The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

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…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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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.

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Pied-Billed Grebes

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.

YHBL 07-16-17-6279The 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.

RWBL ET AL 07-16-17-6330Summer simmers on. I’ll be back soon.

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

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.

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There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

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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.

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The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

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.

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American Goldfinch

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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.

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Song Sparrow

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.

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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.

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Spring Bird Count

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Eastern Towhee

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.

There was still not much going on with warblers, although the storms we have had since have caused considerable fallout along the lakefront and likely this area too.

It was a pleasant surprise to get to the observation deck over the largest portion of water and see a contented looking Bald Eagle, who later reappeared in flight.

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Another Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher on yet another gray day. And there were more gray birds in and around the water…most everything was too far away to focus.

Tree Swallows were abundant.

And it’s always special to see the return of Bobolinks.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are getting down to business.

We were lucky to accomplish as much as we did in spite of periods of rain. The Song Sparrow below did not let the lack of sunshine dampen his song.

SOSP McKee Spring Ct 5-7-2016-9426Except for brief warm spells, the weather is unseasonably cool, but the rain has caused the trees to leaf out in abundance, offering cover for many migrants while making them that much harder to see! I’ll be back soon with a small migration report from downtown Chicago.

Back at the Slough

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

It seems strange to have been away from this page for so long, only to find time to come back after this weekend with all the sanity drained out of humanity. It almost feels like I need to start over. So I’m going with pictures from 3 weeks ago when I managed to get out to McGinnis Slough.

Gadwall at McGinnis

Gadwall at McGinnis

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Gadwall

The problem with the Slough is always that most of the birds are usually quite far away and you need a scope to see them.

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Great Blue Heron, McGinnis Slough

So most of these pictures were taken a bit closer in. Like this cooperative Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

I didn’t realize this was a Clay-Colored Sparrow until I started going through the pictures. A nice surprise, don’t see this guy too often.

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Clay-Colored Sparrow

And this was one of the last Yellow-Rumped Warblers I saw this year. I guess in the photo below, if you’re going to see the rump you aren’t going to see much else…!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

YRWA McGinnis 10-25-15 -6212There were about 400 American Coots at the Slough that day, and here’s one of them.

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American Coot

One more time with the Song Sparrow.

SOSP McGinnis 10-25-15 -6020I picked up my annual bird seed order from Chicago Audubon yesterday: I try to buy enough to last through the winter. Was greeted by Bobbi who was helping distribute the orders, and we got to discussing international travel (we were both with a group in Australia back in 2009). And then she told me she came back from a month in Paris only a few days ago. The world just shrunk that much faster.

Staying In To Finish This Post

Juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough

Juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough

I would be out visiting with the Crows but the entire week is going a bit insanely so I am finishing up this post I started last night. When it takes days to write a blog post I have to keep revising those optimistic references to “yesterday” and put them in the proper perspective.

The pictures in this post are from the Chicago Portage and McGinnis Slough, both Cook County Forest Preserves, taken this past Sunday.

Chicago Portage

Chicago Portage

Encouraged after I managed to fold the back seats down Saturday morning in the Prius (a first!) to accommodate my birdseed order from Chicago Audubon, and then carried all several hundred pounds of it from the car to the back porch without throwing out my back, I ventured out Sunday morning with the Tamron 150-600mm lens attached to the 5D, just to see how it handled the lens. I decided the weight difference between the 5D and the 70D is minimal.

Wood Duck, Chicago Portage

Wood Duck, Chicago Portage

Because I was looking for the turkeys at the Portage, I decided to walk in from the opposite direction than what I usually take, which was a stupid thing to do from a photography perspective because I was walking into the sun, but I persisted anyway, and never encountered any turkeys. It was an otherwise beautiful morning, starting out a bit chilly but quite clear and later becoming warm.

Canada Geese, Portage

Canada Geese, Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Portage

Downy Woodpecker, Portage

Downy Woodpecker, Portage

Monday was heralded as our Last Likely Warm Day. Monday evening was opening night for Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera, so I met my friend after work, we went to dinner, then attended most of the pre-opera lecture which was helpful and amusing, and then we saw the opera. The production was stunning, Stephanie Blythe was magnificent, as was the entire cast and chorus. I have not heard so much beautiful and strong singing from every cast member in a long, long time. It was nice to renew my relationship with the art form if not my subscription.

(Below, probably the last warblers I will have seen around here this year.)

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Portage

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Portage

I did not get home until 11:15 or thereabouts after the opera, so I managed to get only about 5 hours of sleep or less. In the meantime at work we endured almost two entire days without the ability to communicate by email or Internet. Now that the problem has been resolved we are playing catch-up with a lot of work. The trip to Costa Rica, in the back of my mind for months, is now racing to the forefront, making almost every waking moment into a decision about to take place.

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Most of the birds at McGinnis were too far away to identify even with a scope. There were several hundred American Coots and it appeared there were Scaup but I could not identify whether they were Lesser or Greater. I thought I could see three Harlequin Ducks, but I could not see enough of them beyond telltale white patches on their cheeks so I did not report them. They would have been lifers for me, I think, but not really if I couldn’t see them completely (they don’t look very fancy this time of year anyway, yet). Plus people get excited about Harlequin Ducks and I didn’t want to get them started on a wild duck chase…

Northern Cardinal, McGinnis

Northern Cardinal, McGinnis

Except for the Pied-Billed Grebe at the start of the post (there were several of them) and the female Northern Cardinal above eating buckthorn berries, I did not get many photographs at the Slough. But the seasonal landscape changes attracted me.

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McGinnis Slough

White-Throated Sparrows, so common in the Chicago Loop, are special to see anywhere else. There were several at the Portage, along with a few White-Crowned Sparrows, and also some Fox Sparrows who continue to evade the lens.

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White-Throated Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I will be back with a post or two before my trip to CR.

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

Fits and Starts

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The Turtle and the Pied-Billed Grebe

I’m not getting any “planned” posts done, so this one is an interim life-goes-on-in-spite-of-me digression.

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Canada Goose with Painted Turtles

Spring is arriving, and we even had some warm days to go with it. Yesterday morning began still quite warm, but along with predictable April Showers, we are now plunging ever-so-slightly back into temperatures cool enough to flirt with snow.

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

My fits and starts seem as arbitrary as the weather. Tuesday night on the way to the pool, about halfway, the power steering began to groan loudly on the old, rusted out Ford Taurus. After a good swim, we moaned and groaned all the way home. Glad I made it, because the writing was on the wall: you know it’s over when your mechanic doesn’t want to try fixing things any longer. Knowing the end was nigh, I hoped to make the car last a couple more weeks until I got back from Texas, but apparently Little HP (named after its Hewlett-Packard fleet car origination: purchased with 20,000 miles on it, now has only 81,000, but once when getting a fairly minor dent straightened out discovered it had been in an accident from the tell-tale difference in paint color, which explained a lot of its odd quirks) already sensed rejection and, as little as I drive, is now unsafe at any speed.

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I already knew what I wanted to buy, so after researching the possibilities online, I made an appointment with the nearest Toyota dealer for Saturday, and bought a 2013 Prius c. I’ve been trying to substitute “Priuses” for “Porsches” in that lyric from Janis Joplin’s “Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” …”My friends all drive Priuses, I must make amends.” It’s true, three (if not all) of my friends drive Priuses. Maybe this should be the 21st century version of the song.

I have already lowered  my carbon footprint. I’ve put 57 miles on the car and the needle has not moved from “full.” The purchase will probably force me to lower my footprint even more since I won’t be able to afford any long trips overseas for quite a while.

After running errands with the Prius, I met Lesa at Wolf Road Prairie around dusk to see if any American Woodcocks were displaying. You can take a virtual tour of this site at the first link and learn all about Woodcocks from Cornell at the second.

Wolf Road Prairie

Wolf Road Prairie

The Woodcocks started to “peent” some time after I took the above photo but did not fly until it was as dark as when I took the one below. Needless to say we barely saw anything.

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But I got to practice driving in the dark with the new car. It took me a while to find the lights: I was a little dismayed that the options on the column were not illuminated, since this car seems to tell you what it’s doing Every Second. But I’m sure I’ll get the clicks memorized and won’t need to look at them. Or maybe there’s some setting somewhere that makes them go on and off by themselves. Everything else seems to be Twilight Zone about it, like the smart key. Have to study the manual thoroughly this week.

Chicago Portage

Chicago Portage

Yesterday morning I took the new car to the Portage which is where the remaining photos on this page were taken, including the car’s portrait. It was a good day for turtles. And I had 25 species of birds which is not remarkable, but among them were Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Brown Creeper and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, first-of-year sightings for me, confirming passerine migration has definitely begun. The warblers and kinglets were up too high in the treetops for photographs, but that’s where the bugs were on our first really balmy day. More Painted Turtles.

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I spent most of yesterday evening looking for title to the Taurus because I want to donate it as it was definitely not worth trading in. I didn’t even drive it to the dealer, I took a taxi. I was sure I knew where I was hiding the title, but after much ridiculous and hapless searching, I have given up looking for it and am going to get a duplicate issued. Getting organized is on my list of things to do this summer, not this week.

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Two more Blue-Winged Teal flushed when I walked by, and while I’m sorry I disturbed them, you can see the blue on their wings.

Pied-Billed Grebe with Turtle 4-13-14 6685.jpg-6685Maybe the motto for the day should be “Put a Turtle On It.”

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