My Reward for Taking Too Many Pictures

I went to the Riverside trail on October 15. It was extremely cloudy and I had no idea what I could muster photographically under such conditions. I walked as far as I was going to go in one direction along the river and then turned back, and found a very green-looking warbler foraging low in front of me. When I got home to review my photographs, I could not for the life of me figure out what it was. I could only surmise what it wasn’t. The pale-looking eyebrow, the darker green primaries didn’t fit the Orange-crowned Warblers I was used to seeing.

After a good night’s sleep it occurred to me that perhaps the way to approach the bird’s identity was to look closely at the bill shape and size. Color and feather arrangement might seem changeable in a photograph but the bill shape would be constant. And that led me to thinking this was a Mourning Warbler.

As it turned out, when I opened my copy of The Warbler Guide, I found one small photograph that exactly matched my bird. She is a first-year female Mourning Warbler. I was excited as it has been years since I’ve seen a Mourning Warbler altogether. I added some of my photos to my ebird report and made the email-generated Cook County Rare Bird Alert (“RBA”) – I guess she’s a little late making her way south.

A distant Northern Flicker accented the cloudy background.

I have really become familiar with Orange-crowned Warblers this fall. And while I’m looking at bill size and shape, this species has a distinctly small, sharply-pointed bill. Some photos of an Orange-crowned Warbler are below.

For comparison, below are some more photographs of the Mourning Warbler.

Fall is a good time for woodpeckers.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Orange-crowned Warbler

Fall is also a good time for squirrels and nuts…

A cloudy sky.

I have really enjoyed seeing Great Blue Herons here.

And Great Egrets were present too.

Only Mallards are showing up in the waterfowl department.

There are always some Northern Cardinals but this was not a good day to capture one.

The other bird that made the RBA was the Gray-cheeked Thrush below.

Golden-crowned Kinglets have been fun to follow the past couple weeks.

A fall tangle of leaves.

The river looks a little fuller than it did. I envision being unable to do this trail when we start getting a lot of rain…

Here are a few more photographs of the Orange-crowned Warbler who was my best model.

Below is a female House Finch.

I thought the Great Blue Heron against the clouds was worth capturing.

One more of a Northern Flicker…

I have been back to the Riverside trail twice since this cloudy day. We are finally starting to cool off. This morning the Great Egrets were all gone. To be continued… but now, I need to get ready for choir rehearsal.

Bemis Woods Twice

I decided to visit Bemis Woods a couple times two weeks ago as it is on the way to the grocery store where buy my organic veggies and then I wouldn’t be wasting a trip running all the way over to the store just for a couple items the first time, and my weekly groceries the next. I have now changed my shopping day to Friday instead of Saturday, so… visiting Bemis could become a weekly event.

I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit Bemis after the installation of a “Go Ape” Zipline feature a couple years ago. It’s right off the parking lot. but I thought I would see how it was to walk the trails, figuring the pandemic had probably put a damper on Go Ape for a while. While it doesn’t take up the whole preserve, that much human activity, in addition to plenty of bike riders, walkers and runners…well, you get the picture for a slow-moving quiet person like me. Bemis is also huge and there are trails sprawled out leading to oblivion, or so it seems, but luckily the GPS on my phone confirms I am going back in the right direction.

Black-throated Green Warblers have been everywhere this season. Period.

I was delighted to find the female Black-throated Blue Warbler below in my photos.

I could not resist documenting this Blackpoll Warbler’s struggle with its prey.

Not to be outdone by the warblers chasing bugs, this Black-capped Chickadee showed me there are other interesting things to eat.

I have no idea what the plant below is but I liked the way it has gone to seed.

Another view of part of Bemis that is not woods.

Bemis is otherwise thick with tall trees like the view below, which makes seeing anything a challenge.

The Salt Creek runs through the preserve and there were Mallards at least one morning. It was nice to see some water still deep enough to afford waterfowl.

The asters below caught my eye. There are so many different types of asters, the more I learn the more confused I become. I’m glad the bee in the right-hand photo has figured it out.

Two more views of the Northern Flicker at the top of the post.

Below is a confusing fall warbler that has to be a Bay-Breasted but looks almost nothing like the ones below it in different light.

I have not seen many Chestnut-Sided Warblers this fall but am always glad when I do see one.

Below, some type of phlox and then golf-ball-sized galls that are found on Staghorn Sumac trees.

There’s always room for a Downy Woodpecker in my estimation.

This is still just the tip of the iceberg. However I have to use up more photographs soon or I won’t have room on my hard drive for the ones I have yet to take. Or something like that. I did get a bit of a reprieve last week when we had a string of rainy, cloudy mornings – which I devoted to projects I’m starting in my yard. We had cool weather and then we went back to hot and dry – and now we seem to be somewhere in between, but I am really hoping for some more rain, again.

Back to the Portage

But first, a Song Sparrow that somehow didn’t make it into the last post. I have heard Song Sparrows on occasion at the Portage but have not seen many this year.

This is my birthday weekend and if my memory serves me correctly, also the anniversary of this blog although I don’t remember how many years it has been and am too lazy to look it up. I did manage to visit the Portage on Saturday morning and will be back with that report later, but since I started this post two (?) weeks ago I feel obligated to finish it. I just checked. The photos below are from June 13. We were hot and dry. We have since had a lot of rain and flooding, but not quite enough to take us out of the “abnormally dry” category on the Illinois Drought Monitor.

Yellow Warblers nest here and were pretty elusive but I did finally manage to capture this one.

I am always intrigued by the sight of a Red-winged Blackbird chasing a Red-tailed Hawk…

Insects are sparse, which is not news, but makes the few individuals one sees that much more precious. I think I may have identified the two below. I haven’t had to resort to bug spray yet this year, although I do have a few bites I occasionally scratch to remind me it’s not over yet. The effect of insects being sparse, however, is bad news for the dragonflies and birds that eat them.

Hobomok Skipper
Likely a female Variable Dancer.

Cabbage White butterflies have been the most prevalent, and even they seem sparse. They are an introduced species.

For what it’s worth, the volunteers at the Portage have been busy reducing invasive plant species, and it is gratifying to see the natives return. Last time I saw them at work they were cutting away massive swaths of hemlock. Unfortunately it was in flower so it will likely return. But a lot of the burdock from years ago is gone. It’s a slow process.

Hemlock

More often heard than seen – a Blue Jay.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird below intrigued me by the light-colored throat feathers. It might just be a trick of the light.

Below is what I believe is a young Northern Flicker peering out of a nest hole.

The Indigo Buntings are still going strong with their songs and territories and it’s hard to resist them. I have to quit taking them for granted. They weren’t here in these numbers ten years ago.

The Baltimore Orioles have been harder to spot as they tend to their broods, but I got lucky and watched this one as he visited the nest.

Baltimore Oriole nest

So I hope to be back later today with a little yard report. If I could have one thing on my birthday (while it’s still quiet and getting too hot to be outside for very long), it would be to have time to write another blog post.

My best friend from junior high is in town from California for her mother’s 100th birthday and has chosen to stay with me and the birds. Luckily there is a relatively comfortable finished attic – I call it my people space. I bought a new room air conditioner which seems to be keeping it cool enough up there. So I am foregoing my traditional visit to Goose Lake Prairie this year. Maybe I can take off for that grassland later in the month. Today I will enjoy hanging out with my friend and trying to be lazy.

Hot and Dry at the Portage

If my memory serves me correctly, last year we were complaining of too much rain. I remember the tall plants in my backyard towering over everything and wondering if perhaps I should have discouraged them earlier. As it turns out, the tall plants seem to be growing up just as much without rain, but I am in no mood to discourage anything.

Anyway, Saturday I went to the Portage early and encountered John as I pulled into the parking lot. He leads discussions and walks on Saturdays at 10:00 AM regarding the history of the place. He had arrived early, said he was getting into birding but had forgotten his binoculars and wanted to know if he could tag along with me. We had a good time talking and walking along the trail, and he told me the history of the early explorers and how the Des Plaines River was diverted to feed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. So initially the little bit of water now left to the Portage is part of the original Des Plaines River bed, but nothing feeds it except rain. With that knowledge I am amazed that when I first started coming here, there was enough water to support herons feeding and even a pair of Green Herons nesting. I haven’t seen the Green Herons here for several years now.

This year there doesn’t seem to be water to make it buggy enough to support Eastern Phoebes or Eastern Kingbirds like last year. We do have Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers.

When John and I started up the trail we encountered that large painted turtle featured at the head of this post, on the gravel path. I wonder if it was a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. There haven’t been many turtles visible this year. The drought is affecting them as well.

But then we saw an Eastern Wood-Pewee, who even sang for us. I love these little guys – I often hear them clear across the woods but don’t always see them.

While we paused on the back trail on the other side of the fence, an Osprey flew over.

I was able to show John my most reliable Indigo Bunting whose territory is on the East side of the North bridge. The bunting was happy to pose and sing for us. A recording of his song is below the photos.

John had to leave to get ready for his tour/talk so we parted ways. I will have to attend one of his presentations. I confess I used avoid the Portage on Saturday mornings because of all the extra people, but now I’ve gotten used to it after the pandemic brought in a lot of new visitors.

I continued along the trail in the direction I usually take. The rest of these photos are not in order but they are the only birds I was able to capture. Below is a Red-Belled Woodpecker on the dark side of an oak tree.

I caught this Northern Flicker inspecting a nest hole.

Whatever you may think of Brown-headed Cowbirds, they can still be attractive.

Below is the first butterfly I have seen except for a Monarch here and there. It’s a Skipper, but I haven’t been able to identify it precisely. It was very tiny.

There was a Bald Eagle flying over.

There were very few swallows – this was the only Tree Swallow I saw.

Even the Red-winged Blackbirds were lying low.

I sat on the bench by the parking lot before returning to my car and caught this male Baltimore Oriole foraging around in the low trees at the edge of the lawn.

I decided to forego birding again on Sunday morning and opted to do a little yard work in anticipation of more to come. The Berwyn Historical Society this year decided to start an annual garden walk event on June 19, and my crazy garden, a/k/a postage-stamp-sized wildlife refuge, has been selected. The idea was pandemic-inspired because normally the BHS would be offering a bungalow tour, but since that wasn’t possible, the idea for an outdoor event occurred. My front yard still appears somewhat organized even though its creator, who has since passed, would likely have issues with all the Common Milkweed and other aggressors overtaking his original plan. It was just my luck that a Monarch visited the milkweed a week and a half ago and seemed to be laying eggs so I don’t dare remove any of it. I also have discovered some new visitors, such as Narrow-leafed Blue-eyed Grass.

My backyard is a small forest with a lot of native plants and grasses that need more control than I have been able to do. I am taking the week off before the walk to make as much sense out of it as I can and also to make sure I can identify everything – or almost everything – that’s growing. I have stopped feeding the birds and squirrels, except for the occasional hummingbird or oriole that might stop by, so the rat control project can succeed. The only thing I have to contend with is weather and stamina. So working in the yard is what I am looking forward to next week.

In the meantime I hope to be back with some pictures from previous outings this spring.

Hints of Spring

I keep updating this post because I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. So before it becomes completely ancient history… this is from the beginning of the month of April. Still this year…! It was Saturday, the 3rd, and it started out a bit chilly but by midday we were experiencing summer temperatures which stretched into the weekend and beyond. Since there was plenty of sunshine I made sure I got out both weekend mornings. I visited the Portage on Saturday and McGinnis Slough on Sunday.

I have since been back to the Portage, last weekend just to get out – it was barely drizzly and very cloudy, so I did not get a lot of action. But we have since burst into more green and buds and flowers and the feeling is spring, full speed ahead. That visit will follow if I can get my act together.

I have not been able to discern whether a pair of geese are actually nesting at the Portage. Unlike previous years I haven’t seen any territorial fights breaking out.

If nothing else there were a lot of Northern Flickers. Not close enough to get great shots but I did manage to focus on them from a distance. They certainly were making a lot of noise.