Back to the Portage

It’s all I can do to keep up with migration this spring, let alone the pictures I have taken…So I’m attempting to do this in chronological order but it won’t be easy. This past Saturday started out cool but sunny. I decided to start my walk in the opposite direction of what I normally do. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put my little portable stool in my backpack so I decided to walk back to the car to get it. As I walked, I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher, and then saw him in one of the Redbud trees bordering the lawn behind the statue. The morning had promise.

Great-Crested Flycatcher
I have decided to photograph the statue every time I go to the Portage now to gauge the light conditions.

Last Saturday was a riot of colorful birds. I counted a dozen male Indigo Buntings. They were everywhere and they were not particularly shy, so I took advantage of their fearlessness. You can see how the light affects the hue of the blueness, when actually their feathers are all black.

I ventured out to the gravel road that runs along the MWRD property and found two male Scarlet Tanagers. They were trading songs.

But I discovered a glimpse at a Summer Tanager later in my pictures.

For all the male Baltimore Orioles singing and displaying these last few weeks, I have seen only one or two females so far. But that’s because they’re busy tending the nest.

Yellow Warblers may stay and breed at the Portage. Invariably I hear them but don’t always see them. So I was glad to capture this one.

White-Breasted Nuthatches are present all year, but are not seen or even heard frequently now.

The female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak below is the last one I have seen. I am not aware of any starting families at the Portage, but it could happen.

We have had a lot of rain, and even more after these pictures were taken. There were two Canada Geese trying out the newly flooded waters.

So this time of year of course I’m looking for warblers wherever I can find them. I just calculated that over the last couple of weeks I have seen 21 species total. I haven’t been able to photograph them all, but most, sometimes discovering them in my photographs. I will try to post as many as possible. They won’t always be textbook-looking photos. For example, the Golden-Winged below I barely captured but it was the details from the photographs that I was able to identify it as a likely female.

One more Magnolia Warbler

Then there are the flycatchers. They can be confusing. I have since seen the Eastern Wood-Pewee again in the same location looking more like himself so I am guessing he was having an off day (typically he would look more pointy-headed).

Eastern Wood-Pewee
I think this is a Willow Flycatcher…passing through.

On this day I saw this Turkey Vulture being escorted away by a Red-Winged Blackbird.

Song Sparrows are present, singing, and likely staying to raise families.

i keep hearing and sometimes seeing Chestnut-Sided Warblers every time I have been to the Portage since my first intimate encounter with one last Tuesday.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

There’s a little rapids under the first bridge where the water runs out of the Portage. No water ever runs into the Portage, as far as I can tell, but It’s still nice to see the flow over the rocks.

More often heard than seen, Blue Jays are out and about but rarely available for photos, so it was nice to see this one.

I found this female Common Grackle to be attractive in her own way.

I had noticed this nest before but wasn’t sure anyone was using it until I managed to capture these two Goldfinches. You will probably have to click on the first photo to see the female poking her head out of it. I have since not been able to find the nest, which was not far from the trail, but it could still be there and hidden in all the plant growth that has occurred since.

Sadly, Black-Capped Chickadees are getting harder and harder to find. Long taken for granted, I am convinced they are in decline, at least locally. I caught this one in a hurry.

Here’s my Robin photo of the post.

As the leaves are finally coming out, it’s interesting to see how the spaces change.

Below is one of my favorite birds, a Blue-Headed Vireo. I have seen them a couple times this spring which is surprising to me, as I don’t think I have seen one for years.

Woodpeckers are busy everywhere.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

And last for the moment, I finally was able to catch the male Eastern Bluebird in focus. He has a habit of posing in difficult places, but he sat long enough this time. And although I think I heard him this past week, I haven’t seen him since. I hope the pair is still nesting and I will be looking for baby bluebirds this summer.

I have been to the Portage four times since last Saturday! I am beginning to feel like I live there. Every time I have gone, there has been a different species or a special encounter with one I’ve seen so far this spring. As many people have remarked, the cool start has been difficult for the birds migrating to their breeding grounds. I can only hope those who have visited the Portage are finding what they need in this little hotspot and will survive and flourish on the rest of their journey.

I will be back with lots more. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you are safe, well, and able to get out and enjoy this spring.

Half a Well Day Off for Migration

Chestnut-sided Warbler

After last Sunday’s chilly, gloomy rain, I had my eye on Tuesday morning and notified the work team that I was taking it off. Tuesday came, starting out cool but sunny, and I went to the Portage to see if any warblers I barely glimpsed at on Sunday were there for a better view.

The green-up is in progress and the treetops are full of tiny bugs and worms we can’t see, but the birds know where to look for them.

After hearing and then eventually seeing a couple Chestnut-sided Warblers, I was lucky enough to have an intimate moment with this individual. We exchanged thoughts about spring and sunshine.

I always hear five or more House Wrens, but rarely see them. Tuesday morning was a special day, though, because it seemed like all these guys were out and showing off. The very last photograph below shows one going into his nest.

Another very vocal group rarely seen are the Warbling Vireos. I followed this one around with the camera.

There were still a couple Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there. Only now, like the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, when you’re looking for warblers, these birds become “distractors,” to quote one of my favorite guides, Mitch Lysinger.

Even Blue Jays seem to be more visible. I’ve had one in my yard all week, too, although he leaves the minute he sees me.

On this beautiful morning I was delighted to find one of my favorite sparrows, Lincoln’s.

There were still a few Blue-Winged Warblers. It’s been a good year to see them.

Female Goldfinches never get much press so I thought I’d share these two photos.

I always hear White-Throated Sparrows’ little chip notes before I see them. It was nice to have one posing.

In the Big Bird Flyover Department, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an Osprey. I used to see one flying over the Des Plaines River when I visited Ottawa Trail, but that location is no longer available. I haven’t been back since they built a levy. It will be interesting to see what happens with the river, with all the rain we are getting this week.

Osprey

A rare glimpse of Mrs. Bluebird Tuesday morning.

Eastern Bluebird

Early on I saw this Least Flycatcher from the bridge, at quite a distance.

Most of the warblers were distant and high in the trees, so much so that I didn’t always know what I was looking at until I processed the photos.

Black-and-White Warblers have been a bit evasive this year.

Something about the cool, slow start to spring has made the moss look happier.

Here’s a bird I never thought I’d see. It was really far away so I had no idea what it was until later.

Palm Warblers are still around but blending in too well with their surroundings.

One of my favorites, Canada Warbler, was down low but in the shade.

Here’s one of two female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks I saw together in the same location.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

I first saw the man below a couple weeks ago, I think. He was playing loud music from that speaker thing he’s got in his right hand. Keeping my social distance, I cupped my hands over my ears. The next time I heard him coming, he was playing “Scotland the Brave”. I thought about whatever PTSD he was suffering from, it was too bad he had to foist it on other people, but I decided not to let him bother me and maybe it was a good thing he was walking his dog in the woods. Anyway, it’s likely he’s been out every day since the lockdown began.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are challenging to spot, but it’s often rewarding when I do see them.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Below you can barely see a Spotted Sandpiper in the shadow of the bent log.

I actually saw a flock of thirty or more Common Grackles fly in on Tuesday.

There are a lot of Brown-headed Cowbirds this year.

Brown-headed Cowbirds

Here’s one of those surprise warblers I found later in the photographs. I had to do some thinking about this one. When I think of a Blackburnian Warbler I always imagine the males. This is a female. It took me a while to figure her out.

Magnolias are usually easier to see than this one, but migration isn’t over yet.

Distant but distinguishable Black-throated Green Warblers.

I don’t see Hairy Woodpeckers half as often as Downies. I find though that I’m getting to be able to distinguish them by their feather pattern first.

I had been waiting for the Indigo Buntings to show up. I was to see about a dozen of them yesterday. These two were the first I saw on Tuesday.

Baltimore Orioles are setting up their territories.

Thanks for making it to the end of this long post! After I kept adding birds to the ebird list, I reported 51 species for Tuesday morning. I went back to the Portage Saturday and found some more beautiful birds. I’ll be back as soon as possible. Hope you are safe and well as can be, wherever you are.

Last Weekend at the Portage: Coming Back to Life

I can’t believe another week has gone by already. While it seems like time should be moving slowly, I am finding it to be the opposite as my days at home fill up with work and chores. It’s as if I never left my schedule. And yet because I am home, it sometimes seems like I don’t have a schedule.

Winter returned twice this week and I was going to post a few pictures of birds in the snow but time got away from me and I’m not feeling too nostalgic for snow at the moment. It’s still chilly overnight but I think we are finally going to start warming up. And of course the question lurking right behind that is, Then What?

I went to the Portage last Saturday and Sunday mornings, because both days turned out fairly decent weather-wise. The variety of species differed somewhat between the two days, in that the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who posed for pictures and the one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were present on Saturday but not detectable on Sunday. That sort of thing. On the other hand, I had the Bluebird on Sunday. So it goes.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
American Robin

I’ve been seeing Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (I call them “Sappies”) in the neighborhood all week, and had one in my yard last weekend, but this is the only one I’ve been able to sort of capture so far.

There were a lot of White-Throated Sparrows, or at least more of them than the other species. Below this grouping is a short recording of one of them singing. He had a really nice version of their song, which has always been one of my favorites.

I had no idea what was going on with these Red-Winged Blackbirds on the trail as I approached them on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed that someone has been leaving a little pile of birdseed, so that explains the gathering and likely the behavior. Feeding the animals is a no-no. But I imagine there are more people walking the trails these days than normally do, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe we will all treasure being outside more after our quarantine subsides.

The Tree Sparrow was seen on Saturday and not on Sunday. I don’t expect to see one again until late fall.

The female Red-Wingeds have now joined the males and everybody’s ready to start working on the next generation. On Saturday I must have had more than 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Portage. I don’t think I ever saw that many last year. It could be some were passing through. It will be interesting to see how many remain to nest.

There was one male Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with a couple of Mallards.

I only got a glimpse of the crown on this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Woodpeckers – there were a lot of Northern Flickers. And Downy Woodpeckers are always present. I always hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but don’t always see one. It was also nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. I keep hoping I will see a Red-Headed Woodpecker here again.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This looks like a young male Red-Winged Blackbird. He must be a late-bloomer.

Robins are everywhere.

As things are just starting to turn green, mosses were attractive.

People have been reporting Hermit Thrushes so I was happy to see one. I miss seeing half a dozen of them at once downtown in the city, but maybe it’s better to see one in the woods than a lot of them on turf grass.

Hermit Thrush

There were two Turkey Vultures flying around, at then at one point they landed in the trees.

A lovely Mrs. Cowbird. What more can I say?

The trees are starting to bud and this will all burst into green soon.

If you click on the dove pictures you can see nesting material in its bill easier.

There are a lot of Cardinals at the Portage but they’re not always easy to capture, especially this time of year when they’re busy setting up territories.

So here is the Bluebird of Happiness. I don’t get to see Bluebirds too often, so this was a special treat.

I plan to go out this weekend and with any luck, there will be even more birds to see. Migration continues, and I suspect the birds are having a better time of it without so much human interruption.

Snow: Before and After

Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage

Yesterday morning I got up and went to see how the birds were doing at the Portage. It was a cold, windy, bleary morning, and as far as I could tell, nobody was having a good time.

When the large black blob in the distance turned out to be a windblown Bald Eagle, I was encouraged to investigate. I couldn’t get very close to where it was perched high above the railroad tracks.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t singing much. This one appeared to look as if he was reconsidering his early arrival.

I did finally manage to see one of perhaps four Song Sparrows who were carrying on vocally as if spring had sprung. But he wasn’t flaunting his presence.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was an Eastern Phoebe. I felt for him, though, as there were no bugs to eat and it made me wonder what else he could get by on a couple days before the scheduled warmup.

Even the Robins weren’t having a good time.

The cardinals have been singing for weeks. They started earlier than the Robins. There was one singing along with the piano a few days ago. I was surprised, since the windows aren’t open. He must have heard the keyboard through the front door and I assume he was perched on the little apple tree outside of it. Below is a recording of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and just at the end where I start playing some other chords you can hear the cardinal singing along.

Northern Cardinal at the Portage
Cardinal singing with us toward the end of this clip

This Downy Woodpecker was foraging low with the sparrows.

I never did see if there was a hen sitting on a presumably well-hidden nest who belonged to this Mallard but he was definitely taking it easy.

I really hoped we were done with this snow stuff, although it was less than a minor inconvenience considering I didn’t have to go anywhere and it has now melted away. These few photos are from yesterday afternoon through the porch windows. The wet snow was falling and I didn’t feel like joining the birds in it, but I wanted to commemorate its arrival since I banished all my snow-in-the-yard photos from this “past” winter to external storage to make room for spring.

I’ve gone back to the photos from my August trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan and hope to follow with a post or two featuring bright sunshiny blue skies shortly.

I hope you are in good health, and pray you are making some sense out of all the chaos. We will get through this.

New Year’s Day

What a gorgeous day, to start the new year. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky. It was quite cold and windy this morning, but who cares? I have something in common with the birds. We worship the sun.

It was nice to see the White-Breasted Nuthatch in the yard this morning. Also present were a multitude of House Sparrows, House Finches and American Goldfinches, with a female Northern Cardinal as a bonus.

So this is a brief post with some pictures from this morning and a couple from Christmas Eve. I have an embarrassing confession to make. I have been shooting with manual focus for so long, due in large part to trying to take pictures of warblers in trees, that I realized on my last trip I had no idea how to set up the camera for autofocus. Here I have all this fancy equipment with no idea how to use it. Duh. So it’s been on my list for the last several months to get on board with autofocus, to the point where it was really becoming a Big Deal in my mind. I needed peace and some uninterrupted time to sit down and figure this thing out.

Luckily there are enough videos and whatnot on the Internet. I finally sat down this morning at the dining room table with both cameras I’ve been using and realized that I was not that far off from using autofocus in the first place, it was just a matter of getting used to the buttons on the camera and what I was trying to do. Then I went out into the backyard with both cameras and started shooting. It took a bit of getting used to, but I really needed to do this! It fought me once when I tried to focus on a squirrel behind some branches, but that wasn’t worth worrying about. So now I can go to San Blas confident that I will get many more pictures in focus!

House Finch

Here’s a Hairy Woodpecker that’s been coming to the yard the past week. Or at least I’ve been around enough to see him. There’s a female too, so I can only assume they are a pair. This picture was taken through the window last week.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I am getting mentally and physically ready for my next trip, trying to lessen the last-minute panic that always seems to accompany final preparations. Having the extra days off has been a big help.

Another one of Hairy
American Goldfinch

This is probably my last post until after I come back. It’s still hard for me to believe I’m going but Sunday morning isn’t that far away. Best wishes to all for the New Year. We need something to look forward to!

Chicago Portage: A January Thaw the Day after Christmas

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

It was raining and cloudy when I woke up this morning and the forecast as read on the radio didn’t sound too promising, but then the clouds appeared to be clearing and I had no more reasons to dawdle, so I set out for the Portage.

My timing was right – there were a lot of sparrows and three species of woodpecker which isn’t phenomenal but one, a Hairy, I hadn’t seen in a while so that was special.

hawp-12-26-16-5812

Hairy Woodpecker

There was a lot of fungus growing everywhere which made me realize just how much life goes on in spite of the cold and snow.

Northern Cardinals were abundant but distant, even with the long lens. I don’t know what happened with my setting on the right, I am unaware of changing anything but I must have hit a button somewhere, but maybe the contrast is interesting anyway, seeing as how the sparrows were blending in with everything.

American Tree Sparrows were most abundant.

This was the only Dark-Eyed Junco that didn’t fly away immediately.

deju-12-26-16-5797Several hardy little Song Sparrows surviving our surprise winter.

sosp-12-26-16-5669A couple pictures of the thaw. No birds in the water but some flew over as if considering it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker was enjoying the sunshine.

rbwp-12-26-16-5859Milkweed pods almost looking like birds hanging from their stalks.

milkweed-portage-thaw-12-26-16-5942It was wonderful to be out. I had the place virtually to myself and it felt like home again. I made an early resolution to spend more time in these woods, to bear witness to the changes of the seasons, the habitat, and the inhabitants.

Breeding Birds

PRWA IDSP 05-29-2016-2349Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.

Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.

There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.

Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.

Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.

We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.