Midsummer Portage Potpourri

My last visit to the Portage was on a cloudy Saturday morning. My attention was drawn to creatures other than birds and flora since there were not a lot of birds visible. In fact this was the first time I don’t recall seeing an Indigo Bunting well and I barely heard a few singing.

When I first checked the beebalm there was a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird but I was unable to capture him clearly and he took off. I then noticed a Clear-winged Sphynx Moth and managed to get a few pictures of it instead.

European Starling taking a break.
American Robin showing off his catch.

I turned my attention to grasses that are new or more noticeable. In order of appearance, Squirrel- Tail Grass, Canada Wild Rye and Bottlebrush Grass.

It always looks like a peaceful time for the Red-winged Blackbirds as they tend to their offspring and hang out in the marsh.

This House Wren was pretty far away but he was very vocal and somewhat visible.

I barely managed to capture this Green Heron flying high above the Portage.

Scenes of green.

Butterfly of the morning was an Eastern Comma.

I am stumped by this pretty little white flower with the magenta center and lobed leaves – and welcome identification if you recognize it. I have never seen it before this year. I will also continue to look for it on the Illinois wildflower webpage. Invariably anything I see at the Portage has a 10% chance of showing up in my yard eventually.

Tall Bellflower seems to crop up here and there.

The last creature I tried to capture on my way out was a deer – I just barely managed the last photograph as it left and I was too close to fit it entirely in the frame.

Not sure where I’m going or when this weekend, as I constantly check the weather and my email to see if I have other obligations. But I intend to be back soon, as long as the lazy, hazy days of summer continue, anyway.

Romance Is In The Air

Two posts ago I shared a series of photographs from last spring of Downy Woodpecker courtship behavior. It might be a little early to expect to see that again this year, but I did encounter two Downies – albeit not yet interacting with each other – last Sunday.

The lovely lady below was exploring a tree stump. She was apparently viewed from above by the little guy whose photos follow (he’s also at the top of this post) but by the time he flew down to the stump, she had left. He looks a little young for her, don’t you think?

The first thing I saw, though, when I got out of my car, was a pair of European Starlings on the hand of the statue by the parking lot. Later another posed for me.

Maybe most impressive were all the buds on the trees.

I managed to get a glimpse of a pair of Wood Ducks flying. I heard them calling first.

it’s a challenge to photograph the only water movement under the first bridge, but I managed to just fit the lens hood between the divisions of the bridge railing to see if it would work.

Raptor of the day was a Turkey Vulture. I was happy to add it to the list as I had seen one from the car the week before.

Nothing happening on the Des Plaines but the reflection of the graffiti on the rocks caught my eye.

A pair of Mourning Doves on the grass of all places.

The Portage has its share of last year’s Oriole nests too.

So much for my little visit to the Portage last week. Since I missed this past weekend, I hope I can expect to see a few more birds by this coming Saturday or Sunday – or both. We were experiencing strong winds from the south, so that should be giving some birds a push along their route. Even though we have slipped back into the cold for a couple days, the coming weekend looks positively balmy. Hope you are enjoying the first signs of spring.

Springtime in November

Well it’s probably over, but we were basking in unseasonably warm weather and we could still stay above freezing for a while. The past weekend afforded two pleasantly warm days without rain, so I took advantage of them both and went birding. These pictures are all from Saturday morning at the Portage. In spite of the pleasant weather, there weren’t too many people on the trails early, so I had the opportunity to stand still and observe some birds without disruption. Below, a group of European Starlings hanging out, their antics and expressions which I found entertaining. If you click on one of the images you can scroll through them.

I expected to see sparrows and was not disappointed. The usual suspects were available. Below is a Song Sparrow I saw early on.

The return of Dark-eyed Juncos…

The subtle variations in plumage for Dark-eyed Juncos always intrigues me.

One White-throated Sparrow sat for more than a second. He was just far enough away.

It seems Fox Sparrows are always elusive.
Fall colors at the Portage

The Downy Woodpecker below volunteered for a photo shoot – you can scroll through…

Then there’s always a fascination with cavities…

Last week there were Golden-Crowned Kinglets available, this week i had more luck with a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

More fall colors…

I rounded a corner such as it was on the trail and encountered a young deer, who was then joined by two others and they took off gamboling through the woods.

It was nice to see some Canada Geese in the water.

There were a few Mallards is the water too – and in the air.

Below, White-breasted Nuthatches…

I was surprised by a noisily chattering Carolina Wren and managed to grab a couple photos as it flew up into the tree.

Below, a little melange of Portage characters.

A calmly perched American Goldfinch

Then there were Purple Finches and House Finches – together – making identification a bit confusing. The only Purple Finch I managed to get pictures of is below, and it’s likely a juvenile female.

Some of the House Finches below look a bit on the purple or raspberry side of the spectrum but they still appear to be House Finches.

Always nice to see a Red-Tailed Hawk, however briefly.

An indication of how sunny it was when I arrived…

So the last bird I photographed was the Hermit Thrush at the top of the post and below. I first saw it in the woods far from the trail, but in true Hermit Thrush fashion, it responded to my attention and came and sat on a branch directly in front of me so we could exchange thoughts.

If I can manage it I will be back with a post from the Portage in April – looking a bit like it did on Saturday, with no leaves on the trees yet. I found a plethora of photographs I had never managed to develop and it will be an interesting contrast of early spring versus late fall.

Weekends at the Portage

I spent the mornings of July 4th and Sunday, June 28th, at the Chicago Portage, mainly to see how the birds that spend their breeding season there are doing. Fledglings are starting to show themselves. Sometimes they look so different from the adults it takes a moment or two to figure out exactly who they are.

American Goldfinch

A Green Heron occasionally stops by to see what’s happening, perhaps to see if the water it used to fish in has returned. I suspect the herons miss the water even more than I do. A frequent dog-walker I have exchanged conversation with for years told me that he heard the amount of water flowing into the Portage was being controlled to discourage beavers. That’s extremely disappointing to me, if true. I had read somewhere that efforts were being made to restore the habitat to its original state but I really don’t know how that could happen. I will keep trying to find out the true story. In the meantime the habitat change attracts other species that were absent before, but I miss the old “regulars.”

All that vegetation in the middle used to be water…

Something else: just as I was beginning to explore farther afield, the fence gate has been closed and locked. I am not surprised, with all the extra foot and bicycle traffic – I am sure it is a matter of liability between the water reclamation district and the railroad. Of course I would be able to crawl through the opening on the righthand side of the gate but I don’t think it’s worth doing now. It might be hard to resist during fall migration though. I guess it will depend on how many people are still using the trails.

So the stars of both visits were the male Indigo Buntings. There were plenty of them everywhere and quite a few volunteered for photographs. Since I always take too many pictures and have a hard time deciding which ones to use I have just piled them up here.

There seems to be a good number of Northern Flickers this year.

I am always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly. But sadly I haven’t seen more than two at a time.

Starting to see more dragonflies too.

European Starlings always look more interesting to me in their juvenile plumage.

I never know when I’m going to run into a deer.

Red-winged Blackbirds are less visible now that they’ve accomplished their mission of setting up territories and making babies. This may be the last time I will have seen a male singing.

I found the photos below confusing until I realized, upon closer inspection, that the breast is yellow and the tail has rufous coloration to it. Voila, this is a juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a juvenile before, so I am really happy I managed to capture it.

Another Indigo Bunting…

Here’s a Baltimore Oriole feeding his fledgling.

These are juvenile Red-winged Blackbirds checking out their surroundings.

This is the time of year when robins take on all kinds of plumage variations, particularly among the juveniles.

Downy Woodpecker (juvenile)

Below are photos of an adult Red-bellied Woodpecker and a juvenile, for comparison.

I was intrigued by the House Wren below who disappeared into the cavity in the tree…