Safe Passage @ The Portage

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

I got out for a walk this morning, encouraged by the promise of sunshine and also beginning to feel more like I was walking instead of thinking about every step to the exclusion of everything else. It’s been bothering me that I missed the Christmas Bird Count at Fermilab last weekend, so when I passed by Cermak Woods on the way home yesterday from grocery shopping, I noticed a lot of Canada Geese were gathered there, and decided to go back and count them this morning. It’s not an official count, of course, but the data all goes into ebird anyway.

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods 12-28-14-9096

Likely a family group the way they were swimming

The sunshine was late in coming but so was I, yet it didn’t seem to matter. There were roughly 100 Canada Geese at Cermak Woods. No Greater White-Fronted Geese, no Cackling Geese, not even a Mallard or two. But I was encouraged by the fact that I managed to operate the camera and the huge lens, having fallen out of practice. So I continued on to the Chicago Portage.

American Tree Sparrows at the Portage

American Tree Sparrows at the Portage

Am Tree Sparrows Portage Woods 12-28-14-9422

All was quiet at the Portage until I started to walk slowly in from the south entrance which is my usual approach. I heard Black-Capped Chickadees and then began seeing lots of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, a few American Goldfinches, and I had some White-Throated Sparrows in there too.

The last time I went to the Portage there were a lot of Tree Sparrows. I cannot ever remember seeing them at the Portage in previous years, so this must definitely have to do with the removal of trees changing the habitat to suit them.

Canada Geese at Portage Woods

Canada Geese at Portage Woods

Geese started arriving at the Portage in groups shortly after I did. Since they were flying in from a direction opposite where I’d come from at Cermak Woods and they were landing in the water, I started counting them as they came in. If it were not for the BirdLog Application, I could never do this, but it’s very handy. The only thing hampering my efficacy at this point was the fact that it was cold. I had on long underwear but my hands were pretty chilly, especially every time I removed my gloves to enter more birds to the count. There were a total of five Mallards mixed in with about 100 geese.

Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage

Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage

I thought I heard Fox Sparrows, and then was lucky enough to get a recital from the bird below. I didn’t have my handheld recorder with me but I managed a quick video on the smartphone which basically has no picture worth looking at but it recorded the song this bird was singing, along with a comment or two from a Canada Goose.

Fox Sparrow, singing

Fox Sparrow, singing

As it turns out the Fox Sparrow was the “rare” bird of the day. I wondered why ebird was asking me to verify the sighting and then checked the distribution on Sibley’s app, and the northernmost part of Fox Sparrows’ winter range in Illinois is somewhere around Springfield or the middle of the state. But with climate creep, I’m not all that surprised. Besides which we have so far had a pretty mild winter.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The two birds I see regularly all year around at the Portage are Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Cardinals, and neither one of them wanted to cooperate for a photo today. But I did find this one male Northern Cardinal trying to keep warm in the top of a sunlit tree.

Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods

Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods

I’m actually looking forward to walking to the train tomorrow morning. I feel like my life has started over again. I still have a little pain and expect I will have more so I’m not going to overdo anything, but I am on the mend and that’s all I can ask for. Happy New Year!

 

“Rare” Late Migrants!

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Yesterday on my way in to the office I stopped by 155 N. Wacker Drive, as usual, to visit with the White-Throated Sparrows, see if the Hermit Thrush was still around… and to my surprise, a Gray Catbird jumped right out onto the cement edge of the elevated berm, looked me in the eye, and took off for the trees hugging the brick building. Whenever birds fly to those trees I can hardly ever see them and give up on any thoughts of getting pictures.

I heard the Hermit Thrush but did not see it. Incidentally, I hope to record this sound some day because this year is the first time I’ve become aware of it with Hermit Thrushes: it’s a whirry call that almost sounds like a purr, which I first identified by process of elimination a few weeks ago when I found a Hermit Thrush in my yard, then later checked on my Bird Tunes app and confirmed it.

So yesterday morning I figured I had a list of birds to submit to ebird and was not surprised when I had to write in the Gray Catbird. But I was later asked to prove it, at least by description if not a picture, and since I didn’t have a picture, I thought well, maybe I should go back and to see if it was still around on my lunch hour.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The White-Throated Sparrows were happy to see me again, and I stood still almost at the edge of the sidewalk so they would not feel pressured by me and my camera. While I was waiting to see who else might show up, the Hermit Thrush dashed out below me.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

And then the Catbird came out – cautiously at first – but then got used to me and let me get several pictures in the ever-darkening light. The clouds were moving in fast yesterday afternoon!

Gray Catbird IMG_1044_1Gray Catbird IMG_1039_1

Just amazed to stand there and visit with the birdies, alone except for one woman sitting off to the side with her cell phone and cigarette.

And then suddenly I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow and I knew this was probably going to be another rare sighting.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow IMG_1128_1

The funny thing about the Lincoln’s was after I had taken several pictures of him, he flew up into the tree to my left to give me a better view. Or to check me out, or to say thank you, because by now I had scattered some more bird seed. It was the least I could do for such a cooperative bunch.

When I got back to the office I submitted another ebird report and I had to justify the Lincoln’s Sparrow because yes, it too was a rare sighting at this date. And then last night at the suggestion of the submission monitor, I discovered how to embed photos into my ebird reports, so I added the two rare sightings to support my observations. Now I feel like a citizen scientist…

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Hard to let go of the locals just yet. But a picture is still worth a 1,000 words, heh.

Sunday at the Portage

BC Chickadee IMG_8415_1

Black-Capped Chickadee

After two days getting up before 4:00 a.m., it was wonderful sleeping in somewhat Sunday morning before going over to the Portage. I had no expectations, I only wanted to go out and explore. Perhaps that is the best thing about going to a place you know well: you are always primed for surprises. I started walking in slowly around 8:30. Mine was the only car in the parking lot, so I had the entire place to myself. And it was quiet.

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I was not surprised to see Wood Ducks, indeed they have been there every time, but it was special to see the young drakes in their new grownup plumage.

Wood Ducks IMG_8162_1

The surprise was seeing two young raccoons behind them.

Wood Ducks and Racoons IMG_8094_1

I managed to get a picture of one.

Raccoon IMG_8168_1

The last few visits to the Portage have been scarce on woodpecker sightings even though I knew they were always there…so it was nice to see this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

RB WP IMG_8108_1

Through a break in the trees, a Red-Tailed Hawk was visible, perched on a bare limb over the water.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

While I was trying to photograph the Magnolia Warbler below…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

a Winter Wren caught my eye. It’s always a surprise to see a Winter Wren. Especially after I had given up trying to find the Carolina Wren who was singing earlier.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Downy Woodpeckers are always plentiful, but this one was busily drilling at eye level.Downy IMG_8488_1

And not all the Gray Catbirds have left.

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Heavy rainfall the night before filled the bottomland with water.

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A lone Canada Goose was by the water near the Wood Ducks, standing on one foot

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while many more flew overhead.

Canada Geese IMG_8223_1

The most unusual sighting did not produce great pictures, but there were enough to identify a Northern Parula. My ebird sighting was questioned because I had to add this bird to the list; I did not dare add it until I was sure I had pictorial proof.

N Parula IMG_8438_1

N Parula Warbler IMG_8436_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was no shortage of Yellow-Rumped Warblers. Indeed, they were everywhere, although none were as photogenic as the week before. But I caught this one skipping across the duckweed.

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The change of seasons renders the Portage a magical place.

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Unexpected City Visitors

My encounters with birds in the city have been few and far between lately. But I have at least learned to carry my camera with me, after missing a couple opportunities to document something last year, and this year it has paid off.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

A couple weeks ago I saw this Black-Crowned Night Heron hanging out on the Chicago River just outside the train station. Last year I had one in the same vicinity but all I had with me at the time was my cell phone and although I was able to get closer, the picture wasn’t worth the effort. This year there has been a lot of construction on the bridges and streets so I could not get closer to the bird, but thanks to the super zoom feature on my point-and-shoot, I at least captured his essence.

And then on Tuesday I got out to Daley Bicentennial Plaza in the afternoon. I had goldfinches singing and juvenile crows. and a lot of huge dragonflies that refused to pose, but I wasn’t really expecting to see anything unusual, although vagrants and early migrants have started popping up at Montrose Beach which is a much birdier location. As I walked slowly through the park after feeding the crows a woodpecker flew into an ash tree right in front of me, quickly tucking itself around the backside of the tree. My first thought was Downy given the time of year, but in a couple seconds after it reappeared I realized it was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. That seemed pretty unusual to me, and as it turns out it was unusual enough to have my ebird report challenged. Luckily I was able to take pictures, even if the lighting and my lens left much to be desired. Confirmed early sighting of a female Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.

Female Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker