Bullfrog Break

Bullfrog 4-15-17-0899Bullfrog 4-15-17-0886A few weeks ago I took my car to the dealer for its annual checkup and then went to McGinnis Slough to see how spring was progressing. As I walked through the path next to the marshy area the grass started to move, and I determined there had to be frogs hopping into the water out of sight. After stopping  and waiting for a while, I was able to finally see some Bullfrogs and photograph them. They were capable of moving so quickly, I’m glad a few sat still for me.

Not a lot of birds present yet, but the Song Sparrows were abundant.

This female Red-Winged Blackbird was an indication that some breeding birds are ready to get down to business.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Always nice to see a male Wood Duck even as he started swimming away from me.

Still seeing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets even three weeks after I took these pictures. I suspect the cold winds still pushing down from the north is keeping them from progressing to their breeding grounds. Have not been able to get one to reveal its Ruby Crown.

The male Belted Kingfisher below was busy.

We’re a lot leafier now, but the trees were just beginning to show some green for the robin below.

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American Robin

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There were likely more American Coots like the one at left, but I didn’t see a lot of them even skulking around in the marsh.

 

 

 

As I was panning on the Red-Tailed Hawk below it flew into the sun and even though it was somewhat cloudy that was not something I was planning to do, but I like the way it turned out.

RT Hawk in the Sun 4-15-17-0838One more Bullfrog shot. Who knew they could be so pretty?

Bullfrogs 4-15-17-0904And as promised a few more from the Science March.

Hope to be back soon with a report from the indoor crowd, the Spring Bird Count, more from Panama, Migration Central…wherever the wind blows me next (it’s unseasonably chilly and windy today).

A Walk in the Woods

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Northern Shoveler

I’ve been back from Panama for two weeks and I’m still not done going through my pictures. Even staying home instead of going swimming a few times hasn’t gotten it done between software updates…

So I went for a walk at the Portage yesterday even though it was cloudy, because spring migration is upon us, and I wanted to get out with the camera, especially after I forgot to take it with me on Saturday when I joined Illinois Ornithological Society’s trip to lakes in Lake County looking for Common Loons and other waterfowl, named “Loonapalooza” by my friend and the organizer and leader of the trip, David Johnson. I drove for an hour to get to the meeting place only to discover that I had remembered everything (scope, tripod, water bottle, binoculars, backpack, and I thought my brain) but left my best camera with its new lens at home. It never made it out the door. Next time I’m leaving that early in the morning I suppose I should write a list and put “brain” first, camera second… I’m blaming it on my medication, but there’s no need to go there now.

Above all this useless information is a young deer that appeared across the water, came across the bridge and walked almost toward me, very unusual for after-nine-ish in the morning.

Below, a Red-Tailed Hawk flying over.

The good news is I am in love with the new lens, which until recently I didn’t even know existed because there are times when I quit looking for any more camera stuff, but the two guys with cameras on the Panama trip informed me that Canon had finally come out with a new, improved 100-400mm lens. I had stopped using the old one, which I still have, but had hardly any use for. Instead I have been struggling with the monster Tamron lens for the last two years, which was getting harder and harder to carry around and focus. I think that lens might be going on the recycle list too. Because the new Canon 100-400mm lens and my Mark III 5D are really happy together, and an extra 200mm doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a decent picture, especially if you can’t hold the equipment still.

CAGO 4-2-17-0090That said, there’s still only so much you can do with anything in poor light. Like the very cooperative and friendly Golden-Crowned Kinglet below, he was pretty dull and drab yesterday.

GCKI 4-2-17-0263The dead wood in the water was perhaps more suited for the weather. It is transforming into…I’m not sure what bird that resembles on the right, below.

I was happy to see a Belted Kingfisher on the water. Although even he looks gray.

BEKI 4-2-17-0006Sparrows were abundant. White-Throated Sparrows, which are a dime a dozen on the lakefront, seem special here. There were lots and lots of Song Sparrows singing like crazy, even though I managed to capture a silent one. Below these two, a couple hidden shots of a fairly distant Fox Sparrow, whose rufous caught my eye and brightened up the surrounding gloom. And the final sparrow at the bottom, a Chipping Sparrow, is my first one of the season, although I’m sure I heard one in neighborhood last week.

CHSP 4-2-17-0154Lots of woodpeckers but they were hard to get on. Below is a Red-Bellied on the left. The little bird on the right is a Brown Creeper, not a woodpecker, but spends as much time on trees as woodpeckers if not more, and it’s also the first one for me this spring. Click on the pictures to enlarge, and look at how beautifully the creeper blends in.

There was a bench at one end of the water but it has disappeared. However, there are a few other places to sit. I stopped to rest on a boulder that is near one of the information boards, and watched five Canada Geese flying in together and then starting to squabble over positions.

I don’t think I saw Wood Ducks last year, so it was nice to see a pair yesterday. Here’s the guy, his mate was less accommodating.

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Couldn’t resist one more of the Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler 4-2-17-0036Okay, well, tonight I’m going swimming unless there are thunderstorms, and I promise I will finish The Panama Pictures so I can start sharing them with you.

Thanks to everybody for stopping by, for following my inconstant blog. Happy Monday.

Putzing Around the Portage

amgo-portage-10-23-16-3645amgo-portage-10-23-16-3474Yesterday morning was perfect fall weather, the sun was shining, it was cool but comfortable, and it seemed like I should walk around and get used to taking pictures looking through the camera lens with the right eye again. I have had the new prescription for a week.

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In any event I take back whatever I said last time I posted about the Chicago Portage. Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder. I noticed when I submitted my bird list to ebird that a month had passed since my last visit. Just seeing the old place in the beginning of its fall colors felt like coming home.

A lot of issues with shadows yesterday. The angle of the sunlight and its brightness made some of the photos almost useless. Above, one of two Cooper’s Hawks, a too-bright White-Throated Sparrow and a House Finch.

The Red-Tailed Hawk above appeared momentarily after the Cooper’s Hawks left. I was glad to have arrived at bird-of-prey time.

Most numerous of all species were Mallards, although there was a group of 26 Canada Geese too.

Above, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. As the days grow ever shorter, chances to see both species will diminish.

I was surprised to see so many House Finches, like the two above. Maybe the habitat change is taking effect.

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Song Sparrow

I caught this Song Sparrow too busy eating something to flush, and thankfully for me, he was in better light.

Black-Capped Chickadee and Dark-Eyed Junco… the Junco is proof that winter is on the way.

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Carolina Wren

I heard the Carolina Wren while I had stopped to talk to a fellow Portager, and was very glad to find it later, even if it was somewhat hidden from view. I haven’t seen or heard Carolina Wrens here for at least 2 years. But migration being what it is I shouldn’t get my hopes too high.

Even though I missed the raptors flying, I did get a helicopter. Maybe I scared it away with my lens… The photo on the right is just some marshy overgrowth.

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American Goldfinch

The Goldfinches were numerous and busy eating. I’ve been busy too planting more for them to eat this time of year in my yard, since they seem to have turned their beaks up at the niger seed. But if I can’t attract the flocks I used to with that stuff at least it’s good to see them happy at the Portage.

I’ll be back with Part 3 of the Galapagos.

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.

(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)

I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.

On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.

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There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

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Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.

And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.

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The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.

Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.

Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.

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American Goldfinch

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Eastern Kingbird

After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.

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Song Sparrow

We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.

I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.

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The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.

I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.

I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.

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Secrets of the Chicago Portage

Portage 5-1-2016-8019The fact that this place always looks like it may have started on another planet never escapes me, and now I may have some insight into why.

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Baltimore Oriole

But first I’d like to share a few photos from last Sunday, just as the rain was stopping. I managed to count 40 species, some of which I never saw but recognized by their vocalizations. So spring migration, in spite of whatever weather challenges the birds face, goes on regardless.

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Spotted Sandpiper

My first bird willing to pose was this Spotted Sandpiper. I can’t recall ever seeing one so true to its name. Later I encountered two other common shorebird species, the Killdeer and Solitary Sandpipers below.

Waterfowl was present but not much worthy of a photo except for a solitary Blue-Winged Teal.

Blue-Winged Teal Portage 5-1-2016-7661The only warblers willing to engage with the camera were Yellow-Rumped and Black-Throated Green Warblers. All the warblers I saw were in the same tree. I had a Blackburnian Warbler which is always a treat, but the poor light just wouldn’t do him justice.

Still here’s the Blackburnian on the left and a Palm Warbler on the right.

And for a blue-gray day, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Below is a Brown Thrasher who was singing enthusiastically. I neglected to take my recorder with me but shot the video beneath his picture which recorded some of his song. This is a mimid species, which means he imitates other calls and recites them, singing each call twice. Toward the end of the video a Red-Winged Blackbird sings.

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So I have to hand it to the woodpeckers for keeping things lively.

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I was a bit surprised to see a male Belted Kingfisher land and sit still.

BEKIPortage 5-1-2016-8052And this Red-Tailed Hawk became a bit annoyed with me when I noticed him sitting very still and trying to blend in with the tree.

Close to the end of my outing I found the female Scarlet Tanager below.

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But now for the surprise. As I was almost leaving, a cyclist stopped on the bridge where I stood to talk about the Portage. He said he had been visiting this place for 40 years. He didn’t look a day over 52 so I guess he’s been visiting since he was a youngster. Anyway, he told me years ago companies were dumping chemicals here and the water turned numerous bright colors. He also said he had talked to some of the Cook County foresters who were removing trees and they told him they had never seen such strange decay in some of the trunks.

I tried to find some documentation about what he told me but so far I have been unable to find anything specific to the Chicago Portage. I suspect the Environmental Protection Agency postdates the dumping, of course. This explains a lot to me about this strange little oasis in development. It’s sad, but then it’s also encouraging to see how nature rebounds, I guess.

It remains to be seen what the county’s plans are for this place. The cyclist also mentioned something about a commuter train going all the way to Joliet running along I-55 and a transportation hub at Harlem. Just a stone’s throw from the Portage. I can wait.

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We Pause for a Brief Commercial from Spring

RWBL 3-6-2016-3523I may have said I didn’t want to get distracted in my last blog post, but I felt the need to go out for a little exploration Sunday morning, and so became distracted by a few birds at McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage. And if I don’t pay them due respect now they will likely never get another chance.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds are back in force at McGinnis, with likely more to arrive. I counted maybe a dozen males singing on their territories. There were Red-Winged Blackbirds back in Millennium Park downtown yesterday, along with some of their Common Grackle cousins. (The photo below is from McGinnis.)

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I have been checking off all my little Signs of Spring since I got back: the appearance of the first American Robin in my yard last week, then hearing Robins singing in the neighborhood yesterday (looking forward to those 2:00 AM serenades!), the Northern Cardinals singing their descending scale song, and I’m even distracted by the return of the Canada Geese to the Jackson Street Bridge. A Horned Grebe on the lakefront. Every year around this time someone sees a Red-Throated Loon by Monroe Harbor. I may have been the first to report one a few years back. I have missed the bird ever since but wonder if it’s the same individual returning year after year.

It was cloudy, cold and windy on Sunday, perfect Red-Tailed Hawk weather at McGinnis. We have warmed up since then and have relatively balmy temperatures predicted for the entire work week, along with attendant rain and thunderstorms.

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McGinnis Slough

The other raptor at McGinnis was a juvenile Bald Eagle. There are more and more frequent sightings of these birds in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Not many surprises at the Chicago Portage but it was brimming with the promise of renewal. There were several White-Breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers.

One of the pairs of Canada Geese ready to set up housekeeping was the same tagged couple from the last two years, No’s. 16 and 11. If I recall correctly 16 is the male. This time I noticed the bands on their legs as well although they are not decipherable.

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Chicago Portage

Among the Mallards and Canada Geese was one Northern Shoveler. I just barely managed to capture him before he took off.

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There were about a dozen Dark-Eyed Juncos but with the sweep of warm air coming in, this may be the last time I see them.

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It looks as if the badgers have been busy…

I’m not changing the header on this page because I do intend to get right back to the photographs from Nicaragua! Maybe all the rain this week will keep me inside long enough to finish that task.

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Closer to Home

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Male Downy Woodpecker

There’s perhaps more going on inside the house than outside it bird-wise, but the most captivating moments are often beyond my ability to capture because they involve me. Like yesterday when I was playing piano, one of the young Zebra Finch males landed on top of the music and sang his song to me that he’s been working on, over and over, reminding me that it will soon be time to get out the music paper and try to write down his and everyone else’s offerings.

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Female Downy Woodpecker

After a week of trying to keep the car movable around mounds of snow and driving it around the block at best, it was almost an exhilarating experience to drive this weekend, not that I went much farther than the dentist, the pool and grocery shopping yesterday, when there was sunshine, and then to the Chicago Portage today, when there was not. But dentist appointments are not scheduled around the weather, and actually the gorgeous sunshine might have explained the virtual emptiness of the pool, which meant I had an entire lane to myself to swim in for an hour, something that never happens on a weekend.

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Chicago Portage

Anyway in spite of the cloud cover I decided to go out while we were still experiencing a partial thaw, and see what it was like shooting with the extender on the 100-400mm lens, with the Mark III 5D which I haven’t used for quite a while. It’s an experiment I will have to repeat several times before I decide exactly what to take with me on my upcoming trip, but I have to say I immediately loved the quietness of the shutter click on the Mark III, I had forgotten all about that and gotten used to the noisy report of the 70D. I have to say the birds never seem to mind the extra noise, I guess they assume we humans are too noisy anyway, but I like the quieter camera almost as much as I like my quieter car.

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There were no clear paths, so it was a slower walk than usual at the Portage. No birds were heard or seen for quite a while, until I spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a far tree, but the hawk took off before I could try for a picture of it, and then as it flew back around the far side there wasn’t much to photograph.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

Still the ability to see through the entire preserve in certain spots was amazing to me. I have never been able to see the other bridge until I am almost on top of it. This must be due to the clearing of so many trees.

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I did finally run into a concentration of birds – mostly Northern Cardinals, in fact more than I have ever seen together in quite some time (a group of Cardinals being a college, conclave, deck, or Vatican, depending on what term you use), and there was a White-Throated Sparrow or two and some Black-Capped Chickadees – near the halfway mark. I stood and watched them for a long time, but they were quite far away and I knew I wasn’t going to be gaining on them. The lack of light today was my most operative challenge.

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Female Northern Cardinal

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Northern Cardinal

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Black-Capped Chickadee

A Ring-Billed Gull flew over.

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Things were decidedly more active at the sunflower seed feeder when I got home, where I inadvertently got a picture of a rather odd-looking House Finch.

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House Finch on the right with white on its auriculars where red would normally be

HOFI 2-8-15-0703A more traditionally colored House Finch was in the crabapple tree.

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The Downy Woodpecker photographs are from last weekend when I was snowbound and they came into the yard individually, at different times of the day, notably when the other birds were absent.
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Spring is ever-so-slightly hinting at its promise with the days getting longer and a bird here and there trying out a bit of song. I have heard Chickadees, an occasional Robin and sometimes a Cardinal. Maybe the best “sign” for me was six American Crows flying into the trees on my street yesterday when I left for the dentist. A return of crows to my neighborhood would be the first after 13 years.