It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.
I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.
The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.
Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.
Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.
Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise.
Choir tour and back-to-work notwithstanding, I feel remiss about not having managed a blog post until now. It’s not for lack of photographic experiences, but more my lack of energy and planning. What I have tried to plan to do with my four-day weekend is get in as much outdoor time as possible. Starting with Thursday…
I went to the Portage even though it was cloudy and windy. Unsurprisingly I did not see many birds and those I saw did not make taking their pictures easy. But the first capture proved to be a rare one. Apparently it’s a little late for a Field Sparrow…even if it’s not a great image the bird was unmistakable.
White-Throated Sparrows were in abundance, but still not so easy to see, along with the American Tree Sparrows.
American Tree Sparrow
Downy Woodpeckers winter at the Portage so they tend to stand out even when they aren’t trying to.
The Portage Pillage continues. I’m not sure if these trees were invasive or in bad shape but they are gone now. The third photo below shows the shallow water frozen, prohibiting waterfowl visitors.
The female cardinal below was not staying for a better shot.
Only two days earlier with the prospect of sunshine in the afternoon, I managed to get out of the office for a short walk over to the Lake Street bridge to see if there were any birds in the water.
None yet except for two Mallards napping on a log. But it wasn’t the Mallards that caught my attention – it was a bump on the log that created an optical illusion, looking very much like a Whip-Poor-Will on my camera. It wasn’t until I viewed the photographs on my computer that I realized this was a natural sculpture. So desperate was I to see a bird!
I will always be able to count on the Herring Gulls, even in the slow gaps between migrations…
Returning to Thursday, the sun came out in the early afternoon, which gave me a chance to visit with the birds in the yard. I can always count on an abundance of House Sparrows.
One of two male cardinals…
I was pleased to see six American Goldfinches.
But my best subjects were a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches. I haven’t seen them for a long time, but that’s likely only because their favorite time to visit is around 1:30 in the afternoon, when I am usually at work. The females have a grayer cap, otherwise they are pretty indistinguishable.
I’m glad to see that some of those spilled sunflower seeds are still worth eating…
One more of a nuthatch.
I went to Jasper-Pulaski with my friend Lesa yesterday to see all the Sandhill Cranes I missed when they flew over the Chicago area the last couple weeks. I’ll be back shortly with some of that spectacle. If you are caught up in a holiday weekend, I hope it is going well!
I think fall must be my favorite season at the Chicago Portage. The birds blend in with the autumn colors, the leaves start to fall from the trees and then every once in a while a bird takes a quick leaf-like descent as well. This past Saturday, after my morning commitment to Thatcher Woods where we had scores of Yellow-Rumped and Palm Warblers, I decided to see what was up at the Portage. Below are two of perhaps 100 Robins…
Directly below, two Common Yellowthroats at Thatcher Woods.
I always take a picture of the water, such as it is, at the Portage to document how it changes from season to season…
There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.
Red-Winged Blackbird (male)
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…
And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.
Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.
Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.
I missed seeing a flashy male Black-Throated Blue Warbler this year but I’m glad to have found a female of the species, wearing her muted fall clothes.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female)
Blackpoll Warblers in their fall plumage are stamped permanently on my brain after a few years ago when there were many for several days at my old stomping grounds, Lake Shore East Park, so I was delighted to find this lovely individual.
At one point I encountered some workers who were taking down a tree. I spent some time talking to one while another was driving wedges into what was soon to be the stump. It turns out the trees were not birch but white poplar, which is an invasive species and that is why they were removing it. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing a bird in those trees although they had become a landmark and I thought they were rather attractive. After I was given clearance to go beyond the workers, I grabbed two quick clicks in the distance as the tree fell.
For all the Robin activity there were only a few Cedar Waxwings…
My view from the first bridge at the Portage yielded a Mourning Dove and a House Wren.
I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.
Northern Cardinal (female)
I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…
Just starting to see Dark-Eyed Juncos, the harbinger of colder weather coming, I suppose. But after not seeing them all summer I am glad to have them back.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.
The Des Plaines was so low, this Great Egret was wading out into it quite a ways from the shoreline.
We had a lot of Northern Flickers at Thatcher Woods. Here’s one of them checking out a future home, perhaps.
Yes I am a Yellow-Rumped Warbler
And Monarch Butterflies are still migrating. I love the way the Poke Weed looks this time of year. I knew the birds were attracted to it but I guess the Monarchs like it too.
After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.
This last photograph is of a Downy Woodpecker who was foraging low and obscured by the vegetation but I like the pastel colors.
More to come, I have three more Saturday bird walks, weather permitting. We seem to be entering a rainy spell but from the looks of the Des Plaines last week we can use it.
The American Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen more than one or two around until this past week. They are now returning to the yard to take advantage of the thistle socks again, but they are also helping themselves to the seed-heads forming on the flowers. I don’t think it ever occurred to me before that just when I’m thinking the coneflowers are looking like it’s all over, it’s just beginning for the goldfinches.
I watched this one male work on the “spent” flower he’s sitting on for so long I finally decided to take a video.
And then there’s the thistle socks. The second photo was through the porch window so it’s fuzzy.
The sunflower seed feeder is always popular with the House Finches and Northern Cardinals.
I haven’t seen the skunks for about a week. I was hoping they were keeping the cat below, photographed under my neighbor’s deck, out of the yard. I have never seen her attack anything but I am not fooled by her innocent-looking lolling around licking herself on the back cement pad.
The squirrels seem to be distracted from creating too much chaos by a steady supply of peanuts.
There were not a lot of birds on Saturday’s first bird walk, and since they were difficult to see in the overcast I didn’t take many pictures, except in one or two cases just to confirm identification. So I’ll stay in the yard for this post. Below is an Agapostemon Sweat Bee gathering pollen.
We’ve had so much rain alternating with hot, sunny days this season everything in the yard is growing out of control. My Big Bluestem is well-established and as tall as I am. I like the fringed look of its flowering.
I haven’t done well with tomatoes for years, but I can grow peppers. This is the first time I’ve planted poblano chiles. They’re getting bigger. I’ll have to start cooking them soon.
I really like the Mistflower and am glad I planted it in a shady spot between two trees where it’s filling in nicely.
Below is a plant that introduced itself this year and up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know what it was. But I was reviewing the University of Illinois weed page looking for something else, and found its picture. I am happy to identify it as Toothed Spurge (poinsettiadentata). Although it has shown up uninvited, it is a native and rather attractive. The leaves are so thick they look almost like a succulent. I’m relieved it’s not an invasive, so I think I can let it hang out for the rest of the season.
The Wild Senna on the left below is pretty much gone, but the Tall Ironweed is still blooming, although a lot of it has fallen over.
In the front yard I discovered Nodding Onion which I think might be blooming well for the first time this year since it was planted by Art three or four or however many years ago it’s been now. And the one Cardinal Flower plant continues. I’d like to have more of it. Not sure I have a good red thumb though.
More regular visitors, of course House Sparrows, but I thought this one was a rather attractive little guy. And the female Downy Woodpecker below, on the peanut feeder, looks like this might be her first year in the yard.
One more of my too-hungry-to-be-camera-shy goldfinch. Saturday I “lead” the group on another bird walk, and I hope this time to see some migrants to write about.
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 got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.
Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…
Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.
I couldn’t get this Downy Woodpecker kid to turn around and smile for the camera but it was good enough to see his adult feathers coming in…
The House Wren below just has that newbie look about it.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker kids were out and about. I was surprised to see no red at all on the head of the one below on the top right.
Robins always look like something else this time of year, but I am no longer fooled.
I was beginning to wonder if all the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were gone, but then I found a bunch of them hanging out on the bare limbs of a dead tree. They were all juveniles.
These two young Northern Flickers seemed to be practicing pairing up already.
Nothing going on, on the Des Plaines, which was looking low.
Not much in the way of butterflies. A Monarch here and there, and this one Red-Spotted Purple.
But the dragonflies were quite amazing.
I’m going out on a limb with the ID below. I have a fancy book on dragonflies and damselflies but there are way too many choices.
Russet-tipped Clubtail female
I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…
Some kind of Bluet
I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female
or with Common Whitetails.
Common Whitetail male
Then there was this beautiful Grasshopper that is likely a Differential, but I am absolutely ignorant about grasshoppers so I’m not guessing.
And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.
Back to the birds. The fruit-eaters were enjoying the mulberry tree. That’s a Cedar Waxwing on the left and an adult American Robin on the right.
This Eastern Kingbird looks mature, but looks can be deceiving.
Some interesting things on the trail for the juvenile Song Sparrow below…
and for a male House Sparrow. I rarely see House Sparrows at the Portage but there were these two.
Juvenile House Sparrow
Saturday mornings tend to be work days. There was some burning of invasive vegetation going on.
Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen many in my yard lately, but I did see this pair at the Portage briefly.
Always happy to see a Great Blue blending in.
And it was even pleasant enough for a couple cardinals to make an appearance.
I heard more Indigo Buntings than I saw, but was finally rewarded by the adult male below.
For as much time as the Green Heron spent on this frog I am not sure he or she managed to eat it.
I hope the heatwave ends in time for next weekend. In the meantime I guess I can’t complain about being stuck in an air-conditioned office this coming week.
I’m not quite up to more adventurous birding spots yet, or so I’ve been telling myself, so I went back to the Portage again last Sunday morning. One of my first most delightful encounters was the Sphinx Moth above. It might also be called a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. I didn’t see any hummingbirds, although I keep looking for them ever since one zipped by one of my feeders a couple weeks ago.
Great Blue Heron
All the herons that have been hanging out were present, if difficult to get close to. The Great Egret in particular has been trying to stay as far from the trails as possible.
Great Egret, at a distance
One of the Green Herons landed in a nearby tree, and then took off for another location. The other one stayed glued to a small stump in the water and was barely visible.
So much for the one Red-Winged Blackbird that was temporarily available.
Even though I know there are many Indigo Buntings on site, I was only able to see the male below who looks like he had just taken a bath, compromising his ability to reflect very much blue. Below him, a well hidden female, who I found only after hearing her persistent chip note.
Summer sun is just what the painted turtles crave. At least I think they were all painted turtles.
Even the robins were hunkered down somewhat. Below, one serious adult and a couple youngsters.
There are several Song Sparrows, I always hear them singing, but it’s been hard to see one. I did manage to glimpse this one at a distance.
It was a day for bathing and rearranging feathers, I think, such as the Baltimore Oriole below.
The biggest surprise was to see two young Hooded Mergansers. I had to look them up as I’ve never seen juveniles of this species before but I recognized that they had to be mergansers from their bill and head shape. Nice of them to stop by the Portage. I’m sure they were touring several bodies of water. I didn’t expect them to stay very long as the water is hardly deep enough for diving.
Even the one Northern Cardinal I could get to pose was having a bad hair day.
I caught the Great Blue Heron as it left for another one of its haunts.
A couple more pictures of the Sphinx Moth. The Common Milkweed is in full bloom everywhere including my front yard, where it has smelled so strong I could detect its scent halfway down the block.
I can’t believe it’s taken me the whole week to finish this post. I’ve been very busy at work and that takes a lot out of me. I graduated physical therapy Tuesday night so I am looking forward to having that night free again. If nothing else the knee is improving ever so incrementally and I look forward to not having its excuse to curtail any activity.
Beyond that, I just got back this morning from another visit to the Portage. I hope to be back much sooner with that report. The heat has taken hold for a few days, so I should relish sitting here in the air conditioning. I hope you are safe and cool wherever you are!