The Other Goose Lake

YHBL 07-16-17-6288

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.

Not Just Another Grassland: Bartel

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I thought to myself earlier in the week, looking forward to birding two grasslands, that by this time I might have had my fill of this type of habitat, but to the contrary, the next places to visit, circling in my mind, are more of the same. Except that they have not been and will not be the same. Yes, I saw some of the same species at Bartel Grassland that were at Goose Lake Prairie. But there were others that were different. And the habitats are remarkably unique within themselves.

Gathering for the Walk

Gathering for the Walk

Of course it was a different experience going on a field trip with the Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) and 15-20 people (it seemed like a large group) than being totally alone. But whatever I lost in being able to record sounds, I probably gained in sightings. And the genial camaraderie of birding with people, some of whom I knew or had encountered before, falling in and out of conversations along the trail, was welcome, and as always, educational.

Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

I haven’t been to Bartel for years, and then perhaps only twice. It is an ongoing restoration project. Each time I have been with a group and Dick Riner, the site steward, has been available for guidance and comment. I wish I had time to volunteer, to learn more from Dick and to experience the grassland from the ground up as it changes through the seasons. But I’m finding it hard enough to work in my own backyard. And the way Dick tells it, the high school kids are the best volunteers because of their energy physical capabilities. Grassland restoration is hard work!

Great Blue chased by RWBB 7-6-14-0966

Weather-wise we started out overcast and even a bit chilly. But that was not enough to stop a Red-Winged Blackbird from harassing a Great Blue Heron.

RWBB piggybacking on GRBH 7-6-14-0974

Someone mentioned the blackbird was riding piggyback on the heron. I can’t tell if the photograph above captured this or if it was some ruffled feathers, but you get the idea.

One of the target birds was Henslow’s Sparrow, which we heard quite a bit before we actually saw one. All the birds were too far away to photograph but I took my chances anyway and managed to get a few.

Henslow's Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow

We had a couple Savannah Sparrows that were a bit closer to the trail.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

At times the trail, or the beginning of one, stopped abruptly.

Marianne Hahn Trail 7-6-14-1199Marianne Hahn Trail Sign 7-6-14-1199

Perhaps best represented of the target birds were Boboliniks, even though Dick told us we seemed to have just missed most of them, when a few days ago there were perhaps hundreds more gathering to fly south toward their wintering grounds in Argentina. Bartel has the second largest population of breeding Bobolinks in Illinois, the first being at Midewin. But Midewin is so huge you might never be able to see as many as we did today. There were about 20. The females were a little easier to get pictures of.

Bobolink (male)

Male Bobolink

Two views of a female. Click on the pictures and you might actually be able to see them!

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Female Bobolink

Female Bobolink

Eastern Meadowlarks…were present but difficult to capture. Still it was nice to see as well as hear them.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The milkweed is thick and in full bloom at Bartel, and insects could not resist it. I found this bee hanging from it at the very start.

Bee on Milkweed

Bee on Milkweed

I don’t think I have ever seen a Halloween Pennant before. This is a new dragonfly for me, and quite a flashy one.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Whatever the moth on the milkweed, it was not revealing itself to me. But by now the sun was shining brightly, offering a better picture.

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Another look at the Savannah Sparrow.

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On the way back to my car I noticed the Blazing Star starting to bloom.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

It’s been a beautiful weekend.

It’s going to be hard to go to work tomorrow.

To be continued…