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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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

 

Post in search of a title

Monarch McGinnis 09-17-17-8326

A last Monarch…

As I sat here last night trying to make sense of this random conglomeration of images before I went to bed, I wondered if we would indeed finally get some rain. It seems even our impending drought cannot ignore the possible impact of Nate, the current tropical storm. We have had some constant drizzly rain and it looks like we should eventually get some cloudbursts. But appearances on the radar can be deceiving. I will keep my hopes up.CEWA Portage 09-09-17-8040RWBL Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8112Continuing with last month’s visits to nearby Cook County Forest Preserves, young birds like the Cedar Waxwing and Red-Winged Blackbird above were getting ready to leave. It’s become evident to me over the past few years that European Starlings like the one below are not necessarily winter residents either. But the young Mourning Dove blending in with the dead stump below the it will likely stay.EUST Portage 09-09-17-7747MODO Portage 09-09-17-7734Hidden in the leaves about waist-length from the ground at Ottawa Trail was the Ovenbird below.OVEN Ottawa Trail 09-09-17-8061And there just seemed to be too many ways to capture Northern Flickers. They have likely pretty much disappeared by now too. For a last look you can click on the pictures below for larger images.

 

American Robins don’t disappear completely in the winter but they will be traveling in flocks soon searching for any fruit left on trees.

Another hardy winter resident is the Black-Capped Chickadee.BCCH McGinnis 09-17-17-8303A few more Red-Winged Blackbirds.RWBL Portage 09-09-17-7794

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Ottawa Trail’s landmark tree

Last year following my cataract surgery I got all turned around and could not find the trail that runs along the Des Plaines River at Ottawa Trail, but now I am finding it easily, and one reason why is because I have always located the landmark tree above.NOCA Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8074I am grateful for Northern Cardinals. They will be here all winter to brighten up the landscape.

 

I’ll be back soon with the last warblers… Still trying to find that work/bird-and-choir-life balance. I will bow deeply at the first thunder clap.

 

 

Gems of Spring

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Magnolia Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Well, the Spring Warbler Migration has been in some kind of full swing, in fits and starts, depending on the weather and, for me, my work schedule…

I have more photos of more birds to process but I wanted to share some images taken on various days in different places in and around the Chicago Loop. I think someone should come up with a set of colors named after these birds, like “Wilson’s Warbler Yellow” and “Canada Warbler Blue.”

The male American Redstarts below show a second-or-more year male (the bright orange, black and white guy) and a first year male who has only a hint of that orange going on his flank but was happy to confirm his Redstartness by flashing his tail.

I had to dig hard to get the pictures of the Canada Warbler below. He was buried well into this flowering tree in Lake Shore East Park but we managed to communicate through a tiny window. Click on the pictures to see them better.

Below, Black-and-White Warblers, male and female, both seen in Millennium Park on different days. The female is in the lower right photograph.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers with their little black caps. This guy was flitting about in the trees looking for insects at Lake Shore East Park on Monday afternoon.

I have seen several Ovenbirds but they have not been volunteering for pictures. I barely caught the one below off guard.

OVEN LSE Park 5-16-2016-1096After all the Yellow-Rumped Warblers appear to have moved on, below is a female. You can make a comparison to the male below her.

YRWA Portage 5-1-2016-7905Common as they are, Common Yellowthroats are still pretty.

I had too many pictures of this Magnolia Warbler to choose from, so here’s another.

MAWA LSE Park 5-16-2016-1054I’ll be back with more Warblers and other birds of 2016 Spring Migration.

Summer in the City

Hanging out at the water fountain

Hanging out at the water fountain

Last week was hot and for all practical purposes, dry. It was almost hard to find motivation to trade the too-cold office air conditioning for hot-and-muggy outside but sitting around all day doesn’t suit me, so when there was time available for a stroll, I took one. Things calmed down at the office considerably by Friday and that was my longest outing.

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 8-11-15

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 8-11-15

Earlier in the week, however, as I sat in my chosen shady spot near the bike racks, the Ovenbird reappeared looking much more adult.

Juvenile Crow Millennium 8-11-15-8779 Juvenile Crow Millennium 8-11-15-8765

The new crows were molting.

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And the Monarchs were still sallying.

Friday, because I had some extra time, I decided to go down to the lakefront, where even the Canada Geese were trying to stay out of the sun.

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Juvenile Mallard

I had almost forgotten Friday was the day before the annual Air and Water Show put on by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, but the roar of jets overhead soon reminded me. This was their practice session, inspiring awe on the ground.

Blue Angels 8-14-15-9183Blue Angels 8-14-15-9124Blue Angels 8-14-15-9116Blue Angels 8-14-15-9095Blue Angels 8-14-15-9079Blue Angels 8-14-15-9048

Blue Angels 8-14-15-9148On the way back to the office, as I stopped to take a picture of some Chicago Lego-style architecture, the unknown young man below insisted I take his picture. By the time I got him in focus his friend put his hand behind his head. I don’t know what he thought I would do with this picture, but if you recognize him, let him know I didn’t simply delete it and this could be 2 of his 15 seconds of fame. (I’m used to people handing me their own cameras or cell phones and asking me to take pictures of them, in fact, I did so for someone that day.)Building 8-14-15-9112

Do you know him?

Do you know him?

The sad story is that on Saturday, the first day of the actual event, a midair accident befell two parachutists in the Air and Water Show. (The parachutists, from the Navy Leap Frogs and the Army Golden Knights teams, were not present on the Friday practice runs.) Tragically, one of them died the next day. The Sunday show was cancelled. I missed hearing about this until Monday because my TV service has been down since Friday night. It’s still down, but I am glad I didn’t post all these pictures before hearing about the tragedy.

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Post-pourri

Comma  7-23-15-7983Apologies for the bad pun. It’s been a busy, fragmented, hot week and a half or so. Also, the past weekend was one long party, with no birds in attendance. I am not used to being much of a social butterfly.

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A moth casts a shadow at Lurie Garden

I haven’t been out much during the day either. If I didn’t know better I might think the crows have given up on me, but I suspect it’s lack of the quiet shady spots we used to have, where we could convene without a steady stream of human beings. Pigeons are much less picky about habitat but definitely not used to having their pictures taken.

Crow  7-27-15-8012

ROPI 7-14-15-7441ROPI 7-24-15-8001On the days I have gone out, I have managed to keep amused. One bright spot, for instance, was finding some Monarch Butterflies in Lurie Garden.

Monarch Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7570

There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.

Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7549One afternoon last week standing outside the northern entrance to Lurie, I heard some earnest chirping and determined it was coming out of the small oak tree before me. There were a couple security guards talking to each other totally oblivious to the Robin’s nest I soon located.

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American Robin nestlings

I suspect the Northern Cardinal below is a young bird as well because it seemed to know the peanut was for eating but was perplexed by it anyway.

NOCA 7-14-15-7468NOCA 7-14-15-7460On hot, boring days at Lake Shore East Park, as long as I could find a bench to sit on, I took to photographing the fountains.

Fountain LSE 7-07-15-6698Fountain LSE 7-15-15-7502Then a few days ago I was sitting in the shade across from the east side of the Pritzker Pavilion, waiting for crows, and the little bird below darted out of the yews. The shade was so dense it was hard to get a decent picture, but this is the first time I have seen a juvenile Ovenbird at Millennium Park at the end of July. I was so surprised I thought I was going to get a rare bird alert but Ovenbirds breed in this part of the continent so even though I think it was rare for Millennium Park it’s not unlikely. This is the same spot I heard a White-Throated Sparrow singing a couple weeks ago, which is rare, so maybe just going to sit in this spot isn’t such a bad idea. Crows or no crows.

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Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15

OVEN 7-27-15-8022The greatest reward perhaps is still seeing Monarch Butterflies. I have seen fewer than 20 individuals this summer, at least two of them flying around the cement canyons of LaSalle Street. I hope the Swamp Milkweed is making them feel welcome.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7930Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7918

Stragglers in the City

CONW 6-3-15-4297Unexpected. There are reports of migrant warblers every now and then, here and there, but the warblers are, for all practical purposes, gone except for the few that stay to start families. But after reading every day about a Connecticut Warbler that continued to hang out, for over a week, in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn downtown, I finally got on the subway last Wednesday afternoon and went to see it for myself. It was not my first Connecticut Warbler, but its sheer persistence persuaded me.

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Connecticut Warbler, Holiday Inn, Chicago parking lot

If I regret anything about my visit it was my failure to record his song, because he was a strong, adamant singer and he would knock off a few phrases every five minutes or so.

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For those who are into identifying warblers by their undertail coverts…

For all I know the Connecticut could still be there, although there have been no reports since Saturday. Below is a handsome Gray Catbird that popped out at the Holiday Inn parking lot as well.

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Gray Catbird

The stragglers I encountered almost every day the past two weeks were White-Throated Sparrows. Yesterday they were gone from 155 N. Wacker, but I still heard one singing, of all things, at Union Station. I tried to report it in ebird on my phone app but gave up when it kept challenging me. So much for citizen science.

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A lingering White-Throated Sparrow

Perhaps my favorite late warbler in terms of chutzpah was the little Ovenbird below who made the berm by the bicycle rack at Union Station his territory. He was still singing last week. His habitat wasn’t all cigarette butts but I found it rather poignant that he could endure them.

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Ovenbird at Union Station

Also last week, there was a Chestnut-Sided Warbler at 155 N. Wacker. That was a special treat, even if that space, always in the shadows, made him difficult to photograph.

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Chestnut-Sided Warbler

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There was a female Common Yellowthroat too: a furtive, not-always-so-common sight.

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Common Yellowthroat

Below is my last first-year male American Redstart at 155 N. Wacker.

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The Union Station Ovenbird was just a delight to hang out with. I miss his cheery song already.

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I haven’t heard or seen him this week, so I hope he has moved on to better territory.

OVEN 6-4-15-4420The forecast is for hot, rainy, muggy weather this week. I don’t know if I’m quite ready for the mosquito onslaught.