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.

Meanwhile Back at the Portage

SCTA 08-07-16-9432

Scarlet Tanager (female)

I decided to take a walk around the Portage last Sunday. It was my first birding outing since my return from Ecuador. I was almost more interested to see if there were any butterflies since I have noticed a distinct lack of them this year and I am not happy about that.

I got out a bit later than I should have, and I forgot the insect repellent which might have afforded me a few more butterflies, but I came away determined to go back this coming Sunday, get up earlier, and maybe visit McGinnis Slough too. We shall see how far I get with that thought.

There were some butterflies so I have to go through my once-a-year trying-to-identify routine. I figured out the two above, a Silver-Spotted Skipper and an Eastern Comma, but I am stumped by the one below. It appears to be in the Brush-Footed family but I haven’t managed to match it up exactly with anything yet. Identification is most welcome.

There were not a lot of birds, but I found more of them in my pictures later than I could see with my binoculars at the time. A recent visit to the eye doctor has helped me figure out why this is and I am scheduled for the first of two cataract surgeries next month. Maybe I can forego buying new binoculars.

Song Sparrows above, Indigo Buntings (male and female) below…

It’s always encouraging to see a Green Heron, although I haven’t seen two in at least a couple years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another one around.

GRHE 08-07-16-9522

Green Heron

Below on the left, two Cedar Waxwings my camera discovered, and a juvenile American Robin.

The water level is very low and what water there is, is covered with duckweed. I guess this is good for the American Goldfinches below.

AMGO 08-07-16-9417

INBU 08-07-16-9496

Indigo Bunting Female

I will be back very soon with more from Ecuador.

Nicaragua IV

Tricolored Heron 02-25-2016-2830Springlike weather is still far enough away for me to feel like I can put myself back in Nicaragua with a few more pictures. But it’s getting harder and harder to go backward! One more of these posts and I’m going to have to move on to spring migration.

The bird above and in the pictures below is a Tri-Colored Heron. We took a boat ride around Lake Nicaragua and managed to see some really nice birds. And despite the rocking of the boat I managed to get some pictures.

I feel like this trip cemented the difference between Snowy Egrets (below) and Great Egrets in my brain so I don’t have to think about it anymore.

Below, Southern Lapwings.

Green Herons…

Caspian Terns…

We pulled up to an island in the lake that has been devoted to a habitat for monkeys. Below are pictures of one Howler Monkey, a Spider Monkey and a Capuchin Monkey.

Sadly we discovered that people were feeding these monkeys bad things like the lollipop the Spider Monkey on the left below is clutching in his hand. I couldn’t tell exactly what one woman was offering to the Capuchin but it appeared to be something like a potato chip.

Back out on the lake, among perched birds were an Osprey and a Black Vulture.

Below, a Northern Jacana.

We came upon a colony of nesting Montezuma’s Oropendolas. Their nests alone are fascinating.

Below is a Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron 2-25-15-2996I will be back with one more post from Nicaragua. I hope soon!

Inertia (aka Summer Doldrums)

Female Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-15-1137Spoiled by earlier dramatic fluctuations in temperature which at times were chilly, I find myself now wiped out by the heat and humidity, albeit expected weather but nonetheless daunting. The only way to avoid overheating is to remain motionless. I did as much of that as possible on Saturday.

However Sunday morning was sunny, so I felt compelled to see how things are going at the Chicago Portage. Construction persists. Access to the trail entrance that heads west is still blocked, but both bridges are open again, which made it easier to take the loop on the other side of the creek back to where I started. On the way out, my eye caught a sign that referred to construction of a “new” shelter being among the improvements. I am unaware of there ever having been an old shelter, so this will be interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into the word “new.”

Construction Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7581

Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.

INBU Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7603

After that for a while it was simply making a record of what I was seeing, even if the picture wasn’t perfect. The distant Great Blue Heron below took off about ten minutes after I took this picture.

GBHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7649

There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7706

KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7731Also on the other side where I would eventually wind up, a young deer had come down to drink. I have seen deer before but never one so young, alone. I seemed to be catching the last gasp of the early morning activity, which was heartening considering I took my time getting out the door.

Deer Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7678Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.

BAOR Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7809

The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.

RWBL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7793Of course just when I think I’ve seen everything I’m going to see or have been unable to get pictures of something ephemeral like the glimpse of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a surprise occurs. Walking by a large tree at the edge of the water, I saw something huge move in it, determined it couldn’t have been a giant squirrel but had no idea. Then the tree exploded with three large birds scattering in all directions. This turned out to be the Green Heron roosting tree. And one of their offspring flew to a perch in the middle of the water where it sat in surprise for several moments.

GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7853GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7870The other great surprise was to run into a human being. Specifically a young man on his bicycle who asked me if there were many birds at the Portage. It then turned out that he was interested in finding out more about birds. What an absolute delight to have been present for him to quiz me on what direction he could take. I sincerely hope he follows his interest. I restrained myself and did not warn him of the addictive nature to this activity. Probably understood anyway if he at all sensed my passion. This is the magic of the Portage for me. I literally never know what to expect.

I should also know better than to expect anything. I was hoping to see butterflies, so I carried around the second camera and lens in my backpack and never took it out. Virtually no butterflies Sunday morning. There were a few dragonflies, but I was unmoved.

But Sunday afternoon seemed to bring butterflies into my garden. The Red Admirals outnumber all the others but at least there were a few more species.

Red Admiral Yard 7-18-15-1111

Red Admiral

Monarch Yard 7-18-15-1113

Monarch Butterfly in swamp milkweed. I can’t believe I managed this shot with a 100mm closeup lens from quite far away.

The swamp milkweed has taken over two areas of the yard. I keep hoping, as in Plant It And They Will Come.

Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-18-15-1085One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.

EAKI Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7746

Eastern Kingbird Fantastical Portage  7-19-15-7748The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.

Another Goose Lake

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7145

Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Goose Lake Conservation Area, McHenry County, Illinois

Somewhat ironically, shortly after I visited Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County, the local list-serve was on fire about another Goose Lake Conservation Area in McHenry County, not far from the Wisconsin border, where Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and Black Terns were easy to find. Both species are rare in this area. Reading constant reports about it all last week while at work, I decided if the threat of rain was not severe I would just have to drive to this Goose Lake Natural Area on Sunday morning. I had several days to talk myself into getting up no later than 3:30 AM so I could leave the house by 6:00, seeing as how it would take me over an hour and a half to get there.

I plugged a theoretical address into the GPS on my car and got within striking distance. After that it was easy enough to find and I parked in a tiny parking lot that fits about three small cars. No sooner did I park than I was joined by another Prius driver. Diane had her camera with her too and we birded the trail together.

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7156

There is a Goose Lake on the map but as far as I can tell there is no public access. Thus I saw no lake and no geese. However there was more to explore (we perhaps went in 3/4 of a mile) on a 7-mile trail and some day I will have to make a return trip.

Hebron Trail MapThe Hebron Trail has been made from an abandoned railroad bed, specifically the Kenosha Division Railroad which made its last run in 1939. Just off the parking lot where the wide gravel trail starts is a wooded area that was brimming with hungry mosquitoes. We had been forewarned but it made stopping to look at anything we heard prohibitive. Perhaps after a quarter of a mile we were out of the woods and into the marshy area which was miraculously pretty bug-free. It was cloudy but it did not rain.

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel – I’m not sure I’ve seen these before!

There were at least a dozen Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, and when they became active they made dramatic displays.

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7157

The other species we were excited to see was Black Tern. Although not less visible, they were very difficult to photograph from far away, in the poor light, and they never sat still.

Black Tern

Black Tern

I never thought of Red-Winged Blackbirds as small before but compared to the Yellow-headed Blackbirds they are dainty looking.

RWBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7042Plenty going on with other breeders too. Like the Tree Swallow condominium tree below, and then when a Green Heron decided to sit on one of its branches the Tree Swallows started mobbing it.

TRSW Condo Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7108GRHE Harrassed Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7307GRHE Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7276

Song Sparrows were singing everywhere. Also many Marsh Wrens but I did not get a picture of one suitable to post.

SOSP Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6888There were so many Common Yellowthroats they could have had a singing competition.

COYT Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6912One Common Yellowthroat male was feeding its foster child, the Brown-Headed Cowbird juvenile below, but it was too hard to get the actual feeding shot with all the branches in the way.

BHCO and COYT Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6951My only regret is that the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were not singing, because it would have been a wonderful sound to reproduce for you here. Maybe next year I can get up here when they’re setting up territories.

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7130

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

It’s hard to believe but the Red-Winged Blackbirds were nearly silent as well. Definitely the juveniles below had nothing to say.

RWBL juveniles Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7407

It took me two hours to get back home. There is no easy way to get to this place, but I guess that’s what makes it a favorite for some birds we rarely see.

Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7389

How Blue Is My Indigo?

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Every Sunday the forecast has been the same lately: cloudy, rainy with possible thunderstorms. But every Sunday is a bit different, as the rain and the longer days contribute to the growing of things. I have been trying to conquer the overgrowth in my backyard, but yesterday I decided to take advantage of a break in the storm activity and visit the Chicago Portage.

Chi Portage 6-14-15-4834

18188879913_0cc498745c_zI never know what to expect, and this visit was no exception. For starters, I couldn’t take the trail entrance I normally do because it was entirely blocked off. So instead of there being a way to go through the entire site and wind up back where I started, I wound up taking two parts of the trail up and back.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Some of the species I expect to see were not present. It could have been the time of day. But I suspect a more likely explanation is the constant habitat disruption being more than some species want to put up with. Consequently I had no Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, nor White-Breasted Nuthatches. Even Mallards were not present. And not even one Gray Catbird. But this is just one visit and it was nearly mid-day, so perhaps next weekend I can confirm these absences further. In the meantime, I heard Black-Capped Chickadees so my faith in their existence is restored.

Ind Bunting Chi Portage 6-14-15-5201

Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings were everywhere, followed by almost as many Baltimore Orioles, although the orioles were less available for pictures, but they sang constantly. The first one I saw was carrying food, but I had to settle for this far away shot of another one later.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

My surprise bird of the day was the first-year male Orchard Oriole below. Not only do I think this is the first time I’ve had an Orchard Oriole at the Portage, but I think it might be the first time I’ve realized this is what a first-year male looks like. I tried to get his song too but recording was challenging yesterday with a lot of background noise. Maybe the cloud cover had something to do with it.

First Year Male Orchard Oriole

First Year Male Orchard Oriole

As usual there was no dearth of robins. I estimated 40, but there were probably more, including the clueless young one on the trail.

Am Ro Chi Portage 6-14-15-4851Am Ro Chi Portage 6-14-15-4873AMRO Chi Portage 6-14-15-4920

Of course Red-Winged Blackbirds were abundant too, although a bit less visible. Below could be one of the reasons why.

Fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird

Fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird

I looked for a Green Heron and found it easily.

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Later I had another heron perched way on top of a dead tree hanging over the water. It was hard to get its coloring in this light or the lack thereof but it was apparently wet and going through some trouble to dry off.

GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5014GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5019GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5020GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5021

If anything became apparent yesterday, it was that next time I should bother to take my closeup lens with me, as there is a lot of little stuff going on that invites more scrutiny. Like the hundreds of tiny froglets or toadlets that suddenly sprang up under my feet.

Toadlet Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5082Toadlet Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5080Toadlets Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5105

Or the dragonflies that I knew so well last year and now have to look up all over again.

Dragonfly 6-14-15-5127Dragonfly 6-14-15-5137

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers seemed to be tolerating the disturbance.

RBWP Chi Portage 6-14-15-4938

I wonder how long it will be before I can walk through this again.

Chicago Portage 6-14-15-4954

As a final note, the Chicago birding community lost a great birder and photographer on Saturday. Steve Spitzer apparently died of a heart attack. I am sorry I did not know Steve personally; I remember we had a short email exchange over a sighting at some point and he was friendly and generous in his communications. He spent a lot of time a Montrose and other lakefront places and took some amazing photographs. You can see some of them here at the link to his flickr page. He also posted a remarkable video of a young Great Horned Owl swimming in Lake Michigan to avoid harassment by two Peregrine Falcons. I hope Steve is flying with the birds now.

Three Weeks: Chicago Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Back on the 10th of May I was at the Chicago Portage and counted 52 species. On the 17th of May, visiting with two friends, we counted 35 species. This afternoon, after gale winds in the morning and some rain, I went over to see what was up and counted 29 species.

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Three weeks ago was the height of spring migration, and already by last weekend it was slowing down.

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

CAGO Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2361

Gosling, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Last week the goose family had dwindled to four goslings and today I was told by a woman I talked to on the trail that they were down to three. I did run into the geese today, but they were foraging in the grasses and I did not want to bother them, as they were pretty well hidden. So I am taking her word for it.

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln's Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

The Red-Eyed Vireos are still present and singing, so they probably breed here, but all the thrushes except for American Robin have left, and the sparrow species as well. There was quite an influx of Veerys this year, I don’t usually see them.

WCSP Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0022

White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9934

Green Heron, 5-10-15

But as the last of the sparrows were getting ready to leave, the Green Herons were returning. I believe there are two although I have not yet seen them both on the same visit. I think they also hang out at Ottawa Trail Woods which is also where we went last weekend. I have included a few pictures here are from Ottawa Trail Woods, as it is basically part of the same ecosystem.

SOSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9921

Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15

SPSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9908

Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15

Spotted at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9854

Spotted Sandpiper at the Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

On the 10th I saw both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, not on sandbars or mudflats but on dead wood in the water. The water levels were a bit lower though. I have not seen or heard any shorebirds since.

SCTA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0145

Scarlet Tanager, 5-10-15

The Scarlet Tanager above basically flew down and sat right in front of me. I was so surprised I barely got his photograph.

YRWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0389

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Myrtle female, 5-10-15 – You cannot see the yellow rump but this is the first year I have noticed they also have yellow on the crown

YEWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0350

Yellow Warbler, 5-10-15

The only warblers willing to pose were the most common ones. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers are gone, but the Yellow Warblers stay for the summer.

Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2312

Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

INBU Ottawa Trail 5-17-15-2379

Indigo Bunting, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

BASW Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2243

Barn Swallows, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

BEKI Portage 5-17-15-2256

Female Belted Kingfisher, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Indigo Buntings are everywhere. I have not seen the females yet but the Portage has at least four males singing on territory. I have also seen many Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.

Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3512

Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

BAOR Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3661

Baltimore Oriole, 5-25-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3640

Green Heron, 5-25-15 – Not as visible today as three weeks ago.

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 - There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 – There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

TRSW Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3534

Tree Swallow, 5-25-15

Red Admiral Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3562

Red Admiral on a wildflower I have yet to identify – I should know it! But I have never seen it at the Portage before. Is this some kind of monarda?

I included the butterfly picture because to me it signals the end of spring migration and the beginning of summer, when butterflies and dragonflies vie for my attention.

WODU Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2349

Wood Duck, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

I didn’t see any ducks today at the Portage. In years past there have always been a breeding pair of Wood Ducks, so I hope they are busy nesting.

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can't be all hers?)!

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can’t be all hers?)! (Ottawa Trail, 5-17-15)

I hope to be back soon with a short report on birds in Berwyn. I just saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at my hummingbird feeders this evening, which gave me the perfect reason  to clean and refill the feeders. While I was out in my yard my neighbor appeared and told me he saw the hummer yesterday! Maybe I’ll get a picture this year before September.