Long Before the Rain

It’s been almost 3 months, which seems hard to believe, but this is a more historical account from McGinnis Slough for birds seen on September 19th, when the slough looked more like a marsh at best. Yet there was more bird activity and a couple less common sightings.

It started off inauspiciously with a European Starling.

But at some point I found a Northern Waterthrush, which is a warbler species I haven’t seen in a long time. They aren’t particularly rare but they don’t travel around in warbler flocks and are often close to water and the ground.

One of my first White-throated Sparrows of the season was in the grass.

Perhaps the bird of the day as far as offering itself up for photographs was Palm Warbler.

Among the land birds was this Swainson’s Thrush.

The Double-Crested Cormorant below gave me several expressions of its flight pattern.

More views of the faded-looking Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly at the top of the post.

I never know exactly where I can expect to see a Great Blue Heron here but I practically always do.

More flying birds to capture – a Great Egret and, of all things, a Blue Jay or two, which don’t normally make themselves so available.

Two warblers – a Nashville and then below, a female Common Yellowthroat.

I saw Gray Catbirds at this location more than once.

The light played interesting tricks on these two Wood Ducks flying through the marsh.

The rose mallow flowers seemed late and sparse but they prevailed.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler blending in below.

More flying birds. Cedar Waxwings directly below, and below them, the inevitable Canada Geese.

A couple views of the parched-looking slough.

And a closer-cropped view of the Great Egret seen in the flight sequence above, after it landed.

I have been seeing some amazing birds all week which has kept me more than busy. Even though migration has slowed down, there are still birds to be seen. I will be back as soon as possible with more recent sightings.

Spring Comes to the Portage

Too many birds, too many pictures and not enough time. How can that be? I give up, at least for the moment. Yesterday’s summery sunshiny weather produced some wonderful encounters with birds that simply cannot wait. Pushing all my other planned posts, aside, here we go!

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers have arrived in abundance and were generally the first to distract me. They are notoriously difficult to photograph but yesterday was the exception. In the sequence below this perched bird, I happened upon a Blue-Gray at waist-level, focused on obtaining web filaments for its nest.

It was a treat to see this Swainson’s Thrush, however briefly..

Another skulker I don’t think I’ve ever seen here before was the Northern Waterthrush below. I was sitting down on a rock-like seat that looks over the water and noticed something moving.

Every year when I hear House Wrens I have to refigure them out, I don’t know why. And then they just sing ad infinitum before I ever see one. I managed to glimpse this one way up high in a treetop.

Not that I’m lacking for pictures, but this Tree Swallow didn’t make it into the last post and is here to represent the ones I saw yesterday but did not get a chance to photograph.

So now we come to the highlight of my day. It had been a sort of slow morning, actually, compared to the day before – which I hope to get around to in a not-too-distant future post – and I was a bit disappointed that I was seeing hardly any warblers. I speculated maybe the warm and calm winds on Saturday night were favorable to migrants continuing their voyages north and they weren’t stopping if they didn’t have to. So as I walked slowly back down the trail from where I’d seen the Waterthrush, I stopped when I heard a call that might be described as a sneezy trill followed by raspberries. It had been so long since I studied warbler calls, I wasn’t sure, so I checked the Sibley app on my phone as quietly as possible, and sure enough, I was in the presence of a Blue-Winged Warbler. I haven’t seen more than an unsatisfying glimpse of a Blue-Winged in years. So when two of them showed up in front of me, I was temporarily transported to bliss, away from the extra weight of being human lately. I could almost hear them saying “Hey, lady, nice Portage you got here.”

Among the other creatures coming back to life at the Portage, turtles and frogs.

Painted Turtle

There was this Chorus Frog American Toad crossing the trail. He sang for me. I have placed a brief recording of his song below him. Unfortunately, there’s a slow-moving freight train in the background. – Thanks to my friend Leslie, I have been corrected. I thought he looked more like a toad but I didn’t know toads sing!

In the sparrow department, a Chipping Sparrow, one of several elusive but very vocal Song Sparrows and a couple somewhat backlit photos of a Swamp Sparrow.

Most numerous at the moment are probably the White-Throated Sparrows but they’re just passing through.

White-Throated Sparrow

Warbling Vireos are back in force. I heard more on Saturday than I did yesterday but I managed to slightly photograph this one.

Warbling Vireo
Northern Cardinal in a nice spot, if distant

A Great Blue Heron flew right over my head.

Two common species of butterfly have been around this week, the Painted Lady and the Red Admiral.

Baltimore Orioles have arrived. I wonder if they’re possibly the same ones that visited my yard for the last time on Friday (I had three at once).

I was almost at the parking lot when I heard, and then saw, three Indigo Buntings – on the paved trail. They must have just arrived – getting their bearings, so to speak, because I have never seen them so tame. I’m sure I’ll be struggling to get any pictures of them the rest of the breeding season.

Here’s another Indigo Bunting I saw a bit earlier.

One of many singing male American Goldfinches

Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are still around, although I think these must be the females as I haven’t seen a red crown patch on any individuals for a week or more. But this one sure is a cutie.

A few views of the landscape.

Turtles basking in the sun.

The Portage is starting to green up. Pretty soon the water will be entirely green with duck weed.

This has to be my favorite photograph – the Blue-Winged showing off his worm.

Maybe you can tell I’ve been writing this post in fits and starts. It’s a bit disorganized because I inadvertently clicked on the “group” feature which seems to have cemented some unintended parts together, but I’m too lazy to start over again.

We have dropped thirty degrees back into cooler temperatures, and I guess that’s okay for Monday, but I want to hold onto the beauty of this past weekend as long as possible. I am thankful for spring migration and for my indoor birds, making it easier to get out of bed in the morning – albeit earlier and earlier as the days get longer!

Suddenly Spring

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Northern Waterthrush

I almost could have called it “Suddenly This Summer” because on May 1 we skipped spring and went straight into summer temperatures by noon. But along with the sudden push of warm air from the south came a lot of migrating birds, and after all, it was finally the real start to Spring Migration.

As luck would have it I was near the lakefront for the last part of the stem cell procedure on my right knee, which consisted of a blood draw early in the morning and then having a few hours before a return to the doctor’s office for the final injection. I realized the location’s potential the week before when I had the major procedure done. The medical building is virtually right across the street from North Pond, which is a favorite hot spot with lakefront birders. The week before it was blustery and cold with only a few of the hardiest migrants. But now I had a birder in my friend Lesa to whom I am grateful for being my chauffeur for the day. I was walking without crutches if moving slowly, but I was walking, and slow is generally good for birding. The slower you move, the more birds you eventually will see. And seeing birds was a great distraction from whatever pain I was feeling.

Perhaps the first warblers to greet us were four or five Ovenbirds poking about in the grass. Even though the weather was warmer, the trees and accompanying insects had not caught up with it yet and so a lot of birds were foraging on the ground for something to eat. The ground is an Ovenbird’s preferred foraging spot anyway. Ovenbirds can be nearly impossible to see on their breeding grounds, but in migration on the lakefront they are all over the place this year. I have seen them since everywhere I go for midday walks near my workplace.

Then it seemed there were Black-Throated Green Warblers everywhere.

Predictably, especially in the grass, were Palm Warblers. A note about these pictures, being my first warbler photographs of the season. The morning started off a bit overcast, and then I had only my 75-300mm lens as it seemed ridiculous to be carrying around anything larger in my compromised condition, so I didn’t get quite the clarity I wanted for many of these birds. But it was just such a joyous way to spend a medical day and provided an extra therapeutic perk altogether.

I am always so happy to see a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s not quite rare, but you never see more than one of them at a time, and they’re such delicate-looking little birds.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were predictable, but not easy to capture as they frantically searched for food.

Our look at the Pine Warbler below was brief, but this is a more unusual species in migration so I am glad I got this shot.

PIWA 5-1-18-1893The three species below are Yellow, Black-and-White, and Nashville Warblers.

Another spring migrant that seems to be showing up in force is the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Meanwhile, on their way out were Golden-Crowned Kinglet on the left and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet on the right, below.

Then there are the migrating Thrushes. Two below are a Swainson’s Thrush on the left and a Gray-Cheeked Thrush on the right.

I have been out since last Tuesday and have a lot more pictures to process and share with you, but it’s been really difficult to get caught up. All I can say is every day I’m a little bit better and there have even been a few moments when I’ve forgotten about my knee altogether!

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White-Crowned Sparrow

Below, two glimpses of a female Eastern Towhee…

I will be back soon with more from Instant Spring Migration. Until then, spring on!

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Tennessee Warbler

 

City Stopovers

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Here are a few pictures taken at various times over the past few weeks, all in downtown Chicago…

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I never manage to see enough of any one species to tire of them. Although Tennessee Warblers often appear abundant, they are not always easy to capture. For comparison with a species they resemble, I have an Orange-Crowned Warbler below.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

There seemed to be fewer birds altogether this year, but I don’t know if it is due to loss of habitat, weather patterns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination of all three.

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Northern Waterthrush

I frequently see Northern Waterthrushes on the ground, but less often perched in trees.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

The day I saw the Kentucky Warbler, there were so few birds altogether at Lake Shore East Park I wasn’t even aware I had seen this rarity until I checked my photographs later. The bird kept ducking in and out of hydrangeas planted near the east end of the park and I was consumed with trying to stop it long enough for a picture.

American Redstart

American Redstart

First-year male American Redstarts seem to be born exhibitionists, on the other hand.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

This Blackpoll was pretty cooperative too on the day I saw it.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

And Common Yellowthroats, as difficult as they are to see on their breeding grounds…are frequent park visitors.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

A Hermit Thrush reminding me It’s The Food, Stupid.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At 155 N. Wacker there haven’t been very many birds, but last week there was this sapsucker scaling a wall.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And a White-Crowned Sparrow popped out last week at a new spot on the river that looks promising for future visits.

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City Frog

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Perhaps the strangest thing I saw this fall was a frog in the corner of one of these wrought-iron-encased planters on Randolph near Wacker. How it got there boggles the mind.

It’s time to say goodbye to the warblers until spring. But many more sparrows are likely to be showing up. I’m thankful for that because they tend to be easier to see! And at least I can always carry on a conversation with White-Throated Sparrows.

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City Visitors, or Where the Birds Are

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Apologies to all my followers for not posting sooner (and all those I follow for not showing up), but I have been busy with work and trying to spend every free moment paying attention to birds indoors and out, so by the time I get around to reviewing photos I fall asleep. So there have been about 10 potential blog posts running out of my head over the last two weeks before I could hang onto them.

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

So before I fell asleep again last night as it was past my bed time, I decided to simply share with you some of my favorite subjects over the past week from a couple city parks and green spaces. Except for the Least Flycatcher, I have limited this post to warbler species.

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

The first day I found the Black-Throated Green Warbler at Union Station, there was also a Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing and a Baltimore Oriole singing as well. Actually it was the Baltimore Oriole’s song that drew my attention to the now-fenced-in-for-no-obvious-reason garden area. The fact that the garden area was inaccessible to me and the smokers who like to sit on the benches probably made it more attractive to the bugs and the birds who were eating them. I did not get a great picture of the Black-Throated Blue, but was glad to see him. The Oriole was coy but uncooperative.

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Male Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Lake Shore East Park has been my most constant afternoon destination, and there were a couple good days, but it doesn’t seem as birdy as last year or the year before. The weather has been a factor all spring too, with alternating warm fronts and cold fronts confusing everything. We are presently about thirty degrees cooler than we were on Monday. Monday was hot.

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatchers were fairly common for a couple days. Catbirds have been regular sightings in every nook and cranny.

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Male American Redstarts come in two plumages. The first-year males still look a bit like the females, only orangey instead of a paler yellow. The after-first-year males are black and orange-red.

American Redstart

American Redstart

American Redstart, first-year male

American Redstart, first-year male

Hardly a day has gone by that I have not seen or heard a Northern Waterthrush. I usually see them on the lawn, so it was nice to catch one resting on a branch.

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbirds are still around, too.

Ovenbird, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbird, Millennium Park

Spring would not be spring without male Magnolia Warblers.

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Redstarts are everywhere now. The adult males seem to like to show off.

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Below is a first-year male, looking eager to start his first breeding season.

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I hope to get another post or two in order over the Memorial Day weekend (thunderstorms are predicted for Memorial Day). As always I think I will be able to conquer my entire to-do list because I have an extra day. So far Saturday’s weather looks best, so that will be a birding day. Passerine migration is nearly over, but I need proof.

Strolling Through Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

Up until the arrival of the famous Harris’s Sparrow in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden, I was routinely spending my late afternoon lunch hours in Lake Shore East Park. The two parks are not very far away from each other, but there is much less foot or tourist traffic in Lake Shore East Park, so I have been going there more often. Which is not to say it lacks people. There are frequently people walking their dogs or children in baby strollers.

Hermit Thrushes

Hermit Thrushes – I counted 11 individuals at one time (here’s 4 of them)

I have been trying to write this post since October 9. On that day, the most numerous birds in the park were predictably White-Throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes. The Hermit Thrushes were the largest group I have ever seen. Even going back the next day I counted 12 of them.

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Perhaps you’ve seen Robins pull worms out of the earth, but this is the first time I’ve caught a Hermit Thrush in the act.

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Hermit

Juncos have shown up here and there, although not in numbers yet.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

The fountains have been shut down for the winter, leaving their rocky bottoms free for exploration.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

Other birds I saw that day were two Brown Creepers and an American Redstart. I did not get photographs of them, though. So here’s a couple more of Hermit Thrushes.  The remaining pictures except for the last one are from October 1, but they were also taken in Lake Shore East Park.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

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But my most pleasant encounter on October 9 was a human one. Soon after I arrived at the park, a woman walking her dog approached me and asked about my camera equipment. This is the second time this month I have met people this way: Canon must have put some new elixir in the 70D! We got to talking about photography and birds and then she let it slip that she was from the East Coast and amazed to see a Redstart in this small park in the city. She said she was in town to sing at the opera.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

A brief cloud of Opera Guilt wafted over me. (I was a subscriber for several years but gave it up along with my other subscriptions a few years ago because I realized I no longer had the time or energy to do everything, so it was time to focus on birds and music.) When I told her the birds have taken over my life she understood. Then I thought to myself surely I should maybe recognize her but you rarely get to see an opera singer out of costume. I asked, and she said she was Stephanie Blythe. I confirmed later that she is singing Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera. I didn’t faint, but I will say I haven’t had a brush with fame in many, many years…!

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Stephanie stopped me again to ask me about a bird or two she had seen (one turned out to be one of the Creepers I saw later after I talked to her) and I felt so lucky to have made her acquaintance. She also seemed happy to have found a kindred spirit. But as excited as I was to have met her, I was reluctant to write about it, right away. I didn’t want her to be mobbed by opera fanatics. (In retrospect, I’m thinking very few people even know the park exists.)

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

As it turns out I did not see Stephanie again (turning in ebird lists I was tempted to note “no opera singers today” but restrained myself). Chances are her rehearsal schedule and my work schedule kept us from running into each other again. But listening to the Operathon on WFMT on Saturday, October 11th, there was an offer for two tickets to any opera, and a choice of dates, with seats on the first floor, for a donation, the amount of which was much less than the cost of the tickets. This was too good to pass up: it would be wonderful to use this as an opportunity to see Stephanie sing. I have heard her on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, but was no longer a subscriber by the time she started singing at the Lyric.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

So I got tickets for opening night for Il Trovatore, an opera I have never seen. I am taking my friend from the former workplace: it will be her first opera. The way this whole thing has turned out really feels like kismet or karma or something.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Ultimately I must give the birds credit for everything. They continue to enrich my life. The birds paid attention to the music, then enticed me into green spaces every day I can manage to hang out with them. The birds know a bird person, and I think kindred spirits do too. One more time, in an entirely new context, the birds have returned the favor and my attention to the music.

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Fall Frustrations

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Nashville Warbler, Columbus Park

The days are getting shorter, there are still fall migrants coming through, the weather has been beautiful the last day or two and I feel like I’m running around in circles just trying to get normal things accomplished, and then I’m out of time for everything. Everything being the moment to sit still, observe, reflect, be…

Magnolia Warbler, Columbus Park

Magnolia Warbler, Columbus Park

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Truth be told I did not stay in last Sunday because the rain was threatening but not really materializing, so I managed to visit the Portage and almost envisioned doing a post about what surprises were there, but I keep succumbing to that temptation (“What’s your favorite photograph?” “The one I just took”) and then I never get back to documenting previous outings. So while I have been recalcitrant catching up with other bloggers I am going to try at least to catch up a bit with myself.

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American Redstart

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Whatever my obsession to try to hold on to the last experience, these pictures are more from the 13th trip to Columbus Park, which is a park on the west side of Chicago, making it barely a stone’s throw away. There’s a nice water feature going on at the park, and perhaps the star was a juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron contemplating how to make a living.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Also present, a Pied-Billed Grebe and a Great Blue Heron. I don’t recall if I realized the Blue-Winged Teal was eating a crabapple when I took the picture but it seems a little odd.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Blue-Winged Teal eating crabapple

Blue-Winged Teal eating crabapple

There were two young Cooper’s Hawks present.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

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A fellow participant pointed out the caterpillar to me. I did not have my macro lens handy so it’s not a great picture, but I think it looks like a sphinx moth. I confess to being very lazy and I have not tried to look it up.

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

I must leave this page, it’s getting late and I have to get up and go to work. I hope to return in a better mood. Tomorrow night is the first rehearsal for the choir I have signed up for. I have received the first email from Bill Hilton about November’s Costa Rica trip. There’s room for more participants: he didn’t say how many we were but the optimum number is 12. Time for me to start thinking about this trip. I’m looking forward to contributing to Bill’s research for a week.

Juv BCNH Columbus Park 9-13-14-5547

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.