Spring Returns

Black-throated Green Warbler

When I came back from Texas two weeks ago, the weather in Chicago was fairly pleasant and I mused I could have two springs! No matter that the Saturday before I got home there was snow on the ground. But just as we slipped into May, when it seemed reasonable to expect things would start warming up a bit, northeast winds picked up and although we weren’t freezing, the windchills were in the 30’s. It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain. The downpours have brought most of the trees into leaf and encouraging emerging plant life everywhere. Then, this past Thursday morning, a lot of migrant birds were down from the skies from the previous evening’s rainstorm.

I’m too far away from the lakefront now to go off searching for rarities on my lunch hour, but I took Friday off so that I could scope out the Portage before my bird walk on Saturday. It turned out to be the nicest day of my three-day weekend. Although it started off chilly and windy, when the sun emerged a little before 10:00 AM all was forgiven.

Magnolia Warbler

I just finished getting through Friday’s pictures last night – it seemed there were way too many, but I discovered three more species in them to add to the list with a grand total of 54 species, 13 of them warblers. Which isn’t super fantastic but it’s credible for the Portage.

As for the Texas pictures, I managed to send some to Field Guides Saturday night and now with that off my plate I can go back through all of them and start developing for my own purposes. Time, technology and energy being available in inconsistent quantities, this will take me a while.

So in the meantime, here are some of the spring migrants from my walk on Friday, and there will likely be some more from this visit and Saturday’s outing as I try to keep up with everything that seems to be happening this month.

American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) (robber baron pose)

This is all I can manage for now. I hope to report back soon with lots more!

Black-throated Green Warbler

Fall Warbler Fall-Out

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Connecticut Warbler

Last Friday after some rain and wind, I was called down to the front of our office building by a coworker who had gone down for a cigarette. She said there was a little bird in distress. As it turned out there were two birds in distress, the one she saw flopping around almost as if it was having seizures being a first-year Cape May Warbler, and another, the stunned Chestnut-Sided Warbler you can see below on the left. I called the Bird Collision Monitors hotline and got their voicemail. After waiting to hear back for about twenty minutes, I thought I could not leave the two birds alone on the sidewalk surrounded by foot traffic, glass and steel, so I took them both to the park-like setting about a block away at 311 South Wacker Drive. You can see them both on the grass below. I sat with them and observed the Cape May was dead, but when I reached for the Chestnut-Sided, it chirped and flew away, so I felt better for having rescued it. When the Bird Collision Monitors did finally call me, they said they had picked up over 200 birds that day. The little bird you see below on the building ledge wasn’t stunned but it was lost, as it flew up from the sidewalk looking for a way out of the buildings. I believe it’s a Least Flycatcher.

There were a lot of birds in the park Friday, so I went back on Monday afternoon with the camera. But not before checking the potted trees in the front of my building, where I found among other more common species, the Connecticut Warbler at the top of this post.

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Blackpoll Warbler

There were a lot of Blackpolls but it was difficult to get a decent picture. Although I am thankful for the landscape architects planting lots of locust trees which are great for migrants, the trees are quite tall and I only carry my 300mm lens around with me during the week, so it was a challenge.

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Wilson’s Warbler

The Wilson’s Warbler never got low enough for me to capture his trademark skullcap but there’s something so Wilson’s about the shade of yellow. I really think whoever names colors could come up with an entire Warbler Collection. For as many field marks as my brain has memorized, I think I sometimes recognize these birds by the shade of yellow, if there’s good light.

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Magnolia Warbler

There’s a familiar phrase, “warbler neck,” which is what you get looking up at these birds in the tall trees.

How nice of this Chestnut-Sided to almost come down to my level.

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Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Then there are the birds that prefer ground level, like the Common Yellowthroat below.

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Common Yellowthroat

On the other hand I was surprised to find this Pine Warbler in the grass when I later went through my photographs.

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Pine Warbler

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Pine Warbler

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten close enough to get a good picture of a Black-and-White Warbler and Monday was no exception. This was the best I could do.

American Redstarts come in several color combinations this time of year. The second-year or more adult males are black and orangey-red. The young males are yellow where the red would be, but it’s a warmer yellow than the females. I seem to have captured a bird that is somewhere in between the first and second-year males below the pictures of the older bird, judging from the darker gray on its head and back.

(Click on the pictures just below to see how this male’s plumage is changing.)

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American Redstart (female)

The biggest surprise perhaps was to see another Connecticut Warbler. These birds are normally hard to find, and here on the same day I had two within a block of each other.

COWA 9-10-18-0060Suffice it to say that the lure of fall migration is irresistible, especially with nice weather. The birds are taking advantage of the calm skies in this part of the country as well. I have been going back to the park every day this week and as of Tuesday all these birds seem to have left and no new ones have come in. I would like to think they all took off Monday night, navigating well out of the city and continuing their trips to Central and South America.

AMRE 9-10-18-9824I’ll have lots more to report if I can manage it. Hope you are having decent weather wherever you are.

In the Vicinity

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

The weather has turned suddenly hot and it’s hard not to wonder what effect that’s having on spring migration. I sense that to a large degree, no? pun intended, the heat wave has sent those who move farther north packing. I had hoped we would still see a few warblers yesterday on my second time leading a walk at the Portage, but we only heard a couple Yellow Warblers and never saw them. I’ll be back later with a few pictures from yesterday. But this is a more historical post, with a few pictures from the trip two weeks ago to the Portage, and a few more from a walk I took at Ottawa Trail just to see what was going on closer to the Des Plaines River.

Magnolia Warblers move predictably enough to photograph. This time the easiest bird to capture was a female; I caught only glimpses of a male.

 

One bird that I haven’t seen in quite a while appeared toward the end of our walk two weeks ago. It’s a Yellow-Throated Vireo.

 

It’s gotten so hot in the last few days it’s hard to believe that last weekend it was still cool enough to warrant layered clothing in the morning.

The Green Herons were both on site two weeks ago, and the turtles were starting to emerge to soak up what little sunlight was occasionally available.

 

I think this was my last Hermit Thrush of the season.

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Hermit Thrush

I likely won’t see another Lincoln’s Sparrow until fall either.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

But it looks like I might be seeing a Great Egret from time to time at the Portage this year. We saw it a couple times yesterday.

 

The pictures below are hardly worth sharing, but this is my last Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

 

I used to see shorebirds more frequently but in the last couple years they have been few and far between, so I was happy we had a Spotted Sandpiper on the left, and the Killdeer on the right. I usually hear or see Killdeer flying, but sandpipers have been generally absent.

 

House Wrens are here to stay for the summer.

HOWR 5-19-18-4292A female American Redstart below.

 

And more shots of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. Yesterday we heard them constantly but didn’t see one.

 

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White-Tailed Deer at Ottawa Trail

It’s rare to see a Chipmunk sitting still but this one wasn’t self-conscious at all.

Chipmunk 5-19-18-4137Indigo Buntings, male and female.

 

And the surprise two weeks ago was an Orchard Oriole.

 

Often more heard than seen, the Northern Cardinal below, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a Song Sparrow, all at Ottawa Trail.

 

The heat may keep me indoors more than I’d like. That could mean more blog posts, however. For the moment it’s time to get out in the yard before the heat of the day takes over. Lots of work to do there. Happy Summer to All…

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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…