Somewhere the images I manage to capture of birds over the years accumulate in well-organized collages in my mind’s eye, and from those conglomerations comes empathy for the individuals of the any species and an appreciation for their irreplaceable contributions to life on the planet.
I haven’t seen many species of late, due somewhat to my inability to frequent the lakefront parks, but when I revisit some of these photographs I took from weekends ago at the Chicago Portage and Ottawa Trail, I am reminded of how special birds surprisingly show up–because birds are creatures of flight, they can fly and land anywhere, and no ultralight aircraft will ever be a match for a bird–and I am lucky to be alive to see them. Like the Golden-Winged Warbler below that popped up at Ottawa Trail on September 9. I couldn’t get great pictures but I am grateful I got to see such a beautiful and sometimes rare bird.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below must be a youngster. Colors aren’t quite set yet, still has a fluffy, unfinished look about him.
I never tire of seeing a Magnolia Warbler. Below is either a female or a young male.
Flycatchers were still around during the first days of our heat wave, which is thankfully over except now we are approaching drought. The facing pictures of the Phoebe below were from the Portage and the one below them from Ottawa Trail.
Usually I only hear Pewees but that day I got to see this one.
Swainson’s Thrushes were abundant but not always easy to see. After going back and forth I have decided the larger picture below is of a Gray-Cheeked Thrush.
And the last of the young Indigo Buntings were preparing to leave the Portage.
I have never seen a Chipmunk sit still long enough for me to point a camera lens at it. This is worth sharing.
More recent memories to come and if I see a few more migrants before the passerine migration is over, I will try to share them with you.
There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.
Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.
The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.
Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.
The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.
On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.
Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.
Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.
For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.
So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.
I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.
The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.
Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.
Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.
The shelf fungus seemed a bit diminished on this visit.
Below, three first-year birds.
The cardinal is a likely candidate for first-year status as well.
Another view of the Portage, showing off all the native wildflower planting done lately.
I couldn’t decide which photograph of the Common Yellowthroat below to include, so here are both.
And one more of a Tennessee Warbler, adorning Giant Ragweed. Tennessees were most numerous yesterday.
Apologies for being absent of late. My work situation is in flux, which creates a different kind of distraction. But I promise I’ll be back soon with an update from the yard. It’s been cool enough overnight to leave the windows open all weekend. I think Fall is my Favorite Season.
I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.
I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.
Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.
After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.
And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.
There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.
It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.
I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.
Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.
When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.
I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.
I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.
There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.
One more bird from the Portage…
Juvenile Song Sparrow
I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.
Juvenile European Starling in the Black Mulberry Tree
I went back to the Chicago Portage last Saturday and figured out the three big trees with berries. After seeing the berries in my photos, they looked like mulberries to me. Sure enough, the trees are Black Mulberry, which can get up to 50 feet high, and at the Portage over the long period of time, they look like they have.
My history with mulberries is brief, but years ago one tree made an impression on me. There was a White Mulberry (Chinese) in my yard when I first moved in, and I quickly tired of the Starlings leaving a berry mess all over the place, not to mention the fact that you can never entirely get rid of mulberry trees, so I had the tree removed but I have to remain constantly vigilant, cutting down shoots here and there, if I can’t dig them up. More pictures of a Black Mulberry Tree below.
Maybe it was too early in the day for butterflies as there were absolutely none, but there were dragonflies and damselflies.
Female 12-Spotted Skimmer
possible Female Powdered Dancer
Predictably, many of the birds were juveniles, like the Red-Winged Blackbirds below.
And most of the birds were quite far away. For the record, a Cedar Waxwing and a Northern Flicker.
The Mourning Doves below were at first a bit closer but didn’t wait for my shot (left) and then were cautiously distant (right).
It was nice to see an Osprey fly over, for a change.
And a flying cigar (Chimney Swift).
And quite unexpectedly for both of us, a young buck White-tailed Deer on the trail ahead of me.
Wildflowers still captured my attention.
In particular I was glad to see the Jewelweed (impatiens capensis, Spotted Touch-Me-Not) starting up again. I’ve been seeing a couple hummingbirds at the Portage the last few weeks but not close. There’s always the possibility Jewelweed will attract them when it’s in full bloom.
And sure enough, Burdock and Pokeweed are on the chopping block.
More unfinished Starlings below…
And Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and a Baltimore Oriole.
House Wren and Gray Catbird… Indigo Buntings abound.
Female Indigo Bunting
Juvenile Male Indigo Bunting
American Robin in the Black Muberry
This coming Sunday, my flutist friend Linda and I are playing flute-and-piano music for the service at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago. Not sure I will be able to venture out again this Saturday morning. I slept in last Sunday…
I spent three hours at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area this morning. I saw and heard a lot of birds, if not necessarily a lot of species. Most of the birds I photographed were quite far away. Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows below, then a Field Sparrow.
Did I see the King Rail? I’m not sure. Maybe I did, so maybe it’s half-a-lifer, but without a scope to clarify anything, my binoculars could not discern any detail on the likely suspect and my camera lens was no better at deciphering a preening bird at the water’s edge.
But rarer birds have a way of showing up when you least expect them. So it is with the Yellow-Breasted Chat. When I think of all the Chats I have heard and never seen on their breeding grounds, seeing and photographing one this morning had all the sweetness of any surprise. I was first drawn to the yellow bird by its behavior kiting after insects. Then when it perched I realized it was a Chat, however far away. This species is still considered a warbler.
I was photographing anything I could focus on before identifying it. So it was with the Grasshopper Sparrow below.
And this elusive Sedge Wren too.
This Indigo Bunting was right out in the open. With the abundant sunshine, he picked the right day to do it.
Likewise with this young Baltimore Oriole, but so far away.
Some wildflowers in bloom…the first one is not Blazing Star but similar, and then Bergamot which is now in my yard, and in the lower right hand corner, Wild Parsnip, something I never noticed before but recognized right away this time after all the parsnip growing in my yard.
For all the abundance of Red-Winged Blackbirds I almost tend to ignore them, and in some measure it’s a defensive action because they can get testy this time of year, as you probably noticed in my last post.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
But sometimes they can be fun to capture anyway.
Male Red-Winged Blackbird
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a young Eastern Kingbird before, so this was a treat.
Juvenile Eastern Kingbird
And although Common Yellowthroats are constantly announcing themselves, they’re often hard to see, so I was grateful to these two.
I still have a few photos to share from Sunday’s adventures and that could still happen. The remedy for all this is to just stop taking pictures but there is always more to see.
I’m glad I got to Goose Lake Prairie, I missed it last year. The other Goose Lake Conservation Area awaits exploration.
If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.
Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.
Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).
Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.
Juvenile Baltimore Oriole
Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …
After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.
One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.
Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.
And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.
Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.
I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.
One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.
Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.
The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.
All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.
On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.
Unidentified Invasive Plant
A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.
And one more of the Carolina Wrens.
McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!
You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now, and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…
Scarlet Tanager female
Scarlet Tanager female
Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.
Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.
Common Whitetail Skimmer
Common Whitetail Skimmer
These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).
The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.
Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods
Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods
The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.
This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.
Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.
At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.
Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.
Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.
Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.
Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.
I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!