When I came back from Texas two weeks ago, the weather in Chicago was fairly pleasant and I mused I could have two springs! No matter that the Saturday before I got home there was snow on the ground. But just as we slipped into May, when it seemed reasonable to expect things would start warming up a bit, northeast winds picked up and although we weren’t freezing, the windchills were in the 30’s. It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain. The downpours have brought most of the trees into leaf and encouraging emerging plant life everywhere. Then, this past Thursday morning, a lot of migrant birds were down from the skies from the previous evening’s rainstorm.
I’m too far away from the lakefront now to go off searching for rarities on my lunch hour, but I took Friday off so that I could scope out the Portage before my bird walk on Saturday. It turned out to be the nicest day of my three-day weekend. Although it started off chilly and windy, when the sun emerged a little before 10:00 AM all was forgiven.
I just finished getting through Friday’s pictures last night – it seemed there were way too many, but I discovered three more species in them to add to the list with a grand total of 54 species, 13 of them warblers. Which isn’t super fantastic but it’s credible for the Portage.
As for the Texas pictures, I managed to send some to Field Guides Saturday night and now with that off my plate I can go back through all of them and start developing for my own purposes. Time, technology and energy being available in inconsistent quantities, this will take me a while.
So in the meantime, here are some of the spring migrants from my walk on Friday, and there will likely be some more from this visit and Saturday’s outing as I try to keep up with everything that seems to be happening this month.
This is all I can manage for now. I hope to report back soon with lots more!
Back on the 10th of May I was at the Chicago Portage and counted 52 species. On the 17th of May, visiting with two friends, we counted 35 species. This afternoon, after gale winds in the morning and some rain, I went over to see what was up and counted 29 species.
Chicago Portage 5-10-15
Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15
Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15
Three weeks ago was the height of spring migration, and already by last weekend it was slowing down.
Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15
Gosling, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15
Last week the goose family had dwindled to four goslings and today I was told by a woman I talked to on the trail that they were down to three. I did run into the geese today, but they were foraging in the grasses and I did not want to bother them, as they were pretty well hidden. So I am taking her word for it.
Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15
Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15
The Red-Eyed Vireos are still present and singing, so they probably breed here, but all the thrushes except for American Robin have left, and the sparrow species as well. There was quite an influx of Veerys this year, I don’t usually see them.
White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15
Green Heron, 5-10-15
But as the last of the sparrows were getting ready to leave, the Green Herons were returning. I believe there are two although I have not yet seen them both on the same visit. I think they also hang out at Ottawa Trail Woods which is also where we went last weekend. I have included a few pictures here are from Ottawa Trail Woods, as it is basically part of the same ecosystem.
Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15
Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15
Spotted Sandpiper at the Chicago Portage, 5-10-15
On the 10th I saw both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, not on sandbars or mudflats but on dead wood in the water. The water levels were a bit lower though. I have not seen or heard any shorebirds since.
Scarlet Tanager, 5-10-15
The Scarlet Tanager above basically flew down and sat right in front of me. I was so surprised I barely got his photograph.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Myrtle female, 5-10-15 – You cannot see the yellow rump but this is the first year I have noticed they also have yellow on the crown
Yellow Warbler, 5-10-15
The only warblers willing to pose were the most common ones. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers are gone, but the Yellow Warblers stay for the summer.
Chicago Portage, 5-17-15
Indigo Bunting, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15
Barn Swallows, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15
Female Belted Kingfisher, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15
Indigo Buntings are everywhere. I have not seen the females yet but the Portage has at least four males singing on territory. I have also seen many Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.
Chicago Portage, 5-25-15
Baltimore Oriole, 5-25-15
Green Heron, 5-25-15 – Not as visible today as three weeks ago.
Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 – There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough
Tree Swallow, 5-25-15
Red Admiral on a wildflower I have yet to identify – I should know it! But I have never seen it at the Portage before. Is this some kind of monarda?
I included the butterfly picture because to me it signals the end of spring migration and the beginning of summer, when butterflies and dragonflies vie for my attention.
Wood Duck, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15
I didn’t see any ducks today at the Portage. In years past there have always been a breeding pair of Wood Ducks, so I hope they are busy nesting.
A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can’t be all hers?)! (Ottawa Trail, 5-17-15)
I hope to be back soon with a short report on birds in Berwyn. I just saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at my hummingbird feeders this evening, which gave me the perfect reason to clean and refill the feeders. While I was out in my yard my neighbor appeared and told me he saw the hummer yesterday! Maybe I’ll get a picture this year before September.
The Chicago Portage has so much history it’s almost too much to think about. And yet if it wasn’t a historical landmark it probably would have been developed over by now. It’s adjacent to train tracks, the Chicago Metropolitan Water District, and Interstate 55, not to mention Harlem Avenue also known as good old Illinois Route 43. Instead of counting birds lately I find I’ve been keeping track of how many planes fly over while I’m wandering through; the Portage is also right in the flight path of Midway Airport.
But the planes roar overhead and when they’re gone, the remaining traffic noise seems almost benign by comparison. Whatever the ambience, there is still wildlife. I never thought of the duckweed as attractive, but this Canada Goose seems to be wallowing in it.
The pervasive scum lends a pointillist feel to the image of these Mallards below.
While I’m dabbling in impressionism, what about this Red-Breasted Nuthatch searching for hidden treasure in the dead leaves…?
A Red-Eyed Vireo came out for the sunlight that traded off with the cloud cover all morning.
There are little story boards displayed in a few places along the trail at the Portage, and I think one of them has a caption, “if these trees could talk.” Sometimes the trees do talk – they creak, sway and moan. What’s left of this tree has an enormous web attached to it, catching debris.
Finally, this Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker might be my favorite “painting” photograph, for the light on the bark and his back.
Perhaps the attraction I have to the Portage lies in the stark contrast between its cluttered wildness and the manmade mess that surrounds it.
I rode with three friends to Hastings, Michigan last Thursday for Michigan Audubon’s Cerulean Warbler Weekend. The goal was to get good looks at Cerulean Warblers, and we did after several tries.
However, Friday’s weather was miserable. The rain was constant and temperature below normal. This shot of an American Redstart leaving was a typical view.
And here is a typical look at a Cerulean Warbler high up in the canopy. About all you can tell is that Ceruleans are white underneath. Fortunately, the looks would improve the next day when the weather did.
The rain never stopped the Red-eyed Vireos from singing. I stood under this bird’s tree and listened to him sing for a long time. In the background, my brain was playing the Bach I’m learning, and the Vireo’s song fit perfectly over it. I wished I could have played for him, we could have had a great jam session.
This Downy Woodpecker was pretty well-soaked.
Saturday started out cloudy but when the sun came out around 11:00 a.m., the birds woke up and we started to get our first really good looks at Cerulean Warblers. Unfortunately I had few photo opportunities. The birds like to stay up high in the canopy, and just when you think you’re on them, they fly. Rather than stay in one area, they move from limb to limb or tree to tree. So my best shots turned out to be extremely backlit.
But now that I have had great looks, I plan to concentrate more on the photography next time.
This Chestnut-Sided Warbler was backlit too, but he had a bit more color to show.
Sunday morning we got up very early to take a bus tour of some birding hot spots of Barry County. I finally managed to get a few pictures.
Acadian on Nest
This Acadian Flycatcher was on her nest right by the road. Still pretty dark in the woods.
Out in a field later, there were six Turkey Vultures in the sky at one point. Here’s two of them.
Eastern Phoebes win my award for This Spring’s Most Cooperative Bird.
This Indigo Bunting was so busy singing, he sat still.
There were a lot more birds than pictures, but that’s okay. We had a good time.
You know you’re on a birding trip when everyone in the bus yells “Dickcissel!” simultaneously.