Goose Lake Prairie

Cragg’s Cabin

I missed my annual visit to this place on the July 4th weekend. Then two Sundays ago, I decided to see what it looked like two weeks later. Weather conditions were favorable and I had no other plans, so it seemed like a good thing to do after I psyched myself up for the nearly hourlong drive. How spoiled I have become zipping over to the Portage in five minutes every weekend.

I got my yearly Dickcissel fix…

I don’t know why I have never bothered to look at the signs before but this time I paid more attention to them. The one below, however, is the only one the birds did not decorate. The rest, which explained more about the plants and the history of the place, were too messy to include here.

The parking lot was empty. However I was greeted by a Killdeer. If I remember correctly, there was a Killdeer here last time I visited. I suspect they nest near the Visitor Center. Also below is a recording from the parking lot.

I always count on seeing and hearing Dickcissels here and I was not disappointed. Except there seemed to be fewer individuals to photograph. The one below, perched and singing which is how you normally find them, was still farther away than I would have preferred. The Dickcissel’s song is below the pictures and there is also a Field Sparrow singing in the background.

Field Sparrows are lovely little birds and I was happy to see and hear them.

I got a closer look at this Field Sparrow with a worm.

View of the Visitor Center from the trail

I heard more Common Yellowthroats than I saw, which is typically the case. This one would not turn around and face me.

It took me quite a while to find a Song Sparrow, of all things.

I decided that the prairie plants were as spectacular as the birds and easier to photograph. I was a little disappointed to find the Purple Loosestrife as it is not a native species.

Below, a Monarch Butterfly enjoying a Compass Plant flower.

Compass Plant

I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this tiny Northern Crescent butterfly.

On a small piece of remaining boardwalk. I found a Red Admiral trying to blend in with some coyote scat. The other individual was more discretely checking out the gravel trail.

There didn’t seem to be many Indigo Buntings but in general, the birds were busy nesting and not displaying. I did manage to capture this one.

Great Blue Herons flew past, but I missed seeing any up close. There was one barely visible when I reached the Goose Lake, such as it is, but I did not want to disturb it so I reversed course.

Most of the trails are mown grass, which is where I eventually encountered the Dickcissel on the ground.

Shortly before I started to turn back, I encountered two guys who flushed a female Ring-necked Pheasant. Below are a couple not-very-clear flight photos.

The sun’s glare on the trail map below makes it even harder to see

There weren’t many Red-Winged Blackbirds visible. I settled for this one.

Over the pond by Cragg’s Cabin, I managed to capture a Cliff Swallow.

On the way out, I stopped the car to let two Wild Turkey hens cross the road. I got out of the car to take a few pictures of one. She seemed unconcerned by my presence but didn’t volunteer for a better view.

A Plastic Bag Bird too far away to capture and discard
Another Great Blue Heron in the clouds
A Great Egret

Overall I am very happy that I made it back to this beautiful place. I am a little sorry that it has taken me two weeks to report on it. But here we are at the end of July already. One confusing day leads to the next. On that note, I’m going swimming tonight for another slice of temporary ecstasy.

Almost forgot the Raspberrries!

After the Rain – Part 2

In celebration of my announced retirement to the firm yesterday – my last day at work is scheduled to be August 31st – I am publishing Part 2 tonight.

The last time I saw my friendly Indigo Bunting whose territory was around what I like to call the second bridge, he was claiming the sign as his territory as well, singing “And this is My Sign.” He then hopped over to the end of the bridge and started singing “And this is My Bridge” but when I raised the camera to capture him there, he took off.

More water, but the stream is almost all overgrown.

When I was walking around the back trail by the MWRD property, I encountered a couple juvenile Yellow Warblers, which could explain why I haven’t heard or seen any singing males lately.

There aren’t a lot of dragonflies either.

A bedraggled-looking Common Whitetail female.

I did catch a glimpse of a female Baltimore Oriole.

I started taking pictures of this swallow from a great distance by the parking lot when I first got out of the car – and upon blowing them up later found it flying upside down.

Robins are ubiquitous now and their numbers have increased, thanks to a successful breeding season. Worms are plentiful now with the rain.

Another Indigo Bunting…or two. They’re not singing constantly anymore.

Turkey Vulture

A few more scenes from the Portage…

The second bridge spans over very little water.

The bottomlands by the Des Plaines River were flooded, affording a Wood Duck hen a place to shelter her babies. I saw them but it was impossible to capture them in the dark shadows as their mom moved them quickly away.

This looks like a Common Grackle
One more song…

I went back this past Saturday when it started out quite cloudy and cool. Fewer birds posed but I had some interesting observations. I’ll try to round them up before the weekend. Midsummer is quiet in its abundance.

Back to the Portage

But first, a Song Sparrow that somehow didn’t make it into the last post. I have heard Song Sparrows on occasion at the Portage but have not seen many this year.

This is my birthday weekend and if my memory serves me correctly, also the anniversary of this blog although I don’t remember how many years it has been and am too lazy to look it up. I did manage to visit the Portage on Saturday morning and will be back with that report later, but since I started this post two (?) weeks ago I feel obligated to finish it. I just checked. The photos below are from June 13. We were hot and dry. We have since had a lot of rain and flooding, but not quite enough to take us out of the “abnormally dry” category on the Illinois Drought Monitor.

Yellow Warblers nest here and were pretty elusive but I did finally manage to capture this one.

I am always intrigued by the sight of a Red-winged Blackbird chasing a Red-tailed Hawk…

Insects are sparse, which is not news, but makes the few individuals one sees that much more precious. I think I may have identified the two below. I haven’t had to resort to bug spray yet this year, although I do have a few bites I occasionally scratch to remind me it’s not over yet. The effect of insects being sparse, however, is bad news for the dragonflies and birds that eat them.

Hobomok Skipper
Likely a female Variable Dancer.

Cabbage White butterflies have been the most prevalent, and even they seem sparse. They are an introduced species.

For what it’s worth, the volunteers at the Portage have been busy reducing invasive plant species, and it is gratifying to see the natives return. Last time I saw them at work they were cutting away massive swaths of hemlock. Unfortunately it was in flower so it will likely return. But a lot of the burdock from years ago is gone. It’s a slow process.

Hemlock

More often heard than seen – a Blue Jay.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird below intrigued me by the light-colored throat feathers. It might just be a trick of the light.

Below is what I believe is a young Northern Flicker peering out of a nest hole.

The Indigo Buntings are still going strong with their songs and territories and it’s hard to resist them. I have to quit taking them for granted. They weren’t here in these numbers ten years ago.

The Baltimore Orioles have been harder to spot as they tend to their broods, but I got lucky and watched this one as he visited the nest.

Baltimore Oriole nest

So I hope to be back later today with a little yard report. If I could have one thing on my birthday (while it’s still quiet and getting too hot to be outside for very long), it would be to have time to write another blog post.

My best friend from junior high is in town from California for her mother’s 100th birthday and has chosen to stay with me and the birds. Luckily there is a relatively comfortable finished attic – I call it my people space. I bought a new room air conditioner which seems to be keeping it cool enough up there. So I am foregoing my traditional visit to Goose Lake Prairie this year. Maybe I can take off for that grassland later in the month. Today I will enjoy hanging out with my friend and trying to be lazy.

Hot and Dry at the Portage

If my memory serves me correctly, last year we were complaining of too much rain. I remember the tall plants in my backyard towering over everything and wondering if perhaps I should have discouraged them earlier. As it turns out, the tall plants seem to be growing up just as much without rain, but I am in no mood to discourage anything.

Anyway, Saturday I went to the Portage early and encountered John as I pulled into the parking lot. He leads discussions and walks on Saturdays at 10:00 AM regarding the history of the place. He had arrived early, said he was getting into birding but had forgotten his binoculars and wanted to know if he could tag along with me. We had a good time talking and walking along the trail, and he told me the history of the early explorers and how the Des Plaines River was diverted to feed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. So initially the little bit of water now left to the Portage is part of the original Des Plaines River bed, but nothing feeds it except rain. With that knowledge I am amazed that when I first started coming here, there was enough water to support herons feeding and even a pair of Green Herons nesting. I haven’t seen the Green Herons here for several years now.

This year there doesn’t seem to be water to make it buggy enough to support Eastern Phoebes or Eastern Kingbirds like last year. We do have Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers.

When John and I started up the trail we encountered that large painted turtle featured at the head of this post, on the gravel path. I wonder if it was a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. There haven’t been many turtles visible this year. The drought is affecting them as well.

But then we saw an Eastern Wood-Pewee, who even sang for us. I love these little guys – I often hear them clear across the woods but don’t always see them.

While we paused on the back trail on the other side of the fence, an Osprey flew over.

I was able to show John my most reliable Indigo Bunting whose territory is on the East side of the North bridge. The bunting was happy to pose and sing for us. A recording of his song is below the photos.

John had to leave to get ready for his tour/talk so we parted ways. I will have to attend one of his presentations. I confess I used avoid the Portage on Saturday mornings because of all the extra people, but now I’ve gotten used to it after the pandemic brought in a lot of new visitors.

I continued along the trail in the direction I usually take. The rest of these photos are not in order but they are the only birds I was able to capture. Below is a Red-Belled Woodpecker on the dark side of an oak tree.