Fog Settles In

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Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

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Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.

The Quest for Two More Warblers

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Toward the end of the work week I had been thinking of only two things: sleeping in on Saturday to get my sleep for the year, and possibly visiting McGinnis Slough for birds on Sunday.

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A Kentucky Warbler sings at Swallow Cliff Woods

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As luck would have it, tales of a Kentucky Warbler and a Cerulean Warbler emerged on the IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) list-serve toward the end of the week, and with the birds being seen at Swallow Cliff Woods, which is just up the street from McGinnis Slough, I decided to try for these two warblers that are unusual in this area. Warbler migration is pretty much over with anyway, so the chance to see these two special birds was irresistible.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

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Thanks to birders already on the scene I had no problem finding the two birds, and several mosquito bites later, I had pictures and recordings of their songs as well. The Cerulean was harder to photograph even when it dropped down to less than neck-breaking level, because the backlighting made it impossible to capture his delicate blueness.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Thanks to all the good-natured, generous birder souls who helped me get on these birds.

By the time I got to McGinnis Slough it was getting hot. I didn’t know what to expect this time of year, overlapping passerine migration and the presence of breeding birds. I didn’t have a scope with me, but there did not appear to be much action in the water anyway. The main action occurred overhead with Red-Winged Blackbirds chasing Red-Tailed Hawks. I managed to get a few pictures of one Red-Winged Blackbird catching a ride on the raptor. Have to wonder how that feels, to be a small bird riding on a predator of all things. The Red-Tail was not happy about it.

Red-Tailed Hawk chased by two Red-Winged Blackbirds

Red-Tailed Hawk chased by two Red-Winged Blackbirds

Click on the pictures to see larger images.

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Shortly after the Red-Tailed Hawk/Red-Winged Blackbird saga, I ran into a friendly couple, Julie and Jim, and their new shelter puppy Annabelle whose mother was a Border Collie and the father was undetermined (but probably safe to assume it was not the mailman) – she’s a very pretty dog – and we had a very nice visit. I hope to encounter Julie and Jim again, and welcome them to my blog. There is definitely a magical quality to McGinnis and the nicest surprises happen when I least expect them.

There were other species besides these two at McGinnis but most were either distant or heard only. As the mid-day heat approached and weekend chores beckoned, I took a few shots at a Red-Winged Blackbird guarding his territory and headed back home.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

In the next few days and weeks I hope to get caught up with all the travel pictures for inspiration.

But for now I will sing the Sunday-evening-gotta-go-to-work-tomorrow blues, succumb to general exhaustion and get ready for bed.

Thanks to all who follow this blog and check in every once in a while. I will try to be a better blogger (I get twinges of guilt every few days when I haven’t posted or managed to even read anybody else’s blog)…

Good night and sweet dreams.

Is It Spring Yet?

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Any prediction of warmer temperatures and sunshine, however brief, is all it takes to make me a little nuts these days, especially if it falls on a weekend. So Sunday I tested the forecast for the last days of March and headed toward the Palos Forest Preserves of Cook County, starting with my favorite, McGinnis Slough.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbirds were singing on territory, but much of the water was still frozen. I managed to see ten species of ducks, including Ring-Necked, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Blue-Winged Teal and Green-Winged Teal, plus American Coots and there was one Trumpeter Swan at the far side of the larger expanse of water.

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Not much in the way of land birds, save a few skittish Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Even the closer ducks at McGinnis’s south end were still too far away to photograph, but that never stops me.

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From McGinnis, I went next to Saganashkee Slough, where American White Pelicans and Common Loon had been reported. I saw neither, but added Red-Breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, White-Winged Scoter, Pin-Tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye to my duck list. There was also a distant Horned Grebe and an immature Bald Eagle soaring over the water. It was even more useless to photograph anything here but I’m still including a picture of a lot of white blobs that were Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee Slough

On the way home, I stopped at The Chicago Portage to see if anything new was going on since last week. It was midday so I didn’t expect to see many birds. But there was a lot of melt and mud.

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And a White-Breasted Nuthatch, heard first and seen at a distance later.

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Also heard before seen, a male Belted Kingfisher. This guy was really far away but the camera saw him. I think this might be the first one I have actually seen at the Portage.

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I decided to capture a close-up of some lichens growing on a dead stump, the only green going on.

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So much for the early spring report, it’s back to finishing going through my Belize pictures. It won’t be long before McGinnis is full of Great Blue Herons like this one. Only the vegetation will look a bit different… 🙂

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

 

Spring Eclectic

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

I’m feeling the effects of too many trips. I haven’t changed time zones, and I thought going short distances would be a piece of cake, but it seems every time I leave, for all the last-minute preparations, I may as well be leaving the country.

I’m still combing through the photos of the past week, but thought I’d post a couple birds with songs from pictures I took this morning. I visited McLaughry Springs Woods and McGinnis Slough, both in the Palos region of southwest Cook County, Illinois. 

Baltimore Oriole - McLaughry Springs

Baltimore Oriole – McLaughry Springs

This Oriole was singing at McLaughry Springs, but he was camera-shy. It was a lot easier to take photos of the Oriole near the parking lot at McGinnis, as he was trying to distract me from finding his mate sitting on the nest.

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Then, while I was briefly in St. Louis, I took an early morning walk Friday through the park that spans either side of the Arch running along the river.

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In the Arch park, there were at least four Warbling Vireos singing, although I saw only one briefly. There were not very many species present. Oddly enough, the only bird I managed to photograph was a female Baltimore Oriole.

Female Baltimore Oriole

Female Baltimore Oriole

In any event, below is the Warbling Vireo who posed for me at McGinnis. I didn’t manage to record his song, but have substituted one from the St. Louis birds. The busy-sounding vireo song is running alongside some chirps from a Robin in the foreground.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

And for a last image, here is a real surprise. Just as I got out of my car and got my gear together at McGinnis, I saw a distant Yellow-Billed Cuckoo fly into a tree. The Cuckoo did its best to hide but I managed to get this picture before it gave up its perch to a Robin. This is a bird I rarely see.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

I’ll try to manage another post before the Memorial Day weekend. 🙂

From Loons to Parakeets

Common Loon, Saganashkee Slough

Common Loon, Saganashkee Slough

I’d been thinking all week about where to go on Easter Sunday. My friends had been to various haunts all week while I was at work, and I was tempted by their destinations. While I had a general idea where these places were, I had never found some of them on my own before. It was fun to get out the maps Saturday night and plan my “trip.”

My main focus was bodies of water in the Palos area of the Cook County Forest Preserves, where Common Loons had been seen. I started out at Tampier Lake, which is positively sprawling. My first bird there was a Song Sparrow, doing what Song Sparrows do best.

Song Sparrow, Tampier Lake

Song Sparrow, Tampier Lake

There were a couple loons and dozens of other waterfowl, too distant to photograph, so after I got satisfying scoped views, I headed toward my next stop: Saganashkee Slough, where I was close enough to a Common Loon for the opening photo. Ring-Billed Gulls were everywhere; this one caught a fish.

Ring-Billed Gull, Saganashkee Slough

Ring-Billed Gull, Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee is a long, strung-out body of water that covers a large area. After I counted all the birds I could see, I headed to Maple Lake, a smaller, contained lake surrounded by woods. I saw two more Common Loons there and distant views of Redheads and Scaup. Mentally, I was taking notes for future visits to all these places.

I stopped at The Little Red Schoolhouse which has a nature center. Families were out in the cool but sunny weather. After walking part of a short trail, I found this Red-Headed Woodpecker near the parking lot.

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Though he gave me many excellent poses when he was exposed on the open limb above, I like the way he looks best behind the few twigs below. The twig cover is probably when, and why, he let me get closer to him.

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There were a couple Brown-Headed Cowbirds strutting their stuff too.

Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Little Red Schoolhouse

Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Little Red Schoolhouse

My last destination was a power company substation in northwest DuPage County where Monk Parakeets had taken up residence. We used to have a flock locally but I haven’t seen Monks for quite a while in my neighborhood. Time to see some green birds.

I didn’t find them immediately, so I took a walk into a small section of Churchill Woods that runs next to a nearby open space. Besides a Red-Tailed Hawk,

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and a Turkey Vulture,

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I had my first-of-year Eastern Phoebe.

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Eastern Phoebe

The section of Churchill Woods below reminds me a little bit of the Portage.

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The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below reminds me of the first time I ever saw one of them. The scarlet shade of red on its head is so distinctive.

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Churchill Woods had its own number of Song Sparrows, this one foraging in dried stalks.

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As I headed back toward my car, I heard the Monk Parakeets. They were flying into the trees along a dirt road that runs between the substation and the forest preserve. At first they came to taunt me, and then when I told them my friend had sent me, they flew in closer to check me out.

Monk Parakeet, DuPge County

Monk Parakeet, DuPage County

Except for the guy behind me in a monster SUV–whose foot must have slipped off the brake pedal as we were waiting for the stop light to change, jolting my bumper (except for a little lost paint, car and driver are okay)–it was a pretty perfect day.

Migration Madness

Eastern Wood-Pewee

I don’t chase birds, and it seems I have had fewer opportunities than I’d like lately to search for birds even in the most convenient places. So I try to make the most out of the chances I do get.

Wilson’s Warbler

Tuesday morning on the way back to work from the Labor Day weekend, I saw this Wilson’s Warbler at 155 N. Wacker.

American Redstart

The warblers in particular have been scarce in the city parks, if not in the “hot spots,” but I don’t like going back into the city on the weekend after migrating to and from it all week, so today I decided to get to the Chicago Portage early and then go to Palos.

Outside of American Redstarts at the Portage, I had a Connecticut Warbler and a male Black-Throated Blue, but neither of them wanted their pictures taken.

I got a little luckier at Palos, which holds a large area of contiguous forest preserves in southern Cook County. I parked in the south Swallow Cliff lot and took off on the yellow trail. I had looked it up before I went and knew it formed a continuous loop through several forest preserve areas. The entire loop is more than 8 miles. Without realizing the consequences of such a hike, I embarked upon the trek.

Blue Jay

The slowest part of my walk was in the beginning. There were Blue Jays and Eastern Wood=Pewees everywhere. I tend not to think of Blue Jays as migrants, but of course they are. To my delight, several jays sang over the course of my walk, and I always had to stop and listen. Not one song matched another.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

It took quite a while to hit pockets of warblers and when I did it was sometimes difficult to identify them all. I didn’t get many pictures of them, but this Chestnut-Sided Warbler was most cooperative.

The Yellow Trail is frequented by runners, cyclists and horseback riders. Not necessarily the ideal birdwatching situation. But I got used to it after a while and figured the birds were pretty used to it too.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

I’m pretty tired and sore from the trek. I know I will be sore tomorrow, but my four plus miles of walking to the train and back are less strenuous than today’s workout. It was good to see some birds.

Eastern Wood-Pewee