October’s End

A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.

My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.

Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.

Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.

American Coots

As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.

The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.

On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.

It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.

At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.

Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.

Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”

Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).

The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.

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Pied-Billed Grebes

Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.

It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.

We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.

More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.

YHBL 07-16-17-6279The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.

RWBL ET AL 07-16-17-6330Summer simmers on. I’ll be back soon.

Is it a Slough? Is it a Marsh? It’s McGinnis!

Swamp Rose Mallow, McGinnis Slough

Swamp Rose Mallow, McGinnis Slough

After two weekends of extended field trips, it was good to kick back and save Sunday for a less brutally early rise to visit McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage and see how summer is going in my two most frequently visited locations. I originally intended to combine both in one post but it’s more than I can handle, so this is McGinnis and with luck the Portage post will follow tomorrow.

I can always count on seeing Great Egrets at McGinnis this time of year although depending on conditions, I never know quite where. Sometimes several trees are occupied like the one below, but this visit yielded only the one populated tree.

Great Egret Tree, McGinnis Slough

Great Egret Tree, McGinnis Slough

In spite of all the rain we had a couple weeks ago, we have not had enough to keep up with the heat, leaving the water levels nearly nonexistent in both places. The Great Blue Heron below appeared a bit disheveled sitting on a limb that stretched out above an area that nomally has more water than mud.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

McGinnis offered more birding by ear than sightings. Particularly frustrating was to hear Marsh Wrens close in the reeds but not see them. One did finally move so I could catch a glimpse but there were no photo opportunities. In spite of this I did record a song and have included a photo that depicts what I did not see.

Marsh Wren in the Reeds

Marsh Wren in the Reeds

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One House Wren was much easier to see, although I was a bit surprised by its presence.

 

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Perhaps the best song of the day was the Song Sparrow I never saw. I did get a picture of a juvenile at McGinnis not far from the House Wren. And a recording of the Song Sparrow, even if it’s not the one in the picture.

 

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

I have been fortunate to see many Green Herons this summer. I never tire of them.

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I’ve concluded that for this summer, McGinnis is a marsh. Cat tails and tall reeds block a view of what must be mud flats, so I have no shorebirds to report. But the dragonflies are having a good time. This looks like a pair of Ruby Meadowhawks to Linda Padera.

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Probably Ruby Meadowhawks

There were not many butterflies, but this Eastern Comma caught my eye right out of the parking lot.

Comma Butterfly, McGinnis

Comma Butterfly, McGinnis

I’ll be back with a word or two from the Chicago Portage.

A Gift of Marsh Wrens

Marsh Wren

It’s been difficult lately to find balance in my life. Work has taken over most of my waking hours and thoughts, and after I do chores on the weekend, there’s little time left for reflection, let alone nature. Or blogging. The terrible news of the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings and realizing that one of those dead was a blogger on WordPress didn’t make me feel much better. Jessica Ghawi, a/k/a Jessica Redfield, had narrowly escaped a shooter in Toronto of all places last month and she wrote about savoring every day as it could be your last.

So even though I was up too late last night roasting veggies for the week’s meals, I made myself get up this morning at 5:30 a.m. so I could go over to McGinnis Slough and see what had transpired after three weeks of more drought and then one soaking rain.

McGinnis Marsh

The marsh growth has flourished with the drought, and it seems the Marsh Wrens have filled it up to capacity. The very first call I heard when I got out of my car was a Marsh Wren. By the time I had my gear together and made my first stop at the little overlook near the parking lot, Marsh Wrens were chattering and flitting about in the reeds. And then they came out to visit. There is no way I would have been able to stand there and photograph them at that close distance without their safety-in-numbers equation.

The rest of my McGinnis visit will follow in a subsequent post. The heron and egret numbers were phenomenal.

Summer Sunday

Well, I was writing this post, and just as I added another picture I lost the whole thing, so let me start over. I think I started out by saying I can’t believe it’s July already, although we’ve had July-like weather for weeks.

Trumpeter Swans and a Great Blue Heron

I went to McGinnis Slough early this morning, just to see how the habitat and the birds were faring with the drought and the heat. The water level is so low, the Trumpeter Swans that are usually way over on the far side were in what is now the middle of the slough, so I was able to get some sort of picture even though they were still far away. I think I like the reflection in the water about this shot, and the fact that they had the Great Blue Heron between them.

Barn Swallow

When I first ventured from the parking lot, this juvenile Barn Swallow was waiting to be fed by a parent. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to get that shot as the parent swooped in to drop off a bug and kept going.

Cedar Waxwings

Also found these Cedar Waxwing kids holed up in a nearby tree.

Walking down the mowed path in either direction summoned deer flies, which I was forever swatting. I wished I was a horse with a tail I could switch at them (in which case then I would have called them horse flies). Stopping along the way was prohibited.

Great Blue Herons

I saw easily 30 or more Great Blue Herons, most of them in the water, although these two are in the trees. The only Great Egret I found was in a tree also. Normally when the water level is higher, I have seen what seemed like hundreds of Great Egrets at McGinnis. I suppose that could still happen, summer has a long way to go.

Great Egret

Herring Gull

There were a lot of Caspian Terns but they weren’t close enough for a picture, unlike this Herring Gull.

Marsh Wren

My reward for enduring the heat this morning was getting to see a Marsh Wren singing. I heard at least 10 of these guys in the grasses along the path, but hearing Marsh Wrens is always easier than seeing.

House Wren

I stopped at the Portage on my way home. Here’s a House Wren for comparison.

And now a word of thanks to all who follow this blog! I apologize for not responding immediately to your likes and comments. At the same time, it occurs to me this blog is almost one year old. So I guess my “new year’s” resolution is to try to be a more conscientious blogger.

And to remember to save every draft so I don’t have to start over!