Goose Lake Prairie

Cragg’s Cabin

I missed my annual visit to this place on the July 4th weekend. Then two Sundays ago, I decided to see what it looked like two weeks later. Weather conditions were favorable and I had no other plans, so it seemed like a good thing to do after I psyched myself up for the nearly hourlong drive. How spoiled I have become zipping over to the Portage in five minutes every weekend.

I got my yearly Dickcissel fix…

I don’t know why I have never bothered to look at the signs before but this time I paid more attention to them. The one below, however, is the only one the birds did not decorate. The rest, which explained more about the plants and the history of the place, were too messy to include here.

The parking lot was empty. However I was greeted by a Killdeer. If I remember correctly, there was a Killdeer here last time I visited. I suspect they nest near the Visitor Center. Also below is a recording from the parking lot.

I always count on seeing and hearing Dickcissels here and I was not disappointed. Except there seemed to be fewer individuals to photograph. The one below, perched and singing which is how you normally find them, was still farther away than I would have preferred. The Dickcissel’s song is below the pictures and there is also a Field Sparrow singing in the background.

Field Sparrows are lovely little birds and I was happy to see and hear them.

I got a closer look at this Field Sparrow with a worm.

View of the Visitor Center from the trail

I heard more Common Yellowthroats than I saw, which is typically the case. This one would not turn around and face me.

It took me quite a while to find a Song Sparrow, of all things.

I decided that the prairie plants were as spectacular as the birds and easier to photograph. I was a little disappointed to find the Purple Loosestrife as it is not a native species.

Below, a Monarch Butterfly enjoying a Compass Plant flower.

Compass Plant

I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this tiny Northern Crescent butterfly.

On a small piece of remaining boardwalk. I found a Red Admiral trying to blend in with some coyote scat. The other individual was more discretely checking out the gravel trail.

There didn’t seem to be many Indigo Buntings but in general, the birds were busy nesting and not displaying. I did manage to capture this one.

Great Blue Herons flew past, but I missed seeing any up close. There was one barely visible when I reached the Goose Lake, such as it is, but I did not want to disturb it so I reversed course.

Most of the trails are mown grass, which is where I eventually encountered the Dickcissel on the ground.

Shortly before I started to turn back, I encountered two guys who flushed a female Ring-necked Pheasant. Below are a couple not-very-clear flight photos.

The sun’s glare on the trail map below makes it even harder to see

There weren’t many Red-Winged Blackbirds visible. I settled for this one.

Over the pond by Cragg’s Cabin, I managed to capture a Cliff Swallow.

On the way out, I stopped the car to let two Wild Turkey hens cross the road. I got out of the car to take a few pictures of one. She seemed unconcerned by my presence but didn’t volunteer for a better view.

A Plastic Bag Bird too far away to capture and discard
Another Great Blue Heron in the clouds
A Great Egret

Overall I am very happy that I made it back to this beautiful place. I am a little sorry that it has taken me two weeks to report on it. But here we are at the end of July already. One confusing day leads to the next. On that note, I’m going swimming tonight for another slice of temporary ecstasy.

Almost forgot the Raspberrries!

Beautiful Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

On May 1st, on a somewhat cloudy morning which turned sunnier, I encountered the first of a few Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers coming to claim their territories for the summer. This provided an unusual opportunity to grab some really nice photographs.

Of course there were other birds available, if not all quite as accessible. Below, my last cooperative Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Palm Warblers were around – they were in the first wave, so to speak. I may still see one or two but I think for the most part they have moved on to their breeding grounds far north of here.

I did manage to barely capture this Northern Cardinal who was convinced he was pretty hard to see.

I am not sure if Mourning Doves are in decline but according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service their numbers dropped in 2020 from 2018 and 2019. I simply feel as if I have seen fewer of them.

Here’s a little bird I could stand to see more of. Field Sparrow. I likely will see some throughout the summer in their more suitable grassland habitat.

Eastern Phoebes seem to come and go at the Portage so far.

A Canada Goose … and a Turtle. There was slightly more water three weeks ago but the drought was already affecting everyone.

There’s still always a chance to see a Bald Eagle fly over.

Here is a distant Black-Throated Green Warbler that I missed a closer view of while talking to two photographer friends – I was blocked by a tree and thought they were taking pictures of the Palm Warbler I had in the photographs above.

It’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that I have not made it to the Magic Hedge – Montrose – on the lakefront, where as many as 28 warbler species were seen last Saturday. There were also as many as 40 birders. It used to be daunting enough to drive and park when I wanted to go on occasion, and now parking meters are being installed with likely few other options if you don’t find a space. I suppose there are other ways to get to Montrose safely with optics but they all contain extra expense (like an Uber). I would endure public transportation but not with all my gear. I will have to be satisfied with whatever the places I visit have to offer. Birds can still show up anywhere. I hope next year I will not be constrained by my current schedule, and barring any more accidents, I will be able to go out more. Maybe even make a trip to the Magic Hedge.

That said, we are in the 80’s thru Tuesday with a brief drop into the 70’s after that – and praying for rain. I intend to get out early tomorrow for a cloudy walk and see what I can see.

At home, my Zebra Finches are bored with me sitting on the futon working. Up until today I was wearing something they could play with, but today my legs are bare and my half-socks are uninteresting at best. The air conditioning has already come on a couple times to keep us at 79 degrees which is made more comfortable by a couple fans blowing. Summer Mode.

Return to The Other Goose Lake

The 4th of July always reminds me to make my annual visit to Goose Lake National Prairie. I am not exactly sure why I don’t visit at other times of the year, and maybe I will decide to visit more often if I ever retire, but I like to go at this time because it’s not crowded, the prairie is beautiful and in bloom, and I can usually count on seeing Dickcissels and Henslow’s Sparrows.

As it turns out, this year it was particularly “not crowded” – I was the only human the entire length of my visit. I went on July 3rd instead of the 4th. It was already hot and sunny at 7:40 a.m. when I got out of my car and saw Killdeer in the parking lot.

As I started to walk the trail that goes out from the back of the Visitor’s Center, I was welcomed by a few Barn Swallows, one of which was having fun swooping close to my head. Perhaps it was trying to startle me, because it was pretty persistent, but I am quite used to birds flying around my head! My challenge was to try to capture the bird in flight. When I used to go down to the lakefront in the summertime on my lunch hour, there were swallows swooping around constantly close to people, but people were everywhere and pretty unavoidable. On this occasion, the handful of Barn Swallows outnumbered me.

As for “target” birds, I saw only one Dickcissel and it was quite far away. I didn’t hear any more of them, either. I neither heard nor saw any Henslow’s Sparrows. I heard a lot of Marsh Wrens but could not see one.

But you can’t go birding on expectations and then be disappointed when they don’t pan out. There’s always a surprise or something interesting. I was delighted to see an Eastern Meadowlark.

Common Yellowthroats seem particularly abundant this year. I think that is making them less skulky.

The prairie wasn’t in full bloom, but the Monarda and Prairie Spiderwort were attractive. At least I think it’s Prairie Spiderwort and not Ohio, although the leaves looked thicker than the variety I have in my backyard. Either one is native to Illinois.

It is always nice to see Orchard Orioles. I found a female perched and one male in flight.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows were abundant.

A distant male Northern Harrier was harassed by a few Red-Winged Blackbirds.

I think this was the same Great Egret I saw perched at the pond by Cragg’s Cabin later.

One tern flew by. It didn’t stay long enough to fish. There is a big man-made lake nearby, Heidecke Lake, which was formerly a cooling reservoir. That could be where the tern hangs out more often.

A Caspian Tern

Two Great Blue Herons flew by. Likely one of them was the individual below who was fishing from the partially submerged boardwalk that is no longer functional for human use but served this bird’s purpose.

Mallards in flight

Red-winged Blackbirds typically outnumber everything else. But it seems like every place I go, I hear a new vocalization from them. Listen to this little trilly sound below.