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.

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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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GREG 7-7-18-6343

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.

Goose Lake Prairie

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5002

Dickcissel

I spent three hours at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area this morning. I saw and heard a lot of birds, if not necessarily a lot of species. Most of the birds I photographed were quite far away. Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows below, then a Field Sparrow.

FISP Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5039

Field Sparrow

Did I see the King Rail? I’m not sure. Maybe I did, so maybe it’s half-a-lifer, but without a scope to clarify anything, my binoculars could not discern any detail on the likely suspect and my camera lens was no better at deciphering a preening bird at the water’s edge.

King Rail Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5157

But rarer birds have a way of showing up when you least expect them. So it is with the Yellow-Breasted Chat. When I think of all the Chats I have heard and never seen on their breeding grounds, seeing and photographing one this morning had all the sweetness of any surprise. I was first drawn to the yellow bird by its behavior kiting after insects. Then when it perched I realized it was a Chat, however far away. This species is still considered a warbler.

I was photographing anything I could focus on before identifying it. So it was with the Grasshopper Sparrow below.

And this elusive Sedge Wren too.

SEWR Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5131

Sedge Wren

This Indigo Bunting was right out in the open. With the abundant sunshine, he picked the right day to do it.

Likewise with this young Baltimore Oriole, but so far away.

Some wildflowers in bloom…the first one is not Blazing Star but similar, and then Bergamot which is now in my yard, and in the lower right hand corner, Wild Parsnip, something I never noticed before but recognized right away this time after all the parsnip growing in my yard.

For all the abundance of Red-Winged Blackbirds I almost tend to ignore them, and in some measure it’s a defensive action because they can get testy this time of year, as you probably noticed in my last post.

RWBL Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5077

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

But sometimes they can be fun to capture anyway.

RWBL Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5224

Male Red-Winged Blackbird

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a young Eastern Kingbird before, so this was a treat.

EAKI Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5101

Juvenile Eastern Kingbird

And although Common Yellowthroats are constantly announcing themselves, they’re often hard to see, so I was grateful to these two.

COYT Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5026

Common Yellowthroat

COYT Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5078I still have a few photos to share from Sunday’s adventures and that could still happen. The remedy for all this is to just stop taking pictures but there is always more to see.

I’m glad I got to Goose Lake Prairie, I missed it last year. The other Goose Lake Conservation Area awaits exploration.

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

YHBL 6-26-2016-3468

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.

(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)

I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.

On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.

Ring-Necked Pheasant on Hebron Trail 6-26-2016-3207

There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

Grackle and Brown Thrasher 6-26-2016-3225

Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.

And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.

Willow-Alder Flycatcher 6-26-2016-3214

The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.

Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.

Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.

AMGO 6-26-2016-3273

American Goldfinch

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Eastern Kingbird

After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.

SOSP 6-26-2016-3483

Song Sparrow

We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.

I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.

YHBL 6-26-2016-3507

The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.

I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.

I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.

Sandhill Crane 6-26-2016-3242

Inertia (aka Summer Doldrums)

Female Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-15-1137Spoiled by earlier dramatic fluctuations in temperature which at times were chilly, I find myself now wiped out by the heat and humidity, albeit expected weather but nonetheless daunting. The only way to avoid overheating is to remain motionless. I did as much of that as possible on Saturday.

However Sunday morning was sunny, so I felt compelled to see how things are going at the Chicago Portage. Construction persists. Access to the trail entrance that heads west is still blocked, but both bridges are open again, which made it easier to take the loop on the other side of the creek back to where I started. On the way out, my eye caught a sign that referred to construction of a “new” shelter being among the improvements. I am unaware of there ever having been an old shelter, so this will be interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into the word “new.”

Construction Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7581

Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.

INBU Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7603

After that for a while it was simply making a record of what I was seeing, even if the picture wasn’t perfect. The distant Great Blue Heron below took off about ten minutes after I took this picture.

GBHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7649

There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7706

KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7731Also on the other side where I would eventually wind up, a young deer had come down to drink. I have seen deer before but never one so young, alone. I seemed to be catching the last gasp of the early morning activity, which was heartening considering I took my time getting out the door.

Deer Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7678Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.

BAOR Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7809

The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.

RWBL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7793Of course just when I think I’ve seen everything I’m going to see or have been unable to get pictures of something ephemeral like the glimpse of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a surprise occurs. Walking by a large tree at the edge of the water, I saw something huge move in it, determined it couldn’t have been a giant squirrel but had no idea. Then the tree exploded with three large birds scattering in all directions. This turned out to be the Green Heron roosting tree. And one of their offspring flew to a perch in the middle of the water where it sat in surprise for several moments.

GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7853GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7870The other great surprise was to run into a human being. Specifically a young man on his bicycle who asked me if there were many birds at the Portage. It then turned out that he was interested in finding out more about birds. What an absolute delight to have been present for him to quiz me on what direction he could take. I sincerely hope he follows his interest. I restrained myself and did not warn him of the addictive nature to this activity. Probably understood anyway if he at all sensed my passion. This is the magic of the Portage for me. I literally never know what to expect.

I should also know better than to expect anything. I was hoping to see butterflies, so I carried around the second camera and lens in my backpack and never took it out. Virtually no butterflies Sunday morning. There were a few dragonflies, but I was unmoved.

But Sunday afternoon seemed to bring butterflies into my garden. The Red Admirals outnumber all the others but at least there were a few more species.

Red Admiral Yard 7-18-15-1111

Red Admiral

Monarch Yard 7-18-15-1113

Monarch Butterfly in swamp milkweed. I can’t believe I managed this shot with a 100mm closeup lens from quite far away.

The swamp milkweed has taken over two areas of the yard. I keep hoping, as in Plant It And They Will Come.

Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-18-15-1085One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.

EAKI Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7746

Eastern Kingbird Fantastical Portage  7-19-15-7748The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.