Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs¬†that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. ūüôā

Big Marsh, Hegewisch Marsh and a Lifer

Least Bittern Big Marsh 07-30-17-6896

Least Bittern at Big Marsh

Last Sunday I joined Chicago Ornithological Society’s trip led by Walter Marcisz to a couple areas he knows so well, far south in the Cook County limits and to which I had never been. So tempting was this offering, there were an almost unmanageable 40 of us. But all went well, thanks to Walter’s skillful leadership.

The photograph above is of a Least Bittern which was a life bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a sharper image but we were all caught quite unawares standing around looking out when suddenly this bird decided it needed to go somewhere, so I consider myself lucky i got it at all. The rest of my shots of this bird have someone’s head in them so maybe that gives you an idea.

The parking lot where we met before taking off for the marshes not far away afforded these two captures below: a Double-Crested Cormorant on a light fixture and two Barn Swallows hanging out on the barbed wire.

The wildflower investigation continues. The plant below seemed to be everywhere at Big Marsh and I think there was some at Hegewisch too although by that time I was so tired of seeing it I may have been ignoring it. Someone identified it as Spotted Knapweed, so I looked it up on my wildflower app and sure enough, it is an invasive, with somewhat nasty properties. If handled a lot it can cause tumors on the hands. Yuck. Made one bee happy however.

Bee on the Invasive Plant Big Marsh 07-30-17-6934I grew tired of trying to figure out the one below but it’s pretty in its isolation. I believe it was at Hegewisch. I didn’t take many pictures at Hegewisch – we weren’t there long. We went to see the Common Gallinules – who used to be Common Moorhens – that have been breeding there this year. We caught glimpses but not much else behind the tall grasses.

Wildflowers Big Marsh 07-30-17-6958I was happy to see Northern Rough-winged Swallows as I have missed seeing them in my usual haunts this year.

More birds in flight. A Killdeer on the left, and a Great Egret on the right.

Always happy to see a Caspian Tern hunting in good view. This was also at Big Marsh where we spent the most time.

And Eastern Kingbirds still seemed to be everywhere.

HOFI Big Marsh 07-30-17-6946

Female House Finch, Big Marsh

As close in proximity as these areas are to the city, they are big enough to afford an unobstructed view of the sky which was gorgeous that day.

Cloudscape Big Marsh 07-30-17-6960One more swallow.

Northern RW Swallow Big Marsh 07-30-17-6950

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Back very soon with a report from my yard as my wishes are slowly being fulfilled!

Remnants from the 4th of July Weekend

Here are a few remnant pictures from the Cook County Forest Preserves I visited over the weekend. We’re enduring a hot spell right now with high humidity and while rain looms in the forecast, it’s pretty unpredictable. As much as we could use the rain, I also expect the timing of it might interfere with any as-yet-unformed weekend plans to go birding Sunday. I might just swing by the Schoolhouse and look for the Prairie Warbler again tomorrow.

Below is a Tufted Titmouse from last weekend’s visit to the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Actually the first sound to greet me was that of Bullfrogs. I’ve included a recording below the pictures.

And below, a couple Eastern Towhees – a youngster barely visible on the left, and an adult male on the right.

American Robins are everywhere, but predominately at the Chicago Portage which is where I dropped in a bit late on Tuesday morning.

Also at the Portage, a fly-by Killdeer.

Blue Jays were everywhere too, normally heard but not seen, but they were unusually visible at McGinnis Slough.

Yes, below is another Red-Winged Blackbird chasing, this time, a Red-Tailed Hawk, but the hawk has a snake of some sort in its talons.

Enjoying the low water levels at McGinnis were several Great Blue Herons.

Also finding things to do, a Gray Catbird and one of two Raccoons swimming in the shallow water.

At the Chicago Portage, where the week before I had no trace of Green Herons, I saw this one, although I doubt they are nesting here.

The Caspian Tern below was over the water at the Little Red Schoolhouse. I also saw a tern at McGinnis but not as clearly.

At the Portage, Baltimore Orioles feeding young.

Below, an interesting grass and a female Brown-Headed Cowbird at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

And another Baltimore Oriole, this one a female, with food for her brood.BAOR 07-04-17-5338If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve a reward. I invite you to enjoy the beautiful song of a Wood Thrush recorded at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Thank you to all of you reading and following my blog! Wednesday was the anniversary of my 6th year doing this thing and was also my birthday. This is convenient for me as I have a hard time remembering dates in general so the more things I can associate with my date of birth, which I have to remember, the better.

Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

BWTE McGinnis 4-23-2016-7010

Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to¬†have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did¬†not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk¬†disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6863

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

Orland 4-23-2016-7143

A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis¬†beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained¬†an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Into the rafters

Inertia (aka Summer Doldrums)

Female Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-15-1137Spoiled by earlier dramatic fluctuations in temperature which at times were chilly, I find myself now wiped out by the heat and humidity, albeit expected weather but nonetheless daunting. The only way to avoid overheating is to remain motionless. I did as much of that as possible on Saturday.

However Sunday morning was sunny, so I felt compelled to see how things are going at the Chicago Portage. Construction persists. Access to the trail entrance that heads west is still blocked, but both bridges are open again, which made it easier to take the loop on the other side of the creek back to where I started. On the way out, my eye caught a sign that referred to¬†construction of a “new” shelter being among the improvements. I am unaware of there ever having been an old shelter, so this will be interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into the word “new.”

Construction Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7581

Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.

INBU Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7603

After that for a while it was simply making a record of what I was seeing, even if the picture wasn’t perfect. The¬†distant Great Blue Heron below took off about ten minutes after I took this picture.

GBHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7649

There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7706

KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7731Also on the other side where I would eventually wind up, a young deer had come down to drink. I have seen deer before but never one so young, alone. I seemed to be catching the last gasp of the early morning activity, which was heartening considering I took my time getting out the door.

Deer Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7678Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.

BAOR Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7809

The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.

RWBL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7793Of course just when I think I’ve seen everything I’m going to see or have been unable to get pictures of something ephemeral like the glimpse of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a surprise occurs. Walking by a large tree at the edge of the water, I saw something huge¬†move in it, determined¬†it couldn’t have been a giant squirrel but had no idea. Then the tree exploded with three large birds scattering in all directions. This turned out to be¬†the Green Heron roosting tree. And one of their offspring flew to a perch in the middle of the water where it sat in surprise for several moments.

GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7853GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7870The other great surprise was to run into a human being. Specifically a young man on his bicycle who asked me if there were many birds at the Portage. It then turned out that he was interested in finding out more about birds. What an absolute delight to have been present for him to quiz me on what direction he could take. I sincerely hope he follows his interest. I restrained myself and did not warn him of the addictive nature to this activity. Probably understood anyway if he at all sensed my passion. This is the magic of the Portage for me. I literally never know what to expect.

I should also know better than to expect anything. I was hoping to see butterflies, so I carried around the second camera and lens in my backpack and never took it out. Virtually no butterflies Sunday morning. There were a few dragonflies, but I was unmoved.

But Sunday afternoon seemed to bring butterflies into my garden. The Red Admirals outnumber all the others but at least there were a few more species.

Red Admiral Yard 7-18-15-1111

Red Admiral

Monarch Yard 7-18-15-1113

Monarch Butterfly in swamp milkweed. I can’t believe I managed this shot with a 100mm closeup lens from quite far away.

The swamp milkweed has taken over two areas of the yard. I keep hoping, as in Plant It And They Will Come.

Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-18-15-1085One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.

EAKI Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7746

Eastern Kingbird Fantastical Portage  7-19-15-7748The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.

August at the Chicago Portage: Finale

Green Heron

Green Heron

I did not make it¬†to the Chicago Portage this past weekend to check on the possibility of¬†hummingbirds again. But maybe it’s still worth commenting on the remaining creatures I encountered on the 17th.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juv RWBB Portage-8-17-2014-3822

It’s that¬†confusing time of year again. Young birds are as big as their parents, but distinguishing them is sometimes difficult, especially in poor light. Often¬†I take a picture I know will be lousy just to blow it up later, adjust the exposure and see if I can figure out what it was I was looking at. As it is, the “sparrowy” looking birds all turned out to be Song Sparrows (except for the Red-Winged Blackbirds). There were several Indigo Buntings too but due to poor light and whatever else they hid themselves within, they did not make the cut.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Now that you’ve seen both the juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird and the Song Sparrow, see if you can figure out what the bird is below. You could almost make a case for either one, I think.

What's this?

What’s this?

Then there are the group photos. The birds don’t always cooperate but sometimes the challenge of how many you can fit in the frame takes over.

European Starling Tree

European Starling Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree Рtoo far away, really, but good enough for numbers.

Mourning Dove Tree

Mourning Dove Tree

There was a group congregating in the water too. A family of Wood Ducks getting ready to depart.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

Shorebird migration is in full force, but the Portage isn’t a hot spot. Still I had the two most likely suspects in attendance.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper



I love the look of juvenile European Starlings. Until they turn mostly black, it’s possible to see they do have eyes.

Juvenile European Starling

Juvenile European Starling

Another black bird, but instead of a shiny navy blue head, this juvenile Common Grackle is a rich dark chocolate brown.

Juvenile Common Grackle

Juvenile Common Grackle

The Cedar Waxwing below strikes me as an adult, but chances are some of those in the Waxwing Tree above, if only we could see them, were youngsters.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Down by the second bridge was a very friendly Eastern Phoebe enjoying flying off his perch for insects,

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The bugs that I cannot identify. This beetle looked to me like it would be easy to find in my Big Beetle Book (not the title) but so far I have been unable to identify it. While I don’t think I’ve discovered a new species, I am beginning to understand this confusion is often the way it is with insects. Period.

Unidentified Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

The ladybug could be the most common native species, but I’m not going out on any limb.

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don't know

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don’t know

More birds–and bugs — pardon me, insects — to come.

Is This What It Feels Like?

Cabbage White, Chicago Portage

Cabbage White on thistle, Chicago Portage

I have told everyone I know that I am retired for One Day. Today is The Day. Basically this means my last day at The Big Law Firm was yesterday, I am taking today off, and Monday I will start working Elsewhere. Elsewhere is the antithesis to The Big Law Firm except for the fact that it is another law office, but it is minuscule compared to the monolithic proportions the old place is taking on. But this blog is supposed to be about birds and music, or at least birds, so that’s all you’re going to get out of me for now, on my One Day of Retirement.

Female American Goldfinch, Chicago Portage

Female American Goldfinch, Chicago Portage

Back to business – there’s that visit to the old Chicago Portage, which, I understand, is a destination for tours¬†open to the public on Saturdays. They had a notice on public radio which I heard driving back from the pool on Wednesday night, so I now know not to be there on a Saturday at 10:00 AM. Of course I hardly ever go out on Saturday mornings unless it’s a special occasion anyway, so this is probably why I have not seen the tours taking place. It is comforting to know that the gravel path is half a mile in length as I have been estimating it to be about that when I enter my sightings¬†in ebird.



I rarely if ever see any birds at the Portage until I get to the first bridge over the water, whatever phase of swampiness it’s in. Again, we have not had much rain lately, so the duckweed has taken over, providing that solid green background behind a female American Goldfinch who was the first bird to greet me and pose willingly.

Juvenile House Sparrow waiting to be fed

Juvenile House Sparrow waiting to be fed

As I write this, there seems to have been a spontaneous if barely noticeable shower. In a way I am hoping for enough rain to make me feel less guilty about staying inside, because I have a lot of indoor tasks to attend to, even if retirement is making me feel less like doing them for One Day.

Juvenile Barn Swallows

Juvenile Barn Swallows

Juv BASW Portage 7-27-14-1928

There were plenty of baby birds waiting to be fed, but I was not able to catch the actual feeding.

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

And the Portage offered up its own Green Heron. There was another one that flew by later but I could not catch it.

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

The Canada Goose family was hanging out.

American Robin, Chicago Portage

American Robin, Chicago Portage

And one of many molting American Robins gave me that “What are you looking at?” look.



I could swear out heard more than one Kildeer but I was able to photograph only one. There was a lot of mud to support more than one shorebird.

Wildflower Portage 7-27-14-3594

American Bellflower

Wildflower Portage 7-27-14-3596

The wildflowers at the Portage were most cooperative.

Thistle Portage 7-27-14-3555

Not sure if this is Field Thistle or not but it sure was striking.

Portage 7-27-14-1943

So the Portage continues, as does summer, and the sun has come back out, so I better get up and get busy. I have not yet decided exactly where to go birding during the rest of my last three-day weekend until Labor Day (that sounds so sad, I was beginning to like this feeling of not having to do anything), but wherever I wind up I will take more pictures.