Slow Walks through the Portage

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Baltimore Oriole

I have never been a hurry-up-let’s-get-this-over-with birder, but I am certainly moving more slowly these days because of my knee. But life in the slow lane has its advantages and the reduced speed has paid off. Two weeks ago I managed to count 55 species when I visited the Portage for four hours instead of the usual two, and last week with my first group we had 51 species in nearly about the same amount of time due in part to the fact that we got off to a late start because of the weather. Between the two lists I had 73 different species total. Of course it is spring migration, and it is not hard to spend a lot of time when you keep seeing more birds. Needless to say I did not get pictures of them all, or some pictures were useful later only for the purpose of identification. But in spite of having hardly any time or place to bird during the week, I feel as if I have seen some nice migrants in spite of my physical limitations. I took these pictures two weeks ago. I felt bad about not being able to do the Spring Bird Count, but I’m glad I managed to get out.

Breeding birds are back, and the most numerous after the Robins, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches are probably Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

Lots of Indigo Buntings are on site too. Many of them are first-year males like the ones below.

There are also several Warbling Vireos that have set up territories. I usually hear them more than I see them, but I got good views of this individual.

Some Yellow Warblers will likely breed here too.

I don’t think the Portage has breeding Ovenbirds but it was nice to see this one out in the open.

Two more warblers I was able to photograph…but they won’t be staying.

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Northern Parula

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Male American Redstart

My best surprise was to briefly see a Hooded Warbler and manage to get a picture of him. These are far less common. I used to see them on the lakefront occasionally. This was a real treat.

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Hooded Warbler

The Great-Horned Owls appear to have just one owlet but it’s gotten pretty big and last week we saw all three of them all take off from their tree. I took these pictures of junior and mom two weeks ago.

The Downy Woodpeckers are busy.

Migrant thrushes, like the Gray-Cheeked on the left and the Swainson’s on the right, below, are passing through.

I don’t think there are enough places left at the Portage for Tree Swallows to nest.

Goldfinches are in full breeding plumage now.

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On the sparrow front, I found a Chipping Sparrow, a few White-Crowned Sparrows who have all flown north by now, and one hard-to-see Song Sparrow. The Portage is home to breeding Song Sparrows, but I’m not sure about Chipping Sparrows.

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Song Sparrow

As ubiquitous as Red-Winged Blackbirds are, they can still be beautiful.

House Wrens breed at the Portage. They’re always singing a lot, and every once in a while I might even see one… But it always takes me a few repeats to remember their song.

I have one more walk to lead at the Portage this coming Saturday. The last time I checked the weather the prediction was for thunderstorms, but that was the forecast last Saturday and we still managed to dodge the rain and see a lot of birds, so I am hopeful. It should be warmer too, which will add a whole new dimension – mosquitoes – after all the rain. As much as I find mosquitoes a nuisance, I also realize they’re food for a lot of birds.

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LaBagh Woods

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-1000I try to get to LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve a couple times a year if not more, at least during migration season. These pictures are from two weeks ago when I went with my friend Susan. It was extremely muddy after recent rains which made some of the trails impassible. Number of species and photographs were not as forthcoming as I might have hoped but we had a good time  Disclaimer: I’m presently suffering from a horrible head cold that started yesterday morning so I will keep this short and sweet.

It was a photo contest between Nashville Warbler (above) and Magnolia (again, show-offs that they are) but it was wonderful to see the elusive and scarce Golden-Winged Warbler. Below are two separate individuals of this species. At least I think they are different birds, we saw them quite a distance from each other.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are always welcome. Below, male and female.

RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0654RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0676I don’t think I stopped bothering to take pictures of American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers (below) but there weren’t many volunteers.

And yes, the Magnolias, posing even when they aren’t.

Below, a Cooper’s Hawk sitting quietly in a tree.

COHA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0822After hearing Northern Parulas in several locations it was gratifying to finally be able to see one or two well and photograph below.

The migrants that likely aren’t going any farther are House Wren and Eastern Phoebe, below.

Also a Swamp Sparrow who could stay in the area.

SWSPLaBagh 5-15-2016-0809The bird below is a male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – and the lighting is so intense and back-lit there is just no way to show off his ruby throat. But it was nice to see him perched. Welcome back, little fella. Still waiting to see a hummer in my yard…

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A few more athletic poses by the Nashville Warblers.

If you look closely at the top of the bird’s head below you can see a little rufous in the feathers of a male Nashville Warbler. I don’t know if I have ever seen this with binoculars but the camera lens makes it easier to believe.

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0964I will be back with more of spring migration. This weekend is probably going to be the last we will see of the warblers that keep going north.

A Bird in the Hand…

White-Eyed Vireo

White-Eyed Vireo

If anyone knows how much birds hate to be handled, it’s me. My indoor birds remind me of this constantly, and I don’t pick them up unless I absolutely have to. I’m not trying to offend anyone by posting these pictures.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

But before I get on to writing in a future post about the primary reason for why I was in Belize–which was to be part of a group of 7 volunteers that helped Operation Rubythroat set up mist nets to catch and band Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and transcribe banding data…and all the reasons why they are doing this…

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

I wanted to share some pictures of other birds banded that I never could have seen so closely.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Suffice it to say I learned a lot in 8 days.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

For those of you still uncomfortable with the handling of the birds, we checked the nets constantly, moving birds still captive and waiting to be banded or shown out of the sunlight, and they survived well. I believe there was one casualty in a net on our last day, which was cut short due to inclement weather. I suppose the biggest testimonial to survival was the birds, already banded, recaptured from previous years.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

The Northern Waterthrush was one of perhaps three or more we banded, but the Louisiana Waterthrush was the first one ever seen at Crooked Tree in Belize. See if you can tell the difference this close up. The distinguishing features are still subtle, but the Northern looks more “yellow” than the Louisiana and has denser streaking.

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-9-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-9-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-10-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-10-14

Compare the difference between these two Tennessee Warbler individuals. The one above is a male not finished with his molt and the one below is most likely a female. Banders can consult The Identification Guide to North American Birds: Part 1 and Part 2 by Peter Pyle to help distinguish between the sexes by length of the wing and tail feathers.

Male Yellow Warbler

Male Yellow Warbler

You may have noticed that all the migrant warblers are not quite as decked out as they will be by the time they reach us. This Yellow Warbler was just developing his rufous streaks.

Clay-Colored Thrush, National Bird of Costa Rica

Clay-Colored Thrush, National Bird of Costa Rica

The last bird on this post is not a neotropical migrant and therefore was not banded. But I thought it best expressed any indignation at being handled, for all the other birds banded on this page. And I probably never would have seen the beautiful streaking on its throat, in the field.

Sunday at the Portage

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Black-Capped Chickadee

After two days getting up before 4:00 a.m., it was wonderful sleeping in somewhat Sunday morning before going over to the Portage. I had no expectations, I only wanted to go out and explore. Perhaps that is the best thing about going to a place you know well: you are always primed for surprises. I started walking in slowly around 8:30. Mine was the only car in the parking lot, so I had the entire place to myself. And it was quiet.

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I was not surprised to see Wood Ducks, indeed they have been there every time, but it was special to see the young drakes in their new grownup plumage.

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The surprise was seeing two young raccoons behind them.

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I managed to get a picture of one.

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The last few visits to the Portage have been scarce on woodpecker sightings even though I knew they were always there…so it was nice to see this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

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Through a break in the trees, a Red-Tailed Hawk was visible, perched on a bare limb over the water.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

While I was trying to photograph the Magnolia Warbler below…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

a Winter Wren caught my eye. It’s always a surprise to see a Winter Wren. Especially after I had given up trying to find the Carolina Wren who was singing earlier.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Downy Woodpeckers are always plentiful, but this one was busily drilling at eye level.Downy IMG_8488_1

And not all the Gray Catbirds have left.

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Heavy rainfall the night before filled the bottomland with water.

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A lone Canada Goose was by the water near the Wood Ducks, standing on one foot

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while many more flew overhead.

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The most unusual sighting did not produce great pictures, but there were enough to identify a Northern Parula. My ebird sighting was questioned because I had to add this bird to the list; I did not dare add it until I was sure I had pictorial proof.

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There was no shortage of Yellow-Rumped Warblers. Indeed, they were everywhere, although none were as photogenic as the week before. But I caught this one skipping across the duckweed.

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The change of seasons renders the Portage a magical place.

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First-Year Migrants

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Imagine what it’s like to experience your first spring migration. Maybe you have some idea of where you’ve stopped since you made it through fall migration, but it’s been a while. After birding LaBagh Woods this morning, where I found these first-year warblers, I could barely remember where I parked my car. These guys are flying hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles and they’re not lost.

American Redstart

American Redstart

I knew about first-year male American Redstarts, but this is the first time I’ve thought about first-year Northern Parulas since I haven’t seen that many Parulas in my birding lifetime.

It was a beautiful day in Chicago, if a bit on the chilly side this morning. The birds became more active when the sun took hold.

I will try to post more from LaBagh and some other spring haunts, but I’ll be out of town two days for work this week and in northern Michigan for Memorial Day weekend. The garden has suffered through all this: I just started digging out my vegetable patch this evening – but at least that made my robins ecstatic.

A few more pictures of the Northern Parula and the American Redstart. For one year, they almost look alike.

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Northern Parula

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American Redstart, first-year male

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Northern Parula, first-year male