Remnants from the 4th of July Weekend

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.BAOR 07-04-17-5338If 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.

Timing Is Everything

GBHE & RWBL McGinnis 07-02-17-4884I got up early this morning so I could go to the Little Red Schoolhouse Forest Preserve and then stop by McGinnis Slough. I haven’t been to the Schoolhouse in a long time so I made sure I covered every inch of it. I never heard or saw a Prairie Warbler, which would have been a life bird. I was satisfied to see a couple Tufted Titmice and to record a beautiful song of a Wood Thrush. In all, it was a pleasant visit for an hour and a half.

The Slough is hardly a slough, the water levels have receded and it is covered with plant life, which has made it less attractive to a number of species I would have expected to see there. But there were several Great Blue Herons.

I got home just before noon and threw myself in the shower to wash off the insect repellant, had a little beet salad and farofa for lunch (this has become one of my favorite combinations), and quickly fell asleep on the futon. I was too tired to think about whatever pictures I might have taken. A quick nap, I thought, and then some piano practice and cleaning the dining room, as last night we did the living room, complete with almost a dozen new residents: I’m making sure there are no more babies in the making for at least a week…

When I checked my email, it became apparent that someone heard, saw and photographed the Prairie Warbler at the Schoolhouse yesterday, because it made the Rare Bird Alert which comes to my mailbox. That was disheartening. But I managed to get up the energy to download my pictures from the camera and start going through them, and that’s when I found this wonderful series of a Red-Winged Blackbird harassing a Great Blue Heron.

I had been sitting on the picnic table that overlooks the slough from the northern end of the preserve, and suddenly these two characters were in front of me. I hadn’t even remembered taking these pictures until I saw them – that’s how quickly it all happened. One cannot plan for these things. The only thing I changed today was I finally set up my Mark III so I no longer have to use the shutter button to focus. I had done this already to my 70D over a month ago. I don’t know if it had anything to do with anything but I just feel really lucky to have taken these pictures.

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The Red-Winged Blackbird’s shadow makes two of him on the heron’s back!

Weather permitting, I’m going to Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County tomorrow. I had already planned to go, before someone found a King Rail there. That would be another life bird for me, but I’m not going with any expectations. Timing is everything.

Introduction to the Galapagos

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Blue-Footed Booby

I never thought going through pictures I took two months ago would be so therapeutic, but it turns out after being away from them and the pressure hanging over my head to get through them when life got too much in the way, it’s feeling pretty good to go back to the Galapagos through these memories. These pictures are all from Day One.

Our first morning we flew from Quito to Guayaquil and then to Baltra Island. While waiting at the dock to be transported to the catamaran sailing vessel where we would spend 9 days visiting as many of the islands as possible, it became apparent that we might be seeing sea lions and marine iguanas virtually everywhere.

My entertainment included watching Brown Noddys following a Brown Pelican (Southern) who was trying to fish.

brown-pelican-7-10-2016-6308The predominant species of crab is the Sally Lightfoot Crab which delights me by its name almost as much as its appearance. The photograph on the right has a Galapagos Striated Heron in it, an endemic also referred to as the “Lava Heron.”

Magnificent Frigatebirds were so abundant I nearly forgot to pay attention to them later in the trip so I’m glad I managed to get some photographs the first day.

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Great Blue Herons were seen on several of the islands.

great-blue-heron-7-10-2016-5201We got on and off the catamaran using a vessel I’m pretty sure was referred to as a “panga” and was designed with seating on the sides so you could throw your gear in the middle of the boat. I seem to have only this picture of the boat from a few days later, but I think the islet pictures must have been taken from it. Below the picture of the panga is a Whimbrel on the shore of an islet.

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Also on the same little islet, the first and farthest views I would have of a Galapagos Mockingbird.

Brown Noddies…

Our first island stop on the afternoon of our arrival to the catamaran was at Santa Cruz Island. The catamaran sailed from island to island, set anchor and we were transported to the island in the panga. A word about our itinerary: the islands we would visit and when were determined by the authority of the Galapagos National Park to insure that not too many people were on any island at any one time. Some islands were off-limits altogether, but there was plenty left to see.

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Black-Necked Stilt

The Black-Necked Stilt above and the White-Cheeked Pintails below are not native to the Galapagos but still very nice to see.

The Marine Iguanas were irresistible.

Below, Blue-Footed Boobies in a flight pattern and a view of the beach where we landed to explore.

The Yellow Warbler below is a subspecies found in the Galapagos. This turned out to be a very common bird and easy to photograph.

The two finches below would be seen almost every day, but these were my introductory looks at them.

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Small Ground Finch

Darwin’s Finches all evolved with different adaptations to their environment. For whatever reason these finches were named “ground” finches, I must admit that for the most part we did see them on the ground and not in trees or bushes.

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Medium Ground Finch

I have dreamed for years of getting decent looks at American Oystercatchers. They’re not rare or native to the Galapagos but it was such a delight to be able to get close enough to this pair.

Off the stern of the catamaran we often had seabirds following us. Elliott’s Storm-Petrels were the most common. The challenge was to sit and try to capture them as the boat swayed.

Back on board the Nemo III every evening for dinner, our chef prepared great food and a different fruit-and-vegetable sculpture. I may have to do a separate post featuring all of these.

dinner-sculpture-7-10-2016-0171One more look at an oystercatcher…

american-oystercatcher-7-10-2016-5424I’ll be back with so very much more, this trip was amazing. Although I can’t imagine going back and doing it all over again, in a way I wish I could. I guess that’s the reason for taking pictures. This time I’m really reliving an entire experience, not “just” the birds.

Right now I have to go clean up the tree mess in the alley. The Horse Chestnut is dying and losing its leaves early. I hope I won’t have to cut it down.

 

Spring Bird Count

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Eastern Towhee

Here are some pictures from last Saturday’s Spring Bird Count. I did the morning half at McKee Marsh. I have yet to manage lasting long enough to do the afternoon half at Blackwell. It’s hard to get up at 3:00 AM on Saturday after working all week. Maybe next year I can take some vacation days to coincide with migration.

There was still not much going on with warblers, although the storms we have had since have caused considerable fallout along the lakefront and likely this area too.

It was a pleasant surprise to get to the observation deck over the largest portion of water and see a contented looking Bald Eagle, who later reappeared in flight.

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Another Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher on yet another gray day. And there were more gray birds in and around the water…most everything was too far away to focus.

Tree Swallows were abundant.

And it’s always special to see the return of Bobolinks.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are getting down to business.

We were lucky to accomplish as much as we did in spite of periods of rain. The Song Sparrow below did not let the lack of sunshine dampen his song.

SOSP McKee Spring Ct 5-7-2016-9426Except for brief warm spells, the weather is unseasonably cool, but the rain has caused the trees to leaf out in abundance, offering cover for many migrants while making them that much harder to see! I’ll be back soon with a small migration report from downtown Chicago.

Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

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Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

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Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

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A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Weightless,
Wait-less,
Into the rafters

Back at the Slough

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

It seems strange to have been away from this page for so long, only to find time to come back after this weekend with all the sanity drained out of humanity. It almost feels like I need to start over. So I’m going with pictures from 3 weeks ago when I managed to get out to McGinnis Slough.

Gadwall at McGinnis

Gadwall at McGinnis

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Gadwall

The problem with the Slough is always that most of the birds are usually quite far away and you need a scope to see them.

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Great Blue Heron, McGinnis Slough

So most of these pictures were taken a bit closer in. Like this cooperative Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

I didn’t realize this was a Clay-Colored Sparrow until I started going through the pictures. A nice surprise, don’t see this guy too often.

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Clay-Colored Sparrow

And this was one of the last Yellow-Rumped Warblers I saw this year. I guess in the photo below, if you’re going to see the rump you aren’t going to see much else…!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

YRWA McGinnis 10-25-15 -6212There were about 400 American Coots at the Slough that day, and here’s one of them.

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American Coot

One more time with the Song Sparrow.

SOSP McGinnis 10-25-15 -6020I picked up my annual bird seed order from Chicago Audubon yesterday: I try to buy enough to last through the winter. Was greeted by Bobbi who was helping distribute the orders, and we got to discussing international travel (we were both with a group in Australia back in 2009). And then she told me she came back from a month in Paris only a few days ago. The world just shrunk that much faster.

Winding Down

Cabbage White 8-19-15-9572These days are beginning to feel like writing classes where I’ve been given three totally unrelated objects and have to write a story connecting them. Apologies if my posts seem a bit disjointed lately. It’s been hard to get out of the office: we’re moving on Friday…

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Ovenbird, Lake Shore East Park

There was one rather nice day last week at Lake Shore East Park. I was almost starting to believe in fall migration. The Ovenbird above popped out near where I was sitting and posed for more pictures than I can possibly use.

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Young Common Grackle checks out the fountain pool.

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Female Scarlet Tanager in the trees by the children’s play area

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The fountain pool designed to look like a riverbed

Several young crows were in attendance. They greeted me on the ledge across from the Radisson just upstairs from Lake Shore East Park.

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I don’t know what these flowers are, but the Eastern Comma below was enjoying them.

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On the way back, the wall-of-water fountain at the west end of the Aon Center looked refreshing on a warm day. The Aon is the third tallest building in Chicago. It’s recently been sold, so there may be some changes to the name and the landscaping in the future.

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Here’s where those totally unrelated things come in. I made myself get out Sunday morning even though it was cloudy and threatening rain. Not willing to chance going far, I went to the Portage, of course, and did not find too many more birds than the ones below.

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Great Blue Heron, Chicago Portage

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American Robin

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Where there used to be water, now there is marsh

Here’s one more picture of my friendly Ovenbird.

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And one more of the inside of the Comma.

Comma 8-19-15-9503The winds have shifted the last few days, bringing cool air in from the north. The forecast is for warbler migration to start occurring along the lakefront today through the rest of the week. I am trying to ignore the forecast and am almost glad it’s cloudy because I won’t get out today. There was one American Redstart, likely a first-year male, at 155 N. Wacker this morning.

I know this slow wait to get back out will be over soon. In spite of my complaining, I look forward to fall which is my favorite season, and feel energized by the cooler weather. Enough to make me feel a bit like I’m on the verge of Something.