October’s End

A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.

My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.

Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.

Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.

American Coots

As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.

3 Days in Michigan – Part 2

RBGR 7-17-18-6893

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Juvenile)

I was at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan, years ago on a Kirtland’s Warbler tour, and immediately remembered the window feeders at the visitor’s center that attracted grosbeaks like the one at the top of this post. It was too late in the season to see a Kirtland’s easily, although one had been reported about five days before we arrived, but there were other birds to see and the forest itself is beautiful.

The Pileated Woodpecker above was actually not far from where we were staying when Linde went out for an early morning walk, and I managed, as always, to get representative but not very good pictures which I had to adjust for the backlighting. I think I’ll start now with my New Year’s Resolutions and plan to visit the places where Pileateds are seen more often around here, to increase my chances of getting a decent photograph.

RBGR 7-17-18-6903

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (adult male)

So to finish up with the grosbeaks at Hartwick Pines’ feeders, the main attraction was the Evening Grosbeaks. Although they proved difficult to photograph I did manage the pictures below, which are of an adult male and I believe the one on the lower right is a juvenile.

The day before we went to Hartwick Pines we visited the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant which prides itself on its design to incorporate wildlife and native ecology into the whole process. If nothing else it’s a birding destination worth checking out.

With 11,000 acres of varied habitat it’s one of the best birding locations in the state. In the fields adjacent to the water treatment ponds we saw three Upland Sandpipers. They were too far away to photograph well but I did manage to catch them flying.

I think I saw more Black Squirrels this time than I have on previous trips to Michigan, but it was still hard to get a decent picture of one.

CORA 7-17-18-7001On the drive up I saw a Common Raven and then finally on our last outing one flew over.

The wastewater treatment ponds predictably had waterfowl. It was nice to see a Ruddy Duck (left, above) and we had to offer proof of the Lesser Scaup (on the right).

MALL 7-16-18-6833There was no shortage of young Mallards in various stages of development.

Mute Swans 7-16-18-6798Mute Swans, albeit introduced, are still lovely to look at.

In the summertime birders flock to sewage ponds in particular to see shorebirds. We saw only a few and they were pretty far away. Above on the left, a Lesser Yellowlegs, flying top right, a Killdeer, and below it is a Herring Gull, which is not a shorebird but a segue into the next photograph.

Gulls 7-16-18-6801On our way out we found most of the gulls were on the road in front of us. We estimated 2100 Ring-Billed Gulls and about 100 Herring Gulls mixed in amongst them.

Halloween Pennant 7-16-18-6787Here’s another Halloween Pennant. I have seen more of these dragonflies this year and I don’t recall having seen them before. Changes everywhere, big and small, and I guess this could be yet another one of them.

Woodchuck 7-15-18-6710The woodchuck above was found by Marty, a non-birder in the group, whom we dubbed the Mammal Spotter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woodchuck before…!

SCTA 7-17-18-7015Our last bird from Hartwick Pines, the Scarlet Tanager above, offered himself up for a series of photographs. Those tall pines do their best to make lighting difficult but I could not resist trying to capture him since he was at eye level.

BWHA 7-17-18-6953And one more photograph of the Broad-Winged Hawk which started off Part 1, who was also at Hartwick Pines, vying for the Most Memorable Bird award.

 

 

Grassland Visit

Halloween Pennant 7-7-18-6477

Halloween Pennant

This time of year I normally visit Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County, but I wasn’t going to go that far or walk that much this year, so I followed through with my Fourth-of-July unfulfilled plan and went to Orland Grassland Saturday morning. Orland, which is reclaimed farmland, is surrounded by development, but it’s large enough to afford considerable habitat and much has been restored. Next time I’ll use the ebird app and do a checklist. This time I just wanted to get a feel for the place and see how much walking I could manage before the sun reached an intolerable height in the sky.

DICK 7-7-18-6485

Dickcissel

Dickcissels were abundant, but in general I heard more birds than I saw, or the birds I did see were pretty far away like the Eastern Meadowlark below.

There were a lot of Eastern Kingbirds and Tree Swallows hunting insects.

EAKI 7-7-18-6335

Eastern Kingbird

I caught glimpses of a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. Later two Great Blues flew overhead.

GBHE 7-7-18-6409

GREG 7-7-18-6343

GBHE 7-7-18-6537An assortment of beautiful dragonflies made themselves available for photographs.

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Blue Dasher

Widow Skimmer (Female) 7-7-18-6370

Widow Skimmer (Female)

Eastern Pondhawk 7-7-18-6419

Eastern Pondhawk

I really couldn’t get enough of the Halloween Pennant. What a dazzling creature.

Halloween Pennant 7-7-18-6471All I can say is I’ll have to go back to Orland soon. But this weekend I am off to Michigan to meet friends and find more birds and plants and insects… I will be back, I hope, with much to report.

GBHE 7-7-18-6531

Not Just Another Grassland: Bartel

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I thought to myself earlier in the week, looking forward to birding two grasslands, that by this time I might have had my fill of this type of habitat, but to the contrary, the next places to visit, circling in my mind, are more of the same. Except that they have not been and will not be the same. Yes, I saw some of the same species at Bartel Grassland that were at Goose Lake Prairie. But there were others that were different. And the habitats are remarkably unique within themselves.

Gathering for the Walk

Gathering for the Walk

Of course it was a different experience going on a field trip with the Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) and 15-20 people (it seemed like a large group) than being totally alone. But whatever I lost in being able to record sounds, I probably gained in sightings. And the genial camaraderie of birding with people, some of whom I knew or had encountered before, falling in and out of conversations along the trail, was welcome, and as always, educational.

Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

I haven’t been to Bartel for years, and then perhaps only twice. It is an ongoing restoration project. Each time I have been with a group and Dick Riner, the site steward, has been available for guidance and comment. I wish I had time to volunteer, to learn more from Dick and to experience the grassland from the ground up as it changes through the seasons. But I’m finding it hard enough to work in my own backyard. And the way Dick tells it, the high school kids are the best volunteers because of their energy physical capabilities. Grassland restoration is hard work!

Great Blue chased by RWBB 7-6-14-0966

Weather-wise we started out overcast and even a bit chilly. But that was not enough to stop a Red-Winged Blackbird from harassing a Great Blue Heron.

RWBB piggybacking on GRBH 7-6-14-0974

Someone mentioned the blackbird was riding piggyback on the heron. I can’t tell if the photograph above captured this or if it was some ruffled feathers, but you get the idea.

One of the target birds was Henslow’s Sparrow, which we heard quite a bit before we actually saw one. All the birds were too far away to photograph but I took my chances anyway and managed to get a few.

Henslow's Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow

We had a couple Savannah Sparrows that were a bit closer to the trail.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

At times the trail, or the beginning of one, stopped abruptly.

Marianne Hahn Trail 7-6-14-1199Marianne Hahn Trail Sign 7-6-14-1199

Perhaps best represented of the target birds were Boboliniks, even though Dick told us we seemed to have just missed most of them, when a few days ago there were perhaps hundreds more gathering to fly south toward their wintering grounds in Argentina. Bartel has the second largest population of breeding Bobolinks in Illinois, the first being at Midewin. But Midewin is so huge you might never be able to see as many as we did today. There were about 20. The females were a little easier to get pictures of.

Bobolink (male)

Male Bobolink

Two views of a female. Click on the pictures and you might actually be able to see them!

Female Bobolink 7-6-14-1171

Female Bobolink

Female Bobolink

Eastern Meadowlarks…were present but difficult to capture. Still it was nice to see as well as hear them.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The milkweed is thick and in full bloom at Bartel, and insects could not resist it. I found this bee hanging from it at the very start.

Bee on Milkweed

Bee on Milkweed

I don’t think I have ever seen a Halloween Pennant before. This is a new dragonfly for me, and quite a flashy one.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Whatever the moth on the milkweed, it was not revealing itself to me. But by now the sun was shining brightly, offering a better picture.

Milkweed 7-6-14-1090

Another look at the Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow 7-6-14-1111

On the way back to my car I noticed the Blazing Star starting to bloom.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

It’s been a beautiful weekend.

It’s going to be hard to go to work tomorrow.

To be continued…