Leading Walks

I led two walks for the Unity Temple Unitarian Universality Congregation (UTUUC) auction again, on September 11 and September 25 this year. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, even though I was in much better shape than I was last time with the broken elbow. The pictures from the 11th are first and the ones from the 25th start with the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

More than anything, it was good to get out with people from the congregation, most of whom I had not previously connected with, which was the whole point, beyond raising money, of offering a walk as an auction item. We had great conversations and the weather was good on both days, so I find myself looking forward to doing this again. And again.

Not quite the last Indigo Bunting (a juvenile).

I managed to capture this Chestnut-sided Warbler with a bug.

The Yellow Warbler below was deemed “rare” in that it was late to be seen on September 11, so perhaps I developed too many photos of it to prove I had seen it.

A Red-tailed Hawk flew over.

It was nice to see yet another Eastern Wood-Pewee.

I am always grateful to the bees that remind me the Canada Goldenrod, however strident in taking over spaces, is needed and appreciated by them.

A closeup of some galls that attach themselves to hackberry leaves.

Not a representative photograph at all, but below was my first of many Yellow-Rumped Warblers to come.

Below is a somewhat hard-to-see Blackpoll Warbler. You can always click on the image to see it better.

For a few days there was a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak or two.

Finally started seeing some Ruby-crowned Kinglets on September 25th like the one below. I have since captured more – to follow eventually.

Magnolia Warblers just kept popping up all month.

One more of the delicately decorated Swamp Darner also at the top of the post. It was on its way somewhere on September 25th,

I led a walk this morning at Columbus Park – I was the only participant. I think I might return shortly with that adventure before I continue to plow through the accumulated backlog: for instance, I wound up going back to the Portage before and after the second walk and found it to be very birdy, so be forewarned.

More Portage Warblers and Friends

I’m taking advantage of the rainy forecast – we’re not getting much rain yet but it is quite cloudy and we could get more. I needed a morning off from birding anyway as my left foot was complaining about something of unknown origin yesterday. It’s better this morning, but I’ll defer the walking part of my day and swim a mile in the pool later this evening.

These photographs are from my second visit to the Portage now almost two weeks ago – on September 8th. The clear skies gave way to intense light which made for some interesting contrasts when I found a cooperative Black-throated Green Warbler.

I found it hard to resist taking one photo of my favorite shelf fungus which is conveniently located close to the trail.

Two-year male American Redstarts have been few and far between and avoiding me, but I sort of managed a furtive representation of this one. The first-year males have been plentiful, but I think that’s a female below as the flank color isn’t quite orangey enough.

Female American Redstart

I have seen a good number of Blackpoll Warblers this fall, like the one below.

Here’s one of my favorite combinations – Canada Goldenrod and Boneset seem to have an affinity for each other. A closeup of the Boneset is below.

Here’s a European Starling in the Pokeweed berries.

I had a nice look at a light morph Red-tailed Hawk.

Certain birds tend to stand out and the number of Eastern Wood-Pewees I have seen well fall into this category.

Swainson’s Thrushes have been everywhere. Period. But sometimes they look like Gray-Cheeked Thrushes and vice versa…

This looks like a Gray-Cheeked Thrush to me.

Here’s what the Des Plaines River looked like two weeks ago – it’s even lower now.

Red-eyed Vireos were abundant.

Maybe – just maybe – the bird below was a Wilson’s Warbler. Sadly, I have no other views of it. I am still trying to codify warbler colors. This looks like Wilson’s Warbler Yellow to me.

The Portage colors match the birds.

There was a Canada Warbler that day.

And American Robins are so ubiquitous that when one stands out, I sometimes have to capture it. The bird below looks to be very young and quite curious.

It’s been a rewarding fall migration season so far for me, albeit tucked away in my location limits. Eventually I will have to go down to the lakefront and other places a little more far-flung but for the moment I feel like I am enjoying my morning outings around here.

One more – Magnolia Warbler

Hot and Dry at the Portage

If my memory serves me correctly, last year we were complaining of too much rain. I remember the tall plants in my backyard towering over everything and wondering if perhaps I should have discouraged them earlier. As it turns out, the tall plants seem to be growing up just as much without rain, but I am in no mood to discourage anything.

Anyway, Saturday I went to the Portage early and encountered John as I pulled into the parking lot. He leads discussions and walks on Saturdays at 10:00 AM regarding the history of the place. He had arrived early, said he was getting into birding but had forgotten his binoculars and wanted to know if he could tag along with me. We had a good time talking and walking along the trail, and he told me the history of the early explorers and how the Des Plaines River was diverted to feed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. So initially the little bit of water now left to the Portage is part of the original Des Plaines River bed, but nothing feeds it except rain. With that knowledge I am amazed that when I first started coming here, there was enough water to support herons feeding and even a pair of Green Herons nesting. I haven’t seen the Green Herons here for several years now.

This year there doesn’t seem to be water to make it buggy enough to support Eastern Phoebes or Eastern Kingbirds like last year. We do have Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers.

When John and I started up the trail we encountered that large painted turtle featured at the head of this post, on the gravel path. I wonder if it was a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. There haven’t been many turtles visible this year. The drought is affecting them as well.

But then we saw an Eastern Wood-Pewee, who even sang for us. I love these little guys – I often hear them clear across the woods but don’t always see them.

While we paused on the back trail on the other side of the fence, an Osprey flew over.

I was able to show John my most reliable Indigo Bunting whose territory is on the East side of the North bridge. The bunting was happy to pose and sing for us. A recording of his song is below the photos.

John had to leave to get ready for his tour/talk so we parted ways. I will have to attend one of his presentations. I confess I used avoid the Portage on Saturday mornings because of all the extra people, but now I’ve gotten used to it after the pandemic brought in a lot of new visitors.

I continued along the trail in the direction I usually take. The rest of these photos are not in order but they are the only birds I was able to capture. Below is a Red-Belled Woodpecker on the dark side of an oak tree.

I caught this Northern Flicker inspecting a nest hole.

Whatever you may think of Brown-headed Cowbirds, they can still be attractive.

Below is the first butterfly I have seen except for a Monarch here and there. It’s a Skipper, but I haven’t been able to identify it precisely. It was very tiny.

There was a Bald Eagle flying over.

There were very few swallows – this was the only Tree Swallow I saw.

Even the Red-winged Blackbirds were lying low.

I sat on the bench by the parking lot before returning to my car and caught this male Baltimore Oriole foraging around in the low trees at the edge of the lawn.

I decided to forego birding again on Sunday morning and opted to do a little yard work in anticipation of more to come. The Berwyn Historical Society this year decided to start an annual garden walk event on June 19, and my crazy garden, a/k/a postage-stamp-sized wildlife refuge, has been selected. The idea was pandemic-inspired because normally the BHS would be offering a bungalow tour, but since that wasn’t possible, the idea for an outdoor event occurred. My front yard still appears somewhat organized even though its creator, who has since passed, would likely have issues with all the Common Milkweed and other aggressors overtaking his original plan. It was just my luck that a Monarch visited the milkweed a week and a half ago and seemed to be laying eggs so I don’t dare remove any of it. I also have discovered some new visitors, such as Narrow-leafed Blue-eyed Grass.

My backyard is a small forest with a lot of native plants and grasses that need more control than I have been able to do. I am taking the week off before the walk to make as much sense out of it as I can and also to make sure I can identify everything – or almost everything – that’s growing. I have stopped feeding the birds and squirrels, except for the occasional hummingbird or oriole that might stop by, so the rat control project can succeed. The only thing I have to contend with is weather and stamina. So working in the yard is what I am looking forward to next week.

In the meantime I hope to be back with some pictures from previous outings this spring.

Once More with Sunshine

I went back to the Portage Sunday to see if abundant sunshine would allow me to see more birds. As it turned out, it was harder to capture most of the birds – except for the Indigo Buntings who were readily available – but in going through my photographs later I discovered the camera saw more birds than I did and I found some unexpected species. Nothing rare – it’s spring migration, so just about anybody can show up.

Vesper Sparrow

Not only was the Vesper Sparrow unexpected, but I was also surprised to see a Black-Billed Cuckoo, although I have seen them at the Portage on occasion before.

There were swallows like the day before, although not as many. I have concluded that the Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly in a more deliberate fashion which makes them easier to capture. Still I managed to snap one photo of a Barn Swallow in the lower right-hand corner.

So the Indigo Buntings were busy singing in the sunshine. I am convinced they have an artistic sense of the best places to perch for photos. I love the way this one was initially framed by the split of the tree trunk.

Male American Goldfinches are in full bloom too.

The Red-winged Blackbirds are looking a little tired of it all already.

Gray Catbird

I thought I was hearing the tail end of an Eastern Towhee’s song – and then I spotted one way up high (used to seeing them closer to the ground). Below the shots of the male is a partially visible female Eastern Towhee.

I was also hearing an Eastern Wood-Pewee for the first time this spring. I barely captured a picture of one below.

Red bird of the day turned out to be a male House Finch.

The Baltimore Orioles are busy gathering nesting material. Both female and male birds are below.

This is a really unfortunate place for a Lincoln’s Sparrow to show up but I’m glad one was on site anyway.

I walked around back by the water reclamation district and saw three Killdeer. Below is one of them.

There were quite a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I got closer shots of the female in the grassy area by the parking lot on my way out.

So we really, really need some rain. This is how the Des Plaines looked on Saturday. You can walk down to it easily because the bottomlands are all dried out. Unfortunately because of the lack of water, there were no birds by the river.

So it wasn’t a great day for warblers, but I did manage a few pictures of a female Bay-breasted Warbler.

Can’t leave without a Robin. It’s got to be getting harder and harder to find those worms. The Robin below has a not-so-tasty-looking worm in its bill.

With a little luck I will be back with the prelude to all this before the weekend when I will likely be outside again. There is rain in the forecast but I have learned to become skeptical of the outcome. At least it is still fairly cool, but that will change too. This is all affecting my mood, to say the least. I am looking forward to swimming tonight – a sure antidote to depression.

Mid-July

I haven’t been able to go forward too far so I am going backward in time. These photographs are from one lovely day in the middle of July at the Portage. A highlight was a pair of Orchard Orioles. The male is at the top of this post.

Even though the Green Herons did not have enough water to make a go of it this summer, they still came to visit.

Pollinators were busy.

Below are some more images of the male Orchard Oriole, and one of the female in the same frame as a Red-Winged Blackbird female. They were foraging in the vegetation that sprung up in the absence of water this summer.

A female Red-Winged Blackbird is showing off below.

Male Northern Cardinals aren’t typically willing subjects, so it was a rare treat to capture this one.

Robins were present in all stages of plumage.

Not sure but this might have been my last opportunity to photograph and record a singing male Indigo Bunting.

It was a good year all around for seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees. I usually always hear them but rarely see them. Something about the change in habitat, I suspect.

The Goldfinches spent a lot of time foraging in the duck weed. I didn’t realize that the Portage has a storyboard describing duck weed as the smallest flowering plant until I led a bird walk recently.

Not a very good photograph, but I this was the last time I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher.