Long Holiday Weekend…

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4992

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Choir tour and back-to-work notwithstanding, I feel remiss about not having managed a blog post until now. It’s not for lack of photographic experiences, but more my lack of energy and planning. What I have tried to plan to do with my four-day weekend is get in as much outdoor time as possible. Starting with Thursday…

Portage - 11-22-18-4760

 

I went to the Portage even though it was cloudy and windy. Unsurprisingly I did not see many birds and those I saw did not make taking their pictures easy. But the first capture proved to be a rare one. Apparently it’s a little late for a Field Sparrow…even if it’s not a great image the bird was unmistakable.

Field Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrows were in abundance, but still not so easy to see, along with the American Tree Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Downy Woodpeckers winter at the Portage so they tend to stand out even when they aren’t trying to.

The Portage Pillage continues. I’m not sure if these trees were invasive or in bad shape but they are gone now. The third photo below shows the shallow water frozen, prohibiting waterfowl visitors.

The female cardinal below was not staying for a better shot.

NOCA - 11-22-18-4770Only two days earlier with the prospect of sunshine in the afternoon, I managed to get out of the office for a short walk over to the Lake Street bridge to see if there were any birds in the water.

None yet except for two Mallards napping on a log. But it wasn’t the Mallards that caught my attention – it was a bump on the log that created an optical illusion, looking very much like a Whip-Poor-Will on my camera. It wasn’t until I viewed the photographs on my computer that I realized this was a natural sculpture. So desperate was I to see a bird!

I will always be able to count on the Herring Gulls, even in the slow gaps between migrations…

HEGU - 11-20-18-4731Returning to Thursday, the sun came out in the early afternoon, which gave me a chance to visit with the birds in the yard. I can always count on an abundance of House Sparrows.

One of two male cardinals…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-4963I was pleased to see six American Goldfinches.

But my best subjects were a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches. I haven’t seen them for a long time, but that’s likely only because their favorite time to visit is around 1:30 in the afternoon, when I am usually at work. The females have a grayer cap, otherwise they are pretty indistinguishable.

I’m glad to see that some of those spilled sunflower seeds are still worth eating…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-5032One more of a nuthatch.

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4989I went to Jasper-Pulaski with my friend Lesa yesterday to see all the Sandhill Cranes I missed when they flew over the Chicago area the last couple weeks. I’ll be back shortly with some of that spectacle. If you are caught up in a holiday weekend, I hope it is going well!

 

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.

Fall Farewell

Song Sparrow, Springbrook Prairie

Song Sparrow, Springbrook Prairie

I am trying hard to get my head around my imminent departure. There are simply too many things to do, and I seem to have left them all to the last moment. The laundry list gave me an excuse to stay home this weekend, although it would have been a beautiful one to be out birding. But perhaps my one triumph was to rearrange the feeders a bit and stump the gray squirrels. Watching one squirrel slide off a baffle guarding the peanut feeder, which has not been up for months, gave me hope. And I haven’t seen a squirrel sitting on the “squirrel proof” sunflower seed feeder either. Of course I have been gone all day and it’s pitch dark now when I get home, so I won’t know if any of this is working until I get back. The squirrels have always proven to be smarter than I am and I am sure they will come up with a new plan. But I have a sizable investment in birdseed from the Audubon sale and I’d like as much of it as possible to go to the birds.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Mallards

Mallards

The pictures are from a couple weeks ago when I paid a visit to Springbrook Prairie in DuPage County. I didn’t see all that many birds and definitely missed the legendary Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed and LeConte’s Sparrows, but it was another chance to wield the Tamron 150-600mm lens around and try getting used to it.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

As much as I look forward to my trip, I hate to leave my birds. It’s also frustrating to find myself thinking about what I will do when I get back, when I haven’t even left yet!

Mallards

Mallards

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

It’s amazing how a difference in light can almost obscure the identity of a bird like the American Goldfinch below.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

I haven’t seen many Field Sparrows this year so it was nice to catch this one.

Song Sparrow

Field Sparrow

No matter how big the lens, a bird that is far away remains…far away.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Springbrook 10-12-14-1754

It’s hard to capture the enormity of Springbrook Prairie. I did not walk the entire trail, which can take hours. Nevertheless, several cyclists and runners kept passing me by again and again.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

I will try to come back with one more post before I disappear for a while, as a few last minute contributors to my inner and outer landscape have vied for my attention.

 

Sunday at Orland Grassland

Field Sparrow, Orland Grassland

Field Sparrow, Orland Grassland

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 Meadowlark

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe

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.

Field of Bergamot Orland 8-3-14-2247

A field of Bergamot

Monarda at Orland 8-3-14-3660

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.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

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.

Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2268

Juvenile Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2264 Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2263 Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2254

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 at Orland 8-3-14-3775

Meadow Katydid, I think…

White-Faced Meadowhawk Male at Orland 8-3-14-3706

White-Faced Meadowhawk Male

Widow Skimmer Orland 8-3-14-2239

Widow Skimmer

Colorful beetles, dragonflies…

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle on Rattlesnake Master at Orland 8-3-14-3672

Goldenrod Soldier Beetles on Rattlesnake Master

Eastern Pondhawk female

Eastern Pondhawk female

After a while other plants interrupted the field of Bergamot and sadly, so far, I can identify only one of them.

Wildflowers at Orland 8-3-14-3758

Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Wildflowers at Orland 8-3-14-3759

Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris)

Wildflower at Orland 8-3-14-3687 Wildflower at Orland 8-3-14-3738 Wildflower at Orland 8-3-14-3717

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.

Pearl Crescent per Linda Padera

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

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

Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy Butterfly

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.

Summer on the Prairie

IMG_4809_1

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

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.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

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.

Loggerhead Shrike at Midewin IMG_4872_1

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.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

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.

Mockingbird IMG_4884_1

The Blue Grosbeaks were even farther away… flying below…

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

And landing, to sing a little.

Blue Grosbeak IMG_4960_1

Later we got a much better look at the female version.

Female Blue Grosbeak and Dickcissel

Female Blue Grosbeak and Female Dickcissel

Eastern Meadowlarks were also abundant that day.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

But the Dickcissel had the last word.

Dickcissel IMG_4869_1

Milkweed IMG_4807_1

Field Sparrow Dreams

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

A short work week seems propelled by fitful spells of to-do lists, but cooler weather has made some efforts easier. This will be a short post as I was busy baking blueberry coffee cake scones for work tomorrow. Turning the oven on in July is not something I can normally get away with, but we have been in the sixties all day.

I did see some fireflies out in the yard at the tail end of dusk, all that more reassuring because the butterflies and bees have not been very visible.

On Sunday morning, my friend Lesa and I went to Pate Philip State Park, which was originally called Tri-County because it is right at the corners of Cook, Kane and DuPage Counties. There are still signs inside the park that refer to Tri-County, and ebird calls it Tri-County, so I will too. I have a hard time getting “Pate Philip” to the surface, I feel like my brain is stuttering.

Tri-County is another grassland habitat, which I seem to be gravitating toward lately. Maybe I need wider, opener spaces after being cooped up in the city all week. Anyway, the Field Sparrow pictured here was most cooperative, so much so I had to wonder if perhaps he recognized me from his possible stopover in the Loop.

Field Sparrow Tri-County IMG_4200_1

He was singing, and he seemed to be enjoying it. You can hear him in the clip below. His is the song that begins descending a chromatic scale slowly and then finishes off with an increasingly speedy trill.

Field Sparrow Tri-County IMG_4186_1

City Visitors…Part One

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

While wading through weekend photos and recordings, I’m overdue getting caught up with the workday bird visitors who have proved so astonishingly cooperative. Whatever is this Field Sparrow doing hanging out with House Sparrows in the nicotine-stained bushes of the Thompson Center?

Field Sparrow Thompson Center IMG_5823_1

As I recall, he flew away when I first noticed him, and then after I stood there awhile, he came back and started finding excuses to forage close to me. I had to step back a bit to get these pictures.

The Chicago Loop/Lakefront welcome mat isn’t out like it used to be. The former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now looks like this:

Daley destruction

Daley destruction

Millennium Park is under heavy maintenance, particularly in the bird-friendly areas, so that’s not a destination anymore. Northerly Island was designated habitat for a while, but the “temporary” Charter One pavilion is now being expanded to a concert arena for crowds of 22,000 people. Where’s a migrating bird to go, let alone a birder?

This Ring-Billed Gull was faring pretty well the last warm day I walked through Millennium.

RB Gull IMG_6286_1

There are other areas along the lakefront north and south of the city, of course, but they’re no longer part of the stretch that included downtown.

So on the way in to work I still stop by 155 North Wacker Drive. It has not been incredibly birdy lately, but there have been a few migrants, like this eager-to-please Common Yellowthroat (his initial reaction was the same as the Field Sparrow’s, and then he got curious, I guess).

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6198_1

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6215_1

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6228_1

Directly outside Union Station a few days ago, I saw this Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

I didn’t get to go out today for lunch, giving in to the threat of thunderstorms which have not occurred, a sudden burst of activity at work, and the need to leave early (thunderstorms be damned) to attend a DuPage Birding Club meeting. So I’ve spent my lunch finishing this post.

More to come from Lake Shore East Park, which has become my lunchtime refuge (and that of a couple crows I know as well).

Crow IMG_5896_1