On-Again-Spring Migration

Female Mourning Warbler, Columbus Park

As we climb back out of yet another spell of wintry, inclement weather, I have to wonder what effect this fitful spring is having on the migrants we are all too happy to observe. I have had a Swainson’s Thrush in my yard the last two days. I’m happy to provide for this bird and maybe it doesn’t have too much farther to go to get to its breeding grounds, but likely it will be dodging more storms on its way.

Last Saturday I attended a small informal walk at Columbus Park and then went to the Portage. Sunday birding was off the table, as I committed to choir-singing all day. Here it is Wednesday: I just finished going through these pictures last night. I will be leading one more walk this Saturday at the Portage if the current “morning thunderstorms” forecast does not pan out. It’s ever crazier to be paying attention to the forecast when it changes every five minutes, but I can’t help it.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Columbus Park

It’s always nice to see the herons at this location. My list of species totaled 32 which is not spectacular but it was great to have sunshine which the birds were enjoying too. I’ll do a separate post about the Portage later.

Red-winged Blackbird

This is the first time I’ve seen Wood Ducks hanging out on the lawn…but the Mallard was quite comfortably snoozing.

There are two Spotted Sandpipers in the photograph below the ducks, but the second one is a bit harder to see…

Spotted Sandpipers

I found the Philadelphia Vireo in my photographs last night. A surprise to me as I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of one before.

One more of the Mourning Warbler…

So this is the time of year when I have more photographs than I have time to post… Looking forward to the holiday weekend and hoping it’s not raining too much so I can get a handle on the rapidly increasing jungle that is my yard and maybe see some more birds.

Spring Preview: Columbus Park

I had planned to write a post before my departure for Big Bend but it didn’t happen. Now I am back from an amazing trip, but even though I have started processing my pictures, it will probably take me a couple of weeks given the busy schedule I am returning to, so I will see if I can manage this post for the moment.

I did a Columbus Park walk on the Saturday before I left, and it was to witness the first hint of migrating birds, but our spring has been anything but spring-like, with snow occurring the next day and from what I hear, another wet, fluffy snowfall the Saturday before my return. Yet I’m planning on putting out the hummingbird feeders tomorrow morning. C’mon, it’s May!

The big wading and diving birds were easiest to spot… It was particularly entertaining to watch the Double-Crested Cormorants drying off in the sun. Maybe the Canada Goose thought I was trying to take its picture.

We had several Wood Ducks, but this was perhaps the closest view I got of a male swimming in front of a female Mallard.

A little army of hungry Golden-Crowned Kinglets appeared on the grass in front of us at one point, reminding me of the very first time I ever saw them years ago doing the same thing on the lawn at Millennium Park.

The female Belted Kingfisher below was pretty far away but nice to see.

This Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by us before landing in a tree.

American Robins have been on their territories for weeks now and we saw many.

Swamp Sparrows outnumbered Song Sparrows (4 to 2!) but were hard to photograph.

Eastern Phoebe arrivals are always a sign of spring. The similarly-colored bird below the Eastern Phoebe is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.

You know the Red-Winged Blackbirds are ready for business when the girls start arriving.

Northern Flickers put on a show for us but they were hard to capture as well.

Our last “lawn” species was Killdeer.

I got caught up on my sleep last night, but I’m heading into a busy weekend. Saturday morning is the Spring Bird Count, Saturday night is the Spring Music Festival…and with any luck on Sunday, I can start cleaning up my yard, as green things, both wanted and invasive, are starting to emerge. The recommendation to not clear anything until the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will be difficult to adhere to… we are still dropping into the 40’s, albeit the higher 40’s, overnight. I do remember seeing a butterfly or two before I left. I hope to see some insects Sunday and maybe a better forecast.

Open Windows Weekend

The events of this past weekend have made me even more aware of whatever beauty remains on this planet, and it’s hard not to want to hold on for dear life. As everything changes and challenges one’s perceptions of reality, it’s almost amazing to find and appreciate what is still intact.  The weather was relatively cool and dry, which made it perfect for leaving the windows open. I never turned on the air, and with the intermittent cloud cover and breezes the birds and I were quite comfortable both days.

For future reference, I keep meaning to get around to a post about the indoor crowd but for the moment all I have to share is a couple quick pictures when I came back into the kitchen from the yard and the Zebra Finches were playing in the kitchen sink. This is their favorite weekend pastime, as I keep the door to the kitchen closed during the week when I go to work. My last flock did the same thing. The other totally instinctive behavior seems to be the chorus response after I open one squeaky drawer… Anyway, the little brown and white Zebra Finch is one of the last hatchers and I must admit she had me quite confused until her orange bill and feet came in. I’m finding the color variation quite interesting. A standard-looking male Zebra Finch is on the left, and the plainer-looking bird behind her on the right is a normal hen.

Not a lot going on in the backyard. But it’s always nice to see a female cardinal or a male goldfinch.

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Thanks to Jason at Gardeninacity for making me more aware of two flowering plants in my front yard this past week, Nodding Wild Onion and Wild Petunia.

Saturday morning I went to McGinnis Slough just to see what was going on. Although it was remarkably un-buggy on the ground, there must have been plenty of insects in the air, because swallows and Chimney Swifts were feeding in full force.

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Mostly Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

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Barn Swallows on break

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows and Barn Swallows were flying low over the marshy area which was covered in dried out water lilies or whatever they are, I can’t really tell.

BASW 08-12-17-7516

McGinnis 08-12-17-7664At first I didn’t see many Chimney Swifts, but then they seemed to be everywhere, even though they wouldn’t pose for a group photo.

I heard the Red-Tailed Hawk first, and then there it was soaring above me.

No butterflies. There were Meadowhawk dragonflies but they were too busy for photos as well. So I settled for this bee-like individual on what appears to be Field Sow-Thistle.

Flower McGinnis 08-12-17-7525I couldn’t leave without a photograph of some Swamp Rose Mallow, even though there didn’t seem to be as much as previous years.

One more look at the Red-Tailed Hawk.

RTHA McGinnis 08-12-17-7576Linda and I had a lovely time playing music at the Second Unitarian Church on Sunday. We performed “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part before the service began and “En Bateau” by Debussy later in the service. The Part kind of takes over and mesmerizes. But I found it much easier to play the Debussy after much standing and singing along with the congregation. And now we go back to choir rehearsal at Unity Temple tonight for what should be an exciting and challenging singing year.

Big Marsh, Hegewisch Marsh and a Lifer

Least Bittern Big Marsh 07-30-17-6896

Least Bittern at Big Marsh

Last Sunday I joined Chicago Ornithological Society’s trip led by Walter Marcisz to a couple areas he knows so well, far south in the Cook County limits and to which I had never been. So tempting was this offering, there were an almost unmanageable 40 of us. But all went well, thanks to Walter’s skillful leadership.

The photograph above is of a Least Bittern which was a life bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a sharper image but we were all caught quite unawares standing around looking out when suddenly this bird decided it needed to go somewhere, so I consider myself lucky i got it at all. The rest of my shots of this bird have someone’s head in them so maybe that gives you an idea.

The parking lot where we met before taking off for the marshes not far away afforded these two captures below: a Double-Crested Cormorant on a light fixture and two Barn Swallows hanging out on the barbed wire.

The wildflower investigation continues. The plant below seemed to be everywhere at Big Marsh and I think there was some at Hegewisch too although by that time I was so tired of seeing it I may have been ignoring it. Someone identified it as Spotted Knapweed, so I looked it up on my wildflower app and sure enough, it is an invasive, with somewhat nasty properties. If handled a lot it can cause tumors on the hands. Yuck. Made one bee happy however.

Bee on the Invasive Plant Big Marsh 07-30-17-6934I grew tired of trying to figure out the one below but it’s pretty in its isolation. I believe it was at Hegewisch. I didn’t take many pictures at Hegewisch – we weren’t there long. We went to see the Common Gallinules – who used to be Common Moorhens – that have been breeding there this year. We caught glimpses but not much else behind the tall grasses.

Wildflowers Big Marsh 07-30-17-6958I was happy to see Northern Rough-winged Swallows as I have missed seeing them in my usual haunts this year.

More birds in flight. A Killdeer on the left, and a Great Egret on the right.

Always happy to see a Caspian Tern hunting in good view. This was also at Big Marsh where we spent the most time.

And Eastern Kingbirds still seemed to be everywhere.

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Female House Finch, Big Marsh

As close in proximity as these areas are to the city, they are big enough to afford an unobstructed view of the sky which was gorgeous that day.

Cloudscape Big Marsh 07-30-17-6960One more swallow.

Northern RW Swallow Big Marsh 07-30-17-6950

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Back very soon with a report from my yard as my wishes are slowly being fulfilled!

Goose Lake Prairie

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Dickcissel

I spent three hours at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area this morning. I saw and heard a lot of birds, if not necessarily a lot of species. Most of the birds I photographed were quite far away. Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows below, then a Field Sparrow.

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Field Sparrow

Did I see the King Rail? I’m not sure. Maybe I did, so maybe it’s half-a-lifer, but without a scope to clarify anything, my binoculars could not discern any detail on the likely suspect and my camera lens was no better at deciphering a preening bird at the water’s edge.

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But rarer birds have a way of showing up when you least expect them. So it is with the Yellow-Breasted Chat. When I think of all the Chats I have heard and never seen on their breeding grounds, seeing and photographing one this morning had all the sweetness of any surprise. I was first drawn to the yellow bird by its behavior kiting after insects. Then when it perched I realized it was a Chat, however far away. This species is still considered a warbler.

I was photographing anything I could focus on before identifying it. So it was with the Grasshopper Sparrow below.

And this elusive Sedge Wren too.

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Sedge Wren

This Indigo Bunting was right out in the open. With the abundant sunshine, he picked the right day to do it.

Likewise with this young Baltimore Oriole, but so far away.

Some wildflowers in bloom…the first one is not Blazing Star but similar, and then Bergamot which is now in my yard, and in the lower right hand corner, Wild Parsnip, something I never noticed before but recognized right away this time after all the parsnip growing in my yard.

For all the abundance of Red-Winged Blackbirds I almost tend to ignore them, and in some measure it’s a defensive action because they can get testy this time of year, as you probably noticed in my last post.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

But sometimes they can be fun to capture anyway.

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a young Eastern Kingbird before, so this was a treat.

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Juvenile Eastern Kingbird

And although Common Yellowthroats are constantly announcing themselves, they’re often hard to see, so I was grateful to these two.

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Common Yellowthroat

COYT Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5078I still have a few photos to share from Sunday’s adventures and that could still happen. The remedy for all this is to just stop taking pictures but there is always more to see.

I’m glad I got to Goose Lake Prairie, I missed it last year. The other Goose Lake Conservation Area awaits exploration.

Paul Douglas Part II

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

No surprise there were many Song Sparrows singing on Sunday, so while I can’t be sure whether the recorded song belongs to the bird above, it could be.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

There were several Savannah Sparrows too, but traffic noise made it difficult to record them singing. I managed to get a little song here.

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows

Early into the walk, I saw these two Northern Rough-Winged Swallows resting.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

While several Great Blue Herons and finally one Great Egret flew over, I liked this Double-Crested Cormorant, perhaps because it’s easier to get away with a silhouette and less detail.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I think the Dragonfly above is a Female Widow Skimmer, but I could be wrong, so if there are any dragonfly enthusiasts out there, please weigh in!

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

Cabbage Whites seem to be the dominant butterfly species of the week. Up until last week I seemed to be seeing Mourning Cloaks frequently.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

This Yellow Warbler was singing but I didn’t manage to get a decent recording. I only have two hands, and while I sometimes try to balance the camera in one hand and the recorder in the other, it’s usually futile, not to mention I wind up recording a lot of shutter clicks. The warblers were moving fast, and they don’t sing continuously. The photo option won out.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

As far as I can tell, the Brown Thrasher above is a juvenile bird.

Bobolink

Bobolink

Near the end of my walk, I ventured way down to the end of the parking lot to see if anything different was going on the opposite side of the marsh which I had walked past on the trail. It was getting hotter and later so I did not have much hope for anything new. Then, as I turned to go back toward my car, I realized I was hearing birds in the grassland directly beside me. So I stopped to listen, and heard the Bobolink above, a Meadowlark which I didn’t see until later, and what would prove to be a Grasshopper Sparrow.

Female Bobolink

Female Bobolink

I have not seen many Female Bobolinks and so was stumped for a while by the above image, but after a lengthy process of elimination it occurred to me who she was.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The Meadowlark finally showed up, although he would not come close enough for a good picture.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

And here is my surprise bird, the Grasshopper Sparrow. I have longed to see this bird for years. They are endangered in Illinois, so it is always a thrill to find one. And to see one, who seemed to be so comfortable sitting out there…maybe he’s a youngster. Anyway, below is a recording of all three birds and probably a few more singing along.

Bobolink

Bobolink

After the Flood: Part One

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer, Ottawa Trail Woods

The weather has suddenly changed to hot, humid and sunny, and with it the landscape, but I don’t want to forget the last two weeks entirely as all the water has officially taken us off the drought list.

Flooding IMG_5793_1

So two weekends ago, I went to Ottawa Trail Woods after having been detoured in that direction, trying to get to the Chicago Portage. These pictures are some that I took on that expedition.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were everywhere, enjoying the flooding. The trail was intact, but there was water everywhere else! There were also still a lot of Kinglets.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

It was a great day for swallows, and I managed to get some flight pictures, which I always consider a worthy challenge. Both Northern Rough-Winged Swallows…

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

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and Tree Swallows

Tree Swallow IMG_5964_1

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows IMG_5955_1

Tree Swallow IMG_5953_1

Tree Swallow IMG_5945_1

Sapsuckers have mostly moved on, but they can still be seen here and there. The one below is a brightly-colored male. You can almost see the yellow on the belly…?

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Always room for a Black-Capped Chickadee and another Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

BC Chickadee IMG_6056_1

YR Warbler IMG_5888_1

And this Robin looks relieved to have a dry spot to sit in.

American Robin IMG_6105_1

Perhaps my bird of the day was the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. With no leaves up high in the trees to hide in, he was very accessible for a second or two.

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

I look forward to visiting here again, when it’s a little less flooded…

Flooding IMG_5991_1