Probing the Portage

I have been hanging out at the Chicago Portage lately and just when it seems like nothing is happening something almost always does. This post covers two visits: November 26 and November 29. And I’ve been trying to write it for several days, so this is It.

The surprise on the 26th was an American Kestrel sitting way atop a tree overlooking the stream. This is a small falcon, quite a bit smaller than a Peregrine, but because it was so far away I wasn’t sure what it was until it started to fly away and I could see the reddish coloring in its feathers. I was very happy to see all these photos blown up. Kestrels are less common here than they were several years ago.

There was an abundance of sunshine that day.

So sunny, in fact, that shadows were a bit of a problem in the photos below, but this was still a beautiful Fox Sparrow.

The Northern Cardinals were up to their old tricks of hiding in plain sight.

And it proved to be a great day to capture an oriole nest.

Then, three days later, by the bridge closest to Harlem Avenue, I was surprised to see a muskrat. When there was more water years ago, there were beavers too, but I have not seen either rodent for quite some time. This muskrat made up for it.

It was quite cloudy early on.

View from the bridge

Below is what I first saw after crossing the bridge, looking back at the water behind me.

But later that morning the muskrat decided to put on quite a show.

I met Bob at the bridge after going around the trails, and we stood and watched the muskrat herding Mallards away from its territory.

Below is what one Mallard looked like when goosed by the muskrat from below,

There were some peaceful moments before and after all that.

It was cloudy earlier as I approached the second bridge and I was not seeing any birds. It took me quite a while to find the passerine flock.

American Tree Sparrow

I encountered a group of House Finches.

Perhaps my best subject was a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I have been back to the Portage the last two mornings, after taking a break from the weather on November 30. It’s a big decision around here not to go out for a walk in the morning.

I have this thing about extreme wind: I don’t know if I can ever get used to it, but I think it is the most constant reminder of climate change. It seems we have a lot more windy days all year around than we used to. And the winds, depending on what direction they are coming from, bring other weather events with them.

I will try to be back soon. I am singing in the choir Sunday morning so I can’t go out for a walk then, but I will be going to the Portage tomorrow morning for which the forecast is to be cold but sunny, to see if I can manage to capture a clear photograph of a Wilson’s Snipe that Bob found late Thursday morning. (Thanks, Bob! I will elaborate on this event in a future post.) I figured the bird would still be there this morning, which it was, but between cloud cover and missed opportunity I simply could not photograph anything but a blur. I hope to manage something better than this tomorrow.

The snipe is rare for this time of year, and generally rare at this location altogether, I think. They are just difficult birds to see under the best of conditions. So even if I don’t get a good photograph, it’s still exciting to know it’s there. And I give myself permission to “chase” a bird that’s only a few minutes away.

Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

BWTE McGinnis 4-23-2016-7010

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