Goose Lake Prairie: Happy Fourth

Field Sparrow

The forecast was for rain not starting until maybe 11:30 or so this morning, so it seemed like a good day to restart my lapsed tradition of visiting Goose Lake Prairie on the Fourth of July. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and the threat of rain never occurred. Even though I arrived later than I had planned, for quite a while I was the only human, which suited me just fine.

Song Sparrow, the first of many

Dragonflies were everywhere. I guess the one I’ll be seeing a lot of this year is the Blue Dasher. Last year it was the Halloween Pennant. Nice to see all of these this morning.

Blue Dasher (female)
Blue Dasher
Widow Skimmer Female
Common Whitetail (female)
Halloween Pennant
Dickcissel
Dickcissel

So I’m trying to write this blog post tonight with the explosions going off all around the neighborhood, frequently sounding like a bomb exploding next to my house. I hate this holiday. I don’t understand why I have to be miserable and endure this every year. Maybe it’s why I decided not to be born until after midnight 71 years ago – it was too scary to start living with all this going on.

Luckily it never seems to bother my birds, they just endure it, likely chalking it up to more stupid human noise. We have pretty music playing on the radio. What’s one or two or fifty explosions?

But I can’t imagine the outdoor birds are too fond of this. Oh well. Back to the blog post. This morning I got to see some nice birds. There are a lot of pictures in this post. Let’s just leave it at that.

Eastern Kingbird

There was one Brown Thrasher who barely showed its face and then hid from me as I tried to see the rest of it.

I hoped for a Henslow’s Sparrow and one complied. Their return to Illinois grasslands is one of the few success stories over recent years. If you provide habitat, they will come.

Henslow’s Sparrow

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t bothering to sing, so the guys looked a little bored with their guard duty.

There were a lot of Common Yellowthroats and as secretive as they sometimes are, I managed to see a few.

I’m still on the verge of tears from the explosions. I guess tomorrow morning I can go around and see how many fireworks shells are in the yard. Something to look forward to. My indoor birds are ready to fall asleep. I keep praying for rain.

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…

 

 

Filling in the Blanks

Green Heron

Green Heron

Somehow I managed to talk myself into getting up early both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend. Both days began on the cloudy side, with Saturday turning into rain by 10 a.m. But I finally saw some birds I had missed so far this season. Both Green Herons were at the Portage, for instance.

Flickr IMG_2961_1

Last weekend the woodpeckers eluded me, but this time I had the Northern Flicker above, in addition to Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downies and a Hairy.

Fledgling Robin IMG_2724_1

Juvenile Robin

Some juvenile Robins are starting to forage on their own. And there were at least four Gray Catbirds on territories. Below is one of them.

Gray Catbird IMG_2785_1

This juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird sitting on one of the foot bridges was scolded furiously by her dad as I approached.

RWBB Child IMG_2890_1

Wood Ducklings revealed…

Wood Ducklings IMG_2848_1

Wood Duck ducklings

Finally, the mirage I saw last weekend emerged. It was indeed a scurrying flotilla of Wood Ducklings. There are seven of them, and when they dart around en masse they look like a strange 7-headed creature.

Wood Duck IMG_2864_1

Above, mama Wood Duck.

Song Sparrow IMG_2828_1

Song Sparrow

Again, the same silent Song Sparrow. Maybe it’s a she.

Snapping Turtle IMG_3037_1

Still plenty of water on both sides of this path, when I caught the Snapping Turtle crossing.

Snapping Turtle IMG_3041_1

And a beaver going about his business.

Beaver IMG_3053_1

And Southwest Airlines flying over…

Southwest IMG_2820_1

Sunday it was grassland birds at Plum Creek Forest Preserve, way down at the southern tip of Cook County, organized by Chicago Ornithological Society. The birds were often too far away to photograph, but we were surrounded by Dickcissels and Henslow’s Sparrows.

Dickcissel IMG_3118_1

The Indigo Bunting below was interesting from the standpoint of his plumage. I don’t know if he was a juvenile or more likely somewhat leucistic, since his song sounded adult.

Indigo Bunting IMG_3100_1

Always a delight to see a Great Crested Flycatcher.

Great Crested Flycatcher IMG_3265_1

Great Crested Flycatcher

And the only Henslow’s Sparrow of the seven or eight we heard who dared show himself was still buried in the grasses, for all practical purposes. Others ventured closer to him but I chose to hang back; Henslows nest on the ground, and I didn’t want to disturb anybody.

Henslow IMG_3171_1

I leave you with a shrug from one of the Green Herons who had just about had enough of sitting still for so long.

Green Heron Stretch IMG_2939_1

I’ll try to shorten the space between posts. If I can stay awake long enough. 🙂

Goose Lake Prairie

Compass Plant

I finally managed to go through the rest of my photographs from my visit to Goose Lake Prairie last weekend. I’d had no particular target species or agenda in mind. I had hoped to maybe see a Grasshopper Sparrow, but I can’t say I even heard one, that was my only disappointment. A bit ironically, I first heard about Goose Lake Prairie on Cornell’s “More Birding By Ear” CDs, for the recorded songs of birds found there.

The most common species last weekend was probably Eastern Meadowlark.They were no longer singing, but they were chattering everywhere.

This parched version of the prairie is different from the last time I visited maybe three years ago. Rattlesnake Master, one of my favorite native prairie plants, seemed to be the only thing that thrived on the hot, dry weather.

The Wild Bergamot was almost spindly.

Wild Bergamot

Song Sparrows were predictably common. And still singing.

Song Sparrow

I heard a few Field Sparrows before I finally saw one.

Field Sparrow

I walked a long way before I finally started hearing Henslow’s Sparrows and then it seemed like they were everywhere. But they were singing hidden in the tall grass, until finally I managed to see and hear one sitting up. They were more cooperative a few weeks ago at Springbrook Prairie, but I don’t think I have ever heard so many of them as I did at Goose Lake Prairie. I simply adore Henslow’s Sparrows. Once gravely endangered, they have been making a real comeback in Illinois, due in large part to prairie restoration.

Henslow’s Sparrow

There were not too many butterflies or dragonflies, maybe just a few of the more common species.

Monarch Butterfly

Common Whitetail

And of course my photographic nemesis, Indigo Bunting, made a brief appearance.

Indigo Bunting

Sometime after hanging out with the Northern Harrier that dominated a previous post, a Turkey Vulture came to take up the slack…

Turkey Vulture

proving that even vultures can be beautiful.