Winding Down

BTGW 10-22-2017-0059

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0354

Late Summer Walks

Deer Fly, McGinnis Slough

Deer Fly, McGinnis Slough

Even if there is not much in the way of birds to see or photograph – a distant Baltimore Oriole, a flock of blackbirds flying by – I am still committed to going somewhere every Sunday morning, weather permitting. It has become part of my routine. Routine is great to fall back on when I feel unfocused, overwhelmed or just plain lazy.

So last Sunday I decided to visit Lake Katherine again, and then hop over to McGinnis Slough, which wasn’t far. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, which in reality never happened. The first bird near the parking lot was this skeptical-looking female Northern Cardinal.

Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine

Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine

I decided to skip the garden portion and walk around the lake. The first bird to record was likely the same Black-Crowned Night Heron I saw a couple weeks ago in the trees. Although his attempt to hide behind the grasses seemed successful to me, he wasn’t pleased with it and he took off before I could snap a picture of him in flight. When I am the cause of a bird’s flight, I don’t like to photograph it anyway, I feel too much like I’m taking advantage of the situation I created. Not to mention that usually the bird is gone long before I can get myself organized enough to capture it.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

It was a cloudy day which made it difficult to photograph anything in flight, actually. But these three helicopters sure were noisy.

Helicopters over Lake Katherine

Helicopters over Lake Katherine

Back on the ground, taking note of dragonflies, a Sphinx (“Hummingbird”) Moth and the geometry of a completely stripped thistle blossom.

Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine

Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine

White-Faxed Meadowhawk

White-Faced Meadowhawk

Thistle, Lake Katherine

Thistle, Lake Katherine

Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine

Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine

Juvenile Mallards as big as their parents and at this time of year, looking much the same.

Juvenile Mallard

Juvenile Mallard

Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine

Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine

There was a Great Blue Heron stalking prey, but after taking maybe 15 pictures of him crouched low, I grew tired and never did see him catch anything.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The heron was a bit closer when I got around to the other side of the lake.

Great Blue Heron

In the middle of the lake is a small island, and in addition to two small rookery platforms which I did not photograph, there are heron sculptures which looked a lot more interesting.

Heron Sculptures

Heron Sculptures

But my attention to the island was first drawn by a bright orange bird on the other side of it. It’s a Baltimore Oriole that hasn’t left yet. Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph, but I like the branches hanging over the pond lilies anyway.

BAOR Lake Katharine 8-10-14-2447

Lots of Chimney Swifts, which are impossible to follow, but they were so close, I had to try. At least I got one flying cigar photo.

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

CHSW Lake Katharine 8-10-14-2515

I believe the flower below is a form of evening primrose, of which I understand there are an unbelievable number of varieties. Anyway it looks similar to what has taken over part of my yard.

Evening Primrose, Lake Katharine

Evening Primrose, Lake Katherine

By the time I got to McGinnis Slough, it was 10:30 AM or so, which is getting late by bird standards. There was not an awful lot happening. Maybe the best bird was a very close Green Heron, but with the clouds and backlighting, it doesn’t appear colorful at all.

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

GRHE McGinnis 8-10-14-2529

It’s impossible to look out on whatever water there is at McGinnis without a scope, so I did the obligatory scan and counted some Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants, and I forget what else – I still have to input my ebird list – there wasn’t much. But there was a Deer Fly who was fascinated by the scope cover. Better the scope cover than me. I am usually swatting at these things, but this one was a model insect. My what beautiful eyes you have.

Deer Fly on the scope

Deer Fly on the scope

Deer Fly McGinnis 8-10-14-3944

On the way back to the car, a few Barn Swallows taking a preening break.

Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

The American Goldfinch below is likely a juvenile male, if the faint darkness on his crown is any indication.

American Goldfinch, Lake Katharine

American Goldfinch, Lake Katherine

Summer continues, although for the moment we’re having brisk fall weather. The days are still long but they get shorter and shorter, and every other week it seems I have to make an adjustment to the length of the timers on the lights in the house, so the indoor birds can see where they’re going during people hours.

Alone on the Wilderness Trail

Brookfield Zoo North entrance 2-2-14 112A1960.jpg-1960

It turned out to be not quite as cold as predicted today, and the sun was shining brightly. I was already thinking of going to Brookfield Zoo to see if there were any birds around the Wilderness Trail. I was not sure whether the Wilderness Trail would be closed off, but I knew the Zoo would be open. Their motto is “Open 365 Days a Year.” It was almost a shock a couple weeks ago when they closed with that first big snowfall that took us deep into our lasting arctic plunge. By the way, did anybody even pay attention to The Groundhog today? Sunny day, I knew he’d see his shadow. I’m afraid he was already eclipsed by the weather forecasters and the Super Bowl. You know it’s getting bad when even The Groundhog becomes obsolete.

Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo

Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo

The Zoo doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m., so I had the early morning to feed the birds, unbury the car from yesterday’s snowfall which seemed more like 6 inches accumulation instead of 10, eat my oatmeal and play piano before I went. When I arrived around 10:30, there were perhaps a dozen cars in the parking lot at the North Gate. Admission was free today. I’m sure they did not want to pay the ticket takers if they expected few visitors.

Brookfield Zoo Wilderness Trail 2-2-14 112A2110.jpg-2110

The Wilderness Trail is out behind the Great Bear Wilderness exhibit and borders the Salt Creek. It has been built around a small lake. The trail is never very crowded, but today it was totally empty, although someone had carved a trail in the snow before me.

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel

Not very many animals outside today. I had no intention of going inside, since I only wanted to walk the Wilderness Trail and the camera would not appreciate the transition from 14 degrees to 78 degrees. But on the way to the Wilderness Trail I encountered two camels in their outside pen, and while it seemed strange to see camels in the snow, these are Bactrian Camels, native to Mongolia, so I guess snow and cold are nothing new to them. They certainly seemed well-protected.

Brookfield Zoo Mallards and Canadas 2-2-14 112A1986.jpg-1986

In warmer winters past, the shallow little lake attracts Northern Shovelers and Hooded Mergansers, but this year with only a small area of open water, there were only Canada Geese and Mallards. And the resident Trumpeter Swan put in an appearance standing on one foot on the ice at the edge of the water.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

The rest of the small lake was frozen and covered with snow.

Brookfield Zoo Pond View 2-2-14 112A2107.jpg-2107

The feeders, on the Salt Creek side of the trail, attacked the usual suspects.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

On the other side of the fence by the Salt Creek there were a couple young White-Tailed Deer. While the birds did not mind my presence, the deer were upset with my camera and kept moving ahead.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Overall my visit to the zoo was nothing spectacular, but it was good to be outside in the sunshine, and the pristine snow, as sick and tired as I may be of shoveling it, is still beautiful. Meanwhile, back in the birding world, there have been many White Winged Scoters reported on the lakefront. Tomorrow will be only slightly warmer than today, but sunny again. I will try to get out to Monroe Harbor tomorrow afternoon and see if I can find a White-Winged Scoter or two; while I’ve seen them before, it’s always been at a distance too far away to photograph. Anyway it’s something to look forward to.

Feeder Birds at Brookfield Zoo

Feeder Birds at Brookfield Zoo

Blending In: The Camouflaged Life

Great Blue Heron, Fullersburg Woods

Great Blue Heron, Fullersburg Woods

Sunday morning I was still too worn out from the Friday and Saturday to go very far, so I made a trip to Fullersburg Woods in DuPage County, closer to home. Fullersburg has a range of habitats and the trails are easy to navigate, but the focal point for me in summertime has to be the Salt Creek running through it. It’s a beautiful setting.

Fullersburg Woods 1I2A0971

I did not expect to see very many species, but I thought perhaps I could get a little closer to a heron or two. My first discovery was not a bird but a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. Butterflies are rarer sights this year.

Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail

The herons did not disappoint. A few steps along the Salt Creek and I found a Great Egret who was more concerned about its catch than me taking its picture.

Great Egret Fullersburg 1I2A0903Great Egret Fullersburg 1I2A0902Great Egret Fullersburg 1I2A0913

Same goes for a juvenile Solitary Sandpiper.

Juvenile Solitary Sandpiper 1I2A0939Spotted Sandpiper 1I2A0925

Spotted Sandpiper 1I2A0926

Farther along, the birds were a bit less obvious. Click on the picture below to see if you can find the Green Heron.

Green Heron in disguise

Green Heron in disguise

I caught up with it later at a much closer range.

Green Heron

Green Heron

And now see if you can find the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in the photo below.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo - where are you?

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo – where are you?

Mallards are always expected. These were catching morning naps.

Mallards

Mallards

Sleeping with one eye open…

Sleeping Mallards

Sleeping Mallards

At some point this dragonfly decided it wanted to blend in with the trail right in front of me.

Dragonfly 1I2A1019

The trail that runs along the Salt Creek meets up with Graue Mill to the south where there is a waterfall which supplied the power to run the mill.

Waterfall at Graue Mill

Waterfall at Graue Mill

The Great Blue Heron that appears at the beginning of this post eventually became tolerant enough of my presence to give me the photo below. I then left him to continue fishing.

GBH Fullersburg 1I2A1033

 

The Chicago Portage – Mystery Loves Company

Chicago Portage

The Chicago Portage has so much history it’s almost too much to think about. And yet if it wasn’t a historical landmark it probably would have been developed over by now. It’s adjacent to train tracks, the Chicago Metropolitan Water District, and Interstate 55, not to mention Harlem Avenue also known as good old Illinois Route 43. Instead of counting birds lately I find I’ve been keeping track of how many planes fly over while I’m wandering through; the Portage is also right in the flight path of Midway Airport.

But the planes roar overhead and when they’re gone, the remaining traffic noise seems almost benign by comparison. Whatever the ambience, there is still wildlife. I never thought of the duckweed as attractive, but this Canada Goose seems to be wallowing in it.

The pervasive scum lends a pointillist feel to the image of these Mallards below.

While I’m dabbling in impressionism, what about this Red-Breasted Nuthatch searching for hidden treasure in the dead leaves…?

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

A Red-Eyed Vireo came out for the sunlight that traded off with the cloud cover all morning.

Red-Eyed Vireo

There are little story boards displayed in a few places along the trail at the Portage, and I think one of them has a caption, “if these trees could talk.” Sometimes the trees do talk – they creak, sway and moan. What’s left of this tree has an enormous web attached to it, catching debris.

Finally, this Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker might be my favorite “painting” photograph, for the light on the bark and his back.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Perhaps the attraction I have to the Portage lies in the stark contrast between its cluttered wildness and the manmade mess that surrounds it.

Chicago Portage, early spring

Chicago Portage

Spring and all things new again, at the Chicago Portage. We’ve had enough rain to add water to the ponds and streams that otherwise appear dead with overgrown algae in the summertime because no water flows directly into them. Creatures manage to make a living off this place anyway.

Painted Turtles

Lots of turtles sunning themselves. Yesterday was beautiful, cooler than it was last week but still quite warm in the sun.

Snapping Turtle

There is one place under the bridge closest to the south side that has moving water draining out of the Portage…

More birds heard than seen but when I arrived the Blue Jays were making a lot of racket, and I figured they’d be predictably hard to see. The butterflies were barely cooperative.

I think these are Cabbage Whites.

 This cardinal was singing.

And down at the north end, a pair of Canada Geese have arrived to choose a nesting spot,

and I guess you could say the same for the Mallards.

Northern Flicker, Yellow-Shafted

There were several Northern Flickers, for the most part flying away, but I managed to catch this one off guard.

And my reward at the end of my walk was a Blue Jay who didn’t seem to mind my presence as long as he could hide behind a twig.

Here he is a little less twiggy but not quite as blue.