Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.
As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.
Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.
Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.
This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!
One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.
A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.
It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.
Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!
I think fall must be my favorite season at the Chicago Portage. The birds blend in with the autumn colors, the leaves start to fall from the trees and then every once in a while a bird takes a quick leaf-like descent as well. This past Saturday, after my morning commitment to Thatcher Woods where we had scores of Yellow-Rumped and Palm Warblers, I decided to see what was up at the Portage. Below are two of perhaps 100 Robins…
Directly below, two Common Yellowthroats at Thatcher Woods.
I always take a picture of the water, such as it is, at the Portage to document how it changes from season to season…
There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.
Red-Winged Blackbird (male)
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…
And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.
Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.
Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.
I missed seeing a flashy male Black-Throated Blue Warbler this year but I’m glad to have found a female of the species, wearing her muted fall clothes.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female)
Blackpoll Warblers in their fall plumage are stamped permanently on my brain after a few years ago when there were many for several days at my old stomping grounds, Lake Shore East Park, so I was delighted to find this lovely individual.
At one point I encountered some workers who were taking down a tree. I spent some time talking to one while another was driving wedges into what was soon to be the stump. It turns out the trees were not birch but white poplar, which is an invasive species and that is why they were removing it. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing a bird in those trees although they had become a landmark and I thought they were rather attractive. After I was given clearance to go beyond the workers, I grabbed two quick clicks in the distance as the tree fell.
For all the Robin activity there were only a few Cedar Waxwings…
My view from the first bridge at the Portage yielded a Mourning Dove and a House Wren.
I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.
Northern Cardinal (female)
I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…
Just starting to see Dark-Eyed Juncos, the harbinger of colder weather coming, I suppose. But after not seeing them all summer I am glad to have them back.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.
The Des Plaines was so low, this Great Egret was wading out into it quite a ways from the shoreline.
We had a lot of Northern Flickers at Thatcher Woods. Here’s one of them checking out a future home, perhaps.
Yes I am a Yellow-Rumped Warbler
And Monarch Butterflies are still migrating. I love the way the Poke Weed looks this time of year. I knew the birds were attracted to it but I guess the Monarchs like it too.
After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.
This last photograph is of a Downy Woodpecker who was foraging low and obscured by the vegetation but I like the pastel colors.
More to come, I have three more Saturday bird walks, weather permitting. We seem to be entering a rainy spell but from the looks of the Des Plaines last week we can use it.
At least today, on Labor Day, I decided to be lazy by not getting up two hours before dawn so I could go birding. After meeting at the destination on Saturday, we canceled the walk due to thunderstorms looming in the wings. Even so, I had stayed back with another participant to get a handle on the layout of the trail setup when suddenly a crash of thunder and lightning striking right in front of us convinced us it was indeed time to leave.
So yesterday I got up and decided I would not go far, but as long as it wasn’t raining or threatening to, I may as well try to see what I could find. I went to Ottawa Trail Woods and encountered some obstacles on the trail (above). It became even more evident that I was the only person to have traversed the river trail in a while as I managed to avoid only one of two spider webs strewn above the footpath. The first sign of life was the deer below.
There were not a lot of birds. Or at least not a lot of species. But this time I got to see an Ovenbird for a few seconds although it was nearly the only warbler I saw.
A dozen Common Grackles showed up in the trees right above my head. So much for dark backlit birds.
Ottawa Trail is usually good for Thrushes and I was not entirely disappointed. At least I got to see this Gray-Cheeked long enough to photograph it.
Early on I saw one Cedar Waxwing, but knew there was no such thing as a solitary Cedar Waxwing and on my way back on the trail I encountered at least sixty in the branches of one tree. Click on the upper righthand photo below if you don’t believe me.
The bottomlands by the river were flooded from all the recent rain and I was able to relocate this Great Blue Heron after it flushed, when I surprised it by my walking the path even though at a considerable distance.
I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…
So it was mostly distant unspectacular sightings . A Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Kingbird…
Indigo Buntings were nearly unrecognizable. The one on the right was an up-and-coming male hiding from me at the Portage which was where I went next.
The Portage still had a couple hummingbirds, perhaps the same ones I saw on Friday. Plenty of Jewelweed everywhere. A few years ago on a September day I saw what seemed like a hundred Ruby-Throated Hummers in one visit, all over the Jewelweed, but it was not repeated yesterday. If you look closely at the third image of the hummer you an see a little bit of red emerging on his young throat.
By the time I got to the Portage it was closer to midday, the heat was becoming oppressive and I didn’t expect to see many birds. So I appreciate one Gray Catbird after hearing them but never catching even a glance at one Friday.
All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…
In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.
There were fewer dragonflies than last week. And I keep running into Eastern Commas that don’t want to pose correctly: or is it a Question Mark???
The Robins all seemed to be at Ottawa Trail yesterday with only a few at the Portage. I imagine it’s the same flock going back and forth.
Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…
I came up with a new mantra this weekend, so I guess it’s only appropriate on Labor Day that I share it with you. I have been muttering “I have to stop working” for far longer than I want to recall. But I decided now my mantra should be, “I have to start writing.” I have been thinking about a book for the last several years. It changes every five minutes, but I think it’s finally starting to come together in my head because I found the first sentence yesterday. So it’s time to start writing it. Which may make my contributions to this page even more infrequent, I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine writing anything after working all day at a computer in an office. But by declaring my intentions sometimes I can force myself to get going so as not to risk eternal embarrassment. Thank you.
I took today off. It was a bit difficult getting up early this morning after swimming last night but I managed to get over to the Portage a little after 8:00 a.m. and took note of how deserted the place was on a weekday. No dog-walkers or cyclists. Only one runner, who was probably as amazed to see me as I was him.
A long shot of the duckweedy water above and just below it, an untrimmed path I decided not to take.
The robins are back, and the waxwings are still numerous. Literally nobody in the mucky water. I was treated to American Redstarts and a couple Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds early on, which gave me hope to find a few more migrants.
American Redstart (First Year Male)
Ruby-Throated Hummers above, an adult male American Redstart below.
The only other warblers I could barely photograph were the Chestnut-Sided below left and the Black-Throated Green on the right. I missed the Ovenbird that landed briefly in the tree I later found them in.
In the beginning with the immature male Redstarts was a chattering young House Wren.
Butterflies were out for the sunshine today. Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent and Monarch butterflies.
I saw a few White-Breasted Nuthatches too.
I heard the Eastern Wood-Pewee long before I saw the one below.
This time of year I expect to see lots of Indigo Bunting children and I did, but they were playing hard to get with the camera.
Yellow is the predominant color this time of year and I found a bumblebee and a goldfinch taking advantage of it.
One Eastern Kingbird…
There was a lot of chatter from catbirds but I only barely saw the youngster below.
A couple more Cedar Waxwings. The one on the left is an immature.
The last photograph I took was of this stunning little Silvery Checkerspot.
My walk tomorrow will take place if we are not totally rained out. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast. We shall see… This evening as I write this I have just heard the rumble of thunder. And now it is starting to pour.
By the way it feels nice to have the time to do a same-day blog post. Perhaps if I – no, let’s say when I retire – I will be up to the task more often.
As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.
A Slough in name only…
I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.
There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.
There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.
Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red
When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.
It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…
There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.
There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…
The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.
And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.
I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.
I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.
The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.
Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.
I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.
So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.
My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.
I got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.
Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…
Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.
I couldn’t get this Downy Woodpecker kid to turn around and smile for the camera but it was good enough to see his adult feathers coming in…
The House Wren below just has that newbie look about it.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker kids were out and about. I was surprised to see no red at all on the head of the one below on the top right.
Robins always look like something else this time of year, but I am no longer fooled.
I was beginning to wonder if all the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were gone, but then I found a bunch of them hanging out on the bare limbs of a dead tree. They were all juveniles.
These two young Northern Flickers seemed to be practicing pairing up already.
Nothing going on, on the Des Plaines, which was looking low.
Not much in the way of butterflies. A Monarch here and there, and this one Red-Spotted Purple.
But the dragonflies were quite amazing.
I’m going out on a limb with the ID below. I have a fancy book on dragonflies and damselflies but there are way too many choices.
Russet-tipped Clubtail female
I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…
Some kind of Bluet
I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female
or with Common Whitetails.
Common Whitetail male
Then there was this beautiful Grasshopper that is likely a Differential, but I am absolutely ignorant about grasshoppers so I’m not guessing.
And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.
Back to the birds. The fruit-eaters were enjoying the mulberry tree. That’s a Cedar Waxwing on the left and an adult American Robin on the right.
This Eastern Kingbird looks mature, but looks can be deceiving.
Some interesting things on the trail for the juvenile Song Sparrow below…
and for a male House Sparrow. I rarely see House Sparrows at the Portage but there were these two.
Juvenile House Sparrow
Saturday mornings tend to be work days. There was some burning of invasive vegetation going on.
Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen many in my yard lately, but I did see this pair at the Portage briefly.
Always happy to see a Great Blue blending in.
And it was even pleasant enough for a couple cardinals to make an appearance.
I heard more Indigo Buntings than I saw, but was finally rewarded by the adult male below.
For as much time as the Green Heron spent on this frog I am not sure he or she managed to eat it.
I hope the heatwave ends in time for next weekend. In the meantime I guess I can’t complain about being stuck in an air-conditioned office this coming week.
The heat is here and now more than ever the object of the game is to get up and out as early as possible, before it becomes unbearable. Birds are uniquely qualified to hide in the trees and stay cool that way. But it seemed like I was at last seeing numbers of American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds the last time I visited the Portage.
I didn’t see any adult Baltimore Orioles but there were a couple youngsters like the one below, who was busy trying to take care of all those feathers.
And in the same color scheme, there were a few Monarch Butterflies making their way through the patches of milkweed.
A young rabbit paused on the trail.
And the Indigo Buntings are quite numerous, even if it’s hard to find them. The hen below is showing off her prize which I’m sure she delivered to hungry nestlings.
I heard more males singing than I saw but I did manage to pluck this image out of the backlighting. The bird on the right looks more like a juvenile than a female.
The Great Egret was more visible this time, if still at quite a distance.
I followed this Green Heron when it landed in the tree, only to realize its partner had been there hiding in plain sight all the time as two herons took off a moment later.
Perhaps my best find was an Orchard Oriole I could photograph. I have been seeing one or two but never long enough to take a picture. This bird was busy preening as well. Sorry to take advantage of the bird’s down-time but it seems like the only way to spend time with the summer residents.
The male and female Brown-Headed Cowbirds below were in the same tree but too far away from each other to catch together. On the way out of the parking lot later I saw four more cowbirds foraging in the grass.
Neither one of the photographs below, of a Great-Crested Flycatcher, are very good since he was partially hidden behind a twig, but I was glad to hear him and see him after I walked over by the railroad tracks to see if there was anything going on at all on the Des Plaines River.
An inadvertent flying robin.
And the Orchard Oriole taking off.
I have tentative plans to go out early on the 4th if possible, but rain and thunderstorms seem to be in the forecast and that might stop me. It’s awkward to have a day off in the middle of the week, but a day off is a day off. Rain might actually be good enough to quell local firecracker explosions.