Sights and Sounds: Chicago Portage

Brown Creeper, Chicago Portage

Brown Creeper, Chicago Portage – a sign of spring

It’s been raining on more than off all week, so the farther I get from last Sunday’s excursion, the harder it is to visualize.

Portage IMG_4435_1

The Chicago Portage is still asleep but starting to wake up now with the rain and intermittent spells of warmer temperatures.

Turtle IMG_4516_1

Turtle sunning itself

Last week I purchased a Roland hand-held recorder to use in the field. I have had a Marantz with a very sensitive microphone for years, but it’s a lot to carry and I wanted something more portable. I figured by now technology had caught up with me. I’m still learning how to use it, but I managed to get a few sounds.

American Goldfinc

American Goldfinch

The picture above is not of the Goldfinch that is singing–albeit in the background overshadowed by a Red-Winged blackbird–in the clip below. The actual singer, although I did photograph him, was rather far away.

Goldfinch Portage IMG_4369_1This was our songster.

A bit later there was a wonderful Song Sparrow singing, and although he wouldn’t let me get the classic shot while he was performing, he did give me a nice picture anyway.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I will keep experimenting with the recorder and from time to time share the best songs with you.

Just to taunt me, two Great Blue Herons flew over, followed by three Monk Parakeets. I managed to get a fleeting picture of one Great Blue.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This huge fallen tree just next to the path that leads down to the Des Plaines River behind the Portage was recently dismantled. Part of its core looks diseased, making it easy prey for the strong winds.

Downed Tree IMG_4462_1

Not too hard to find a Red-Winged Blackbird here, singing his head off.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Fox Sparrows are still at the Portage.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

And the Downies are busy as usual.

upside-down Downy Woodpecker

upside-down Downy Woodpecker

I have seen an Eastern Phoebe almost every day this week somewhere.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

The water levels should be higher this week after all the rain. If we get another break in the clouds I’ll go back and check.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Portage IMG_4387_1

Putzing Around the Portage

Portage IMG_2201_1

Almost two weeks ago, I went with a friend to the Chicago Portage to see what birds turned up after the snow. It was a beautiful, sunny day. My pictures of the most numerous species, Red-Winged Blackbird, aren’t worth publishing (maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to get a picture), but other early visitors and some regulars complied.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Winter is hanging on a bit longer, but it sure beats the freakish 80-degree temperatures of last year. Undeterred, the Cedar Waxwings have begun to arrive on schedule, finding sustenance in leftover freeze-dried berries.

The Downies have been here all year, but I cannot ignore them.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

We were delighted to see this Brown Thrasher.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher


Phragmites at the Portage

The invasive Phragmites remain mighty, barren stalks that provide cover for the arriving sparrow species.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The trees are like old friends along the path.

Portage IMG_2323_1

We found this Red-Bellied Woodpecker tending to a hole…

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

and one of several cardinals enjoying the sunshine…

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

On our way out, a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks flew over: here’s one. Red-Tails used to nest at the Portage. I hope this pair decides to stay.

Red Tail IMG_2374_1

Red-Tailed Hawk

Back to Birds: Crabtree Nature Center

Feeder Mayhem IMG_1508_1

7 Species in 1 Frame!

Last week, I visited Crabtree Nature Center in the far northwest corner of Cook County, Illinois. I went twice, to try for reported good views of a female White-Winged Crossbill, a species I have barely seen on a few occasions. The bird had been seen visiting the feeders, and others had taken nice pictures, so I wanted a memorable look.

Downies IMG_1715_1

Female and Male Downy Woodpeckers

I never saw the White-Winged Crossbill. Watching the feeders from the comfort of the warm nature center, however, was a mesmerizing experience. Birds came constantly to the feeders. If someone or something scared them off, they were back within seconds.

Am Tree Sparrow IMG_1199_1

American Tree Sparrow

I am looking forward to returning to Crabtree to check out the trails later in the year. But for now I am going to just fill up the rest of this post with a few more pictures taken last week.

Feeder Birds IMG_1229_1

Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch and Northern Cardinal


Pine Siskins IMG_1537_1

Pine Siskins


RB Woodpecker IMG_1562_1

Red-Bellied Woodpecke


Crabtree Nature Center Dove IMG_1332_1

Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinal


WB Nuthatch IMG_1717_1

White-Breasted Nuthatch


White-Throated Sparrow IMG_1617_1

White-Throated Sparrow


Fox Sparrow IMG_1580_1

Fox Sparrow



Fall Sparrow-rama

Swamp Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Now that the fall sparrows are all but gone, I’ve decided to pay tribute to them. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to photograph some less common species that made the front pages of the local list-serve, one or two which I even managed to see, I had some cooperative models nonetheless, and they’re all compelling to me in their subtle variety.

Dark-Eyed Junco

And for me, anyway, I need a break from the evening news.

White-Crowned Sparrow

I hope you are all safe and secure, wherever you are, as storms seem to be raging across the planet.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden

As you might notice from the locations, the sparrows were plentiful in the Chicago lakefront parks and also in the marsh area of McGinnis Slough, a Cook County suburban forest preserve.

Clay-Colored Sparrow, Daley Bicentennial Plaza

When I first photographed the Clay-Colored above, it was such a cloudy, or as my mother used to say, “glismal” day that I thought perhaps he was a Chipping Sparrow. Imagine my delight upon developing the image to discover he was a Clay-Colored Sparrow! They are a bit similar but Clay-Colored are rather more unusual and I haven’t seen one in a while. The grayness of the day certainly contributes to his clay color!

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

As common as Song Sparrows are when they breed here, they seem less so in migration.

White-Throated Sparrow, Daley

So many White-Throated Sparrows come through, often you can hear one or two singing, although usually they’re first-year tryouts.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Daley

I like pictures that sometimes show just enough of the bird for identification…

Swamp Sparrow, Daley

Sometimes that’s all a bird’s going to show you.

Dark-Eyed Junco, Daley

Or in Daley, there are lots of sparrows in the grass but all too often the grass overshadows them.

Fox Sparrow, Daley

Fox Sparrows are another favorite of mine. There are four subspecies in North America; we get the red guys.

Savannah Sparrow, McGinnis

There’s more plumage variation among Savannah Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow, Daley

And even White-Throated Sparrows have two subspecies that intermingle. The bird above is the tan-striped variation, the earlier one is the white-striped.

House Sparrows, Daley

And then of course there are the House Sparrows. They aren’t really sparrows, they’re weaver finches. But don’t tell them that: they like to think they pass for sparrows and the city HOSPs, at least, don’t mingle with the other finches.