The Memorial Day weekend this year offered three beautiful days of birding at the Portage. I had no desire to go anywhere else; rather, I was interested to see what different birds I might discover each day, enhanced by the fact that a lot of birds were finally on the move to their summer homes. Here are photographs from Saturday, May 23rd.
While I think this was the last day I saw the male Scarlet Tanagers, there were plenty of Indigo Buntings. I am not aware of Scarlet Tanagers breeding at the Portage, but the Indigo Buntings certainly are a presence now every year. I suspect some of them that return may have hatched at the Portage.
I don’t know where the Green Herons are hanging out – likely on the Des Plaines River or perhaps across the railroad tracks in the low-lying water-collecting areas of Ottawa Trail – but I still see them fly over nearly every visit. I was fortunate enough to capture this one in flight.
This Scarlet Tanager looks orange compared to the other one. I imagine it is a function of the intensity and angle of the light.
Not too many warblers left…
Goldfinches are everywhere but not as easy to see.
There were plenty of Baltimore Orioles and they looked like they were busy tending to their nesting sites.
I finally managed to capture a singing Song Sparrow.
The turtles never miss a sunny day.
I love this Common Grackle posing, capturing the epitome of grackleness.
I fear for Black-capped Chickadees. Lately I have seen only one at a time.
One of many House Wrens.
A slow-motion Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Gray Catbirds are more often heard than seen but I was fortunate enough to enjoy both with this one.
A questioning look from the Great-crested Flycatcher below.
Perhaps this European Starling had just taken a bath in the last photo.
I have seen more Eastern Wood-Pewee’s this year. There’s even one in my neighborhood.
Subsequent visits gave me much better views than the Red-Eyed Vireo below.
Then, most exciting of all, as I was sitting down and contemplating leaving, I heard and then saw the Red-Headed Woodpecker below. I have been waiting to see this species for an entire year. I wonder if this is the same one that I have seen on rare occasions only.
I have no idea what kind of caterpillar this is but it was my last subject as I left for the day.
i will be back with Days 2 and 3 which were also quite birdy. My next visit to the Portage will likely be more challenging but I will continue visiting to keep track of the emerging families. I hope we humans find some peaceful solutions. The days are getting so very long now.
After being stuck in the office all week even when there was nice weather, I decided I had to get out to the Portage early Saturday morning before the sauna-like weather baked in. I didn’t get there quite as early as planned but it was good to be back and get my mind off everything else for a couple hours.
Unsurprisingly, more birds were heard than seen. It’s breeding season and time be to inconspicuous. Also, the building intensity of sunlight didn’t suit many birds well. A lot of singers were hidden in the leaves of the treetops. And if I did see one, like the catbird below, it was backlit in the shade.
I’m almost embarrassed for the Baltimore Oriole on the left and bottom right below, I’m not sure if he’d just taken a bath but he was a disheveled mess when I caught him preening.
Then there was this iridescent green beetle on the trail…
Green Tiger Beetle
And one of many Widow Skimmers. It seems ridiculous to be taking closeups with a 600mm lens, but the dragonfly didn’t seem to mind.
I had only one Red-Winged Blackbird volunteer.
And after weeks of hardly seeing any Downy Woodpeckers, I did see this one messing around in the leaves like a warbler.
But the highlight was seeing an adult Red-Headed Woodpecker. Last fall I saw a juvenile at the end of September, pictured below. I have been wondering all year if these birds would find the Portage suitable habitat now that the forest is less dense. It worked for the Great Horned Owls. And now there is a Red-Headed Woodpecker. I hope he stays.
Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17
I am only able to finish this short post because I didn’t go swimming tonight. The threat of thunderstorms kept me home. Not that I mind thunderstorms, but I don’t relish driving in them and anyway, for whatever reason, the threat can be enough for the fitness center to close access to the pool. So I’m sitting here safe, hanging out with the indoor crowd after a long day at work, hoping for a reassuring crash of thunder. In any event, whatever weather system this turns out to be, we will be cooler than the last three days and that will be a blessing.
Last Sunday I got up early enough to pick up Susan at 7:15 and get to the Chicago Portage, only to find the cable barring entry to the parking lot was still strewn across the entrance. I locked the car and we walked around the parking lot area for about 10 minutes before the designated person showed up. It was well past sunrise, which is when the preserves are supposed to be open… But it was still early enough to see a Sora Rail across the duckweed not long after we started down the trail.
I have never seen a Sora at the Portage. Rails are hard enough to see just about anywhere. The usual scenario is that I might hear their beautiful song and take for granted I will never find them. This one was silent, but virtually out in the open. Susan looked across the water with her binoculars and said, “Is that a Sora?” and then I spent the next several minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.
The other surprise Sunday was a Marsh Wren, also a first for me, for the Portage. But though we saw it well for a half second, it was not interested in seeing us again so I got no photographs.
I do have one more surprise, though, from the previous weekend. I saw a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker, another species I have never seen at the Portage and only infrequently anywhere, and I managed to get the pictures below. I can’t help but wonder if the change in habitat, the opening up, so to speak, of more marshy areas, will attract this species more often.
Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17
Birds became visible from their foraging behavior. The tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet below was interested in something contained in the bark of a tree down the trail from us.
I caught the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet below in a more contemplative phase.
Not to be outdone by other species adopting its favorite foraging spots, here is one of two Brown Creepers we saw.
Closer to the end of our walk the intense sunlight started playing tricks with color and it wasn’t until I got home and processed the next few photos that I realized what we had.
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below looked so blue in the light, I didn’t recognize it while taking the pictures.
The Black-Capped Chickadee below would not show its face but I was intrigued by its foraging calisthenics anyway.
And we managed to find one more Magnolia Warbler to add to the list.
Downy Woodpeckers are common all year round at the Portage but not always available for picture-taking. But this one was so busy with whatever it was working on, she put on a little show.
When we checked the Des Plaines River, the Belted Kingfisher was still hanging out.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers were the most numerous species on our visit, but it was still tempting to take the pictures below. At least you can see the yellow rump…
Shadowy images of a White-Breasted Nuthatch on the left and a Cedar Waxwing on the right. We didn’t have a huge flock of waxwings but there will still a dozen or so.
We saw some other thrushes but this was the only one I managed to capture. I have never seen more than one Gray-Cheeked Thrush at a time which makes me think maybe they tend to be solitary.
Others have been to the Portage since our visit and a couple rarities, at least for the time of year, have been reported. I want to go back soon but this weekend is already booked with people activities, unless the forecast for rain and thunderstorms changes Saturday morning.
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!
American White Pelicans in flight, Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge
I got home late last night from a weekend trip to Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Lesa. It was a somewhat last-minute, spur-of-the-moment, why-not trip which means we did not plan ahead too well, but the spirit of adventure overtook us and we went to see what is perhaps the premier shorebird viewing spot in the state of Illinois during fall shorebird migration. We drove down Saturday night, stayed at a motel another 45 minutes away, and got up early Sunday morning to thick fog and cloud cover. Not exactly ideal conditions for viewing anything, let alone shorebirds which are always distant unless you are on a beach. I have been nodding off for a couple hours going through fuzzy far away pictures I took anyway to see if there were perhaps any species we missed or if anything came out clear enough to reproduce here, but the consensus is generally negative. Below is perhaps the best shorebird picture, such as it is.
Lesser Yellowlegs with Blue-Winged Teal
The light was so poor in the morning, even birds a tad bit closer were hard to photograph. We stopped first at Goofy Ridge but the water levels were too high, so we spent most of our time further south at Eagle Bluff which features a cross-dike you can walk out on to view the birds. There were perhaps eight more birders off and on. A bit closer to the dike were some dead trees, where we encountered a noisy family of Red-Headed Woodpeckers.
Adult Male Red-Headed Woodpecker
Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker
As the fog began to wane I managed a few pictures of birds in flight, albeit none too sharp.
Canada Geese, Chautauqua
More and more American White Pelicans took to the air. They are regular visitors to the Illinois River in migration and make flying look like a lot of fun. In bright sunlight when they turn away from the sun, they became almost invisible as the black tips to their wings only show underneath. They looked like stars on a light blue sky.
The sun finally came out at midday and it became too hot to stand around behind our scopes out on the open dike, so we decided to leave. We were almost at the car when we encountered a couple of venerated birders we know. They had just identified a Ruff. But we were hot, a bit tired and hungry, so we decided to let it go rather than stay and have them point the bird out to us. One reason for this trip was to figure out the birds ourselves, because we decided that we would otherwise never learn to distinguish them. So we took off for a fairly leisurely drive around the area, crossing the river and back again, stopping and getting out here and there, looking for camping and/or birding spots for future trips. The idea of making this trip every year to sharpen our shorebird identification skills was in our minds. One early stop was at the Chautauqua Nature Trail which starts off the back of the headquarters building and winds through black oak sand forest, where I took the snail and butterfly images below.
We also made a stop at Emiquon, more restored habitat along the Illinois River basin. There wasn’t much to see this time of year, but one shaded area afforded space for perhaps a dozen or more Barn Swallow nests.
Empty Barn Swallow Nest
We went back to Eagle Bluff at Chautauqua late in the afternoon, after the heat had begun to dissipate and the light was still good, to find the Ruff mentioned earlier. I had seen Ruffs in East Africa last November, where they commonly spend the winter, but they are a rarity around here. As we approached the dike for viewing, I improvised a dream conversation for our encounter: “Hi. I’m Joe Ruff. Didn’t I see you in Tanzania last winter?”
There were a lot fewer shorebirds than were present earlier in the day, which likely helped the Ruff stand out that much more. We are confident that we did see it, after studying our field guides while eating a leisurely, late lunch. Unfortunately it was not possible to photograph more than a pinkish blob on legs. But it was worth sharing a high-five to find it, identify it and study it. Thus fortified, we pronounced our impromptu shorebird expedition a success. This will inspire us to plan better next year and maybe spend a few days, as the weather is never reliable. Plus every day different birds come in, so chances are if we visited the refuge for two or three days we would see many more species.
In addition to the Ruff we had nice looks at a Marbled Godwit, Western Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semi-Palmated Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, American Avocet, a Least Sandpiper, Short-Billed Dowitcher and many, many Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Semi-Palmated Plover. We had one Greater Yellowlegs when we returned to see the Ruff. I think I probably saw a Hudsonian Godwit too but may not have realized it at the time. Then there were many Blue-Winged Teal and Black Terns. I’m sure I’m forgetting something; we decided to leave the listing and counting to those more experienced. But I am not forgetting that the most common shorebirds we normally see, Solitary and Spotted, were not present. And I can remember seeing only a couple Least Sandpipers, which is a bit unusual. As luck would have it, the last reports from today counted 26 species, so that’s a definite incentive to extend the next trip another day at least.
I am still figuring out the insect pictures from last weekend’s outing to Kane County where the idea for this trip was hatched. With the swimming pool being closed this week for maintenance, there’s a possibility I’ll manage another post featuring my six-legged friends. In the meantime here is the most cooperative subject on the way out from our second stop at Eagle Ridge. One of those unidentified but interesting grasshoppers.
I got over to the Chicago Portage this morning before the predicted rain, which turned out to be nothing substantial, to see if there were any more hummingbirds present. I encountered only two, a female from the flash of white tail feathers, and later what was probably a beautiful male on my way out, but both left too quickly to study, there were hardly any other birds, and I got tired of being the primary food source for the local mosquitos. I’ll likely try again next weekend. I cleaned and refilled my hummer feeders at home, but no action there either. I keep trying to tell myself I will have great looks at Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in November in Costa Rica and I should just wait. But it will take something like an influx of warblers to make me get over this.
I’d been thinking all week about where to go on Easter Sunday. My friends had been to various haunts all week while I was at work, and I was tempted by their destinations. While I had a general idea where these places were, I had never found some of them on my own before. It was fun to get out the maps Saturday night and plan my “trip.”
My main focus was bodies of water in the Palos area of the Cook County Forest Preserves, where Common Loons had been seen. I started out at Tampier Lake, which is positively sprawling. My first bird there was a Song Sparrow, doing what Song Sparrows do best.
Song Sparrow, Tampier Lake
There were a couple loons and dozens of other waterfowl, too distant to photograph, so after I got satisfying scoped views, I headed toward my next stop: Saganashkee Slough, where I was close enough to a Common Loon for the opening photo. Ring-Billed Gulls were everywhere; this one caught a fish.
Ring-Billed Gull, Saganashkee Slough
Saganashkee is a long, strung-out body of water that covers a large area. After I counted all the birds I could see, I headed to Maple Lake, a smaller, contained lake surrounded by woods. I saw two more Common Loons there and distant views of Redheads and Scaup. Mentally, I was taking notes for future visits to all these places.
I stopped at The Little Red Schoolhouse which has a nature center. Families were out in the cool but sunny weather. After walking part of a short trail, I found this Red-Headed Woodpecker near the parking lot.
Though he gave me many excellent poses when he was exposed on the open limb above, I like the way he looks best behind the few twigs below. The twig cover is probably when, and why, he let me get closer to him.
There were a couple Brown-Headed Cowbirds strutting their stuff too.
Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Little Red Schoolhouse
My last destination was a power company substation in northwest DuPage County where Monk Parakeets had taken up residence. We used to have a flock locally but I haven’t seen Monks for quite a while in my neighborhood. Time to see some green birds.
I didn’t find them immediately, so I took a walk into a small section of Churchill Woods that runs next to a nearby open space. Besides a Red-Tailed Hawk,
and a Turkey Vulture,
I had my first-of-year Eastern Phoebe.
The section of Churchill Woods below reminds me a little bit of the Portage.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below reminds me of the first time I ever saw one of them. The scarlet shade of red on its head is so distinctive.
Churchill Woods had its own number of Song Sparrows, this one foraging in dried stalks.
As I headed back toward my car, I heard the Monk Parakeets. They were flying into the trees along a dirt road that runs between the substation and the forest preserve. At first they came to taunt me, and then when I told them my friend had sent me, they flew in closer to check me out.
Monk Parakeet, DuPage County
Except for the guy behind me in a monster SUV–whose foot must have slipped off the brake pedal as we were waiting for the stop light to change, jolting my bumper (except for a little lost paint, car and driver are okay)–it was a pretty perfect day.
My very first birding field trip six or so years ago was through the Morton Arboretum. It was billed as “Ice and Eagles.” That particular trip entailed a bus drive to Starved Rock State Park where, as best as I can recall, we must have seen a few Bald Eagles. Oddly enough, I remember being more impressed seeing a Red-Bellied Woodpecker for the first time.
Juvenile Bald Eagles on the ice
Sunday I joined the DuPage Birding Club on a day trip to the Mississippi River to see eagles, waterfowl, and whatever else was present. At our first stop, Lock and Dam 13 near Fulton, Illinois, it was estimated we had more than 250 Bald Eagles. But all day the weather was the catch. When we got there it was pouring rain. While we escaped the predicted thunderstorms, when it wasn’t raining it was drizzling and foggy. Not exactly ideal conditions for photography.
So I’ve been poring over the pictures I did take, to see if there was anything clear enough to publish. If nothing else, maybe I can convey what a grey, miserable day it was. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all bad.
We saw two Red-Headed Woodpeckers.
And a couple Eastern Bluebirds.
Hundreds of Gulls, mostly Herring and Ring-Billed, but we did manage to find a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and a Greater Black-Backed Gull mixed in after careful perusal…
and a Thayer’s Gull or two.
3rd Cycle Thayer’s Gull
Among other waterfowl, an estimated 7,000 Canvasbacks, too far away to photograph, but here are a few thickening the air.
And we managed to find Eurasian Tree Sparrows hanging out with House Sparrows where they have been located before, at someone’s feeders. I never did get close enough for a decent photo, but it’s a life bird for me, so this is for the record.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Above all, wherever we went, Bald Eagles reigned supreme.
My last chance for Bald Eagles this winter is on the 24th. DuPage Birding Club is featuring a field trip at Starved Rock. I think it will be the first time I’ve been back since, well, my first field trip.