On September 9, I spent a sunny Sunday afternoon in the backyard. We are presently flirting with a three-day return to summer-like temperatures, but the blooms, the pollinators, and the visiting warblers have already left. I am sharing the memory of that afternoon in photographs.
I was delighted by the presence of a Nashville Warbler. I don’t get to see migrating birds in my yard too often, so it was great to just sit and become part of the landscape and observe the warbler and the pollinators on a beautiful afternoon.
I had planted some different goldenrod and asters last fall to see if they would stop the echinacea from taking over the entire back bed now that the shade of the truncated Ohio Buckeye is no longer a force to be reckoned with. After all the rain early in the spring, I have a formidable fortress of goldenrod and heath aster. I think the Nashville was foraging around in the Stiff Goldenrod.
Paper Wasp and Flies on the Showy Goldenrod
While I sat on my biggest new overturned yard waste container, I was fortunate to witness a quick visit from the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird below.
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a large grasshopper in the yard before but this one was having a good time.
The Nashville flew into my Scotch Pine from time to time.
The bees were savoring the last of the sunflowers that the birds and squirrels had planted.
So here’s two more shots of my lovely little Nashville visitor.
Nashvilles were still present last weekend with the Yellow-Rumpeds and Palm Warblers for the tail end of an up-and-down fall warbler migration. With luck I will be back sooner than later with a report from last Saturday’s walk at Columbus Park.
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.
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.
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.
I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…
So 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.
All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…
In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.
There 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.
Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…
I 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.
I took today off. It was a bit difficult getting up early this morning after swimming last night but I managed to get over to the Portage a little after 8:00 a.m. and took note of how deserted the place was on a weekday. No dog-walkers or cyclists. Only one runner, who was probably as amazed to see me as I was him.
A long shot of the duckweedy water above and just below it, an untrimmed path I decided not to take.
The robins are back, and the waxwings are still numerous. Literally nobody in the mucky water. I was treated to American Redstarts and a couple Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds early on, which gave me hope to find a few more migrants.
American Redstart (First Year Male)
Ruby-Throated Hummers above, an adult male American Redstart below.
The only other warblers I could barely photograph were the Chestnut-Sided below left and the Black-Throated Green on the right. I missed the Ovenbird that landed briefly in the tree I later found them in.
In the beginning with the immature male Redstarts was a chattering young House Wren.
Butterflies were out for the sunshine today. Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent and Monarch butterflies.
I saw a few White-Breasted Nuthatches too.
I heard the Eastern Wood-Pewee long before I saw the one below.
This time of year I expect to see lots of Indigo Bunting children and I did, but they were playing hard to get with the camera.
Yellow is the predominant color this time of year and I found a bumblebee and a goldfinch taking advantage of it.
One Eastern Kingbird…
There was a lot of chatter from catbirds but I only barely saw the youngster below.
A couple more Cedar Waxwings. The one on the left is an immature.
The last photograph I took was of this stunning little Silvery Checkerspot.
My walk tomorrow will take place if we are not totally rained out. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast. We shall see… This evening as I write this I have just heard the rumble of thunder. And now it is starting to pour.
By the way it feels nice to have the time to do a same-day blog post. Perhaps if I – no, let’s say when I retire – I will be up to the task more often.
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 had a couple extra days off last week after the holiday, in between jobs, which gave me more time to spend in the backyard. I think the wild birds were starting to get used to my presence, so it is with reluctance that I go back to being The Scary Human Who Fills The Feeders.
A female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird spent perhaps a week in the area, and she would generally show up just before sundown which made it difficult to take pictures of her. One morning early when I went out to fill the feeders I saw her sitting in the redbud tree so I suspect she came more often than I was aware. I did have a beautiful male show up one afternoon but he was gone by the time I got my camera.
The yard has a lot of yellow going on with several varieties of goldenrod which I planted, for the most part, last fall. There is also one almost terrifyingly humongous sunflower which is more like a tree than a plant. I think the reason why it is so huge and still going strong is because it’s very close to the compost heap. I may need an axe to cut it down but for the moment I still find it cheerful and entertaining as it spreads out onto the cement slab.
The goldfinches have been busy chowing down on seed heads. They are probably responsible for a lot of the echinacea taking over the back bed. But that’s the original reason why I started the wildflowers years ago anyway, to attract birds, so I’m happy my yard has now become a destination.
After years of trying to outsmart squirrels I have given up and they seem to be a bit less annoying as long as they get their daily peanuts.
House Sparrows never get much photographic attention from me, but they eat most of the birdseed and are such a presence I felt I should take a few pictures.
The two birds who capitalize most when the House Sparrows have left the yard are the Downy Woodpecker and the White-Breasted Nuthatch.
Above, two photos of a couple House Finches for the record. They were not in the best of light or feather.
Bees have been constant if not as numerous as previous years.
The Mourning Doves are usually very skittish and whenever I find a pile of feathers from one the local Cooper’s Hawk has made off with, I wonder how many are left.
Even after you click on the picture above, it may be difficult to see the spider web on the left. I saw the garden spider in the middle of it once, but it has proved to be camera-shy. The web spans the narrow sidewalk running along the south fence. I am not going to be the one to destroy it by walking through. On the right, a bee on a remaining purple coneflower.
As long as the squirrels can drink upside down hanging from a tree, they won’t knock over the birdbaths. If I wake up tomorrow to overturned bird baths the yard was likely visited by a nocturnal creature.
Male Northern Cardinal finding his feathers
My first full week with my new employer starts tomorrow. The new job and choir commitments likely require me to tweak my schedule to figure out where and when I can fit the blog in. Fall migration also demands attention. Drum roll, please.
I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.
I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.
Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.
After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.
And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.
There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.
It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.
I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.
Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.
When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.
I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.
I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.
There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.
One more bird from the Portage…
Juvenile Song Sparrow
I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.
Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.
On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.
It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…
And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…
And a juvenile Song Sparrow.
The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.
At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.
Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.
One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.
Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”
Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).
The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.
Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.
It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.
We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.
More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.
The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.