Winding down…

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Rose Mallow at McGinnis

As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.

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A Slough in name only…

I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.

There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.WODu w MALL McGinnis 8-19-18-8024Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.

NOCA McGinnis 8-19-18-7914There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.

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Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red

When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.

It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…

Portage 8-19-18-8147There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.

There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as  there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…

RTHU Portage 8-19-18-8072The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.

And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.

GCFL 8-19-18-8173I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.

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Indigo Bunting

I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.

TUVU 8-19-18-8184The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.

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Northern Cardinal

Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.

I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.

So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.

My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.

Robins and Red-Wingeds

RWBL 6-30-18-5698The heat is here and now more than ever the object of the game is to get up and out as early as possible, before it becomes unbearable. Birds are uniquely qualified to hide in the trees and stay cool that way. But it seemed like I was at last seeing numbers of American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds the last time I visited the Portage.

AMRO 6-30-18-5821I didn’t see any adult Baltimore Orioles but there were a couple youngsters like the one below, who was busy trying to take care of all those feathers.

BAOR 6-30-18-5770And in the same color scheme, there were a few Monarch Butterflies making their way through the patches of milkweed.

Monarch 6-30-18-5827A young rabbit paused on the trail.

Bunny 6-30-18-5943And the Indigo Buntings are quite numerous, even if it’s hard to find them. The hen below is showing off her prize which I’m sure she delivered to hungry nestlings.

 

I heard more males singing than I saw but I did manage to pluck this image out of the backlighting. The bird on the right looks more like a juvenile than a female.

 

The Great Egret was more visible this time, if still at quite a distance.

GREG Portage 6-30-18-5831I followed this Green Heron when it landed in the tree, only to realize its partner had been there hiding in plain sight all the time as two herons took off a moment later.

 

Perhaps my best find was an Orchard Oriole I could photograph. I have been seeing one or two but never long enough to take a picture. This bird was busy preening as well. Sorry to take advantage of the bird’s down-time but it seems like the only way to spend time with the summer residents.

 

The male and female Brown-Headed Cowbirds below were in the same tree but too far away from each other to catch together. On the way out of the parking lot later I saw four more cowbirds foraging in the grass.

 

Neither one of the photographs below, of a Great-Crested Flycatcher, are very good since he was partially hidden behind a twig, but I was glad to hear him and see him after I walked over by the railroad tracks to see if there was anything going on at all on the Des Plaines River.

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Great-Crested Flycatcher

An inadvertent flying robin.

AMRO 6-30-18-5944And the Orchard Oriole taking off.

OROR 6-30-18-5804I have tentative plans to go out early on the 4th if possible, but rain and thunderstorms seem to be in the forecast and that might stop me. It’s awkward to have a day off in the middle of the week, but a day off is a day off. Rain might actually be good enough to quell local firecracker explosions.

 

Birding the 3-day Weekend

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American Goldfinch (female)

I’m finally getting around to these pictures from the Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday morning I led the second walk at the Portage and the weather could not have been more different, shall we say – weather is becoming more than an idle topic for conversation lately as we keep having these 40 degree temperature swings in either direction – than the first walk which was rainy and chilly: this time we had plenty of sunshine and it was getting downright warm. We saw fewer species than the first group, as migration had progressed substantially in the two weeks between walks, but we had a good time.

GREG 5-26-18-4606It was nice to get good looks at the Great Egret that seems to be back in the area. The Green Herons were absent this visit but I suspect all the herons go back and forth between the Portage, Ottawa Trail and the Des Plaines River, so I am sure they are still around.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were a presence. We didn’t even hear a Downy Woodpecker which is really unusual as I always expect to see or hear at least four any time of year but they must have been very busy being quiet.

It’s occurred to me that Song Sparrows are likely the only breeding sparrows at the Portage. Habitat requirements being what they are, I never thought this was odd but at the same time it seems there are a couple Chipping Sparrows that come back to my neighborhood every year so I wonder even about that. I guess it’s location, location, location.

Early on we saw one of many Warbling Vireos we would hear constantly.WAVI 5-26-18-4581And the Indigo Buntings did not disappoint.

This was as close as I could get to a Northern Flicker.NOFL 5-26-18-4620Two surprise birds below, neither of which were very visible, but I can now look forward to finding them again. Great Crested Flycatcher on the left, which we saw on our way out, and the camera just barely caught the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo on the right. I had pointed the camera lens at its curious-looking eyes peering out at me from where it was perched, and then it flew. I’ve heard cuckoos before at the Portage but have never seen one there until now.

For all the warmth and midges swarms, there weren’t many swallows that morning. Below is a Tree Swallow taking a break.

TRSW 5-26-18-4642There were likely more Common Grackles than we saw, but this one was foraging in the bottomlands by the Des Plaines River.

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Two days later on Memorial Day, I decided to go birding early at McGinnis Slough and then swim in the Orland Park fitness center pool, my dream scenario ever since I’ve had to go to Orland while my usual swimming hole has been under remodeling. I’ve been driving by the Slough at night after work to go swimming, often seeing deer foraging in the grass before the days got longer and thus lighter at that hour, but now I had the entire day free and it was hot so a swim after birding seemed to be the perfect idea. I haven’t been able to swim well with my knee out of whack, but the pool has been excellent therapy.

Below is a Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, which we also had at the Portage. A reminder it’s time to get ready for dragonfly identification again.

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Wood Duck

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Double-Crested Cormorants

It was nice to see families at McGinnis, like the Mallards below.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are more numerous here.

RWBL 5-28-18-4745RWBL 5-28-18-5043Two distinct silhouettes below: Double-Crested Cormorant and Turkey Vulture.

Song Sparrows like McGinnis too.

Another Goldfinch…

AMGO 5-26-18-4685Waterfowl at McGinnis are usually distant and hard to see. Sometimes I take pictures and blow them up later to see what I was looking at, not that I ever get a very good image. Below the Mallard family are a couple pictures of a Great Blue Heron in flight and more Wood Ducks. I was surprised to not see any Great Egrets yet at McGinnis, as they can be everywhere. Likely they’ve been thrown off by the crazy weather too and I’m more confused than they are. I’m sure I’ll see them as we slide into summer.

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Here’s one more picture of a most accommodating Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

RBWP 5-26-18-4695I’ll be staying close to home, there’s much work to do in my yard. Not feeling up to rushing yet. Still savoring life in the slow lane.

 

Breeding birds at the Chicago Portage

Young Rabbit

I dropped by the Portage early this morning trying to beat the heat – we went up to 97 degrees today. After I was greeted by this rabbit, I saw 39 species. Not remarkable, but not bad given the strange weather we’ve been having. There has been no rain lately, so the water level is way down at the Portage and the nearby Des Plaines River.

But breeding birds have returned, and I managed to get some pictures of a few. Almost from the very beginning I heard Red-Bellied Woodpeckers calling, so perhaps it was inevitable that one would be available for a photograph.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The House Wrens are back in full force too.

House Wren

A female Wood Duck sat on a log with her seven ducklings. I imagine the youngest was staying closest to mama.

A Great Blue Heron flew over faster than I could get its likeness clearly. But down below, one of the two Green Herons that I have seen here every summer was trying to stay cool.

Green Heron

Indigo Buntings were singing everywhere, and doing their best to elude the camera. Here’s one not completely hidden.

Male Indigo Bunting

I have been awaiting the return of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwings

Song Sparrows are on their territories, singing, of course.

Song Sparrow

It’s sad when I think of this beautiful Yellow Warbler…

Yellow Warbler

being a favorite prey species of the female Brown-Headed Cowbird. Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests so the other birds can raise them, often at the peril of their own offspring. Note how this Cowbird matched the twig she’s behind so well, it looks like part of her.

Female Brown-Headed Cowbird

On my way out I stopped on the north bridge, where I saw the other Green Heron in the distance, but my attention was drawn to two Great-Crested Flycatchers setting up housekeeping. Look carefully and you can see the male sitting below left and the female hanging out from a cavity at the right of the frame.

Great-Crested Flycatchers

The male flycatcher remained on lookout while his mate investigated the cavity in the dead tree for nesting possibilities.

Great-Crested Flycatcher

Southern Illinois paradise

Sandstone cliff

I have been in the southernmost part of my state the past few days and I may as well have been in another country. I had no Internet access but did not miss it. The pristine habitat of the Shawnee region is so remarkable, it is easy to slip into a sense of timelessness. And there is no limit to the discoveries one can make. Our stay was much too short.

Summer Tanager

Warbling Vireo

There were birds everywhere.

Black and White Warbler

Eastern Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

The most elusive birds periodically became cooperative.

Prothonotary Warbler

This Prothonotary Warbler has staked out his territory in the wonderful Heron Pond portion of the Cache River Basin.

A boardwalk invites us into the thick of it all.

It was hard to leave.

We heard Kentucky Warblers everywhere we went, but did not see one until the morning of our departure.

This Kentucky serenaded us from his digs in Giant City.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warblers spend a lot of time furtively foraging on the ground which makes them hard to see, but this one was nice enough to fly up and perch just above our heads almost at eye level. What a beautiful bird.