The forecast was for rain not starting until maybe 11:30 or so this morning, so it seemed like a good day to restart my lapsed tradition of visiting Goose Lake Prairie on the Fourth of July. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and the threat of rain never occurred. Even though I arrived later than I had planned, for quite a while I was the only human, which suited me just fine.
Dragonflies were everywhere. I guess the one I’ll be seeing a lot of this year is the Blue Dasher. Last year it was the Halloween Pennant. Nice to see all of these this morning.
So I’m trying to write this blog post tonight with the explosions going off all around the neighborhood, frequently sounding like a bomb exploding next to my house. I hate this holiday. I don’t understand why I have to be miserable and endure this every year. Maybe it’s why I decided not to be born until after midnight 71 years ago – it was too scary to start living with all this going on.
Luckily it never seems to bother my birds, they just endure it, likely chalking it up to more stupid human noise. We have pretty music playing on the radio. What’s one or two or fifty explosions?
But I can’t imagine the outdoor birds are too fond of this. Oh well. Back to the blog post. This morning I got to see some nice birds. There are a lot of pictures in this post. Let’s just leave it at that.
There was one Brown Thrasher who barely showed its face and then hid from me as I tried to see the rest of it.
I hoped for a Henslow’s Sparrow and one complied. Their return to Illinois grasslands is one of the few success stories over recent years. If you provide habitat, they will come.
The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t bothering to sing, so the guys looked a little bored with their guard duty.
There were a lot of Common Yellowthroats and as secretive as they sometimes are, I managed to see a few.
I’m still on the verge of tears from the explosions. I guess tomorrow morning I can go around and see how many fireworks shells are in the yard. Something to look forward to. My indoor birds are ready to fall asleep. I keep praying for rain.
Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.
As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.
Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.
Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.
This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!
One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.
A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.
It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.
Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!
As we climb back out of yet another spell of wintry, inclement weather, I have to wonder what effect this fitful spring is having on the migrants we are all too happy to observe. I have had a Swainson’s Thrush in my yard the last two days. I’m happy to provide for this bird and maybe it doesn’t have too much farther to go to get to its breeding grounds, but likely it will be dodging more storms on its way.
Last Saturday I attended a small informal walk at Columbus Park and then went to the Portage. Sunday birding was off the table, as I committed to choir-singing all day. Here it is Wednesday: I just finished going through these pictures last night. I will be leading one more walk this Saturday at the Portage if the current “morning thunderstorms” forecast does not pan out. It’s ever crazier to be paying attention to the forecast when it changes every five minutes, but I can’t help it.
It’s always nice to see the herons at this location. My list of species totaled 32 which is not spectacular but it was great to have sunshine which the birds were enjoying too. I’ll do a separate post about the Portage later.
This is the first time I’ve seen Wood Ducks hanging out on the lawn…but the Mallard was quite comfortably snoozing.
There are two Spotted Sandpipers in the photograph below the ducks, but the second one is a bit harder to see…
I found the Philadelphia Vireo in my photographs last night. A surprise to me as I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of one before.
So this is the time of year when I have more photographs than I have time to post… Looking forward to the holiday weekend and hoping it’s not raining too much so I can get a handle on the rapidly increasing jungle that is my yard and maybe see some more birds.
I had planned to write a post before my departure for Big Bend but it didn’t happen. Now I am back from an amazing trip, but even though I have started processing my pictures, it will probably take me a couple of weeks given the busy schedule I am returning to, so I will see if I can manage this post for the moment.
I did a Columbus Park walk on the Saturday before I left, and it was to witness the first hint of migrating birds, but our spring has been anything but spring-like, with snow occurring the next day and from what I hear, another wet, fluffy snowfall the Saturday before my return. Yet I’m planning on putting out the hummingbird feeders tomorrow morning. C’mon, it’s May!
The big wading and diving birds were easiest to spot… It was particularly entertaining to watch the Double-Crested Cormorants drying off in the sun. Maybe the Canada Goose thought I was trying to take its picture.
We had several Wood Ducks, but this was perhaps the closest view I got of a male swimming in front of a female Mallard.
A little army of hungry Golden-Crowned Kinglets appeared on the grass in front of us at one point, reminding me of the very first time I ever saw them years ago doing the same thing on the lawn at Millennium Park.
The female Belted Kingfisher below was pretty far away but nice to see.
This Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by us before landing in a tree.
Swamp Sparrows outnumbered Song Sparrows (4 to 2!) but were hard to photograph.
Eastern Phoebe arrivals are always a sign of spring. The similarly-colored bird below the Eastern Phoebe is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.
You know the Red-Winged Blackbirds are ready for business when the girls start arriving.
Northern Flickers put on a show for us but they were hard to capture as well.
Our last “lawn” species was Killdeer.
I got caught up on my sleep last night, but I’m heading into a busy weekend. Saturday morning is the Spring Bird Count, Saturday night is the Spring Music Festival…and with any luck on Sunday, I can start cleaning up my yard, as green things, both wanted and invasive, are starting to emerge. The recommendation to not clear anything until the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will be difficult to adhere to… we are still dropping into the 40’s, albeit the higher 40’s, overnight. I do remember seeing a butterfly or two before I left. I hope to see some insects Sunday and maybe a better forecast.
The sunshine yesterday made all the difference, even if it was still quite chilly in the morning. The birds were enjoying it: I didn’t have to walk in for half an hour before I started seeing birds. Indeed, the sparrows from last weekend were all feeding just past the first bridge over the creek, and several Red-Winged Blackbirds were busy proclaiming their territories. There were not a lot of waterfowl, but mixed in with the regulars were a couple nice surprises, like the Wood Duck above.
Actually the first ducks I saw were Northern Shovelers. There were two males and one female. I think they’re quite striking.
This pair of Mallards might be staying. I caught the three below flying over the river.
Red-Winged Blackbirds on display.
The first fight of the day over territory was between two Downy Woodpeckers.
American Tree Sparrows were everywhere. This is another result of the tree removal, I’m sure.
Some Song Sparrows will be staying. I kept hearing one singing, but could not find his perch. The one on the ground below will have to do for now.
There was only one pair of geese, and I’m thinking it’s the same pair I saw last week.
Cardinals were abundant, if hard to capture.
I walked down to the Des Plaines to see if there were any more ducks or maybe a heron. The sunshine illuminated the graffiti under the bridge. There were about a dozen Common Goldeneye from my vantage point, but no herons. I liked the sunlit reflection of the trees in the water.
I never take pictures of people on the trail but it was nice to see this guy out early with his son and two dogs. It’s too bad they flushed the Wood Duck, it would have been nice to show it to them. Oddly enough for the beauty of the day, they were only humans I encountered. The accompanying landscape shots are just more bare branches and water waiting to wake up.
For as many cardinals and blackbirds that have been singing, I haven’t heard a robin until this one yesterday. Soon the neighborhood robins wlll be singing at four in the morning…
I left the Portage around 10:30 and drove to McGinnis Slough where I found enough surprises to fill their own blog post, so I will be back to report in a few days… I hope you are enjoying your own version of the anticipation of spring.
I gave in to the prospect of the only nice weekend weather Saturday morning before my dentist appointment and went to McGinnis Slough. Reports of waterfowl seen a day or two before reminded me it was time to renew my relationship with this favorite destination, and the prospect of fall colors made it even more enticing. So now it will be a month or longer, looking back on fall from winter soon, by the time I get around to the last organized bird walk weekend.
The moment I got out of the car I felt restored. I was the only human and could temporarily forget about the whir of traffic noise nearby.
There were still a few Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out, singing.
In addition to a lot of Swamp Sparrows, there was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season, the arrival of which always reminds me of winter coming…
I was not expecting to see Yellow-Rumped Warblers…or orange conifers…but apparently both exist together. I think the tree is an American Larch or something like that, which turns yellow or orange in the fall.
And of course the waterfowl. Below, a view of only a couple hundred of 850 American Coots. Or so I calculated…
And here are two cute Coots up closer.
There was a nice little group of Green-Winged Teal…
and quite a few Northern Shovelers, although I could not seem to get a good photo of the flashier male
At one point two Mute Swans flew overhead. The second time they weren’t entirely mute and I thought they sounded a bit like Snow Geese so they had me fooled for a minute, but my photographs later said Swans.
The Coot below was enjoying the early sunshine, and so was I, but the clouds started to move in quickly after that.
Plant life taking on fall form…
A Wood Duck was close enough for a photo but by then the sun was hiding.
A few more of the Yellow-Rumpeds and the tree they were in.
The trees looking windswept and leafless…
Sunday morning the choir sang two services, singing “Somebody Prayed for Peace” and “Sweet Freedom” which is based on the national anthem. Afterward I went to city hall for early voting, deciding that it might not be such a bad thing to try, even though I live half a block from my polling place. As I sat in the gallery section of council chambers waiting my turn at the voting machine, I was reminded of sitting in a church pew and struck by the metaphor of voting as a form of prayer.
Random contributions from my new cell phone…the leaves are from one of the towering Sycamore trees I passed this morning on my way to the train, the salad consumed yesterday features the last of my cherry tomatoes, and beneath all that, one experiment in my new Saturday tradition which is to have one midday meal of scrambled eggs and onions and whatever else I’m looking to use up…in this instance, even some stale pita chips. Food as a form of prayer.
One more landscape from McGinnis and a Red-Winged Blackbird looking thoughtful.
This coming weekend will be very busy with the choir tour. I hope to return to this page soon afterward.
Columbus Day has come and gone for another year. Even after suggestions that we rename it Native American Annihilation Day, it would be cumbersome to re-label everything presently Columbus. Columbus Park has been around for a long time. According to the Chicago Park District, it is considered the finest example of landscape architect Jens Jensen’s output and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003.
I’ve been too busy looking for birds to photograph the landscaping but I’ll try to keep it in mind since I have one more planned visit next Saturday. After that I will be free to go anywhere or not. The morning started out cloudy and wet but improved. We park in the golfers parking lot, where there were many intrepid golfers by the time I arrived. Early on, the birds were not easy to spot last Saturday. They were either too far away to see clearly and/or tangled in dense multicolored foliage. Above is a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. Below is a photograph that may or may not have a bird in it, to give you an example…
And then when I did eventually find a bird and tried to enlarge the photograph enough for identification purposes…
This is a Bay-Breasted Warbler. Even after ebird insists nobody can tell a Bay-Breasted from a Blackpoll this time of year, the configuration of the wing bars, the faint rosy wash on the flank and the facial pattern all tell me it’s a Bay-Breasted.
This is a Pine Warbler that we actually glimpsed better naked eye than with the camera.
For one thing I have been able to exercise my desire to see a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker the last week or so. Below is one from Columbus Park…
and a couple days earlier, from the park at 311 South Wacker, a block away from my office. Notice all the sap-holes in the bark!
Even though Red-Winged Blackbirds don’t migrate far, I think we’ve seen the last of them in these parts until they return to nest in the spring.
Another off-site but maybe not off-topic bird is the Ovenbird below. One or two of these have been hanging out at 311 South Wacker. I think I had eight of them at one time in the spring.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Nashville Warbler…
And the large pond that attracts so much waterfowl…
Then I was intrigued by the fungus that had adopted a tree stump.
We saw the Great Blue Heron early on and then later when it was trying to negotiate a slippery fish.
Our last bird was perhaps the nicest surprise. A Cooper’s Hawk perched directly overhead.
I am going to Thatcher Woods tomorrow morning for the last walk there, and I have absolutely no idea what to expect. We are currently experiencing cold, cloudy weather. The forecast for tomorrow is sunny and moderately cool. I plan to get in as much birding as possible before I tend to my weekend chores because Sunday is going to be challenging. The choir sings in the morning, and in the afternoon I’m attending a “Soul Connections” group I joined several months ago, then directly after that, my first attendance at a writer’s workshop, led by one of the SC group’s participants – an activity I haven’t attempted in many, many years. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that we have to connect with each other on multiple levels if we’re going to get through this. 🙂
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…
There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.
Red-Winged Blackbird (male)
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…
And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.
Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.
Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.
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.
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.
I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.
Northern Cardinal (female)
I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…
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.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.
The 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.
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.
After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.
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.
As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.
A Slough in name only…
I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.
There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.
There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.
Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red
When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.
It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…
There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.
There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…
The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.
And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.
I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.
I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.
The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.
Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.
I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.
So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.
My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.
I 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…
Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.
I 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…
The 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
Russet-tipped Clubtail female
I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…
Some kind of Bluet
I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female
or with Common Whitetails.
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.
And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.
Back 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.