This will be brief. I went to McGinnis Slough last Sunday to see if maybe I might be present when some Sandhill Cranes were flying over, or just in general to see what the water levels were like. All the rain had made a difference. Where there was no water to be seen before, now the slough looks like a slough again.
No Sandhills flew over. Indeed, not much was flying.
I saw my last Yellow-rumped Warblers of the season.
Red-winged Blackbirds linger.
I’m always happy to see a Pied-billed Grebe.
A Northern Cardinal blended in well with the leaves turning red.
This Song Sparrow wasn’t interested.
It was best to see water again.
For the most part, there were perhaps 200 American Coots scattered all over the slough. They were quite distant, however.
I’m running out of room on the hard drive again so I will be back soon with lots more.
After groveling about making the long drive all the way up to McHenry County around Memorial Day, I went back on July 5th to celebrate my birthday and then again on July 25th. Needless to say now I’m getting used to the drive and the trail and I may have a hard time staying away before October which is when I plan to go back for Sandhill Cranes that purportedly congregate in the fallow farm fields.
I feel like I could start giving some of the individual birds names, like the Willow Flycatcher at the top of the post. I even heard a confirming “fitz-bew” on the last Saturday.
I expected to see more Yellow-headed Blackbirds. On the fifth, the males were really too far away for decent photographs, but I did get to see a female close to the observation deck. I went back on the 25th because I wanted to see many juveniles like I did years ago, but I couldn’t find one Yellow-headed Blackbird anywhere. I must have just missed them. But that’s okay, because I saw some other interesting birds, and it’s just so peaceful to be there. In fact on the second visit when I got there, I had the whole place to myself. I didn’t stay long though because it was very hot.
I found the Gallinule below in my photographs from both visits. This is a great place to go if you carry a spotting scope. But I don’t have the energy to carry a scope and a telephoto lens. Perhaps I should rethink my philosophy of cutting corners. For instance, the combination of two visits in this blog post – it’s becoming evident as I write it that it’s entirely too long.
I did see a pair of Sandhill Cranes on each visit. I have not seen any with offspring, which is a bit disappointing.
Another “only in my photos” discovery – a last Black Tern seen on the 5th. Well, my camera saw it.
Here’s the turtle covered with duck weed that appeared in the background of one of the Yellow-headed Blackbird photos above. If you click on the pictures you can see how the duck weed makes it look like something from another planet.
There are still a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds here and everywhere. They are in no hurry to leave, I suppose, because they won’t have so far to go in the fall.
I was hoping I would find a Yellow-headed Blackbird when I blew this up but it turned out to be a Red-winged Blackbird. That’s okay, it’s kind of nice to see the feather pattern, albeit faded. Below the photo, two different Red-winged calls I heard on these visits.
The “other” blackbird – Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Dragonflies like this place.
On both occasions there were swallows, but in particular on the 25th there seemed to be a lot of them. It was nice to see the Bank Swallows – I don’t see them very often.
The Song Sparrow below was on the 5th. There are two more individuals further down the post whose songs I recorded and put underneath their photographs.
This Yellow Warbler was the last one I saw, on the 5th.
I am quite sure this is probably the same Great Blue Heron, although the photos are from both occasions.
I always seem to startle this Great Egret, which must have been right by the viewing platform as I approached.
A Green Heron flew by twice on the 25th.
Here’s Song Sparrow No. 1 and Song Sparrow No. 2. Song Sparrows reportedly have thousands of songs so it’s not unusual that they were singing different tunes…
And another singer I was happy to record – and manage to photograph, as they are often elusive in the marsh – a Marsh Wren.
My most cooperative subject at this location has been a Willow Flycatcher.
There were a couple distant Wild Turkeys hanging out not far from the Sandhills on the 25th.
Always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly… – I stand corrected. The two on the left are Viceroys!
I think it might be a ground squirrel on the left… there are holes on the trail that look perfect for a ground squirrel. But they could both be Chipmunks…
I found this feather interesting on my walk back to the car on the 25th. I thought it might belong to a hawk or a turkey, even, but none of the extensive feather identification webpages have given me the answer. My first thought was a crow, actually. Maybe I should go with that…
My reward for showing up on the later visit was to see these two Black-crowned Night-Herons arrive and perch not far from the viewing platform. One is an adult, and the other a juvenile.
Many thanks for making it to the end of this long post. As hot as it was a week and a half ago, as I finish writing this, we have dropped down into fall-like temperatures for a couple days. A reminder. I suppose, that nothing stays the same, as if I needed it. No, honestly, it’s absolutely delightful to have the windows open: I feel less confined and it’s delightful. Stay safe and I will see you again soon in another post. 🙂
After the Portage weekend it felt like time to revisit the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and maybe get to see a Black Tern, so I got up early on the 30th — a month ago already! — and went to Goose Lake Natural Area near Hebron. I am beginning to absolutely love this place, except for the hour-and-a-half it takes to get there, but of course that’s why it’s so special. I hope to go back sometime this coming weekend – after I visit the other Goose Lake, which is less of a drive in the opposite direction.
The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were on their territories and the one closest to the trail was easier to see than last time. I think I caught an obscure photo of a female in the top center of the photos below.
The Yellow Warbler below stayed partially hidden, but I caught up with its cousin later.
There were plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds, but the males didn’t offer themselves up for photos. They probably know they are not the main attraction at this place. Below are couple females.
On the walk back to the car I spotted the Wild Turkey below. It was flushed by people approaching from the other direction.
I left thinking I had missed the Black Terns but found this photograph of a fleeting glimpse of one leaving the area.
A family of Pied-Billed Grebes below – I think mom was trying to show the kids how to find food.
I managed to capture the female Belted Kingfisher below flying across the water and then the marsh, looking for a place to perch with her catch.
Willow Flycatchers like this place too.
A couple Great Egrets flew over.
A Common Yellowthroat was bold enough to look me in the lens.
I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher below before I managed to barely see him when I first hit the trail.
A bit puzzled by the nest in the reeds below until it proved to be an American Robin sitting on it. So they do nest in places other than trees and the fascia of suburban houses.
A male Mallard flew by, reminding me that he’s a beautiful bird too.
I’ve been busy at work, so goes the bulk of my laptop time. Hoping for a bit of a respite this coming weekend, and not too many deafening firework explosions. Summer is definitely upon us. Take a deep breath.
Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.
On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.
It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…
And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…
And a juvenile Song Sparrow.
The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.
At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.
Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.
One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.
Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”
Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).
The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.
Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.
It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.
We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.
More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.
The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.
I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.
(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)
I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.
On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.
There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.
And birds drying off after the rain.
Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.
And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.
The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.
Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.
Female Red-Winged Blackbird
Male Red-Winged Blackbird
The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.
Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.
Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.
After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.
We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.
I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.
The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.
I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.
I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.
Here are some pictures from last Saturday’s Spring Bird Count. I did the morning half at McKee Marsh. I have yet to manage lasting long enough to do the afternoon half at Blackwell. It’s hard to get up at 3:00 AM on Saturday after working all week. Maybe next year I can take some vacation days to coincide with migration.