Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.

(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)

I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.

On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.

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There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

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Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.

And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.

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The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.

Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.

Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.

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American Goldfinch

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Eastern Kingbird

After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.

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Song Sparrow

We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.

I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.

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The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.

I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.

I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.

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Breeding Birds

PRWA IDSP 05-29-2016-2349Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.

Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.

There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.

Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.

Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.

We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.

Cedar Waxwings above, at IDSP on the left and the other one from the Chicago Portage.

The Portage had at least four male Baltimore Orioles, and I was able to spot a female not entirely hidden on the right, above.

To add to my list of not-often-seen woodpeckers, I had a Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage. Usually I see Downies everywhere, but this was the only woodpecker that I was able to photograph.

Tree Swallows were abundant. And below, it was a good day for turtles at the Portage.

And for Mallard ducklings…looking almost full grown.

Below, a newly fledged American Robin and an adult.

One more look at the Red-Headed Woodpecker.

RHWP IDSP 5-29-2016-2453I’ve been busy writing silly songs, working, gardening and starting to get ready for a trip that will begin on July 1. I am now glad I inadvertently planned to be away before the Democratic National Convention. I’m growing weary of the daily drama and it will be good for my head to be totally oblivious to politics for a couple weeks.

I’ll try to get back to this page a few times before I go. Thanks for stopping by!


Invasion of the Nesters

Tree Swallow Nest, Chicago Portage

Tree Swallow Nest, Chicago Portage

Yesterday, whatever holiday you may have been celebrating, was also a beautiful day in the Chicago area. For that matter, Saturday was quite wonderful as well: I had a visceral perception of my depression lifting and concluded it must have been directly related to abundant sunshine. Although having a new car to drive to the pool and grocery shopping didn’t hurt either.

Ottawa Trail Forest Preserve, Cook County, Illinois

Ottawa Trail Forest Preserve, Cook County, Illinois

Sunshine aside, it was warm yesterday as well. I started out at Ottawa Trail around 8:00 a.m. wearing a t-shirt, sweat shirt and windbreaker. I shed the sweatshirt before I left and by the time I got to the Portage at 10:00 I was minus the windbreaker too.

Robin with nesting material, Ottawa Trail

Robin with nesting material, Ottawa Trail

For all the warm weather, there weren’t an awful lot of birds at Ottawa Trail, but improvements have been made and it’s easier to walk all the way now, it doesn’t stop abruptly anymore and insist that you be in good enough shape to climb down and back up a 3-foot cement retaining wall, while still leaving enough of the former demolished structure to stop and rest, lay down your optics and take off your sweatshirt to stuff in a backpack.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

It’s always nice to see a Turkey Vulture flying overhead. Another raptor seen here was a Cooper’s Hawk but the photographs were good only for later verification of its ID.

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The designated Black-Capped Chickadee greeted me.

Blending in at the Ottawa Trail

Blending in at the Ottawa Trail

The image of a Canada Goose above explains to me how even if you have black and white markings on your body you can still blend in with the scenery.

Blending in at Ottawa Trail

Blending in at Ottawa Trail

Walking back along the Des Plaines, I saw something black and white across the river but had no idea what it was until I got it in the camera view. The nesting spot above looks like a fort.

Tree Swallow Nest

Tree Swallow Nest

I stopped at the Jewel-Osco and then went on to the Chicago Portage to see what, if anything, had changed over the week. The ground is a lot drier, leaving the bottomlands almost drained. But I was quickly awakened by chirps of dueling Tree Swallows. The one I photographed most was protecting his prime nesting spot in a dead stump right by the south foot bridge.

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It occurred to me that a lot of male birds were strutting their stuff yesterday, and with good reason. “It’s my job to be beautiful – go ahead, look at me! Just don’t look at my nest!!”

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

The Canada Geese were defending their territories too, sometimes quite vigorously.

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I must have startled this Mallard, but he gave me some interesting shots.

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Blue-Winged Teal have decided they like the Portage. I wonder if they will stay. I counted four pairs yesterday!

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

The first picture below illustrates how well they can blend in too. The second shows a flash of that blue wing.

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There was another warbler I have yet to identify from many crummy pictures, but below is the only Yellow-Rumped I could find.

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There were two Blue-Gray Gnatcacthers chasing each other, probably over that nesting thing.

Blue-Gray Gnatcactcher, Portage

Blue-Gray Gnatcactcher, Portage

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers won’t nest here, they travel much farther north. But it sure was nice to see this guy in his breeding plumage.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

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I am sparing you a lot of Painted Turtle Pictures this time, although they were out in great force soaking up the sun. Below is my cooperative Tree Swallow once more.

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I will try very hard to come back one more time before leaving for the Edwards Plateau in Texas on Friday.