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!

Mellow Yellow

I went up to Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County over the Memorial Day weekend to see if I could get any closer looks at Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Unfortunately, due to the drought, the birds were too far away from the trail side or the viewing platform. But I did get some nice looks at Yellow Warblers.

The easiest bird to capture, of all things, was Willow Flycatcher. I can remember having a hard time seeing these guys whenever we heard them years ago on our birding class walks – but at this location I can always count on seeing them well.

It was so hot and dry, this Killdeer looked desperate.

On the wooded part of the trail I spotted a Red-Eyed Vireo.

Even the Red-winged Blackbirds didn’t feel much like showing off.

I think this must be a female Red-winged Blackbird taking in some shade.

A Green Heron flew by.

I will never tire of seeing Sandhill Cranes, and there were two.

So I’ve been kind of in perpetual motion, or so it seems. Last Saturday’s Berwyn Historical Society inaugural Garden Walk was great fun. I never considered that I was doing much planning or had any theme at all for my backyard but it stood out because of all the trees I planted almost 20 years ago. People were calling it a sanctuary! Who in their right mind plants a small forest in a postage-stamp sized yard? I didn’t want the grass that was there, and I wanted birds, so I planted trees, especially as they were offered to me by the Arbor Day Society the moment I moved in. In retrospect, I’m even happier I did this because I lost the original Ohio Buckeye years ago – so I could have been without any trees at all.

The week in preparation for the walk was hot and somewhat hectic but I loved working outside in the yard almost every day. I also had fun discovering the names of many plants I had never managed to identify. Best of all was the day itself. I had a fabulous time talking to people and in the process learned more about myself and my gardens. Maybe it wasn’t so haphazard after all. I look forward to having the time to really take care of the yard through all the seasons and continue to learn what the plants can teach me.

I will be back. I haven’t been birding for over a week, but I did manage to visit the Portage a couple times prior to the garden walk. Now we are in line for thunderstorms, making up for some of the rain we didn’t get in April, so that might curtail my birding activity this weekend. Life goes on, sometimes to my amazement.

Once More with Sunshine

I went back to the Portage Sunday to see if abundant sunshine would allow me to see more birds. As it turned out, it was harder to capture most of the birds – except for the Indigo Buntings who were readily available – but in going through my photographs later I discovered the camera saw more birds than I did and I found some unexpected species. Nothing rare – it’s spring migration, so just about anybody can show up.

Vesper Sparrow

Not only was the Vesper Sparrow unexpected, but I was also surprised to see a Black-Billed Cuckoo, although I have seen them at the Portage on occasion before.

There were swallows like the day before, although not as many. I have concluded that the Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly in a more deliberate fashion which makes them easier to capture. Still I managed to snap one photo of a Barn Swallow in the lower right-hand corner.

So the Indigo Buntings were busy singing in the sunshine. I am convinced they have an artistic sense of the best places to perch for photos. I love the way this one was initially framed by the split of the tree trunk.

Male American Goldfinches are in full bloom too.

The Red-winged Blackbirds are looking a little tired of it all already.

Gray Catbird

I thought I was hearing the tail end of an Eastern Towhee’s song – and then I spotted one way up high (used to seeing them closer to the ground). Below the shots of the male is a partially visible female Eastern Towhee.

I was also hearing an Eastern Wood-Pewee for the first time this spring. I barely captured a picture of one below.

Red bird of the day turned out to be a male House Finch.

The Baltimore Orioles are busy gathering nesting material. Both female and male birds are below.

This is a really unfortunate place for a Lincoln’s Sparrow to show up but I’m glad one was on site anyway.

I walked around back by the water reclamation district and saw three Killdeer. Below is one of them.

There were quite a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I got closer shots of the female in the grassy area by the parking lot on my way out.

So we really, really need some rain. This is how the Des Plaines looked on Saturday. You can walk down to it easily because the bottomlands are all dried out. Unfortunately because of the lack of water, there were no birds by the river.

So it wasn’t a great day for warblers, but I did manage a few pictures of a female Bay-breasted Warbler.

Can’t leave without a Robin. It’s got to be getting harder and harder to find those worms. The Robin below has a not-so-tasty-looking worm in its bill.

With a little luck I will be back with the prelude to all this before the weekend when I will likely be outside again. There is rain in the forecast but I have learned to become skeptical of the outcome. At least it is still fairly cool, but that will change too. This is all affecting my mood, to say the least. I am looking forward to swimming tonight – a sure antidote to depression.

Hints of Spring

I keep updating this post because I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. So before it becomes completely ancient history… this is from the beginning of the month of April. Still this year…! It was Saturday, the 3rd, and it started out a bit chilly but by midday we were experiencing summer temperatures which stretched into the weekend and beyond. Since there was plenty of sunshine I made sure I got out both weekend mornings. I visited the Portage on Saturday and McGinnis Slough on Sunday.

I have since been back to the Portage, last weekend just to get out – it was barely drizzly and very cloudy, so I did not get a lot of action. But we have since burst into more green and buds and flowers and the feeling is spring, full speed ahead. That visit will follow if I can get my act together.

I have not been able to discern whether a pair of geese are actually nesting at the Portage. Unlike previous years I haven’t seen any territorial fights breaking out.

If nothing else there were a lot of Northern Flickers. Not close enough to get great shots but I did manage to focus on them from a distance. They certainly were making a lot of noise.

Also taking advantage of the sunlight was a Northern Cardinal singing away above me.

Just before I left, a Red-Tailed Hawk decided to fly over and show off.

Something about the shape of the tree below and the clouds behind it captured my imagination.