Suddenly the weather is summer, and with the heat after a long, rainy prelude, the trees are leafing out and spring migration is in full force. I was contemplating two other posts of recent outings but Tuesday’s visit to Riverside and Riverside Lawn demands attention first. I didn’t go out yesterday because I was helping a friend, but it’s just as well as I needed some extra time to process nearly 1,000 photos to begin this series.
There was a tremendous fallout of warblers along the Des Plaines River. While I anticipated as much – this was the kind of thing I dreamt about previous years while stuck sitting in front of a computer at work – I just didn’t expect the magnitude of this fallout. I literally saw so many individuals of several species, it was almost maddening. It took me 3 hours to cover a little over a mile, which up until now has taken me two hours tops. I was moving slowly anyway, as the morning grew hotter, but I just kept seeing more and more birds. I counted 16 warbler species. They will not all be represented here, but I have even more species and photographs to come from the day before at the Chicago Portage. So hang on, here we go. (I have decided to split this up into three or more installments or it will never happen.)
I started seeing Chestnut-sided Warblers right off the bat, which made me happy because I had not yet seen them this year.
They ran the gamut, from brightly-colored individuals…
To drab birds…
And somewhere in between…
If I accomplish nothing else in this first of many installments, I must pay tribute to the beautiful Prothonotary Warbler that is at the top of this post and appears in more photos below.
Seeing the Prothonotary so well and having the opportunity to photograph it was breathtaking.
I would like to continue but it’s late and I have to get up early to beat the heat tomorrow morning, so I will be back as soon as possible with some more birds from my big warbler day. Because I have to make room for even more birds seen since then!
Well here it is, the long-anticipated last act to the Memorial Day weekend of birding at the Chicago Portage. Compared to the previous two days, I didn’t have a lot of photographs. I reported as many species as the previous day (41), but between extremely bright light conditions and my inability to focus, perhaps in part due to the light shining in my eyes, the day had a different feel to it.
But it was a great day for discovery and observation. The bird of the day was a Prothonotary Warbler. I have been looking for this species to appear at the Portage for years every spring or fall when the Des Plaines River floods the lowlands because then the habitat reminds me of the Cache River Basin in southern Illinois where I saw my first of many Prothonotary Warblers.
As it turns out, I didn’t see it in the flooded area but directly across the trail from it. Although I got great views with the naked eye, I was not able to capture the bird well with the camera, so going back through these photographs I had my doubts. But the photograph above with the head cut off confirms the ID for me because of the white undertail coverts showing. I confess I still have my doubts about the other photos, but I know I saw the bird, so maybe there will be a next time.
Just so you can appreciate how frustrating this can be and why I sometimes spend entire days thinking about identification challenges, below is a Wilson’s Warbler I photographed on the same day, if not in the exact same spot. I do know the gizz of a Wilson’s since I have seen them frequently enough for years. When I saw the Prothonotary, it appeared larger and moved more slowly and deliberately than the Wilson’s.
And now for another sort-of warbler challenge, the American Redstart below. I have seen this coloration a few times before so I was not confused, only fascinated. The tail immediately gives this bird away as an American Redstart, but it is showing yellow and white with black coming in on the body. What you are seeing is a soon-to-be second-year male American Redstart. When the summer is over he may be entirely black and orange in place of the gray and yellow, and will be considered an adult.
And below is a female American Redstart. She will always be gray, yellow and white. Not the best photograph but you might be able to see just a little of the yellow peeking out on her breast.
That was about it for the warblers that day. I just took a tally for the season and I have seen 24 warbler species this spring. That’s 2/3 of the possible number I might have seen. But given the fact that I was basically birding in only one area I feel pretty fortunate to have seen all these warblers, sometimes even seeing them very well.
On to the rest of the birds I managed to photograph on Memorial Day. Below are some male Brown-headed Cowbirds who don’t seem to have much to do except hang out on bare branches.
I don’t remember how I managed to get the photos below of a flying Red-Bellied Woodpecker but I don’t get this lucky very often! I was probably trying to focus on it perched somewhere and it took off.
Red-winged Blackbirds…are a given. The bird in the second photograph knocked the Northern Flicker in the photos below off its perch, which enabled me to get pictures of some of those elusive but brilliant golden shafts underwing.
There were a couple Eastern Kingbirds for a day or two, and I haven’t seen them since. Maybe they were shopping for nesting spots and decided to go elsewhere.
Below is a trail at the Portage I have only walked recently. For years I stayed away from the gravel road that ran between the official forest preserve and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property because it used to be patrolled by police and photographers were not welcome. The past couple years now, I think, restrictions to access have been lifted, but it took this year along with the impression of having extra time to decide to walk the extra mile as it were. The road itself runs along some woods that border the Des Plaines River, and then splits in two, with the one fork below wooded on both sides. This might have been a very good place to look for the earlier warblers back in April. I will definitely keep it on my agenda of places to visit in the fall. Recently, although it’s getting very buggy there were not very many birds available.
Birds that fly over on occasion and if I’m lucky, I can capture them. This time it was more as a record of their presence than anything else.
Indigo Buntings and House Wrens will be available all summer.
The Downy Woodpecker below was challenging to capture.
If you click on the photos below, you will be able to see a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher that looks more like a Blue-Green Gnatcatcher. This was another ID I struggled with a bit when going through the pictures, but the eye ring in the first photo and the cocked tail in the next give the bird away. It’s a testament to how lighting can change everything. I have never seen this bird look green before.
I’ve been to the Portage a few times since the big weekend and I will likely be visiting regularly to check up on summertime birds, and I anticipate a return of dragonflies and butterflies. I have been a couple other places too and plan to publish those posts when possible. Lately it’s easier to sit inside on a hot day, slaving over a laptop in air conditioning. Thanks again for stopping by, and congratulations making it to the end of another long post!
Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.
Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.
Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.
There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.
Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.
Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.
We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.
Cedar Waxwings above, at IDSP on the left and the other one from the Chicago Portage.
The Portage had at least four male Baltimore Orioles, and I was able to spot a female not entirely hidden on the right, above.
To add to my list of not-often-seen woodpeckers, I had a Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage. Usually I see Downies everywhere, but this was the only woodpecker that I was able to photograph.
Tree Swallows were abundant. And below, it was a good day for turtles at the Portage.
And for Mallard ducklings…looking almost full grown.
Below, a newly fledged American Robin and an adult.
One more look at the Red-Headed Woodpecker.
I’ve been busy writing silly songs, working, gardening and starting to get ready for a trip that will begin on July 1. I am now glad I inadvertently planned to be away before the Democratic National Convention. I’m growing weary of the daily drama and it will be good for my head to be totally oblivious to politics for a couple weeks.
I’ll try to get back to this page a few times before I go. Thanks for stopping by!
I have been in the southernmost part of my state the past few days and I may as well have been in another country. I had no Internet access but did not miss it. The pristine habitat of the Shawnee region is so remarkable, it is easy to slip into a sense of timelessness. And there is no limit to the discoveries one can make. Our stay was much too short.
There were birds everywhere.
Black and White Warbler
Great Crested Flycatcher
The most elusive birds periodically became cooperative.
This Prothonotary Warbler has staked out his territory in the wonderful Heron Pond portion of the Cache River Basin.
A boardwalk invites us into the thick of it all.
It was hard to leave.
We heard Kentucky Warblers everywhere we went, but did not see one until the morning of our departure.
This Kentucky serenaded us from his digs in Giant City.
Kentucky Warblers spend a lot of time furtively foraging on the ground which makes them hard to see, but this one was nice enough to fly up and perch just above our heads almost at eye level. What a beautiful bird.