Bullfrog Break

Bullfrog 4-15-17-0899Bullfrog 4-15-17-0886A few weeks ago I took my car to the dealer for its annual checkup and then went to McGinnis Slough to see how spring was progressing. As I walked through the path next to the marshy area the grass started to move, and I determined there had to be frogs hopping into the water out of sight. After stopping  and waiting for a while, I was able to finally see some Bullfrogs and photograph them. They were capable of moving so quickly, I’m glad a few sat still for me.

Not a lot of birds present yet, but the Song Sparrows were abundant.

This female Red-Winged Blackbird was an indication that some breeding birds are ready to get down to business.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Always nice to see a male Wood Duck even as he started swimming away from me.

Still seeing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets even three weeks after I took these pictures. I suspect the cold winds still pushing down from the north is keeping them from progressing to their breeding grounds. Have not been able to get one to reveal its Ruby Crown.

The male Belted Kingfisher below was busy.

We’re a lot leafier now, but the trees were just beginning to show some green for the robin below.

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American Robin

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There were likely more American Coots like the one at left, but I didn’t see a lot of them even skulking around in the marsh.

 

 

 

As I was panning on the Red-Tailed Hawk below it flew into the sun and even though it was somewhat cloudy that was not something I was planning to do, but I like the way it turned out.

RT Hawk in the Sun 4-15-17-0838One more Bullfrog shot. Who knew they could be so pretty?

Bullfrogs 4-15-17-0904And as promised a few more from the Science March.

Hope to be back soon with a report from the indoor crowd, the Spring Bird Count, more from Panama, Migration Central…wherever the wind blows me next (it’s unseasonably chilly and windy today).

Fog Settles In

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Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

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Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.

Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

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Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6863

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

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A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Weightless,
Wait-less,
Into the rafters

We Pause for a Brief Commercial from Spring

RWBL 3-6-2016-3523I may have said I didn’t want to get distracted in my last blog post, but I felt the need to go out for a little exploration Sunday morning, and so became distracted by a few birds at McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage. And if I don’t pay them due respect now they will likely never get another chance.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds are back in force at McGinnis, with likely more to arrive. I counted maybe a dozen males singing on their territories. There were Red-Winged Blackbirds back in Millennium Park downtown yesterday, along with some of their Common Grackle cousins. (The photo below is from McGinnis.)

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I have been checking off all my little Signs of Spring since I got back: the appearance of the first American Robin in my yard last week, then hearing Robins singing in the neighborhood yesterday (looking forward to those 2:00 AM serenades!), the Northern Cardinals singing their descending scale song, and I’m even distracted by the return of the Canada Geese to the Jackson Street Bridge. A Horned Grebe on the lakefront. Every year around this time someone sees a Red-Throated Loon by Monroe Harbor. I may have been the first to report one a few years back. I have missed the bird ever since but wonder if it’s the same individual returning year after year.

It was cloudy, cold and windy on Sunday, perfect Red-Tailed Hawk weather at McGinnis. We have warmed up since then and have relatively balmy temperatures predicted for the entire work week, along with attendant rain and thunderstorms.

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McGinnis Slough

The other raptor at McGinnis was a juvenile Bald Eagle. There are more and more frequent sightings of these birds in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Not many surprises at the Chicago Portage but it was brimming with the promise of renewal. There were several White-Breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers.

One of the pairs of Canada Geese ready to set up housekeeping was the same tagged couple from the last two years, No’s. 16 and 11. If I recall correctly 16 is the male. This time I noticed the bands on their legs as well although they are not decipherable.

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Chicago Portage

Among the Mallards and Canada Geese was one Northern Shoveler. I just barely managed to capture him before he took off.

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There were about a dozen Dark-Eyed Juncos but with the sweep of warm air coming in, this may be the last time I see them.

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It looks as if the badgers have been busy…

I’m not changing the header on this page because I do intend to get right back to the photographs from Nicaragua! Maybe all the rain this week will keep me inside long enough to finish that task.

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Back at the Slough

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

It seems strange to have been away from this page for so long, only to find time to come back after this weekend with all the sanity drained out of humanity. It almost feels like I need to start over. So I’m going with pictures from 3 weeks ago when I managed to get out to McGinnis Slough.

Gadwall at McGinnis

Gadwall at McGinnis

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Gadwall

The problem with the Slough is always that most of the birds are usually quite far away and you need a scope to see them.

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Great Blue Heron, McGinnis Slough

So most of these pictures were taken a bit closer in. Like this cooperative Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

I didn’t realize this was a Clay-Colored Sparrow until I started going through the pictures. A nice surprise, don’t see this guy too often.

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Clay-Colored Sparrow

And this was one of the last Yellow-Rumped Warblers I saw this year. I guess in the photo below, if you’re going to see the rump you aren’t going to see much else…!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

YRWA McGinnis 10-25-15 -6212There were about 400 American Coots at the Slough that day, and here’s one of them.

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American Coot

One more time with the Song Sparrow.

SOSP McGinnis 10-25-15 -6020I picked up my annual bird seed order from Chicago Audubon yesterday: I try to buy enough to last through the winter. Was greeted by Bobbi who was helping distribute the orders, and we got to discussing international travel (we were both with a group in Australia back in 2009). And then she told me she came back from a month in Paris only a few days ago. The world just shrunk that much faster.

Too Many Distractions

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Belted Kingfisher – Chicago Portage

I keep trying to get through all the pictures from Colombia and identify everybody who’s recognizable, but life keeps getting in the way…further complicated by signs of spring. Like the Belted Kingfisher above. He seems to have made the stripped-down Chicago Portage his summer home. I have seen him two weekends in a row.

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Red-Winged Blackbird, McGinnis Slough

These pictures were all taken last weekend. I went to McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage on Sunday because the weather was reasonable. We’ve been otherwise chilled by northerly wind blasts all week, even going down to freezing one night, I forget which, I only remember having to dump the ice out of the bird baths because I had already unplugged them.

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Great Blue Herons at McGinnis

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Gadwall

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Gadwall

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Gadwall – check out the one that’s dabbling – if this is the only part of the bird I see next time I’ll know it’s a Gadwall!

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Great Blue Heron

Not a lot to photograph at the Slough, most everyone was too far away in the water, but it was nice to hear Soras calling, and to count eleven Great Blue Herons and a lot of Gadwall.

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Caspian Tern

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Also nice to see a Caspian Tern. But perhaps the biggest surprise was a deer making its way across the smaller part of the slough, which I guess gives an idea of how not very deep it is. Below the deer is a Double-Crested Cormorant drying out after a dive.

Doe Going For a Swim 4-26-15-9124

DCCO 4-26-15-9448Something else I don’t know if I’ve ever seen well before – the “ring” on a Ring-Necked Duck’s neck. Click on the picture to see what I mean.

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Not a lot different happening at the Portage yet… I could have had a substantial turtle count.

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Wood Duck

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Turtles, Chicago Portage

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Dabbling Mallards

Brown Creepers are always a surprise for some reason.

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And this Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher was cooperative as long as he felt hidden behind the twigs, which he certainly was.

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BGGN 4-26-15-9672 BGGN 4-26-15-9686 BGGN 4-26-15-9694Caught the Kingfisher taking a break.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbirds are starting to arrive, but I don’t have a picture of one from last weekend, so I’m just including this guy-bird again.

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As far as the Life List Project goes (this proved to be a Major Distraction!), I still have a few more checklists to locate, but at the moment the count is 1,942. I’m trying to count only birds I have seen, so a lot of those Tinamous, Tapaculos and Rails aren’t making it onto my list. But there are also a few species that are not on the app, as hard as I have tried to find them under other common names, so I don’t know if that’s because they’ve been reclassified or split or lumped or what, but in general having the list will probably come in handy on my next far-flung trip and maybe even motivate me to pay more attention. Who knows, if I had time to go through all my pictures from all my trips again I might find even more species… I guess I save that distraction for when I can’t travel anymore. 🙂

Here They Come

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

I was pretty sure the migrating Sandhill Cranes were on their usual schedule: flying over Monday-Friday, during banker’s hours, while I was stuck sitting in the office. Of course I read about them constantly on the IBET which added to my frustration. But the warm southerly winds that have been prevailing all week were going strong yesterday and I decided to visit McGinnis Slough, even though no one has submitting any ebird sightings since November, and then check back again at the Chicago Portage (I may do a post later, in my backward fashion, about last week’s visit which I never managed to publish).

Things are heating up almost everywhere, actually. At work, we’re busy. I’m getting ready mentally for my trip to Colombia which is only 12 days away. I’m meeting with my new bird care person who I suspect is falling in love with the birds, which is probably a requirement if you’re going to fuss over them as much as I do. And it seems to be taking more energy this year to get over winter, but I think that’s about to change.

McGinnis Slouth

McGinnis Slough

Ice at McGinnis

Ice at McGinnis

McGinnis is still under ice. I took the scope with me just in case but ended up leaving it in the car. Nevertheless I had enough gear. I’ve been testing out my wide angle lens which was repaired last week (over a year since I dropped it in the steel-bottomed vehicle in Africa) because I figure it’s small enough to take with me to the Andes and it might be very nice indeed to have handy for a breathtaking vista or two. And I’m also using the extender on the Canon 100-400mm lens, to see just what it’s capable of. I’ll have plenty of time to return to playing around with the monster Tamron lens when I get back.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

But crunching around on the frozen tundra produced a few of the most predictable early birds. I had already seen Red-Winged Blackbirds downtown in Lurie Garden so I knew they would be returning to their territories everywhere else. Song Sparrows may have even slightly preceded them. And Dark-Eyed Juncos? Did they ever leave? They have been here all winter, and predictably they disappear in the spring, but I wonder if some may hang out all year long.

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

There were no Sandhill Cranes flying over McGinnis, probably because I expected them. Instead, flocks of Canada Geese, in their usual noisy fashion.

Canada Geese over McGinnis

Canada Geese over McGinnis

CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1144CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1141As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Chicago Portage briefly last weekend. The dominant pair of Canada Geese was there at the time, laying claim to the ice. I suspect it’s the same pair I have seen there for years. In any event, I was a little surprised to see two tagged geese that I am sure I reported last fall – C011 and C016.

C011 and C016 at the Portage

C011 and C016 at the Portage

I am not sure the pair pictured below is the dominant pair, as there were two unbanded pairs yesterday.

CAGO Portage 3-15-15-1291

I was about done counting geese when the first flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over. I heard them coming first, but overhead they were silent.

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

But before I left, a fight ensued, with the dominant gander attacking C016, and the two banded geese left.

Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1406 Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1404

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

As luck would have it, while all this was going on, a lone Sandhill Crane flew over quite low, and I think it might have landed if all the fracas wasn’t going on. It kept flying, I suspect to the low-lying parts of the adjacent preserve, Ottawa Trail Woods, where I haven’t been yet this year.

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Sandhill Crane, Chicago Portage, 3-15-15

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Other species at the Portage yesterday were also predictable and I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but I was a little surprised to see a beautiful Fox Sparrow. I’ve been seeing them more here the last year or so. They don’t breed here, though.

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15

White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15

The White-Throated Sparrows likely won’t be sticking around either, but I wish I had more time to observe them. It seems to me their ranges have been expanding; I’m sure some were breeding on the Chicago Lakefront over the past few years.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

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American Robin – with a lot of unusual white on its wing

The year-round birds are getting ready, too. I saw some definite chases going on among the Black-Capped Chickadees.

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Maybe the most interesting thing was this fungus that covered an entire downed tree trunk.

Today we are having one of those rare, sudden warm days, before the winds shift and the temperature plummets again – but I think we are through with the freezing temperatures. I hope!