Green Heron Bliss at the Portage

Thursday was a quiet day at the Chicago Portage. I met Bob on the trail and we looked for birds while wondering what Chicago Portage Day was going to be like two days later. I will be back with a little report on that event soon. But Thursday turned out to be a magical encounter with a Green Heron and it deserves commemoration.

Song Sparrows are still singing. The one on the left appears to be a juvenile.

We encountered an Eastern Wood-Pewee, albeit backlit. I am happy to report that I have heard this bird all summer and have seen it on several occasions.

It was a good day for butterflies.

Juvenile Indigo Buntings are starting to appear.

And now we are getting glimpses or better of Baltimore Orioles again.

Just when we thought we had seen everything, while we were standing at the bridge closest to Harlem looking out into the swamp, if you will, I saw something move. Directly below us on a narrow log or branch was a Green Heron. Even though it was quite close, it appeared small to me.

We watched it as it fished for dragonflies and aquatic creatures. Occasionally it would pull something small out of the water. I was trying to be quiet and careful not to disturb the heron with the camera lens.

Suddenly one of those Common Whitetail dragonflies appeared within reach. The heron caught it.

It took some extra maneuvering before the dragonfly went down the hatch.

The most amazing thing about this entire encounter is that the Green Heron seemed totally unfazed by our attention. After some people walked by and it did not react, I was able to get a better view at the end of the bridge. Then Bob suggested I try shooting a video. Below is my short movie. (Bob was sorry not to have his own camera handy but he did take a video with his phone.)

Bob was also kind enough to loan his binoculars to a couple young women who stopped to see what was going on at the bridge. An experience like this could turn them into birders. By the way, the heron appeared larger with its neck outstretched.

I was too worn out from yesterday’s festivities to go birding this morning, but I did some work in the yard early. I’d like to go back outside to see if I can capture a hummingbird at the feeder, although it’s turning cloudy and the bugs are biting. Rain is in the forecast the next day or two. I will have to play it by ear. Here’s a quick look at my favorite color combination outside the back door, and though I rarely cut flowers, I had a couple sprigs of Ironweed that begged to be trimmed.

Three of a Kind

My last visit to the Chicago Portage gave me a chance to see not just one Green Heron, but I believe I saw three different individuals after perusing my photographs. That’s because they each seemed to be of a different age and therefore plumage.

The easiest one to photograph was the juvenile I saw last. In addition to being really streaky-looking, notice how grayish the legs and feet are.

But the first bird I saw, not all that well but at a distance in poor light, appeared to be an adult.

So what else could there be? The bird below is somewhere in between the other two individuals. That would make it a First Summer Green Heron.

I don’t purport to be any kind of expert about this, I just looked up the juvenile on my Sibley app and noticed that there was yet another category.

Beyond that, on July 25 I saw the adult Green Heron below at quite a distance.

These photos are from 3 visits, July 25, July 27 and July 29. Actually the only photos I took on July 27 are of the Pearl Crescent Butterfly below. It was so hot, the birds were all cooling off in the trees and therefore unavailable.

The 25th was a better day overall. Below are a few furtive shots I took of a young Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

The light was good for a photo of Tadziu the Indigo Bunting.

I keep seeing young Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

I noticed what looks like a Downy Woodpecker feather stuck in a bit of web.

Do you suppose the rabbit and the robin are talking about me?

Another American Robin

I noticed two Monarch Butterflies in the Red Milkweed.

And when I got home I noticed a Monarch on the Common Milkweed in the front yard.

On the 29th I had a backlit Indigo Bunting (not Tadziu, incidentally).

Trying out the asphalt, a young-looking female Brown-headed Cowbird and an American Robin.

It’s such an occasion lately to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird I took the photo below, even though you can barely see it.

More numbers on trees. I am even more puzzled by the first tree that has two different numbers on it.

And two more from the front yard. Another Monarch Butterfly and my Nodding Onions have finally opened.

I went back to Riverside yesterday for the first time in over a week. I will go back to the Portage on Thursday. I went farther afield this morning and it was a welcome change of location and pace. I’ll be back with more juvenile birds.

Portage Promise

When I arrived at the Chicago Portage Tuesday morning a little after 8:00, the forest preserve workers were cutting the grass and taking up the spaces where I normally park, so I parked on the Other Side where I noticed Bob had already parked. Predictably I encountered him shortly afterward and we walked around the main trail together hearing more than seeing. I thank him for drawing my attention to this lovely barbed wire American Goldfinch.

But the first creature I encountered was a butterfly and not a bird.

Hackberry Emperor

I did see a male Indigo Bunting. This is not our friend Tadziu.

At one point I photographed a distant bird sitting up like maybe it was a juvenile Eastern Kingbird, but there is no white on the tail, and I determined later that it was likely a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.

This is the time of year when juvenile birds get confusing. The bird below in the mulberries turned out to be a European Starling.

And we caught a brief but distant look at a juvenile Warbling Vireo.

A few more photographs of this other Indigo Bunting. Although I did not get a photograph of Tadziu, when Bob and I were standing on his bridge watching for birds and talking, Tadziu swooped in with considerable bravado, flying right past us singing his song in greeting. Bob surmised it was Tadziu’s way of saying, “Where have you guys been?”

I am drawing attention to this occurrence simply because Bob and I were both witnesses to it and therefore nobody can say I’m making it up. Tadziu knows us and knows we know him. And I think he knows the story I tell about him all the time too. Fabulous bird!

I did get some photos of a male Common Yellowthroat perched up high and singing in a tree by the bridge.

Bob had to leave, but I stayed a while longer, curious to see if anything was going on by the water. I spotted a Green Heron.

The Green Heron was busy doing some interesting preening.

Then on my way back out the widened inside trail, which has yet to be paved, I saw a doe and her two offspring.

Just look at the size of those ears!

And then I heard and saw one of two Great-crested Flycatchers. It’s been a while since I have seen one, although I have usually heard them here.

I caught a young House Wren in a quiet moment.

Here’s another Indigo Bunting who was in a tree above with his back toward me. The lighting wasn’t really worth it, but in all I think I have been encountering 7 or 8 males on every visit.

Of course American Robins are everywhere. The young one on the gravel path caught my eye, and at the end of my walk I spotted two sunbathing on the freshly cut grass.

One more of the Green Heron and two turtles. And the American Goldfinch.

I am devoting my mornings this week to work in the garden. I will never run out of things to do and decisions to make, but I feel as if I am fashioning a little order for the garden tour, however transient. I keep thinking of things to do ahead of time next year, like cutting back all the towering plants before they grow so tall. But the drought caught me off guard and I was so happy to get the rain I didn’t realize how happy the plants were going to be as well.

Maybe I can swing by with another post during the week.

The Grace of a Green Heron

I fully intended to get caught up with all the photographs from warbler migration, particularly in Riverside, but those posts will have to wait a day or two…

We had a warm front the past couple of days which seems to have ushered out the warblers, so I wasn’t expecting to see much yesterday morning when I got to the Chicago Portage. But then, I encountered a Green Heron, and we hung out for what must have been five minutes or longer. I have never experienced anything like this before, it was quite amazing.

I had started on the path that crosses the bridge near Harlem. I encountered an American Robin on the trail. Nothing unusual there.

There was a little bird off to the side that I realized later was a female Indigo Bunting.

Past the bridge, I began to encounter the sounds of the usual suspects – Red-winged Blackbirds, Warbling Vireos, Baltimore Orioles – but then suddenly I heard a loud “skeow” call and found a Green Heron had joined me to look over the water in the stream. It sat in a small tree perhaps no more than 100 feet away.

I raised the lens slowly and started taking photos. The heron was not perturbed by this. Indeed it sat very still. I did not want to flush it, so I stood quietly in its space.

I started taking photographs of other birds across the water. The heron remained.

Song Sparrows…

House Sparrow and Green Heron

A female Red-winged Blackbird was in the marshy grass.

Green Heron and female Red-winged Blackbird

Through it all, the Green Heron remained. This is only a sampling of the photographs I took. It was hard to choose.

The heron finally decided it needed to go somewhere else, so it turned and took off to my left and behind me. I did not attempt to capture it in flight. In retrospect, I wonder if it had been waiting all that time for me to take the first step.

That left me to find out what was going on with other birds.

A bedraggled, wet-looking Black-capped Chickadee

I spotted the first of several male Indigo Buntings.

Gray Catbirds were everywhere but this was the only one I caught sitting still for a second.

Only one first-year male Redstart appeared. It was singing loudly yet this was the best I could do to photograph it.

The view of the second bridge with the new growth

Indigo Buntings and American Robins will be here all summer. They will likely be less visible the hotter it gets.

Baltimore Orioles were everywhere, enjoying the sunshine.

I managed to barely capture a female Baltimore Oriole.

Down in the wooded “ravine” area off the high point in the trail, two Northern Flicker males were having a quiet face-off.

I noticed a perched Ruby-throated Hummingbird over the trail.

An American Robin scouring the duckweed for food

More Indigo Buntings…

I went down to sit on a fallen log on the other side of the water. A Song Sparrow was foraging in the grass.

And a female Red-winged Blackbird was gathering nesting material.

When I started walking again, I saw a Hobomok Skipper in the distance, a very tiny butterfly, and then later one a bit closer.

I was very pleased to see a male Orchard Oriole off the inside trail. I can only hope he is staying for the summer to raise a family.

Blue Jays rarely if ever tolerate my camera, so I had to take a picture of this one.

Deer are seen less frequently, or so it seems.

One more of the gracious Green Heron.

After two warm days we have cooled off again, but there is plenty of sunshine. We need some rain and there is none in the forecast. I was in Riverside this morning. The river is so low, I suspect one could walk across it.

Yesterday Linda Rios and I played “Orange Dawn” by Ian Clarke again for a little local private afternoon gathering. Tonight is the end-of-season choir party and talent show for which I am accompanying two singing selections and hope to play a little piece by Manuel de Falla. It occurred to me yesterday that I can thank the showy piano cadenza in “Orange Dawn” for all this attention. Whatever it is, I am looking forward to things calming down a bit so I can get caught up with this and more. If the days are still getting longer, it seems there should be more time for naps too but that doesn’t seem to happen.

I promise to get back to reading others’ blog posts too as soon as this whirlwind subsides.

Summer Passages at the Chicago Portage

Although I’ve been to the Chicago Portage more recently, I’m posting some photographs and a couple recordings from last month that hadn’t made it into posts anywhere near the days I took them. These are some views of likely suspects from visits made on July 6 and July 10. I then plan to be back with two or three subsequent installments after I process four more recent July days’ worth of photographs. Depending on what happens, I could sneak in another location here and there…

For the record, the male Indigo Buntings that were everywhere singing last month are still singing but not as much and they’re less visible than the one below, taken on July 6.

Tadziu the Indigo Bunting was available on July 10 for photographs and additions to his Greatest Hits, but the lighting was poor for the former. However, I feel obligated to share his portrait anyway.

And here are the last recordings I made of my celebrity.

Tadziu with American Robin and House Wren in the background
Tadziu with Northern Cardinal, House Wren and Warbling Vireo

American Goldfinches have been busy in the duckweed.

Perched over the water and then taking off for better prospects, a Green Heron was distantly available on July 10.

Just by chance I happened on an Eastern Towhee family. You have to look at the second photo below to see the juvenile which is somewhat obscured by the female in the first photo. I heard the male Eastern Towhee singing this past Tuesday, but did not see him. It would be nice to see the family again before the end of the summer.

It was still hard to resist photographing the Prairie Coneflower and whatever the second yellow flower is, that I see blooming upon first entering the woods from the south paved trail.

I got lucky on the 10th and managed a few photographs of a Warbling Vireo. They are still around but not as vocal as they were, so these days it’s hard to tell how many might be present.

Another species becoming more visible lately is Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

I have barely heard or seen a White-breasted Nuthatch. This one was on the 6th.

Also on July 6th the House Wren below was flying out of my frame.

The Brown-headed Cowbirds were still all over the place too, on July 6.

The Northern Flicker below wasn’t too easy to see, but I was intrigued enough by all the colors on him, popping out from behind the leaves.

Below is an unusually visible Gray Catbird, and below it, an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

And American Robins are always up to something.

I will be back with more composite posts from the Chicago Portage. In another week or two I expect to see more birds, with the added confusion of molting and juvenile plumages.

Cool and Cloudy at the Portage

In case you didn’t get to meet this Indigo Bunting last year, allow me to introduce Tadziu – I have given him the name that is pasted on the back of the “Bike Path” sign on which he sits in this photograph – as yesterday morning he sat and sang and posed for me. Last year I often saw him singing from the tree that hangs over the entrance to the bridge which facilitates the bike path referred to in this sign. I would also see him sitting on the bridge itself and singing, as well as on the sign. He is the most enthusiastic advocate for a territory I have ever seen.

A snippet of his song is below. I recorded it last week. I realized yesterday that although all Indigo Buntings basically sing the “same” song, it seemed I could distinguish his when he sang it. Or it may just be that I know where to expect to hear him. Either way, he always sings in my presence and we are friends.

Indigo Bunting

Here’s a few more of Tadziu being a ham.

I was very happy to see a male Orchard Oriole, however briefly. I saw another later but did not manage to photograph it. I hope this means they are nesting at the Portage. I have seen them only occasionally every year. But I have to keep reminding myself that the more I go out, likely the more I will see.

Here’s how the Chicago Portage looks now.

I expect to hear Yellow Warblers but I don’t always see them. I waited for this one to emerge because I could hear him quite clearly. If you’re hopping around in the treetops and you’re bright yellow, eventually you will be seen.

Also seen, but silent, was a Downy Woodpecker exploring a beautiful round hole.

Just as I saw a Green Heron perched over the water, it flew and I followed it with the camera, then found it again later where it was sitting.

I walked back along the gravel road by the MWRD for a bit to see what was going on there.

I found a Cedar Waxwing with its back toward me and managed to get it to turn around slightly.

There was a pair of Eastern Kingbirds sallying about for insects.

There’s a lot – a terrible, horrific lot – of Poison Hemlock growing in several spots and it stinks to walk through. One does not have to touch it and I certainly don’t for obvious reasons. But another plant that takes over the wetter areas – Butterweed – is a more welcome sight.

I found this Indigo Bunting in the hemlock of all places.

Another invasive that has been battled for years is Burdock. This tiny, colorful fly looked even tinier on a huge leaf.

Young American Robins are starting to show up on their own while adults keep a watchful eye.

Another view – this of the “island”.

Here are two more photos of the Yellow Warbler who, with Tadziu, brightened up my morning.

We are still cool with lows in the 50’s, which is very comfortable to me, but it looks like temperatures will start to heat up next week. We have been getting some rain, but I wonder how much we will get later. I think we are still making up for last year’s drought. I’ll be back.

More and More Still

Spring passerine migration may be over, but I still have a lot of photographs left so maybe we can hang on to the memory of it a little while longer.

These are all from the Chicago Portage on May 12. I wonder if any of these Bay-breasted Warblers were the same individuals who looked quite different in the fall.

It was definitely nice to see them so well in their spring feathers.

Female Bay-breasted Warbler

There didn’t seem to be as many Black-throated Green Warblers as there were in the fall. But they are always special for me. They pose nicely, for example.

On the other hand, Chestnut-sided Warblers were early and everywhere.

I don’t want to take Yellow Warblers for granted, even though a few individuals remain at the Portage all summer. They are still lovely.

All it would have taken was a few more leaves and I would not have these photographs.

I got lucky with an action shot.

Below is a Veery. I’ve included the long view which shows how I first focused on the bird from afar. This is a less-often-seen thrush species so I was very happy to find it.

I probably took too many photographs of the male Eastern Bluebird but I am always so delighted to see him. I haven’t seen him in over a week, so I hope he is just busy but still on site.

The female Blue Grosbeak below turned out to be rare for this date. A week later, the same bird was no longer considered unusual. I sure would like to see a male here. It’s been a few years.

I don’t think I will ever get enough of Magnolia Warblers.

The bird below had me stumped – for a while. I determined it had to be a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. I later checked my bound copy of The Warbler Guide and sure enough, I was correct. Since I didn’t have a complete side view, it was a bit difficult, but her face spoke to me.

Baltimore Orioles are still around and will be all summer. This looks like a younger bird perhaps.

First-year male American Redstarts can be confused with females…

There was a Green Heron in flight that day.

Indigo Buntings are here to stay for the summer. I won’t get tired of them either.

Here’s how the Portage looked on that day. Now you can barely see the bridge through the growth.

I suspect there’s a lot more mossy stuff going on way off trail. I zoomed in on this with the telephoto lens.

There are a lot of Brown-headed Cowbirds at the Portage this spring. I usually see gangs of males following one or two females. This girl was on her own.

One more of the muted-looking Baltimore Oriole. I will be back with many more birds – now that I have a little more wiggle room on the laptop. Tonight I am happy to be attending the end-of-season choir party. I really missed singing a couple weeks ago for our last service, but it will be good to see everybody again before the summer break. We will return to rehearsals in mid-August. Wow, it’s June already.

Beauty Beyond Warblers

The big push of migrants that began a couple weeks ago just as the leaves were finally starting to emerge on the trees brought some lovely birds to the Chicago Portage along with the anticipated warblers. These photographs are mostly selected from May 9 and May 12 visits.

There’s nothing quite like the sight of a Scarlet Tanager. Below are photos of both sexes.

The trees were still just beginning to get heir leaves, which made seeing the first migrants a lot easier. Below is a Great-crested Flycatcher that just sat while I clicked away.

I saw a female Eastern Towhee at a distance on May 8, four days before I saw a male.

The male Eastern Towhee was quite striking.

A Swainson’s Thrush barely stands out against a muddy-looking background.

It was about the last time I was going to see a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher well. They are still around but busy nesting.

I can almost count on seeing male Baltimore Orioles but the females are less visible, so it was nice to capture this one.

Yellow Warblers are still around, those that stay to breed here, but now that they have established their territories they have all but vanished.

Indigo Buntings, the summer show-offs at the Portage are back in good number. I will have a lot more photos of these guys.

Most rewarding has been the return of Green Herons now that there’s some water.

Northern Flickers aren’t always easy to see.

Here’s one more of this stunning male Scarlet Tanager.

I am pretty much over my breakthrough Covid infection, but even though it was fairly mild, it’s not something I want to repeat, so I am not considering myself invincible from this latest “booster”. I am more determined than ever to wear a mask in any indoor setting.

It’s raining this morning and cool. But we will be heating up just in time for the Memorial Day holiday. I still have a lot of photos from the last couple of weeks to share and I hope to be back soon.

Midsummer Portage Potpourri

My last visit to the Portage was on a cloudy Saturday morning. My attention was drawn to creatures other than birds and flora since there were not a lot of birds visible. In fact this was the first time I don’t recall seeing an Indigo Bunting well and I barely heard a few singing.

When I first checked the beebalm there was a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird but I was unable to capture him clearly and he took off. I then noticed a Clear-winged Sphynx Moth and managed to get a few pictures of it instead.

European Starling taking a break.
American Robin showing off his catch.

I turned my attention to grasses that are new or more noticeable. In order of appearance, Squirrel- Tail Grass, Canada Wild Rye and Bottlebrush Grass.