starts later, they tend to re-emerge later.

A few miscellaneous photos from the summertime abundance. Blue Vervain and Common Chicory are the flowers.I cannot resist photographing the shelf fungus. The dragonfly is a female Common Whitetail, there’s a Paper Wasp, and the butterflies are Painted Lady and Delaware Skipper all the way down at the bottom of this group. The Skipper is a tiny butterfly.

I took note of this House Sparrow because I rarely see them here.
A reminder that August is spider web time.

The management of the water levels at this place continues to frustrate me. I suspect it has more to do with the fact that it is a low-lying area close to the Des Plaines River, and all this has less to do with beavers than predictions of future flooding due to climate change. It’s hard not to feel as if the wild places, such as they are, that we have left will soon be managed out of existence. But I will continue to visit and try to look for silver linings to these clouds.

A desolate-looking segment on a hot, dry day.

A few birds in flight, above – a Robin at the top and a Red-Winged Blackbird at the bottom right.

I was surprised to see this Eastern Kingbird with its insect prey, as I have only seen a pair of Kingbirds once or twice all season. This seems to indicate they stayed.
A singular Cedar Waxwing
This is how the statue appeared on the 8th of August. I have not heard of any plans to remove it, as seems to be prevalent in the current environment. So much about the place has changed already, though, nothing would surprise me.

A few more photos from those two Saturdays, the 1st and the 8th. The birds were busy but not so visible.

It’s hard to believe that we are now looking toward the end of August and fall migration has already begun for some species. Sometimes this year seems interminably long, but the weeks are catching up with me. I will try to be back soon with more summer observations before the next phase.

Return to The Other Goose Lake

The 4th of July always reminds me to make my annual visit to Goose Lake National Prairie. I am not exactly sure why I don’t visit at other times of the year, and maybe I will decide to visit more often if I ever retire, but I like to go at this time because it’s not crowded, the prairie is beautiful and in bloom, and I can usually count on seeing Dickcissels and Henslow’s Sparrows.

As it turns out, this year it was particularly “not crowded” – I was the only human the entire length of my visit. I went on July 3rd instead of the 4th. It was already hot and sunny at 7:40 a.m. when I got out of my car and saw Killdeer in the parking lot.

As I started to walk the trail that goes out from the back of the Visitor’s Center, I was welcomed by a few Barn Swallows, one of which was having fun swooping close to my head. Perhaps it was trying to startle me, because it was pretty persistent, but I am quite used to birds flying around my head! My challenge was to try to capture the bird in flight. When I used to go down to the lakefront in the summertime on my lunch hour, there were swallows swooping around constantly close to people, but people were everywhere and pretty unavoidable. On this occasion, the handful of Barn Swallows outnumbered me.

As for “target” birds, I saw only one Dickcissel and it was quite far away. I didn’t hear any more of them, either. I neither heard nor saw any Henslow’s Sparrows. I heard a lot of Marsh Wrens but could not see one.

But you can’t go birding on expectations and then be disappointed when they don’t pan out. There’s always a surprise or something interesting. I was delighted to see an Eastern Meadowlark.

Common Yellowthroats seem particularly abundant this year. I think that is making them less skulky.

The prairie wasn’t in full bloom, but the Monarda and Prairie Spiderwort were attractive. At least I think it’s Prairie Spiderwort and not Ohio, although the leaves looked thicker than the variety I have in my backyard. Either one is native to Illinois.

It is always nice to see Orchard Orioles. I found a female perched and one male in flight.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows were abundant.

A distant male Northern Harrier was harassed by a few Red-Winged Blackbirds.

I think this was the same Great Egret I saw perched at the pond by Cragg’s Cabin later.

One tern flew by. It didn’t stay long enough to fish. There is a big man-made lake nearby, Heidecke Lake, which was formerly a cooling reservoir. That could be where the tern hangs out more often.

A Caspian Tern

Two Great Blue Herons flew by. Likely one of them was the individual below who was fishing from the partially submerged boardwalk that is no longer functional for human use but served this bird’s purpose.

Mallards in flight

Red-winged Blackbirds typically outnumber everything else. But it seems like every place I go, I hear a new vocalization from them. Listen to this little trilly sound below.

Another Song Sparrow…because.

Eastern Kingbirds were the prevalent flycatcher species.

There were a few Field Sparrows, not very close but still delightful to see and hear.

More birds…

American Goldfinch

On my way out, a Kildeer flew by.

The last bird I saw was a House Sparrow by the Visitor’s Center.

Another Song Sparrow
A look across the prairie from the observation deck.

This was only my first outing of last weekend. I came home to do some work later in the afternoon. But I got up and went to the Portage on Saturday morning and back to Goose Lake Natural Area on Sunday. I’ll try to get caught up before summer’s over!

Eastern Kingbird

Two Visits to McGinnis Slough

Even though I never go to McGinnis Slough these days prepared to see a lot of birds – which would require bringing my scope – I invariably see something interesting. It used to be a great place for hundreds of Great Egrets and multiple Great Blue Herons, but for the past several years the numbers have dwindled to a few individuals. During waterfowl migration it’s still a place to see good numbers of several species. My last two visits were sort of before and after spring migration. But I like the fact that it’s not crowded. You can’t your bike through it, so that likely keeps people away. And you could miss it driving by at 50 mph on LaGrange Road, even though the entrance is newly paved and there’s a lovely wrought-iron fence, maybe to keep the deer from crossing the highway.

So these photographs are from April 4 and June 7 of this year. From grays and browns in early April to greens and blues in June. April 4 was a good day for Tree Swallows, even if they look washed-out on a cloudy day.

Tree Swallow and a Northern Shoveler
Blue-winged Teal

The gray and brown was enhanced by a little low-lying fog on the April visit.

I haven’t seen an awful lot of Eastern Phoebes this year. I think flycatchers in general have been scarcer, which I can only assume speaks to the lack of insects. I hope they can recover somehow.

Eastern Kingbird, another flycatcher

In the tail end of waterfowl migration, some Lesser Scaup were close enough to photograph.

Those white blobs are actually American White Pelicans on the far shore.
The slough was quite marshy in June.

The June visit featured Warbling Vireos chasing around at eye-level, and then one sang for me. I managed to record a bit of his song below after having him pose for all these pictures.These guys are hard to spot normally so I indulged.

I often see Wood Ducks lined up on this fallen log. The June visit was no exception.

Wood Ducks

Baltimore Orioles aren’t advertising for mates anymore so they’re a little harder to spot.

Going down the path to the north, I encountered a couple does.

There were a few Cedar Waxwings in the same general area as the Warbling Vireos.

This White-breasted Nuthatch would have been even better if he had turned around.

Red-winged Blackbirds abound.

And in the flying-by department…

Herring Gull
Double-crested Cormorants

I’m used to seeing rose mallow, and maybe it will appear later in the summer, but I think this wild iris is new.

Thanks for making it to the end of this long post! We are in for a long, hot, sunny weekend around here. With luck, I will find more birds to share with you.

Three Days at the Portage – Day 3

Well here it is, the long-anticipated last act to the Memorial Day weekend of birding at the Chicago Portage. Compared to the previous two days, I didn’t have a lot of photographs. I reported as many species as the previous day (41), but between extremely bright light conditions and my inability to focus, perhaps in part due to the light shining in my eyes, the day had a different feel to it.

But it was a great day for discovery and observation. The bird of the day was a Prothonotary Warbler. I have been looking for this species to appear at the Portage for years every spring or fall when the Des Plaines River floods the lowlands because then the habitat reminds me of the Cache River Basin in southern Illinois where I saw my first of many Prothonotary Warblers.

Flooding on the Des Plaines River

As it turns out, I didn’t see it in the flooded area but directly across the trail from it. Although I got great views with the naked eye, I was not able to capture the bird well with the camera, so going back through these photographs I had my doubts. But the photograph above with the head cut off confirms the ID for me because of the white undertail coverts showing. I confess I still have my doubts about the other photos, but I know I saw the bird, so maybe there will be a next time.

Just so you can appreciate how frustrating this can be and why I sometimes spend entire days thinking about identification challenges, below is a Wilson’s Warbler I photographed on the same day, if not in the exact same spot. I do know the gizz of a Wilson’s since I have seen them frequently enough for years. When I saw the Prothonotary, it appeared larger and moved more slowly and deliberately than the Wilson’s.

And now for another sort-of warbler challenge, the American Redstart below. I have seen this coloration a few times before so I was not confused, only fascinated. The tail immediately gives this bird away as an American Redstart, but it is showing yellow and white with black coming in on the body. What you are seeing is a soon-to-be second-year male American Redstart. When the summer is over he may be entirely black and orange in place of the gray and yellow, and will be considered an adult.