Another Goose Lake

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Looks in the (Chicago) Loop

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

While taking a break from getting organized and trying to locate the title to my old car… Every morning I look out the back window at the dead Ford sitting on the slab and vow to get rid of it. It’s only a matter of weeks before I will have to buy a new city sticker even though I’m not driving it. I’m sure the cat takes refuge underneath its rusting hulk when she isn’t hiding in the hostas. All reasons to motivate me to tear the house apart, calmly, until I find the misplaced title so I can donate the car to a good cause.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Here are a few pictures taken the end of last week, which was the last time I saw migrants in the city. Some are from 155 N. Wacker on my way into the office. The others were taken in Lake Shore East Park.

Up until Friday there was at least one White-Throated Sparrow at 155 N. Wacker who would start singing whenever I showed up, but Friday I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow, which is highly unusual this late in the year. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Lincoln’s Sparrow vocalize, though.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler, 155 N. Wacker

There was a Chestnut-Sided Warbler at 155 N. Wacker as well, but the mainstay had been a male Common Yellowthroat who was on site for a couple weeks. As of Tuesday he was gone.

American Redstart, LSE Park

American Redstart, LSE Park

At Lake Shore East Park among the last migrants I saw last week were the female American Redstart, above, and a Least Flycatcher, below.

Least Flycatcher, LSE Park

Least Flycatcher, LSE Park

But now the newest arrivals are fledgling crows. I think there are two, although I saw only this one being weaned last week. Oddly enough, there was never any sound to go with that wide gaping mouth. Perhaps there is a different protocol at hand for Lake Shore East Park and this youngster was instructed not to draw attention to itself by making a racket.

Crow Fledgling, LSE Park

Crow Fledgling, LSE Park

That wide-eyed look of “now what?” is unmistakable.

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A series of photographs as the parents’ body language tells the story: “We are not feeding you anymore.” I think I recognize the crow with the bouffant hairdo as a former fledgling from about 4 years ago. Notice how he tries to look profoundly disinterested in the interaction between the fledgling and its mother.

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The ultimate insult, after waving the peanut around in front of the fledgling, she takes off with it!

On Tuesday I had some time to hang out with the crows. As far as I could tell, the youngster had not figured out how to do its own peanuts yet and was still falling into a bit of the gaping mouth routine.

By next year if it survives, this fledgling may turn into a peanut expert like the bird below.

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Shivering in the Snow and Sunshine

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Yesterday three of the Four Elles joined the DuPage Birding Club outing to Starved Rock in LaSalle County, Illinois. Although the fourth Elle could not join us, she participated in the same field trip with two of us last year. We met a large group of birders at the Lock and Dam across the river from the main entrance to Starved Rock State Park, where we watched birds on the Illinois River from the comfort and convenience of the deck behind the visitor’s center.

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers L&D 1-19-14 1753.jpg-1753The Bald Eagle pictures are from this location. The birds were not always close enough, but they were active and in general viewing them turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

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There were not many species of waterfowl, but we did have a couple Great Blue Herons, one of which is flying below.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We then caravanned across the river to the visitor’s center adjacent to the lodge at the state park, where they have well-stocked bird feeders. There were many Blue Jays, not willing to sit still for the most part; this one looks pretty cold.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On and around the feeders, White-Breasted Nuthatches were common, like the one below.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And invariably, we saw Downy Woodpeckers. And Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow and Black-Capped Chickadees, although less available for good shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

After lunch, the field trip took off for Lee County instead of further down the river this year, a change driven as much by the weather as the opportunity to search for a previously reported Snowy Owl. We scanned field after field like the one below. Unable to keep up with the 4-wheel drive vehicles in the blowing snow on the roads, after an hour or two we turned homeward and did not see the eventual Snowy. Luckily there are still opportunities closer to home.

Lee County farm field

Lee County farm field

(Last weekend on another field trip, I saw a Snowy in Bolingbrook but could not get a decent picture. Three individual birds have been spotted near this location, so there may yet be a chance to return and try again.)

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Bolingbrook Snowy Owl

After the Flood, Part Two

Flooding at Emiquon

Flooding at Emiquon

So as not to forget the biggest weather event of the year so far, at least around here… here are a few more photos from last weekend’s Emiquon expedition, part of the Illinois Audubon Spring Celebration. In the picture above, the water beyond the first row of trees is the Illinois River, which was at 26.8 feet: flood stage is 14 feet. Normally the depth of water on the near side of the trees would not be there…instead there would be more puddles and shorebird habitat.

Spoon River College Arboretum

Spoon River College Arboretum

So Saturday morning instead of the original plan, we visited Spoon River College Arboretum, which is a beautiful 10-acre tract of natural habitat and wood chip trails. I saw my first-of-year Wood Thrush early on in the walk.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Brown-Headed Cowbirds, more often heard than seen, but this one was glistening when the sun made it through the clouds for a few moments.

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

One of many Chipping Sparrows…

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

At some point we found a Blue-Headed Vireo, but he was elusive.

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Blue-Headed Vireo

I remember walking through a crop field to get to the parking lot as the walk was winding down, so this must be it.Field IMG_6907_1

After lunch we went out again to see as much of Emiquon as was possible. This road was washed out.Flooded Road IMG_7029_1

Blue-Winged Teal were everywhere.

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-Winged Teal

And invariably some were flushed. But then you get to see the blue on the wing that they’re named for…

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Not much more than the profile of a Double-Crested Cormorant, but it is distinctive.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

Along the side of a road going back to Dickson Mounds, which if the mounds had not been underwater might have made for interesting photographs…there was a lone Snow Goose.

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Snow Goose

On Sunday morning, we decided to head home instead of go farther out of our way for yet more flooding… so we stopped by Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights on the way back home. Tufted Titmouses (Titmice? Titmeese?) were everywhere.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

And although this is out of chronological order, maybe it’s a good place to stop: a perfectly-formed flowering Magnolia tree.

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Tomorrow morning I am participating in my first Spring Bird Count. Wish me luck getting up at 2:30 a.m. 🙂

American White Pelicans

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Just a quick picture-post of the American White Pelicans at Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge, located at the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, a featured site of the Illinois Audubon Society’s Spring Gathering based in Canton, Illinois, this weekend.

I’ll have more photos later in the week. It was a long, frustrating weekend, with the weather on the chilly, wet side: a lot of the planned birding activities were canceled because they were inconceivable with the flood conditions resulting from last week’s rain.

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But the pelicans were undeterred. Indeed they seemed to be enjoying the extra habitat. I have never seen so many so close and in breeding plumage. And I found them surprisingly fascinating to watch: their movements are in sync, and beautifully choreographed. Dancing to a tune only pelicans can hear.

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