After being stuck in the office all week even when there was nice weather, I decided I had to get out to the Portage early Saturday morning before the sauna-like weather baked in. I didn’t get there quite as early as planned but it was good to be back and get my mind off everything else for a couple hours.
Unsurprisingly, more birds were heard than seen. It’s breeding season and time be to inconspicuous. Also, the building intensity of sunlight didn’t suit many birds well. A lot of singers were hidden in the leaves of the treetops. And if I did see one, like the catbird below, it was backlit in the shade.
I’m almost embarrassed for the Baltimore Oriole on the left and bottom right below, I’m not sure if he’d just taken a bath but he was a disheveled mess when I caught him preening.
Then there was this iridescent green beetle on the trail…
Green Tiger Beetle
And one of many Widow Skimmers. It seems ridiculous to be taking closeups with a 600mm lens, but the dragonfly didn’t seem to mind.
I had only one Red-Winged Blackbird volunteer.
And after weeks of hardly seeing any Downy Woodpeckers, I did see this one messing around in the leaves like a warbler.
But the highlight was seeing an adult Red-Headed Woodpecker. Last fall I saw a juvenile at the end of September, pictured below. I have been wondering all year if these birds would find the Portage suitable habitat now that the forest is less dense. It worked for the Great Horned Owls. And now there is a Red-Headed Woodpecker. I hope he stays.
Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17
I am only able to finish this short post because I didn’t go swimming tonight. The threat of thunderstorms kept me home. Not that I mind thunderstorms, but I don’t relish driving in them and anyway, for whatever reason, the threat can be enough for the fitness center to close access to the pool. So I’m sitting here safe, hanging out with the indoor crowd after a long day at work, hoping for a reassuring crash of thunder. In any event, whatever weather system this turns out to be, we will be cooler than the last three days and that will be a blessing.
Here are a few remnant pictures from the Cook County Forest Preserves I visited over the weekend. We’re enduring a hot spell right now with high humidity and while rain looms in the forecast, it’s pretty unpredictable. As much as we could use the rain, I also expect the timing of it might interfere with any as-yet-unformed weekend plans to go birding Sunday. I might just swing by the Schoolhouse and look for the Prairie Warbler again tomorrow.
Below is a Tufted Titmouse from last weekend’s visit to the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Actually the first sound to greet me was that of Bullfrogs. I’ve included a recording below the pictures.
And below, a couple Eastern Towhees – a youngster barely visible on the left, and an adult male on the right.
American Robins are everywhere, but predominately at the Chicago Portage which is where I dropped in a bit late on Tuesday morning.
Also at the Portage, a fly-by Killdeer.
Blue Jays were everywhere too, normally heard but not seen, but they were unusually visible at McGinnis Slough.
Yes, below is another Red-Winged Blackbird chasing, this time, a Red-Tailed Hawk, but the hawk has a snake of some sort in its talons.
Enjoying the low water levels at McGinnis were several Great Blue Herons.
Also finding things to do, a Gray Catbird and one of two Raccoons swimming in the shallow water.
At the Chicago Portage, where the week before I had no trace of Green Herons, I saw this one, although I doubt they are nesting here.
The Caspian Tern below was over the water at the Little Red Schoolhouse. I also saw a tern at McGinnis but not as clearly.
At the Portage, Baltimore Orioles feeding young.
Below, an interesting grass and a female Brown-Headed Cowbird at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
And another Baltimore Oriole, this one a female, with food for her brood.If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve a reward. I invite you to enjoy the beautiful song of a Wood Thrush recorded at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Thank you to all of you reading and following my blog! Wednesday was the anniversary of my 6th year doing this thing and was also my birthday. This is convenient for me as I have a hard time remembering dates in general so the more things I can associate with my date of birth, which I have to remember, the better.
If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.
Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.
Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).
Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.
Juvenile Baltimore Oriole
Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …
After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.
One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.
Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.
And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.
Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.
I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.
One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.
Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.
The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.
All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.
On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.
Unidentified Invasive Plant
A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.
And one more of the Carolina Wrens.
McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!
I am waiting for the heat to go away, for the rains to come and cool us off. Also waiting for life to settle down again into some sort of routine, keeping the structure of the old and shimmying in parts of the new. The office move is complete but getting things to work properly is taking longer. I have suddenly added choir practice every Wednesday to the mix and am wondering how that will go as I have to reassign parts of my life to other schedules. At least to accommodate some kind of birding…
And then Oliver Sacks died. For as much warning as he gave us, it still seems hard to believe. I have all his books to remember him by, though, and would like to get back to reading them.
Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods
And passerine migration, that thing that depends so much on the weather, isn’t really happening as much as one would want it to, especially when I finally had a little time this weekend to look for birds.
Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage
Swainson’s Thrushes are pretty much everywhere but particularly closer to the lakefront. I have only seen a handful of warblers and not really had a chance to capture them with the camera.
Swainson’s Thrush, Lake Shore East Park
The pictures are from the last week or so, some taken in the downtown parks and others from local haunts or somewhere in between. No theme, no meme.
American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park
At the Chicago Portage for the last two weeks, the most numerous species has been juvenile Indigo Buntings. They are literally everywhere. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I was counting half a dozen brilliant blue males on territories all summer. It appears moms and dads have moved on and left their offspring to find their way.
Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage
There are still a few other straggling species too like Gray Catbirds and Cedar Waxwings.
Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage
And the insects are still going strong. I saw a larger group of Monarch butterflies at LaBagh Woods this weekend than I have seen all year. Milkweed is everywhere. I hope it helps.
These insects were very patient with the 650mm lens.
I’m a bit exhausted by all the changes and yet there always seems to be more coming. I will try to be post once more before I take off next week for a short trip to the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Rally. I hope to have something to share from that experience.
Almost every work morning without fail, even in inclement weather, I have hauled the camera backpack downtown so I could be prepared, should the Black-Crowned Night Heron I have been seeing every spring downtown on the Chicago River show up again. Up until now I have not kept track of its visits on ebird, so I don’t know exactly when I saw it the last two or three years. I did find a picture of a piling in the river from June 4, 2014 on my cell phone, which must have been when I saw it last, but it’s hard to even see if there was a bird in it.
So I did take pictures of a Black-Crowned Night Heron at another part of the Chicago River, specifically LaBagh Woods, on May 23 this year when I joined Chicago Ornithological Society on a field trip. This was the first time I had been to the slough part at LaBagh. I hope I can find the slough again on my own next time I visit. It’s a magical place, reminding me of the Chicago Portage. The rest of the pictures in this post are from the LaBagh trip.
Mallard on Nest, LaBagh Woods
I had all but given up on seeing the Black-Crowned Night Heron downtown, but I have been thinking about him, so I decided to do this post anyway today featuring the other one I saw up river last month.
Great Blue Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh Woods
As luck would have it, this morning, on the way in, as I was walking north along the river which I have started doing now that the work has been completed that the city or the building owners were doing on the west side between Adams and Madison–there are enough trees and low-lying plants that make me think this could turn out to be a good place to visit during migration–I suddenly saw the downtown Black-Crowned Night Heron flying across the river and landing on the other side! By the time I took out my camera and put it together, it had flown back across the river again, underneath me, to where I could not see it.
Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
Eastern Kingbird, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
But I did get pictures when it flew again, and I will post them tonight! I find it amusing that I was focused on seeing the heron and then it showed up this morning. Who was sending who messages?
Gray Catbird, LaBagh Woods
In previous years I can recall only seeing the downtown heron for one morning, but now I believe anything can happen.
Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15
Unexpected. There are reports of migrant warblers every now and then, here and there, but the warblers are, for all practical purposes, gone except for the few that stay to start families. But after reading every day about a Connecticut Warbler that continued to hang out, for over a week, in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn downtown, I finally got on the subway last Wednesday afternoon and went to see it for myself. It was not my first Connecticut Warbler, but its sheer persistence persuaded me.
Connecticut Warbler, Holiday Inn, Chicago parking lot
If I regret anything about my visit it was my failure to record his song, because he was a strong, adamant singer and he would knock off a few phrases every five minutes or so.
For those who are into identifying warblers by their undertail coverts…
For all I know the Connecticut could still be there, although there have been no reports since Saturday. Below is a handsome Gray Catbird that popped out at the Holiday Inn parking lot as well.
The stragglers I encountered almost every day the past two weeks were White-Throated Sparrows. Yesterday they were gone from 155 N. Wacker, but I still heard one singing, of all things, at Union Station. I tried to report it in ebird on my phone app but gave up when it kept challenging me. So much for citizen science.
A lingering White-Throated Sparrow
Perhaps my favorite late warbler in terms of chutzpah was the little Ovenbird below who made the berm by the bicycle rack at Union Station his territory. He was still singing last week. His habitat wasn’t all cigarette butts but I found it rather poignant that he could endure them.
Ovenbird at Union Station
Also last week, there was a Chestnut-Sided Warbler at 155 N. Wacker. That was a special treat, even if that space, always in the shadows, made him difficult to photograph.
There was a female Common Yellowthroat too: a furtive, not-always-so-common sight.
Below is my last first-year male American Redstart at 155 N. Wacker.
The Union Station Ovenbird was just a delight to hang out with. I miss his cheery song already.
I haven’t heard or seen him this week, so I hope he has moved on to better territory.
The forecast is for hot, rainy, muggy weather this week. I don’t know if I’m quite ready for the mosquito onslaught.
Apologies to all my followers for not posting sooner (and all those I follow for not showing up), but I have been busy with work and trying to spend every free moment paying attention to birds indoors and out, so by the time I get around to reviewing photos I fall asleep. So there have been about 10 potential blog posts running out of my head over the last two weeks before I could hang onto them.
American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive
So before I fell asleep again last night as it was past my bed time, I decided to simply share with you some of my favorite subjects over the past week from a couple city parks and green spaces. Except for the Least Flycatcher, I have limited this post to warbler species.
Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station
Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station
The first day I found the Black-Throated Green Warbler at Union Station, there was also a Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing and a Baltimore Oriole singing as well. Actually it was the Baltimore Oriole’s song that drew my attention to the now-fenced-in-for-no-obvious-reason garden area. The fact that the garden area was inaccessible to me and the smokers who like to sit on the benches probably made it more attractive to the bugs and the birds who were eating them. I did not get a great picture of the Black-Throated Blue, but was glad to see him. The Oriole was coy but uncooperative.
Male Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park
Lake Shore East Park has been my most constant afternoon destination, and there were a couple good days, but it doesn’t seem as birdy as last year or the year before. The weather has been a factor all spring too, with alternating warm fronts and cold fronts confusing everything. We are presently about thirty degrees cooler than we were on Monday. Monday was hot.
Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park
Least Flycatchers were fairly common for a couple days. Catbirds have been regular sightings in every nook and cranny.
Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park
Male American Redstarts come in two plumages. The first-year males still look a bit like the females, only orangey instead of a paler yellow. The after-first-year males are black and orange-red.
American Redstart, first-year male
Hardly a day has gone by that I have not seen or heard a Northern Waterthrush. I usually see them on the lawn, so it was nice to catch one resting on a branch.
Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park
Ovenbirds are still around, too.
Ovenbird, Millennium Park
Spring would not be spring without male Magnolia Warblers.
Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park
Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park
Redstarts are everywhere now. The adult males seem to like to show off.
Below is a first-year male, looking eager to start his first breeding season.
I hope to get another post or two in order over the Memorial Day weekend (thunderstorms are predicted for Memorial Day). As always I think I will be able to conquer my entire to-do list because I have an extra day. So far Saturday’s weather looks best, so that will be a birding day. Passerine migration is nearly over, but I need proof.