Late April Goose Lake

With the forecast of only one nice day this past weekend, I planned to go to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, which has become one of my favorite, if distant, destinations. One doesn’t know what to expect when venturing out these days. I knew I could count on the absence of crowds, even if there were some people walking, riding bikes, running, birding. Luckily this is a vast expanse and I could still feel quite alone most of the time, however I now take that sentiment in current context.

Starting down the Hebron Trail…

The walk is long to the Goose Lake part – at least it seems to take forever. There were not a lot of birds along the way this early in the season to distract me, but there was certainly a lot of up-and-coming moss.

The main attraction to me, then, was the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. The females haven’t started arriving yet as far as I can tell, but I wanted to be there when the males were setting up territories so I could hear them sing. With all the Red-Winged Blackbirds singing, they didn’t seem to vocalize in long phrases, but I did manage to get a recording, albeit with a lot of wind noise, of their characteristic rusty-crank-sounding song. The short song clip is below these photographs.

I might add that the Yellow-Headeds were far away and rather secretive. I want to go back in a few weeks to see if I can get a better look.

There were several Song Sparrows and I managed to get a few photographs of them. They had some lovely songs too. I almost wish I could have left the camera and recorded vocalizations, but it was windy that day anyway.

Another likely breeding sparrow in this habitat is the Swamp Sparrow. I was lucky to encounter the beauty below.

I miss Crows a lot. It’s been a chronic ache that started with my job location three years ago, made worse by the current situation banning visits to lakefront parks. So another thing I like about this location is that I always get to see Crows.

I confess I wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention to Red-Winged Blackbirds, but I did find this guy attractive. There’s a female in three photos below him.

I had to look hard to see the Goose on her nest below.

There were still a few Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there.

As I turned to go back, three crows were harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk.

I got distracted by a little more plant life and my first ladybug of the year.

There was an elusive Red-Bellied Woodpecker off the side of the wooded trail as I walked back.

I have been working harder than ever from home which was not at all what I expected when this whole pandemic thing began. As long as it’s raining I don’t mind so much. Oh well. Tomorrow is May 1.

Last Weekend at the Portage: Coming Back to Life

I can’t believe another week has gone by already. While it seems like time should be moving slowly, I am finding it to be the opposite as my days at home fill up with work and chores. It’s as if I never left my schedule. And yet because I am home, it sometimes seems like I don’t have a schedule.

Winter returned twice this week and I was going to post a few pictures of birds in the snow but time got away from me and I’m not feeling too nostalgic for snow at the moment. It’s still chilly overnight but I think we are finally going to start warming up. And of course the question lurking right behind that is, Then What?

I went to the Portage last Saturday and Sunday mornings, because both days turned out fairly decent weather-wise. The variety of species differed somewhat between the two days, in that the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who posed for pictures and the one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were present on Saturday but not detectable on Sunday. That sort of thing. On the other hand, I had the Bluebird on Sunday. So it goes.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
American Robin

I’ve been seeing Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (I call them “Sappies”) in the neighborhood all week, and had one in my yard last weekend, but this is the only one I’ve been able to sort of capture so far.

There were a lot of White-Throated Sparrows, or at least more of them than the other species. Below this grouping is a short recording of one of them singing. He had a really nice version of their song, which has always been one of my favorites.

I had no idea what was going on with these Red-Winged Blackbirds on the trail as I approached them on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed that someone has been leaving a little pile of birdseed, so that explains the gathering and likely the behavior. Feeding the animals is a no-no. But I imagine there are more people walking the trails these days than normally do, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe we will all treasure being outside more after our quarantine subsides.

The Tree Sparrow was seen on Saturday and not on Sunday. I don’t expect to see one again until late fall.

The female Red-Wingeds have now joined the males and everybody’s ready to start working on the next generation. On Saturday I must have had more than 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Portage. I don’t think I ever saw that many last year. It could be some were passing through. It will be interesting to see how many remain to nest.

There was one male Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with a couple of Mallards.

I only got a glimpse of the crown on this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Woodpeckers – there were a lot of Northern Flickers. And Downy Woodpeckers are always present. I always hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but don’t always see one. It was also nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. I keep hoping I will see a Red-Headed Woodpecker here again.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This looks like a young male Red-Winged Blackbird. He must be a late-bloomer.

Robins are everywhere.

As things are just starting to turn green, mosses were attractive.

People have been reporting Hermit Thrushes so I was happy to see one. I miss seeing half a dozen of them at once downtown in the city, but maybe it’s better to see one in the woods than a lot of them on turf grass.

Hermit Thrush

There were two Turkey Vultures flying around, at then at one point they landed in the trees.

A lovely Mrs. Cowbird. What more can I say?

The trees are starting to bud and this will all burst into green soon.

If you click on the dove pictures you can see nesting material in its bill easier.

There are a lot of Cardinals at the Portage but they’re not always easy to capture, especially this time of year when they’re busy setting up territories.

So here is the Bluebird of Happiness. I don’t get to see Bluebirds too often, so this was a special treat.

I plan to go out this weekend and with any luck, there will be even more birds to see. Migration continues, and I suspect the birds are having a better time of it without so much human interruption.

Quick Portage Check-up

I have been trying to take advantage of any better weekend weather since I got back from Mexico, specifically just to wander the Portage and see what’s going on. Last weekend, Sunday was beautiful and warm, but I had to spend the morning indoors singing in the choir, but even though I didn’t have high expectations for an afternoon walk, I thought anything might be interesting. As it turned out, I heard only a few birds and saw absolutely nothing save some Canada Geese and a Red-Tailed Hawk. I went out again yesterday morning, to take advantage of the only sunshine this weekend, and after walking for nearly half an hour to only hear a few birds, I finally caught up with a flock of foraging sparrows and the woodpeckers and Blue Jays I had been hearing.

Canada Geese – when there was open water

Yesterday’s stars were a couple Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.

The Downies were busy too.

When the flock first appeared it seemed to be mostly Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows. They weren’t particularly interested in coming any closer to me. But it was a delight to just stand still and watch the flock forage and move through. And when the sun was shining, it was nearly warm on my back. It was otherwise seasonably cold yesterday, with hardly any open water.

White-Throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow – found in my photographs later

There were likely a few more cardinals around than the two I saw briefly. Below is one of them.

Northern Cardinal

One of a few storyboards along the trail…dressed in snow and ice.

And right behind the storyboard location appeared something I wasn’t expecting so late in the morning – a foraging White-Tailed Deer. I didn’t want to disturb her so after we connected with a few photographs I turned back and made my way out of the preserve.

I was surprised to turn around and see a Brown Creeper busy poking up this tree.

Throughout the morning the Blue Jays were noisily carrying on but they were quite distant when they finally appeared.

In all maybe there were four robins yesterday morning. I’m sure there’s a larger flock somewhere.

Grey Squirrel…
Song Sparrow – as at the very top of this post

I will be back soon with warmer memories from Mexico. As of this moment, it has just started snowing. In the interim, I would like to leave with a quote from Bill Penzey which I read this morning:

“When they do their best to get us to abandon all hope is when we must embrace it more tightly than ever.”

Putzing Around the Portage

Too far away for a sharp image but still lovely to see.

The signs of spring are evident. Birds are moving, the days are getting longer even if we artificially shortened the morning hours, but I still needed to be reminded by the official first day of spring on the 20th. The last two weekends I have visited the Portage just to see what signs of life are emerging, however slowly. Robins are back and setting up territories in the woods as well as in my neighborhood. Red-Winged Blackbirds were audible on both visits to the Portage, if not displaying yet. Perhaps most exciting last Saturday was seeing my first Eastern Bluebird of the year, even if it was clear across the creek.

I started imagining what it must have been like before all the House Sparrows and accompanying civilization…when I envision Bluebirds ruled. Then I started reading about how Bluebirds have made a come back of sorts, thanks to people putting up nest boxes, and they prefer open fields for habitat, so as the Portage loses more trees maybe I’ll see them a bit more often there. But for the most part I don’t live near Bluebird territory.

Juncos have been photographically elusive for me this winter and last Saturday was no exception. I probably was looking at the last ones I’d see for a while. On the other hand I was surprised to see a Pine Siskin (below) but likely their occurrence in my yard this winter is part of a trend.

There were more American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows hanging out by the thawed pond than anything else.

There was open water last weekend, as opposed to the weekend before, but only one pair of Canada Geese and a Mallard or two.

Otherwise, a White-Tailed Deer, and below her, what the frozen raging Des Plaines looked like two weekends ago, from a distance.

I have only heard/seen one Red-Bellied Woodpecker so far…

My plan is to go back out tomorrow morning, when we are promised sunshine, to see if there are any more changes occurring. On my way to the train this morning, I noticed the Silver Maples are budding on the neighborhood streets. We are still flirting with a few overnight temperatures below freezing, but it looks like March will go out like a lamb.

Finch Frenzy

Yesterday morning when I was almost done feeding the indoor crowd, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker at the suet feeder. I managed to get this fuzzy photo through the window and the screen but by the time I got out to the porch, the Red-Bellied was gone. Instead there was a Downy Woodpecker at the upside-down suet feeder.

I started paying attention to the Goldfinches as they were numerous, and eventually…some of them were not Goldfinches, and they didn’t look like House Finches – and I suddenly realized that the Pine Siskins I’d been hoping for were now in my yard!

Today my birding plans were trashed after I drove all the way out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park only to discover it was closed due to deer hunting. I talked with a couple guys in the Heidecke Lake boat launch and they told me the park would be open tomorrow. But that won’t do me any good because rain is predicted all day. Lesson learned. Now I know to check these places before I take off in the middle of winter. Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie was just around the corner, but I figured that might not be safe from being shot at either. I did see three crows in a field and a lovely female Northern Harrier in flight, but the two hours of driving back and forth for nothing wore me out. I decided to stop at McGinnis on the way back, but there was nothing going on there, the shallow water being frozen mostly frozen.

When I got home, I filled the thistle socks, went out by the back steps and stood with the camera until the birds came back to feed. They seemed to be less shy today in the bright sunshine. I finally had great looks at the Pine Siskins. There were four of them and they seemed to be quite friendly,

Taking a drink from the gutters.

Below are a couple pictures of a female House Finch for comparison. I think the difference in bill shape might be the most trustworthy field mark for distinguishing the two species.

It was a good day for male House Finches and Goldfinches too.

Male House Finch
American Goldfinches

I don’t know if I’ll still be in the mood to go down to see the crows on Tuesday, although if the weather is halfway decent I may as well. I’ve been invited to a party for New Year’s Eve which will likely prevent getting up very early to find birds. But now I can stay home and watch the feeders, and maybe add yet another species to my yard list.

Fall Migration Continues

RBNU Portage 9-29-18-1399

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I think fall must be my favorite season at the Chicago Portage. The birds blend in with the autumn colors, the leaves start to fall from the trees and then every once in a while a bird takes a quick leaf-like descent as well. This past Saturday, after my morning commitment to Thatcher Woods where we had scores of Yellow-Rumped and Palm Warblers, I decided to see what was up at the Portage. Below are two of perhaps 100 Robins…

Directly below, two Common Yellowthroats at Thatcher Woods.

I always take a picture of the water, such as it is, at the Portage to document how it changes from season to season…

Portage 9-29-18-1268There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.

RWBL Portage 9-29-18-1577

Red-Winged Blackbird (male)

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…

And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.

PAWA Portage 9-29-18-1565Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.

TEWA Portage 9-29-18-1279

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.

OCWA Portage 9-29-18-1591

Orange-Crowned Warbler

I missed seeing a flashy male Black-Throated Blue Warbler this year but I’m glad to have found a female of the species, wearing her muted fall clothes.

BTBL Portage 9-29-18-1473

Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female)

Blackpoll Warblers in their fall plumage are stamped permanently on my brain after a few years ago when there were many for several days at my old stomping grounds, Lake Shore East Park, so I was delighted to find this lovely individual.

At one point I encountered some workers who were taking down a tree. I spent some time talking to one while another was driving wedges into what was soon to be the stump. It turns out the trees were not birch but white poplar, which is an invasive species and that is why they were removing it. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing a bird in those trees although they had become a landmark and I thought they were rather attractive. After I was given clearance to go beyond the workers, I grabbed two quick clicks in the distance as the tree fell.

For all the Robin activity there were only a few Cedar Waxwings…

My view from the first bridge at the Portage yielded a Mourning Dove and a House Wren.

MODO Portage 9-29-18-1265HOWR Portage 9-29-18-1255I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.

INBU Portage 9-29-18-1526

Indigo Bunting

NOCA Portage 9-29-18-1510

Northern Cardinal (female)

I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…

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Swainson’s Thrush

Eastern Phoebes…

Just starting to see Dark-Eyed Juncos, the harbinger of colder weather coming, I suppose. But after not seeing them all summer I am glad to have them back.

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Dark-Eyed Junco

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

GREG Portage 9-29-18-1318The Des Plaines was so low, this Great Egret was wading out into it quite a ways from the shoreline.

We had a lot of Northern Flickers at Thatcher Woods. Here’s one of them checking out a future home, perhaps.

YRWA Portage 9-29-18-1486

Yes I am a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And Monarch Butterflies are still migrating. I love the way the Poke Weed looks this time of year. I knew the birds were attracted to it but I guess the Monarchs like it too.

Monarch Portage 9-29-18-1497After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.

EAWP Portage 9-29-18-1395

Eastern Wood-Pewee

DOWP Portage 9-29-18-1550

This last photograph is of a Downy Woodpecker who was foraging low and obscured by the vegetation but I like the pastel colors.

More to come, I have three more Saturday bird walks, weather permitting. We seem to be entering a rainy spell but from the looks of the Des Plaines last week we can use it.

Lazy Labor Day Weekend

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Common Grackle

At least today, on Labor Day, I decided to be lazy by not getting up two hours before dawn so I could go birding. After meeting at the destination on Saturday, we canceled the walk due to thunderstorms looming in the wings. Even so, I had stayed back with another participant to get a handle on the layout of the trail setup when suddenly a crash of thunder and lightning striking right in front of us convinced us it was indeed time to leave.

So yesterday I got up and decided I would not go far, but as long as it wasn’t raining or threatening to, I may as well try to see what I could find. I went to Ottawa Trail Woods and encountered some obstacles on the trail (above). It became even more evident that I was the only person to have traversed the river trail in a while as I managed to avoid only one of two spider webs strewn above the footpath. The first sign of life was the deer below.

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Ovenbird

There were not a lot of birds. Or at least not a lot of species. But this time I got to see an Ovenbird for a few seconds although it was nearly the only warbler I saw.

A dozen Common Grackles showed up in the trees right above my head. So much for dark backlit birds.

Ottawa Trail is usually good for Thrushes and I was not entirely disappointed. At least I got to see this Gray-Cheeked long enough to photograph it.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Early on I saw one Cedar Waxwing, but knew there was no such thing as a solitary Cedar Waxwing and on my way back on the trail I encountered at least sixty in the branches of one tree. Click on the upper righthand photo below if you don’t believe me.

The bottomlands by the river were flooded from all the recent rain and I was able to relocate this Great Blue Heron after it flushed, when I surprised it by my walking the path even though at a considerable distance.

GBHE 9-2-18-8881I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…

HOWR 9-2-18-8811So it was mostly distant unspectacular sightings . A Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Kingbird…

Indigo Buntings were nearly unrecognizable. The one on the right was an up-and-coming male hiding from me at the Portage which was where I went next.

The Portage still had a couple hummingbirds, perhaps the same ones I saw on Friday. Plenty of Jewelweed everywhere. A few years ago on a September day I saw what seemed like a hundred Ruby-Throated Hummers in one visit, all over the Jewelweed, but it was not repeated yesterday. If you look closely at the third image of the hummer you an see a little bit of red emerging on his young throat.

By the time I got to the Portage it was closer to midday, the heat was becoming oppressive and I didn’t expect to see many birds. So I appreciate one Gray Catbird after hearing them but never catching even a glance at one Friday.

GRCA 9-2-18-9002All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…

img_2910In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.

Baby Snapping Turtle 9-2-18-9026There were fewer dragonflies than last week. And I keep running into Eastern Commas that don’t want to pose correctly: or is it a Question Mark???

The Robins all seemed to be at Ottawa Trail yesterday with only a few at the Portage. I imagine it’s the same flock going back and forth.

AMRO 9-2-18-8840Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…

Monarch 9-2-18-8941I came up with a new mantra this weekend, so I guess it’s only appropriate on Labor Day that I share it with you. I have been muttering “I have to stop working” for far longer than I want to recall. But I decided now my mantra should be, “I have to start writing.” I have been thinking about a book for the last several years. It changes every five minutes, but I think it’s finally starting to come together in my head because I found the first sentence yesterday. So it’s time to start writing it. Which may make my contributions to this page even more infrequent, I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine writing anything after working all day at a computer in an office. But by declaring my intentions sometimes I can force myself to get going so as not to risk eternal embarrassment. Thank you.

Portage Summer Day

GRHE 7-28-18-7115I got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.

Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…

EAWP 7-28-18-7095Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.

EAPH 7-28-18-7100I couldn’t get this Downy Woodpecker kid to turn around and smile for the camera but it was good enough to see his adult feathers coming in…

DOWP 7-28-18-7126The House Wren below just has that newbie look about it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker kids were out and about. I was surprised to see no red at all on the head of the one below on the top right.

Robins always look like something else this time of year, but I am no longer fooled.

AMRO 7-28-18-7192I was beginning to wonder if all the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were gone, but then I found a bunch of them hanging out on the bare limbs of a dead tree. They were all juveniles.

These two young Northern Flickers seemed to be practicing pairing up already.

NOFL 7-28-18-7350

Nothing going on, on the Des Plaines, which was looking low.

Not much in the way of butterflies. A Monarch here and there, and this one Red-Spotted Purple.

But the dragonflies were quite amazing.

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Widow Skimmer

I’m going out on a limb with the ID below. I have a fancy book on dragonflies and damselflies but there are way too many choices.

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Russet-tipped Clubtail female

I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…

? Bluett 7-28-18-7272

Some kind of Bluet

I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…

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Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female

or with Common Whitetails.

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Common Whitetail male

Then there was this beautiful Grasshopper that is likely a Differential, but I am absolutely ignorant about grasshoppers so I’m not guessing.

Unidentified Grasshopper 7-28-18-7298And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.

Unknown Wasp 7-28-18-7166Back to the birds. The fruit-eaters were enjoying the mulberry tree. That’s a Cedar Waxwing on the left and an adult American Robin on the right.

This Eastern Kingbird looks mature, but looks can be deceiving.

EAKI 7-28-18-7312Some interesting things on the trail for the juvenile Song Sparrow below…

SOSP 7-28-18-7177and for a male House Sparrow. I rarely see House Sparrows at the Portage but there were these two.

HOSP 7-28-18-7392

Juvenile House Sparrow

Saturday mornings tend to be work days. There was some burning of invasive vegetation going on.

Controlled burn 7-28-18-7176Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen many in my yard lately, but I did see this pair at the Portage briefly.

AMGO 7-28-18-7255Always happy to see a Great Blue blending in.

GBHE 7-28-18-7234And it was even pleasant enough for a couple cardinals to make an appearance.

NOCA 7-28-18-7291I heard more Indigo Buntings than I saw, but was finally rewarded by the adult male below.