A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie for the Fourth of July

Young male Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie, 7-4-15

Young male Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie, 7-4-15

To celebrate my fourth year of this blog (my how time flies) I am publishing two posts today, which doesn’t hardly make up for my lack of posting lately but it’s good to be relaxed and sitting in the air conditioning and not afraid of falling asleep over a million photos.

Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

It took me a while to get to this point, I had two months of pictures to go through or remove from my hard drive just so I could download what’s been accumulating on the camera the past two weeks.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

EAME Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6398

I went to Goose Lake Prairie yesterday morning. I didn’t get there early enough to catch the Blue Grosbeak and Bald Eagle seen by another birder, but I was happy enough to find a cooperative Grasshopper Sparrow, lots of Henslow’s Sparrows that eluded my sight, let alone photographs, Sedge Wrens, and of course a plethora of Dickcissels.

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird, Goose Lake Prairie

I also believe I took really crummy photographs of an American Bittern flying but I am too shy to edit my ebird report seeing as how I would have to write it in. Maybe I’ll gain courage as the week goes on. Least Bittern is on the list for Goose Lake Prairie but for some reason American Bittern is not.

Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird

Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird

This is the time of year when the youngsters start to get a bit confusing. Like the Brown-Headed Cowbird above.

Common Yellowthroat, Goose Lake Prairie

Common Yellowthroat, Goose Lake Prairie

Common Yellowthroats are always singing and you never see them, so I was happy to have one finally show himself. Ironically, the recording underneath the picture begins with his song, which gets fainter I suppose as he moved farther away, but a Henslow’s Sparrow can be heard clearly in front of him and these were the birds I couldn’t see anywhere. I must have heard five or six of them singing.

Female Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Female Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Bluebird, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Bluebird, Goose Lake Prairie

The Sedge Wrens were vocal too but I didn’t get a recording of them. And ironically for all the Dickcissels I don’t seem to have them either. I think I just have to start out an hour earlier next time.

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6616

A pair of Dickcissels

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6350

Female or juvenile Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Below is that butterfly I was too lazy to take out my other camera that had the closeup lens attached to it.

Mourning Cloak, Goose Lake Prairie

Mourning Cloak, Goose Lake Prairie

On the way back I stopped at the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery, which I was surprised to find open to the public, if only for half an hour. There were three staff on hand to make sure no one lingered in the park, which is normally off limits entirely during the breeding season. I have seen it from the other side but never this view before. I will have to go back now that I know it’s sometimes accessible.

Lake Renwick Heron Rookery

Lake Renwick Heron Rookery

Thanks to all who visit my blog and followers and friends! It’s been a fun four years and I hope to be back soon with many more observations inspired by my feathered friends.

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Goose Lake Prairie and Copley Nature Park

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

I don’t know what it is about Goose Lake Prairie, but I like going there, so that was my destination on the Fourth of July. I didn’t get out as early as planned but after the hour-plus drive I was walking the gravel trail from the Visitor’s Center around 7:45 AM. The Visitor’s Center is always closed on the Fourth of July. One of these days I’ll have to go when it’s open.

Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot

Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot

Not seeing a lot of bees these days so I try to pay attention when I do. This bee appears to be virtually bathed in pollen. I think it’s the little hairs on the flower petals that make it look that way. Click on the picture to see.

The first bird I managed to photograph was a Common Yellowthroat. From the coloring it looks like a juvenile.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Female Common Yellowthroat 7-4-14-0520

But there were still plenty of males singing on territory, like the one below. A sample of his song is in the link between the pictures. You might also hear a Song Sparrow and an Eastern Meadowlark singing in the background of the recording: the Common Yellowthroat is the one singing in triplets.

Male Common Yellowthroat

Male Common Yellowthroat

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Common Yellowthroat 7-4-14-0569

I also saw a male Northern Harrier soon after I started out, but only because it had been chased into and then out of a tree by a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds. It was the only raptor I had until I saw a Turkey Vulture from the car as I was driving away.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Below, some of the many juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out in groups.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds

The Tree Swallows below were probably too far away to photograph, but I like the tandem effect of this picture anyway.

Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows

For the record, here’s a juvenile Song Sparrow. I could not seem to locate the adults that were singing.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

This is the time of year when anything that flies catches my eye. One thing I’ve noticed is the different dragonflies as they occur in different habitats. Butterflies, anywhere, are entirely another matter; they seem to be scarce and do not like to be photographed except from far away.

Widow Skimmer Male

Widow Skimmer Male

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy Butterfly

The other prominent singer yesterday was a Dickcissel. The bird below eventually tolerated my presence so I could get these pictures. One version of his song is in below his pictures.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel 7-4-14-0833

Although the weather was relatively cool starting out, the sun was hot and by 10:00 a.m. or so I felt I had probably seen all I was going to see. It’s not the kind of place you want to go off trail.Hunting Sign 7-4-14-2356

Hunting Sign 7-4-14-2367

I decided to stop by Lake Renwick on the way back home, which has a heron rookery. There is a small viewing area at Copley Nature Park, accessible from Route 30 at the edge of Lake Renwick. Lake Renwick rookery itself is closed during the breeding season. This is another place I need to check out when it’s open for business.

A distant family of Great Blue Herons tempted me to shoot a few fuzzy pictures.

Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick

Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick

Great Blue Nest Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0895

And birds flying by, like this Double-Crested Cormorant, with its distinctive silhouette.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

Perhaps the most numerous species of the day besides Red-Winged Blackbird was Eastern Kingbird. There were many at Goose Lake and several at Copley Nature Park, this one being particularly cooperative.

Eastern Kingbird Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0950

In case I had any doubt about the heron rookery, this Great Egret flew overhead after I had been out of the car only a few minutes.

Great Egret Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0885

Oh well, one more early morning and then it’s back to business as usual. I’m joining Chicago Ornithological Society at Bartel Grassland in Tinley Park tomorrow. It’s an early start and an hour’s drive away, so I should be turning in very soon. After three days off I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of it. Being off, that is.

Today also marks my third year blogging with WordPress. I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of that too. Thanks to you all for making it fun! 🙂

Owls on an Afternoon

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I’ll spare you some really bad puns I had for the title of this post.

Sunday afternoon, three of us Elles went on a DuPage Birding Club field trip led by intrepid Jeff Smith. The purpose of the trip was to see owls that Jeff had located previously. Owl etiquette also dictates that owl locations not be widely publicized.

Isle de la Cache IMG_0218_1

Our first stop was at Isle a La Cache in Will County, a new spot for me. I can only imagine what it looks like in warmer weather; it was beautiful and a bit mysterious under snow and ice. There were times we were walking on the ice, retreating when we heard  creaking beneath our feet.

We might have found the Great Horned Owl eventually on our own, but five or six crows noisily called our attention to it, and they kept at it for a long time – I estimate five to eight minutes. And here I had been musing about crows finding owls the previous weekend; it’s as if I got my wish. Crows are expert owl spotters, and they also make real nuisances of themselves. Every time this owl perched, the crows harassed it until it moved again. Eventually, it flew close enough into an open space where I got the photograph below, much to my surprise.

GHO2 IMG_0183_1

Some other birds of the day, a Black-Capped Chickadee…

Chickadee IMG_0100_1

One of a few Red-Bellied Woodpeckers…

Red-Bellied WPIMG_0206_1

One of two Bald Eagles…

Bald Eagle IMG_0245_1

One of many American Tree Sparrows…

Tree Sparrow IMG_0260_1

but no more owls. We moved on to a location where we might have at least heard a Barred Owl, but no luck there.

We wound up at Goose Lake Prairie, if a bit early, expecting to see a Short-Eared Owl hunting at dusk. Before dusk we had several Northern Harriers hunting over the grassland.

Harrier IMG_0272_1

Much of the field trip had been akin to a forced march, and now we stood shivering in the cold on a platform that overlooks the preserve. Our patience did finally pay off. We saw a Short-Eared Owl floating mothlike over the grass just as it began to hunt. It was way too dark by then to take pictures, the light disappearing quickly.

Goose Lake Prairie

Goose Lake Prairie

Goose Lake Prairie

Compass Plant

I finally managed to go through the rest of my photographs from my visit to Goose Lake Prairie last weekend. I’d had no particular target species or agenda in mind. I had hoped to maybe see a Grasshopper Sparrow, but I can’t say I even heard one, that was my only disappointment. A bit ironically, I first heard about Goose Lake Prairie on Cornell’s “More Birding By Ear” CDs, for the recorded songs of birds found there.

The most common species last weekend was probably Eastern Meadowlark.They were no longer singing, but they were chattering everywhere.

This parched version of the prairie is different from the last time I visited maybe three years ago. Rattlesnake Master, one of my favorite native prairie plants, seemed to be the only thing that thrived on the hot, dry weather.

The Wild Bergamot was almost spindly.

Wild Bergamot

Song Sparrows were predictably common. And still singing.

Song Sparrow

I heard a few Field Sparrows before I finally saw one.

Field Sparrow

I walked a long way before I finally started hearing Henslow’s Sparrows and then it seemed like they were everywhere. But they were singing hidden in the tall grass, until finally I managed to see and hear one sitting up. They were more cooperative a few weeks ago at Springbrook Prairie, but I don’t think I have ever heard so many of them as I did at Goose Lake Prairie. I simply adore Henslow’s Sparrows. Once gravely endangered, they have been making a real comeback in Illinois, due in large part to prairie restoration.

Henslow’s Sparrow

There were not too many butterflies or dragonflies, maybe just a few of the more common species.

Monarch Butterfly

Common Whitetail

And of course my photographic nemesis, Indigo Bunting, made a brief appearance.

Indigo Bunting

Sometime after hanging out with the Northern Harrier that dominated a previous post, a Turkey Vulture came to take up the slack…

Turkey Vulture

proving that even vultures can be beautiful.

Northern Harrier

I went to Goose Lake Prairie today, and I will have more to say about it in a future post. But I want to devote this space to a female Northern Harrier who was willing to show off long enough for me to get my camera to cooperate.

I had been walking around on the trails for nearly two hours and was waiting for the visitor’s center to open; I thought I had seen pretty much all I was going to see, when I flushed a Northern Harrier from the grass near the path. It was a juvenile.

Juvenile Northern Harrrier

I watched it fly around and shot a few pictures. At one point there were two harriers in the air, but my pictures were fuzzy and I didn’t think much of them, so I kept walking. I began to hear a lot of Henslow’s Sparrows I could not see. And then, a Harrier came back to distract me.

She had a kill, which looks to be a bird but I cannot identify it.

She swooped and darted and called. I now think she was displaying probably for junior’s benefit and not mine, but I was an inadvertent witness.

What a beautiful bird she was. I felt so lucky to see the show.

Harriers are always exciting to see as they fly low over open fields and they have distinctive markings. That white band on the rump is diagnostic.

Eventually she came to rest on a stump. I took one more picture and thanked her for making my day with her regal beauty.

More about Goose Lake Prairie to follow later this week.