Back to the Portage

It’s all I can do to keep up with migration this spring, let alone the pictures I have taken…So I’m attempting to do this in chronological order but it won’t be easy. This past Saturday started out cool but sunny. I decided to start my walk in the opposite direction of what I normally do. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put my little portable stool in my backpack so I decided to walk back to the car to get it. As I walked, I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher, and then saw him in one of the Redbud trees bordering the lawn behind the statue. The morning had promise.

Great-Crested Flycatcher
I have decided to photograph the statue every time I go to the Portage now to gauge the light conditions.

Last Saturday was a riot of colorful birds. I counted a dozen male Indigo Buntings. They were everywhere and they were not particularly shy, so I took advantage of their fearlessness. You can see how the light affects the hue of the blueness, when actually their feathers are all black.

I ventured out to the gravel road that runs along the MWRD property and found two male Scarlet Tanagers. They were trading songs.

But I discovered a glimpse at a Summer Tanager later in my pictures.

For all the male Baltimore Orioles singing and displaying these last few weeks, I have seen only one or two females so far. But that’s because they’re busy tending the nest.

Yellow Warblers may stay and breed at the Portage. Invariably I hear them but don’t always see them. So I was glad to capture this one.

White-Breasted Nuthatches are present all year, but are not seen or even heard frequently now.

The female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak below is the last one I have seen. I am not aware of any starting families at the Portage, but it could happen.

We have had a lot of rain, and even more after these pictures were taken. There were two Canada Geese trying out the newly flooded waters.

So this time of year of course I’m looking for warblers wherever I can find them. I just calculated that over the last couple of weeks I have seen 21 species total. I haven’t been able to photograph them all, but most, sometimes discovering them in my photographs. I will try to post as many as possible. They won’t always be textbook-looking photos. For example, the Golden-Winged below I barely captured but it was the details from the photographs that I was able to identify it as a likely female.

One more Magnolia Warbler

Then there are the flycatchers. They can be confusing. I have since seen the Eastern Wood-Pewee again in the same location looking more like himself so I am guessing he was having an off day (typically he would look more pointy-headed).

Eastern Wood-Pewee
I think this is a Willow Flycatcher…passing through.

On this day I saw this Turkey Vulture being escorted away by a Red-Winged Blackbird.

Song Sparrows are present, singing, and likely staying to raise families.

i keep hearing and sometimes seeing Chestnut-Sided Warblers every time I have been to the Portage since my first intimate encounter with one last Tuesday.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

There’s a little rapids under the first bridge where the water runs out of the Portage. No water ever runs into the Portage, as far as I can tell, but It’s still nice to see the flow over the rocks.

More often heard than seen, Blue Jays are out and about but rarely available for photos, so it was nice to see this one.

I found this female Common Grackle to be attractive in her own way.

I had noticed this nest before but wasn’t sure anyone was using it until I managed to capture these two Goldfinches. You will probably have to click on the first photo to see the female poking her head out of it. I have since not been able to find the nest, which was not far from the trail, but it could still be there and hidden in all the plant growth that has occurred since.

Sadly, Black-Capped Chickadees are getting harder and harder to find. Long taken for granted, I am convinced they are in decline, at least locally. I caught this one in a hurry.

Here’s my Robin photo of the post.

As the leaves are finally coming out, it’s interesting to see how the spaces change.

Below is one of my favorite birds, a Blue-Headed Vireo. I have seen them a couple times this spring which is surprising to me, as I don’t think I have seen one for years.

Woodpeckers are busy everywhere.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

And last for the moment, I finally was able to catch the male Eastern Bluebird in focus. He has a habit of posing in difficult places, but he sat long enough this time. And although I think I heard him this past week, I haven’t seen him since. I hope the pair is still nesting and I will be looking for baby bluebirds this summer.

I have been to the Portage four times since last Saturday! I am beginning to feel like I live there. Every time I have gone, there has been a different species or a special encounter with one I’ve seen so far this spring. As many people have remarked, the cool start has been difficult for the birds migrating to their breeding grounds. I can only hope those who have visited the Portage are finding what they need in this little hotspot and will survive and flourish on the rest of their journey.

I will be back with lots more. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you are safe, well, and able to get out and enjoy this spring.

Half a Well Day Off for Migration

Chestnut-sided Warbler

After last Sunday’s chilly, gloomy rain, I had my eye on Tuesday morning and notified the work team that I was taking it off. Tuesday came, starting out cool but sunny, and I went to the Portage to see if any warblers I barely glimpsed at on Sunday were there for a better view.

The green-up is in progress and the treetops are full of tiny bugs and worms we can’t see, but the birds know where to look for them.

After hearing and then eventually seeing a couple Chestnut-sided Warblers, I was lucky enough to have an intimate moment with this individual. We exchanged thoughts about spring and sunshine.

I always hear five or more House Wrens, but rarely see them. Tuesday morning was a special day, though, because it seemed like all these guys were out and showing off. The very last photograph below shows one going into his nest.

Another very vocal group rarely seen are the Warbling Vireos. I followed this one around with the camera.

There were still a couple Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there. Only now, like the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, when you’re looking for warblers, these birds become “distractors,” to quote one of my favorite guides, Mitch Lysinger.

Even Blue Jays seem to be more visible. I’ve had one in my yard all week, too, although he leaves the minute he sees me.

On this beautiful morning I was delighted to find one of my favorite sparrows, Lincoln’s.

There were still a few Blue-Winged Warblers. It’s been a good year to see them.

Female Goldfinches never get much press so I thought I’d share these two photos.

I always hear White-Throated Sparrows’ little chip notes before I see them. It was nice to have one posing.

In the Big Bird Flyover Department, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an Osprey. I used to see one flying over the Des Plaines River when I visited Ottawa Trail, but that location is no longer available. I haven’t been back since they built a levy. It will be interesting to see what happens with the river, with all the rain we are getting this week.

Osprey

A rare glimpse of Mrs. Bluebird Tuesday morning.

Eastern Bluebird

Early on I saw this Least Flycatcher from the bridge, at quite a distance.

Most of the warblers were distant and high in the trees, so much so that I didn’t always know what I was looking at until I processed the photos.

Black-and-White Warblers have been a bit evasive this year.

Something about the cool, slow start to spring has made the moss look happier.

Here’s a bird I never thought I’d see. It was really far away so I had no idea what it was until later.

Palm Warblers are still around but blending in too well with their surroundings.

One of my favorites, Canada Warbler, was down low but in the shade.

Here’s one of two female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks I saw together in the same location.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

I first saw the man below a couple weeks ago, I think. He was playing loud music from that speaker thing he’s got in his right hand. Keeping my social distance, I cupped my hands over my ears. The next time I heard him coming, he was playing “Scotland the Brave”. I thought about whatever PTSD he was suffering from, it was too bad he had to foist it on other people, but I decided not to let him bother me and maybe it was a good thing he was walking his dog in the woods. Anyway, it’s likely he’s been out every day since the lockdown began.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are challenging to spot, but it’s often rewarding when I do see them.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Below you can barely see a Spotted Sandpiper in the shadow of the bent log.

I actually saw a flock of thirty or more Common Grackles fly in on Tuesday.

There are a lot of Brown-headed Cowbirds this year.

Brown-headed Cowbirds

Here’s one of those surprise warblers I found later in the photographs. I had to do some thinking about this one. When I think of a Blackburnian Warbler I always imagine the males. This is a female. It took me a while to figure her out.

Magnolias are usually easier to see than this one, but migration isn’t over yet.

Distant but distinguishable Black-throated Green Warblers.

I don’t see Hairy Woodpeckers half as often as Downies. I find though that I’m getting to be able to distinguish them by their feather pattern first.

I had been waiting for the Indigo Buntings to show up. I was to see about a dozen of them yesterday. These two were the first I saw on Tuesday.

Baltimore Orioles are setting up their territories.

Thanks for making it to the end of this long post! After I kept adding birds to the ebird list, I reported 51 species for Tuesday morning. I went back to the Portage Saturday and found some more beautiful birds. I’ll be back as soon as possible. Hope you are safe and well as can be, wherever you are.

A Few Fall Warblers

Blackpoll Warbler

I’ve been trying to get back to this page for a long time, but between busy weekends and even more hectic workdays, it’s been difficult to even imagine a blog post. Good intentions being what they may, I am resurfacing briefly here with some pictures from last Saturday morning in Columbus Park – before it rained on that day.

Black-and-White Warbler
Palm Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

No less surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I cancelled my walk that was supposed to take place at Thatcher Woods this morning because it was thunderstorming off and on all night and with Thatcher Woods being in a flood plain, even though the rain has stopped, it would still be too challenging to slosh around in the soggy grass looking for bedraggled, wet migrants. Indeed the entire weekend promises to be raining or cloudy. Maybe I can get caught up with some overdue blogging, as it is definitely an indoor pursuit.

Not a warbler, but practically hiding like one.

Fall warblers look a lot less flashy in general than they do in the spring, and it can be a bit challenging to determine who’s who. Luckily I got a lot of observation time with Blackpolls a few years ago when I used to go to Lake Shore East Park so they’re kind of stamped on my brain.

Below is a little video I took with my phone on Tuesday morning, which was beautiful and sunny. I had just stepped out the front door to walk to the train when I heard, and then saw, about six Tennessee Warblers foraging in my front yard which is small but full of native vegetation. They’re not easy to see – watch for movement and then you will see the birds her and there eventually, albeit they are very small! I put this up on Facebook Tuesday but wanted to share again for those who didn’t see it there. I feel like this is a testament to my native plant experiment that seem to get better every year. It’s almost as if the warblers got out their GPS and found “Certified Wildlife Habitat”. 🙂

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.