After reading one birder’s report of McGinnis Slough being nearly under water, I decided to go see for myself. It was after 11:00 when I got there, so I didn’t expect to see many land birds, but you don’t necessarily go to McGinnis for land birds anyway.
The parking lot wasn’t flooded, in fact there were more cars there than usual. I got out of my car and started walking toward the water, and I saw the two Trumpeter Swans swimming slowly by – right in front of me. Normally these birds are way far away on the other side of the slough, visible only with binoculars if not a scope. I suppose they were checking out the other side of the pond now that the water had deepened it.
No sooner did I start taking pictures of the swans than I heard a commotion from behind where I was standing. Thus began several hundred if not eventually a couple thousand Sandhill Cranes passing overhead. This was the magical part. I am invariably stuck in the office when cranes are flying over, and now I had them practically all to myself.
There were a few ducks close to the western edge, too, that I normally would not see.
I walked as far as I could around the flooding and made it to the usual overlook where there were several young women who appeared to be part of a class outing. That explained the extra cars in the parking lot. They were absorbed in their conversation and I did not interrupt them. After my feast of birds I was not interested in trying to make out the usual dots on the water.
I have to start going back to McGinnis more often. It just occurred to me that on my last visit, there was hardly any water!
I gave in to the prospect of the only nice weekend weather Saturday morning before my dentist appointment and went to McGinnis Slough. Reports of waterfowl seen a day or two before reminded me it was time to renew my relationship with this favorite destination, and the prospect of fall colors made it even more enticing. So now it will be a month or longer, looking back on fall from winter soon, by the time I get around to the last organized bird walk weekend.
The moment I got out of the car I felt restored. I was the only human and could temporarily forget about the whir of traffic noise nearby.
There were still a few Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out, singing.
In addition to a lot of Swamp Sparrows, there was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season, the arrival of which always reminds me of winter coming…
I was not expecting to see Yellow-Rumped Warblers…or orange conifers…but apparently both exist together. I think the tree is an American Larch or something like that, which turns yellow or orange in the fall.
And of course the waterfowl. Below, a view of only a couple hundred of 850 American Coots. Or so I calculated…
And here are two cute Coots up closer.
There was a nice little group of Green-Winged Teal…
and quite a few Northern Shovelers, although I could not seem to get a good photo of the flashier male
At one point two Mute Swans flew overhead. The second time they weren’t entirely mute and I thought they sounded a bit like Snow Geese so they had me fooled for a minute, but my photographs later said Swans.
The Coot below was enjoying the early sunshine, and so was I, but the clouds started to move in quickly after that.
Plant life taking on fall form…
A Wood Duck was close enough for a photo but by then the sun was hiding.
A few more of the Yellow-Rumpeds and the tree they were in.
The trees looking windswept and leafless…
Sunday morning the choir sang two services, singing “Somebody Prayed for Peace” and “Sweet Freedom” which is based on the national anthem. Afterward I went to city hall for early voting, deciding that it might not be such a bad thing to try, even though I live half a block from my polling place. As I sat in the gallery section of council chambers waiting my turn at the voting machine, I was reminded of sitting in a church pew and struck by the metaphor of voting as a form of prayer.
Random contributions from my new cell phone…the leaves are from one of the towering Sycamore trees I passed this morning on my way to the train, the salad consumed yesterday features the last of my cherry tomatoes, and beneath all that, one experiment in my new Saturday tradition which is to have one midday meal of scrambled eggs and onions and whatever else I’m looking to use up…in this instance, even some stale pita chips. Food as a form of prayer.
One more landscape from McGinnis and a Red-Winged Blackbird looking thoughtful.
This coming weekend will be very busy with the choir tour. I hope to return to this page soon afterward.
As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.
A Slough in name only…
I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.
There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.
There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.
Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red
When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.
It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…
There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.
There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…
The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.
And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.
I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.
I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.
The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.
Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.
I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.
So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.
My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.
I’m finally getting around to these pictures from the Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday morning I led the second walk at the Portage and the weather could not have been more different, shall we say – weather is becoming more than an idle topic for conversation lately as we keep having these 40 degree temperature swings in either direction – than the first walk which was rainy and chilly: this time we had plenty of sunshine and it was getting downright warm. We saw fewer species than the first group, as migration had progressed substantially in the two weeks between walks, but we had a good time.
It was nice to get good looks at the Great Egret that seems to be back in the area. The Green Herons were absent this visit but I suspect all the herons go back and forth between the Portage, Ottawa Trail and the Des Plaines River, so I am sure they are still around.
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were a presence. We didn’t even hear a Downy Woodpecker which is really unusual as I always expect to see or hear at least four any time of year but they must have been very busy being quiet.
It’s occurred to me that Song Sparrows are likely the only breeding sparrows at the Portage. Habitat requirements being what they are, I never thought this was odd but at the same time it seems there are a couple Chipping Sparrows that come back to my neighborhood every year so I wonder even about that. I guess it’s location, location, location.
Early on we saw one of many Warbling Vireos we would hear constantly.And the Indigo Buntings did not disappoint.
This was as close as I could get to a Northern Flicker.Two surprise birds below, neither of which were very visible, but I can now look forward to finding them again. Great Crested Flycatcher on the left, which we saw on our way out, and the camera just barely caught the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo on the right. I had pointed the camera lens at its curious-looking eyes peering out at me from where it was perched, and then it flew. I’ve heard cuckoos before at the Portage but have never seen one there until now.
For all the warmth and midges swarms, there weren’t many swallows that morning. Below is a Tree Swallow taking a break.
There were likely more Common Grackles than we saw, but this one was foraging in the bottomlands by the Des Plaines River.
Two days later on Memorial Day, I decided to go birding early at McGinnis Slough and then swim in the Orland Park fitness center pool, my dream scenario ever since I’ve had to go to Orland while my usual swimming hole has been under remodeling. I’ve been driving by the Slough at night after work to go swimming, often seeing deer foraging in the grass before the days got longer and thus lighter at that hour, but now I had the entire day free and it was hot so a swim after birding seemed to be the perfect idea. I haven’t been able to swim well with my knee out of whack, but the pool has been excellent therapy.
Below is a Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, which we also had at the Portage. A reminder it’s time to get ready for dragonfly identification again.
It was nice to see families at McGinnis, like the Mallards below.
Red-Winged Blackbirds are more numerous here.
Two distinct silhouettes below: Double-Crested Cormorant and Turkey Vulture.
Song Sparrows like McGinnis too.
Waterfowl at McGinnis are usually distant and hard to see. Sometimes I take pictures and blow them up later to see what I was looking at, not that I ever get a very good image. Below the Mallard family are a couple pictures of a Great Blue Heron in flight and more Wood Ducks. I was surprised to not see any Great Egrets yet at McGinnis, as they can be everywhere. Likely they’ve been thrown off by the crazy weather too and I’m more confused than they are. I’m sure I’ll see them as we slide into summer.
Here’s one more picture of a most accommodating Red-Bellied Woodpecker.
I’ll be staying close to home, there’s much work to do in my yard. Not feeling up to rushing yet. Still savoring life in the slow lane.
I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.
I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.
Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.
After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.
And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.
There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.
It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.
I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.
Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.
When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.
I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.
I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.
There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.
One more bird from the Portage…
Juvenile Song Sparrow
I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.
Here are a few remnant pictures from the Cook County Forest Preserves I visited over the weekend. We’re enduring a hot spell right now with high humidity and while rain looms in the forecast, it’s pretty unpredictable. As much as we could use the rain, I also expect the timing of it might interfere with any as-yet-unformed weekend plans to go birding Sunday. I might just swing by the Schoolhouse and look for the Prairie Warbler again tomorrow.
Below is a Tufted Titmouse from last weekend’s visit to the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Actually the first sound to greet me was that of Bullfrogs. I’ve included a recording below the pictures.
And below, a couple Eastern Towhees – a youngster barely visible on the left, and an adult male on the right.
American Robins are everywhere, but predominately at the Chicago Portage which is where I dropped in a bit late on Tuesday morning.
Also at the Portage, a fly-by Killdeer.
Blue Jays were everywhere too, normally heard but not seen, but they were unusually visible at McGinnis Slough.
Yes, below is another Red-Winged Blackbird chasing, this time, a Red-Tailed Hawk, but the hawk has a snake of some sort in its talons.
Enjoying the low water levels at McGinnis were several Great Blue Herons.
Also finding things to do, a Gray Catbird and one of two Raccoons swimming in the shallow water.
At the Chicago Portage, where the week before I had no trace of Green Herons, I saw this one, although I doubt they are nesting here.
The Caspian Tern below was over the water at the Little Red Schoolhouse. I also saw a tern at McGinnis but not as clearly.
At the Portage, Baltimore Orioles feeding young.
Below, an interesting grass and a female Brown-Headed Cowbird at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
And another Baltimore Oriole, this one a female, with food for her brood.If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve a reward. I invite you to enjoy the beautiful song of a Wood Thrush recorded at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Thank you to all of you reading and following my blog! Wednesday was the anniversary of my 6th year doing this thing and was also my birthday. This is convenient for me as I have a hard time remembering dates in general so the more things I can associate with my date of birth, which I have to remember, the better.
I got up early this morning so I could go to the Little Red Schoolhouse Forest Preserve and then stop by McGinnis Slough. I haven’t been to the Schoolhouse in a long time so I made sure I covered every inch of it. I never heard or saw a Prairie Warbler, which would have been a life bird. I was satisfied to see a couple Tufted Titmice and to record a beautiful song of a Wood Thrush. In all, it was a pleasant visit for an hour and a half.
The Slough is hardly a slough, the water levels have receded and it is covered with plant life, which has made it less attractive to a number of species I would have expected to see there. But there were several Great Blue Herons.
I got home just before noon and threw myself in the shower to wash off the insect repellant, had a little beet salad and farofa for lunch (this has become one of my favorite combinations), and quickly fell asleep on the futon. I was too tired to think about whatever pictures I might have taken. A quick nap, I thought, and then some piano practice and cleaning the dining room, as last night we did the living room, complete with almost a dozen new residents: I’m making sure there are no more babies in the making for at least a week…
When I checked my email, it became apparent that someone heard, saw and photographed the Prairie Warbler at the Schoolhouse yesterday, because it made the Rare Bird Alert which comes to my mailbox. That was disheartening. But I managed to get up the energy to download my pictures from the camera and start going through them, and that’s when I found this wonderful series of a Red-Winged Blackbird harassing a Great Blue Heron.
I had been sitting on the picnic table that overlooks the slough from the northern end of the preserve, and suddenly these two characters were in front of me. I hadn’t even remembered taking these pictures until I saw them – that’s how quickly it all happened. One cannot plan for these things. The only thing I changed today was I finally set up my Mark III so I no longer have to use the shutter button to focus. I had done this already to my 70D over a month ago. I don’t know if it had anything to do with anything but I just feel really lucky to have taken these pictures.
The Red-Winged Blackbird’s shadow makes two of him on the heron’s back!
Weather permitting, I’m going to Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County tomorrow. I had already planned to go, before someone found a King Rail there. That would be another life bird for me, but I’m not going with any expectations. Timing is everything.
A 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.
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.
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.
One more Bullfrog shot. Who knew they could be so pretty?
And 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).
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.
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.
Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.
Here 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.
Those 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.
This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?
The 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.
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.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
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.
At 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.
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…
And more Caspian Terns.
As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.
This 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
Into the rafters