Surprises at the Chicago Portage

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Sora behind duckweed-covered Mallards

Last Sunday I got up early enough to pick up Susan at 7:15 and get to the Chicago Portage, only to find the cable barring entry to the parking lot was still strewn across the entrance. I locked the car and we walked around the parking lot area for about 10 minutes before the designated person showed up. It was well past sunrise, which is when the preserves are supposed to be open… But it was still early enough to see a Sora Rail across the duckweed not long after we started down the trail.

I have never seen a Sora at the Portage. Rails are hard enough to see just about anywhere. The usual scenario is that I might hear their beautiful song and take for granted I will never find them. This one was silent, but virtually out in the open. Susan looked across the water with her binoculars and said, “Is that a Sora?” and then I spent the next several minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.

The other surprise Sunday was a Marsh Wren, also a first for me, for the Portage. But though we saw it well for a half second, it was not interested in seeing us again so I got no photographs.

I do have one more surprise, though, from the previous weekend. I saw a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker, another species I have never seen at the Portage and only infrequently anywhere, and I managed to get the pictures below. I can’t help but wonder if the change in habitat, the opening up, so to speak, of more marshy areas, will attract this species more often.

Birds became visible from their foraging behavior. The tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet below was interested in something contained in the bark of a tree down the trail from us.

I caught the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet below in a more contemplative phase.

Not to be outdone by other species adopting its favorite foraging spots, here is one of two Brown Creepers we saw.

BRCR10-8-2017-9579Closer to the end of our walk the intense sunlight started playing tricks with color and it wasn’t until I got home and processed the next few photos that I realized what we had.

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White-Throated Sparrow

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below looked so blue in the light, I didn’t recognize it while taking the pictures.

The Black-Capped Chickadee below would not show its face but I was intrigued by its foraging calisthenics anyway.

And we managed to find one more Magnolia Warbler to add to the list.

Downy Woodpeckers are common all year round at the Portage but not always available for picture-taking. But this one was so busy with whatever it was working on, she put on a little show.

When we checked the Des Plaines River, the Belted Kingfisher was still hanging out.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were the most numerous species on our visit, but it was still tempting to take the pictures below. At least you can see the yellow rump…

Shadowy images of a White-Breasted Nuthatch on the left and a Cedar Waxwing on the right. We didn’t have a huge flock of waxwings but there will still a dozen or so.

We saw some other thrushes but this was the only one I managed to capture. I have never seen more than one Gray-Cheeked Thrush at a time which makes me think maybe they tend to be solitary.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Others have been to the Portage since our visit and a couple rarities, at least for the time of year, have been reported. I want to go back soon but this weekend is already booked with people activities, unless the forecast for rain and thunderstorms changes Saturday morning.

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Last of the Late Fall Warblers

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I haven’t seen many warblers this fall for various reasons but from what I can gather numbers have been down, if not sightings of individuals. So it’s not just my itinerant schedule but factors like weather and habitat changes play in.

So right about now the “last” warblers are most visible, led by the Yellow-Rumped (Myrtle) (above) and Palm Warblers. Below are a couple pictures of my most cooperative Palm Warbler at the Chicago Portage last weekend.

Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to join Chicago Ornithological Society’s walk at Humboldt Park, a location I had always wondered about but never gotten to, and we were fortunate enough to have a little flurry of Black-Throated Green Warblers. I have missed seeing this favorite of mine for a couple years or more. They were always easy to find when my most-frequented haunt was Daley Bicentennial Plaza.

Below is a Blackpoll Warbler I managed to capture Thursday afternoon at the Boeing garden down by the Chicago River, only a few blocks away from my new office location. While I am not wildly ecstatic about the limited opportunity offered at this place, it gives me hope for the future if I can manage to take a walk after noon. The garden was less congested with lunchers than it would have been under the noonday sun, and my little flurry of warblers happened just as I turned around to head back to the office.

Often confused with the Blackpoll above this time of year is the Bay-Breasted Warbler below, thus the name “Baypoll”. This Bay-Breasted I managed to see the one early morning I paid a visit to Lake Shore East Park before work.

BBWA 09-25-2017-5704Except for the bird perched in the oak tree below, this Nashville Warbler was foraging radiantly at the Chicago Portage on September 30.

And the Wilson’s Warbler below was not in the best of light that early morning at Lake Shore East Park, but I have consistently seen Wilson’s down there for a couple years so I have to wonder if it is one of the same individuals.

WIWA 09-25-2017-5678The last of the American Redstarts to come through were girls.

Still a Magnolia Warbler here and there, also a likely female.

Not a warbler, below, but when the flocks of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets start coming through, it’s a sure sign of the end of fall warbler migration. This one was also down by the river at the Boeing garden.

A couple more photos…not very sharp but lingering like the birds.

BTGW 09-23-17-8375YRWA Portage 09-30-17-8620We’ve had some rain now, temperatures are still warm during the day although falling blissfully at night, doesn’t look like we’ll be hitting the 80’s again as the days are getting shorter… But the sunshine was surprisingly warm yesterday around 10:00 AM. I’ll be back soon with new discoveries from the Chicago Portage.

Lasting Impressions

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

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.

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Eastern Phoebe

Usually I only hear Pewees but that day I got to see this one.

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Eastern Wood-Pewee

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.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And the last of the young Indigo Buntings were preparing to leave the Portage.

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Indigo Buntings

I have never seen a Chipmunk sit still long enough for me to point a camera lens at it. This is worth sharing.

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Eastern Chipmunk

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.

Millennium Magnolia

MAWA 5-17-17-8929Another brief post devoted to one bird, the Magnolia Warbler, which I finally saw well on Thursday morning. I got up at 3:40 AM to catch an early train downtown so I could bird the parks for nearly a couple hours, just to test my perception that there were fewer migrants than previous years.

My perception is correct, I think, based on several factors. The populations of neotropical migrants are already in a downward spiral, and the effects of habitat loss and climate change are tipping the scales. Habitat for stopovers during migration is just as critical as breeding and wintering habitat. Locally, the abrupt changes on the downtown lakefront due to “improvements” have not helped to support migrants. Although I think eventually the pockets of recently planted natural landscaping will offer more respite, it takes years for plants to establish themselves and for the birds to know they can rely on them. Birds tend to return to places that have proven good for them before. When those places disappear, birds have to go somewhere else.

So from the reports I was getting while stuck in the office, the party invitations had already gone out and most of the migrant action was at Montrose Point, also known as the Magic Hedge, which is understandable and predictable, but frustrating when you know you can’t get there to see it.

This bird was among a few other species in the south sculpture garden at Millennium Park, where only a few years ago the planted pines would light up with brightly colored warblers resembling a Christmas tree (I give all credit for that sentiment to my friend David Johnson). For a moment I could almost trick myself into thinking it was happening again.

MAWA 5-18-17-8911Magnolia Warblers, affectionately nicknamed “Maggies,” are usually quite conspicuous and I have always found the males happy to engage with the camera. So I was able to get a few halfway decent shots of this backlit but beautiful guy who was otherwise zooming in and out of the pine needles seeking insects.

I got a break today from the migrant search as the weather has dictated moderation. Our temperatures plummeted yesterday about 35 degrees and the forecast for today is intermittent rain with thunderstorms likely. With any luck I’ll be able to work in the yard a bit in between downpours. But it was nice to “sleep in” for a change on a Saturday, – until my indoor crowd woke me up at 6:00, a full half hour or so after sunrise when they began to greet the day vocally. Someday I have to be awake enough to record the indoor dawn chorus…

City Migrants – Fall Migration 2016

If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until after fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him, of “what a beautiful bird you are.”

First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.

Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)

Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.

Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.

Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?

starlings-9-9-2016-lse-park-0604I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.

cogr-9-16-2016-lse-molting-1005Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.

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Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.

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Hermit Thrush

Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.

Two Blackpoll Warblers…

Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.

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Bay-Breasted Warbler…?

Two more Blackpolls below.

And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…

and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).

And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.

My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.

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Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.

gcki-9-29-2016-lse-park-1873On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.

I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.

The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.

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Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.

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Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.

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I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day. 🙂

Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

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…

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.

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).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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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.

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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.

CEWA 09-04-16-0301Down 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.

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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.

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Magnolia Warbler

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.

CEWA 08-14-16-9763I’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!!

LaBagh Woods

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-1000I try to get to LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve a couple times a year if not more, at least during migration season. These pictures are from two weeks ago when I went with my friend Susan. It was extremely muddy after recent rains which made some of the trails impassible. Number of species and photographs were not as forthcoming as I might have hoped but we had a good time  Disclaimer: I’m presently suffering from a horrible head cold that started yesterday morning so I will keep this short and sweet.

It was a photo contest between Nashville Warbler (above) and Magnolia (again, show-offs that they are) but it was wonderful to see the elusive and scarce Golden-Winged Warbler. Below are two separate individuals of this species. At least I think they are different birds, we saw them quite a distance from each other.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are always welcome. Below, male and female.

RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0654RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0676I don’t think I stopped bothering to take pictures of American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers (below) but there weren’t many volunteers.

And yes, the Magnolias, posing even when they aren’t.

Below, a Cooper’s Hawk sitting quietly in a tree.

COHA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0822After hearing Northern Parulas in several locations it was gratifying to finally be able to see one or two well and photograph below.

The migrants that likely aren’t going any farther are House Wren and Eastern Phoebe, below.

Also a Swamp Sparrow who could stay in the area.

SWSPLaBagh 5-15-2016-0809The bird below is a male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – and the lighting is so intense and back-lit there is just no way to show off his ruby throat. But it was nice to see him perched. Welcome back, little fella. Still waiting to see a hummer in my yard…

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A few more athletic poses by the Nashville Warblers.

If you look closely at the top of the bird’s head below you can see a little rufous in the feathers of a male Nashville Warbler. I don’t know if I have ever seen this with binoculars but the camera lens makes it easier to believe.

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0964I will be back with more of spring migration. This weekend is probably going to be the last we will see of the warblers that keep going north.