It seems a good time to go back to my Texas trip photo memories before I lose track of it entirely. Day Two was a travel day from Del Rio, where we had spent the night, to Big Bend National Park where we stayed three days. Of course we birded along the way.
Yesterday I turned on the reluctant travel laptop to see if it was in any mood to let me look at my Texas pictures. Lo and behold I found more images, and the amazing thing is that I was allowed to process them, so here is everything from that travel day, including the domestic waterfowl below which adorned the first stop.
Travel notes from my cell phone… I love the rugged terrain of Southwest Texas.
It was nice to revisit species I have seen before. Some I saw much better than on previous occasions, while others like the Rufous-Crowned Sparrow below, eluded the camera, even though fairly common. And then there were the life birds.
The Morelet’s Seedeater is not exactly new, if I can believe I have seen a White-Collared Seedeater before. Anyway, it’s been split into its own species, so that makes it a life bird. We searched for this guy for a while and then he practically followed us around for the next quarter hour or more.
It would have been nice to see a Western Meadowlark but this Eastern Meadowlark posed nicely for us.
I’ve glimpsed Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in New Mexico but have never seen them so well as on this trip.
Then to see some old friends really well…
We arrived at the Chisos Mountain Lodge in Big Bend National Park, checked into our rooms and witnessed this sunset outside the dining hall that evening.
Meanwhile back home, it’s intermittent thunderstorms and cooler weather. I am fond of rain, but not so much.
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.
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.
I caught glimpses of a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. Later two Great Blues flew overhead.
An assortment of beautiful dragonflies made themselves available for photographs.
Widow Skimmer (Female)
I really couldn’t get enough of the Halloween Pennant. What a dazzling creature.
All 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.
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
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.
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
Sedge Wren, 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
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 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
Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie
Sedge Wren, 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.
A pair of Dickcissels
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
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
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.
I envisioned another two-locale outing yesterday morning, but never made it to the second spot, since there was quite enough to keep me busy at Orland Grassland. This is another reclaimed farm property becoming restored habitat, and it’s not far from Bartel, so if there were not quite so many strip malls and subdivisions in between you could almost envision a habitat corridor for grassland birds.
(The Field Sparrow above was friendly, but not singing. Although there were several others singing I was unable to record them. The closest one stopped singing the minute I turned on the recorder, of course.)
Juvenile Eastern Meadowlark
Juvenile Eastern Phoebe
Indeed driving just farther south than McGinnis Slough to reach Orland the feeling is never-ending suburban sprawl. Although Orland Grassland is much better established than it was last time I visited which was several years ago, and it is possible to look in at least one direction without seeing a building or utility tower on the horizon, I still could not escape the feeling of fragility, whether it was the helicopters overhead reminding me of civilization or the huge Ace Hardware warehouse looming at one corner of the preserve as I headed back to the parking lot.
A field of Bergamot
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
I managed to walk the perimeter of barely half of the 960 acre preserve, which I estimate to be about a mile one way, before turning around and heading back. I was stopped at every turn either by a bird, an interesting insect, or a wildflower. For the time being the trails are mown paths, often restructured with dried tire ruts from the last rainstorm, but I understand a paved trail is in the offing. I would rather stumble along a mown path. With the exception of a couple people walking their dogs, I was the only person at Orland yesterday morning.
Fields of Monarda seemed to attract butterflies, bees, and of particular interest to me, a hummingbird. This was my first good look at a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird this season. The welcome mat has been out in my backyard for months: I hope to see them soon at the feeders.
Juvenile Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
It was difficult to get a good image of the Katydid below but my, what long legs you have, and long antenna, and, well, a miniature marvel. The pondhawks and skimmers were more accommodating.
Meadow Katydid, I think…
White-Faced Meadowhawk Male
Colorful beetles, dragonflies…
Goldenrod Soldier Beetles on Rattlesnake Master
Eastern Pondhawk female
After a while other plants interrupted the field of Bergamot and sadly, so far, I can identify only one of them.
Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris)
Then of course there were butterflies. I think the first one below is some sort of Checkerspot but I cannot seem to locate it readily. I have to look harder.
Update: thanks to Mary Lee’s comment below I finally looked up the Crescents and I think I have identified this butterfly. Thanks, Mary Lee!
Thanks to Linda Padera I now have the correct ID for the Crescent – it is a Pearl.
Linda says this is a Pearl Crescent
Not a butterfly but always a welcome sighting, this Northern Flicker was one of four or more. Now that nesting is over they are perhaps a bit less shy. In all I had 30 bird species on my list but I probably saw only 20.
Male Northern Flicker
There were a lot of Viceroy Butterflies. I may have seen one Monarch but it was at a distance and it disappeared before I could be sure of the identification
Walking through Orland this morning was magical and mournful at the same time. Whenever I have a fleeting moment of superb reality, I seem to focus more on the fleeting than the moment itself.
It’s time to go back to work. It’s been a nice weekend, but there’s a lot more to be done.
It’s been a long day, starting at precisely 3:08 AM, although I was semi-awake at 2:30 in anticipation of the alarm clock. I knew the indoor birds would be a bit confused by my poking around in the dark and I tried to let them sleep as long as possible, but I eventually left a light on a timer to go off after it got lighter. When I left at 5:30 it was just barely starting to get light, for the days are shortening. Following are pictures of a few of the species seen today on the Evanston North Shore Bird Club field trip led by Beau Schaefer.
The long drive north yielded four Red-Tailed Hawks perched on lamp posts by the highway, and a dense foggy dew that just began to lift when I reached my destination around 6:37 AM. I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t early enough to capture the fog with the camera.
As it is, I didn’t realize until halfway through the walk that one reason why I was having a hard time capturing photos, other than the birds being pretty far away and often backlit, was that I had attached the wrong lens to the wrong camera (I’ve been getting better luck with the 100-400mm and the 5D, using the 7D for the macro lens – only I had them switched). So I guess the best scenario would have been to assemble the cameras and lenses last night before I went to bed, if I was a little bit more coherent than this morning. Unfortunately one never knows.
Lots of Common Yellowthroats – no surprise there. But the only one that perched in view was in the shadow of the cup plant.
One bird I was definitely counting on seeing at Rollins, as I have always seen them there, was a Sedge Wren. I was not disappointed. I had heard them at Goose Lake Prairie but never found one. However, as many Sedge Wrens as we heard this morning at Rollins, they weren’t all that easy to spot, until one finally sat up in a straddled fashion and sang his heart out for us. Below, a couple photographs and recordings.
The first Eastern Meadowlark we saw appeared to have taken a bath. There were better views of another individual much later. We also had a few Bobolinks but none close enough for an image.
Rollins has various small bodies of water and depending on the depth, attracts water birds and shorebirds. I didn’t bother trying to take pictures of the shorebirds although we saw Short-Billed Dowitcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and more Killdeer than we could count. This list is from memory and I may be leaving something out. Toward the end of the walk, the Great Egret below was visible through an opening, and so was a Great Blue Heron earlier, but I think I may have captured them both better in flight.
I was surprised to find the camera captured a Tree Swallow when I don’t even remember trying for it. I sometimes forget the camera has a mind of its own.
The last picture is perhaps the first bird we saw, an energetic Song Sparrow.
Song Sparrow with his back to us
In general it was a good day to be out, didn’t get too uncomfortably hot or buggy, and we were a good group of manageable size. Beau Schaefer led us at a fairly rapid pace, thus ensuring we got exercise. And I am grateful to now know where the additional parking lot is on the other side of the preserve, so next time I go, I will not feel overwhelmed about walking the entire trail. There are also a lot of cyclists to watch out for the later it gets, emphasizing the logic of starting out around 6:30 AM.
My car reports it is happy about all the extra driving we did today. I treated it to some cheaper gas and a car wash. Doesn’t get any better.
I thought to myself earlier in the week, looking forward to birding two grasslands, that by this time I might have had my fill of this type of habitat, but to the contrary, the next places to visit, circling in my mind, are more of the same. Except that they have not been and will not be the same. Yes, I saw some of the same species at Bartel Grassland that were at Goose Lake Prairie. But there were others that were different. And the habitats are remarkably unique within themselves.
Gathering for the Walk
Of course it was a different experience going on a field trip with the Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) and 15-20 people (it seemed like a large group) than being totally alone. But whatever I lost in being able to record sounds, I probably gained in sightings. And the genial camaraderie of birding with people, some of whom I knew or had encountered before, falling in and out of conversations along the trail, was welcome, and as always, educational.
Purple Prairie Clover
I haven’t been to Bartel for years, and then perhaps only twice. It is an ongoing restoration project. Each time I have been with a group and Dick Riner, the site steward, has been available for guidance and comment. I wish I had time to volunteer, to learn more from Dick and to experience the grassland from the ground up as it changes through the seasons. But I’m finding it hard enough to work in my own backyard. And the way Dick tells it, the high school kids are the best volunteers because of their energy physical capabilities. Grassland restoration is hard work!
Weather-wise we started out overcast and even a bit chilly. But that was not enough to stop a Red-Winged Blackbird from harassing a Great Blue Heron.
Someone mentioned the blackbird was riding piggyback on the heron. I can’t tell if the photograph above captured this or if it was some ruffled feathers, but you get the idea.
One of the target birds was Henslow’s Sparrow, which we heard quite a bit before we actually saw one. All the birds were too far away to photograph but I took my chances anyway and managed to get a few.
We had a couple Savannah Sparrows that were a bit closer to the trail.
At times the trail, or the beginning of one, stopped abruptly.
Perhaps best represented of the target birds were Boboliniks, even though Dick told us we seemed to have just missed most of them, when a few days ago there were perhaps hundreds more gathering to fly south toward their wintering grounds in Argentina. Bartel has the second largest population of breeding Bobolinks in Illinois, the first being at Midewin. But Midewin is so huge you might never be able to see as many as we did today. There were about 20. The females were a little easier to get pictures of.
Two views of a female. Click on the pictures and you might actually be able to see them!
Eastern Meadowlarks…were present but difficult to capture. Still it was nice to see as well as hear them.
The milkweed is thick and in full bloom at Bartel, and insects could not resist it. I found this bee hanging from it at the very start.
Bee on Milkweed
I don’t think I have ever seen a Halloween Pennant before. This is a new dragonfly for me, and quite a flashy one.
Whatever the moth on the milkweed, it was not revealing itself to me. But by now the sun was shining brightly, offering a better picture.
Another look at the Savannah Sparrow.
On the way back to my car I noticed the Blazing Star starting to bloom.
Summer at last. Booming thunder in the distance. Heat and humidity have arrived. Bites that beg to be scratched. It seems inevitable that I will put on the wrong pair of shoes and rub my heels raw to blisters after walking the two miles to work, and finish them off on the way home.
Bunker – remains of the former military installation
The primary source of my bites most likely was a trip to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie on Saturday afternoon. Midewin was established on the former site of the Joliet Arsenal. It was a beat-the-heat strategy to meet at 4:00 p.m. in the diminishing intensity of the sun. There were perhaps 25 of us, a large group by birding standards. Possibly the large group kept the birds at a mostly non-photographable distance, but the beauty of the vast landscape prevailed. We managed to see most of our target species, namely Blue Grosbeak, Northern Mockingbird and Loggerhead Shrike.
Midewin (pronounced “Mid-DAY-win”) was by all accounts Dickcissel and Field Sparrow Heaven on Saturday. I didn’t get a Field Sparrow image this time but this Dickcissel was happy to show us the boundaries of his territory, quite near the road we walked on.
In the picture above, the second bump from the left on the fence is a Loggerhead Shrike. Not that you can tell. Too far away, but the rolling fence posts and endless grass give you an idea of the shrike’s preferred habitat.
This was as close as I could get to one Mockingbird, who then took off and clinched his identity with the trademark white patches in his wings.
The Blue Grosbeaks were even farther away… flying below…
And landing, to sing a little.
Later we got a much better look at the female version.
No surprise there were many Song Sparrows singing on Sunday, so while I can’t be sure whether the recorded song belongs to the bird above, it could be.
There were several Savannah Sparrows too, but traffic noise made it difficult to record them singing. I managed to get a little song here.
Northern Rough-Winged Swallows
Early into the walk, I saw these two Northern Rough-Winged Swallows resting.
While several Great Blue Herons and finally one Great Egret flew over, I liked this Double-Crested Cormorant, perhaps because it’s easier to get away with a silhouette and less detail.
I think the Dragonfly above is a Female Widow Skimmer, but I could be wrong, so if there are any dragonfly enthusiasts out there, please weigh in!
Cabbage Whites seem to be the dominant butterfly species of the week. Up until last week I seemed to be seeing Mourning Cloaks frequently.
This Yellow Warbler was singing but I didn’t manage to get a decent recording. I only have two hands, and while I sometimes try to balance the camera in one hand and the recorder in the other, it’s usually futile, not to mention I wind up recording a lot of shutter clicks. The warblers were moving fast, and they don’t sing continuously. The photo option won out.
As far as I can tell, the Brown Thrasher above is a juvenile bird.
Near the end of my walk, I ventured way down to the end of the parking lot to see if anything different was going on the opposite side of the marsh which I had walked past on the trail. It was getting hotter and later so I did not have much hope for anything new. Then, as I turned to go back toward my car, I realized I was hearing birds in the grassland directly beside me. So I stopped to listen, and heard the Bobolink above, a Meadowlark which I didn’t see until later, and what would prove to be a Grasshopper Sparrow.
I have not seen many Female Bobolinks and so was stumped for a while by the above image, but after a lengthy process of elimination it occurred to me who she was.
The Meadowlark finally showed up, although he would not come close enough for a good picture.
And here is my surprise bird, the Grasshopper Sparrow. I have longed to see this bird for years. They are endangered in Illinois, so it is always a thrill to find one. And to see one, who seemed to be so comfortable sitting out there…maybe he’s a youngster. Anyway, below is a recording of all three birds and probably a few more singing along.
I went to Springbrook Prairie this morning to join a birdwalk but I must have pulled into the wrong parking lot. Having come a long way I was not discouraged; rather, I assembled all my gear and started my own hunt for fall migrants. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day early, turning warmer later.
There were lots of White-Crowned Sparrows, and I heard several singing.
I heard another bird song I am not familiar with – five even-pitch, even-beat notes and one more note a fourth above the others. It reminded me of the Mozart sonata I am relearning. I don’t think I want to go through all the sonatas again but after hearing myself playing Mozart on old tapes I decided letting a little Mozart back into my life wouldn’t hurt, break up the Bach a little. Anyway, whatever this bird was singing matches the second half of the third movement of Mozart’s first C major sonata. There has been some speculation that Mozart got the idea for his “Musical Joke” from his pet starling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a few more ideas from wild birds.
And then a little later I heard Eastern Meadowlarks singing. There were perhaps a dozen, but they kept flying by so quickly I could not catch a picture until one landed in a bush. I started singing back to one of them and he sang back to me – I wasn’t trying to imitate his sound, just the notes. So even though he was “countersinging” with me I don’t think it was out of competition, but sheer fun trading licks with an inexperienced human like me.
Just when I thought I’d heard all the Meadowlark songs I was going to, one bird turned the song upside down and the four notes matched exactly the first four notes ot Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” which is a piece I played when I was a child. Don’t you know I was stuck with that in my head for the next couple hours.
A few birds who weren’t singing posed for me.
Ironically, the only Song Sparrow I heard singing was a juvenile who really messed up his song. But he’ll get it right by spring, I’m sure.