Lazy Labor Day Weekend

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Common Grackle

At least today, on Labor Day, I decided to be lazy by not getting up two hours before dawn so I could go birding. After meeting at the destination on Saturday, we canceled the walk due to thunderstorms looming in the wings. Even so, I had stayed back with another participant to get a handle on the layout of the trail setup when suddenly a crash of thunder and lightning striking right in front of us convinced us it was indeed time to leave.

So yesterday I got up and decided I would not go far, but as long as it wasn’t raining or threatening to, I may as well try to see what I could find. I went to Ottawa Trail Woods and encountered some obstacles on the trail (above). It became even more evident that I was the only person to have traversed the river trail in a while as I managed to avoid only one of two spider webs strewn above the footpath. The first sign of life was the deer below.

Deer 9-2-18-8770

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Ovenbird

There were not a lot of birds. Or at least not a lot of species. But this time I got to see an Ovenbird for a few seconds although it was nearly the only warbler I saw.

A dozen Common Grackles showed up in the trees right above my head. So much for dark backlit birds.

Ottawa Trail is usually good for Thrushes and I was not entirely disappointed. At least I got to see this Gray-Cheeked long enough to photograph it.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Early on I saw one Cedar Waxwing, but knew there was no such thing as a solitary Cedar Waxwing and on my way back on the trail I encountered at least sixty in the branches of one tree. Click on the upper righthand photo below if you don’t believe me.

The bottomlands by the river were flooded from all the recent rain and I was able to relocate this Great Blue Heron after it flushed, when I surprised it by my walking the path even though at a considerable distance.

GBHE 9-2-18-8881I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…

HOWR 9-2-18-8811So it was mostly distant unspectacular sightings . A Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Kingbird…

Indigo Buntings were nearly unrecognizable. The one on the right was an up-and-coming male hiding from me at the Portage which was where I went next.

The Portage still had a couple hummingbirds, perhaps the same ones I saw on Friday. Plenty of Jewelweed everywhere. A few years ago on a September day I saw what seemed like a hundred Ruby-Throated Hummers in one visit, all over the Jewelweed, but it was not repeated yesterday. If you look closely at the third image of the hummer you an see a little bit of red emerging on his young throat.

By the time I got to the Portage it was closer to midday, the heat was becoming oppressive and I didn’t expect to see many birds. So I appreciate one Gray Catbird after hearing them but never catching even a glance at one Friday.

GRCA 9-2-18-9002All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…

img_2910In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.

Baby Snapping Turtle 9-2-18-9026There were fewer dragonflies than last week. And I keep running into Eastern Commas that don’t want to pose correctly: or is it a Question Mark???

The Robins all seemed to be at Ottawa Trail yesterday with only a few at the Portage. I imagine it’s the same flock going back and forth.

AMRO 9-2-18-8840Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…

Monarch 9-2-18-8941I came up with a new mantra this weekend, so I guess it’s only appropriate on Labor Day that I share it with you. I have been muttering “I have to stop working” for far longer than I want to recall. But I decided now my mantra should be, “I have to start writing.” I have been thinking about a book for the last several years. It changes every five minutes, but I think it’s finally starting to come together in my head because I found the first sentence yesterday. So it’s time to start writing it. Which may make my contributions to this page even more infrequent, I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine writing anything after working all day at a computer in an office. But by declaring my intentions sometimes I can force myself to get going so as not to risk eternal embarrassment. Thank you.

Portage Vacation Day

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Cedar Waxwing

I took today off. It was a bit difficult getting up early this morning after swimming last night but I managed to get over to the Portage a little after 8:00 a.m. and took note of how deserted the place was on a weekday. No dog-walkers or cyclists. Only one runner, who was probably as amazed to see me as I was him.

img_2889img_2888A long shot of the duckweedy water above and just below it, an untrimmed path I decided not to take.

AMRO 8-31-18-8397The robins are back, and the waxwings are still numerous. Literally nobody in the mucky water. I was treated to American Redstarts and a couple Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds early on, which gave me hope to find a few more migrants.

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American Redstart (First Year Male)

Ruby-Throated Hummers above, an adult male American Redstart below.

The only other warblers I could barely photograph were the Chestnut-Sided below left and the Black-Throated Green on the right. I missed the Ovenbird that landed briefly in  the tree I later found them in.

In the beginning with the immature male Redstarts was a chattering young House Wren.

Butterflies were out for the sunshine today. Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent and Monarch butterflies.

I saw a few White-Breasted Nuthatches too.

WBNU 8-31-18-8715I heard the Eastern Wood-Pewee long before I saw the one below.

EAWP 8-31-18-8745This time of year I expect to see lots of Indigo Bunting children and I did, but they were playing hard to get with the camera.

Yellow is the predominant color this time of year and I found a bumblebee and a goldfinch taking advantage of it.

One Eastern Kingbird…

EAKI 8-31-18-8640There was a lot of chatter from catbirds but I only barely saw the youngster below.

GRCA 8-31-18-8474A couple more Cedar Waxwings. The one on the left is an immature.

The last photograph I took was of this stunning little Silvery Checkerspot.

Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly 8-31-18-8756My walk tomorrow will take place if we are not totally rained out. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast. We shall see… This evening as I write this I have just heard the rumble of thunder. And now it is starting to pour.

By the way it feels nice to have the time to do a same-day blog post. Perhaps if I – no, let’s say when I retire – I will be up to the task more often.

 

Winding down…

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Rose Mallow at McGinnis

As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.

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A Slough in name only…

I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.

There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.WODu w MALL McGinnis 8-19-18-8024Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.

NOCA McGinnis 8-19-18-7914There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.

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Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red

When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.

It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…

Portage 8-19-18-8147There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.

There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as  there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…

RTHU Portage 8-19-18-8072The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.

And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.

GCFL 8-19-18-8173I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.

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Indigo Bunting

I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.

TUVU 8-19-18-8184The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.

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Northern Cardinal

Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.

I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.

So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.

My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.

Portage Summer Day

GRHE 7-28-18-7115I got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.

Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…

EAWP 7-28-18-7095Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.

EAPH 7-28-18-7100I couldn’t get this Downy Woodpecker kid to turn around and smile for the camera but it was good enough to see his adult feathers coming in…

DOWP 7-28-18-7126The House Wren below just has that newbie look about it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker kids were out and about. I was surprised to see no red at all on the head of the one below on the top right.

Robins always look like something else this time of year, but I am no longer fooled.

AMRO 7-28-18-7192I was beginning to wonder if all the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were gone, but then I found a bunch of them hanging out on the bare limbs of a dead tree. They were all juveniles.

These two young Northern Flickers seemed to be practicing pairing up already.

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Nothing going on, on the Des Plaines, which was looking low.

Not much in the way of butterflies. A Monarch here and there, and this one Red-Spotted Purple.

But the dragonflies were quite amazing.

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Widow Skimmer

I’m going out on a limb with the ID below. I have a fancy book on dragonflies and damselflies but there are way too many choices.

Russet-tipped Clubtail female 7-28-18-7265

Russet-tipped Clubtail female

I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…

? Bluett 7-28-18-7272

Some kind of Bluet

I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…

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Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female

or with Common Whitetails.

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Common Whitetail male

Then there was this beautiful Grasshopper that is likely a Differential, but I am absolutely ignorant about grasshoppers so I’m not guessing.

Unidentified Grasshopper 7-28-18-7298And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.

Unknown Wasp 7-28-18-7166Back to the birds. The fruit-eaters were enjoying the mulberry tree. That’s a Cedar Waxwing on the left and an adult American Robin on the right.

This Eastern Kingbird looks mature, but looks can be deceiving.

EAKI 7-28-18-7312Some interesting things on the trail for the juvenile Song Sparrow below…

SOSP 7-28-18-7177and for a male House Sparrow. I rarely see House Sparrows at the Portage but there were these two.

HOSP 7-28-18-7392

Juvenile House Sparrow

Saturday mornings tend to be work days. There was some burning of invasive vegetation going on.

Controlled burn 7-28-18-7176Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen many in my yard lately, but I did see this pair at the Portage briefly.

AMGO 7-28-18-7255Always happy to see a Great Blue blending in.

GBHE 7-28-18-7234And it was even pleasant enough for a couple cardinals to make an appearance.

NOCA 7-28-18-7291I heard more Indigo Buntings than I saw, but was finally rewarded by the adult male below.

INBU 7-28-18-7382For as much time as the Green Heron spent on this frog I am not sure he or she managed to eat it.

GRHE 7-28-18-7130I hope the heatwave ends in time for next weekend. In the meantime I guess I can’t complain about being stuck in an air-conditioned office this coming week.

 

Grassland Visit

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Halloween Pennant

This time of year I normally visit Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County, but I wasn’t going to go that far or walk that much this year, so I followed through with my Fourth-of-July unfulfilled plan and went to Orland Grassland Saturday morning. Orland, which is reclaimed farmland, is surrounded by development, but it’s large enough to afford considerable habitat and much has been restored. Next time I’ll use the ebird app and do a checklist. This time I just wanted to get a feel for the place and see how much walking I could manage before the sun reached an intolerable height in the sky.

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Dickcissel

Dickcissels were abundant, but in general I heard more birds than I saw, or the birds I did see were pretty far away like the Eastern Meadowlark below.

There were a lot of Eastern Kingbirds and Tree Swallows hunting insects.

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Eastern Kingbird

I caught glimpses of a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. Later two Great Blues flew overhead.

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GBHE 7-7-18-6537An assortment of beautiful dragonflies made themselves available for photographs.

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Blue Dasher

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Widow Skimmer (Female)

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Eastern Pondhawk

I really couldn’t get enough of the Halloween Pennant. What a dazzling creature.

Halloween Pennant 7-7-18-6471All I can say is I’ll have to go back to Orland soon. But this weekend I am off to Michigan to meet friends and find more birds and plants and insects… I will be back, I hope, with much to report.

GBHE 7-7-18-6531

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!

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.

EAKI Portage 07-29-17-6516

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.