Meandering at McGinnis

I went to McGinnis Slough once last month and then again on November 1. This post covers both outings, neither with an abundance of bird species in the water. But I was lucky to see some different land birds.

A word about today… I was grounded by the weather. We really needed the forecasted rain, but there was not enough of it. Instead we had high winds with gusts up to 60 miles per hour and it was scary enough being inside watching my trees swaying and holding their own against the gusts. There were some intrepid, likely disgruntled House Sparrows in the yard, but I removed all the feeders last night in anticipation of the rain, and I am sure they were perfectly capable of foraging for food for a day.

The first visit to McGinnis on October 11 was low on water and waterfowl species but there were at least three dozen Great Egrets on the far side. The trees were just starting to turn color.

The closest I could get to a photograph of a Great Egret was at a distance, with one set against a couple hundred American Coots. Coots were the water bird of the day, but they were all far away.

There was a Great Blue Heron wading in the shallow water.

Very early on I saw a Blue Jay swoop down into the grass like it was looking for something. It put the leaf back after picking it up.

Later I caught a Blue Jay in flight.

Here are a few more photographs of the male House Finch at the top of the post. House Finches have been more visible than they were all spring and summer lately.

Instead of the usual group of Wood Ducks, I saw only this one.

I did capture the distinctive silhouette of a Great Blue Heron in flight.

There was a Palm Warbler. I still can’t get over how strange this fall has been, seeing only one or two Palm Warblers here and there.

A Northern Cardinal was easy to spot in the diminishing leaves.

And a Yellow-rumped Warbler was pretty predictable for October 11.

I was trying to capture the enormity of the coot congregation but it was hard to do with all the reeds in the way.

Shortly before I left, two Sandhill Cranes flew over.

Just this past Tuesday, on November 1, the slough looked like this. Not a lot of birds of any kind in the water although thousands had been reported a few days earlier. So most of the birds I saw were on land.

I did manage to sort of get a distant photo of a Great Blue Heron.

American Goldfinches have been busy taking advantage of seeds and blending in well with them.

A Dark-eyed Junco posed for me.

European Starlings aren’t what you expect to see at McGinnis Slough.

There were a couple Song Sparrows.

I fussed over these next photos a lot. I kept thinking it was a Clay-colored Sparrow, but I wasn’t sure enough because it came up rare for the date and location. Now a few days later I am convinced it was a Clay-colored Sparrow. The clean gray nape and pale lores confirm it, but I felt originally just the gizz of the bird, as they say, was Clay-colored. And the body of the bird is uniformly buffy.

There were fewer Great Egrets this time.

I am not sure I realized I was photographing a Rusty Blackbird but this was definitely a nice surprise to find in my photos from Tuesday.

One more view of the slough. The trees are now fading and losing their leaves.

All the house cleaning I normally start on Saturday is done for the week and out of the way before tomorrow morning. We are singing for Choir Sunday, which means the Unity Temple Choir will be featured throughout the entire service. I’m looking forward to the repertoire, in particular the Ola Gjeilo pieces. The weather will be much improved after today. The sanctuary will be beautiful with sunlight pouring through the clerestory windows. A moment of calm to be had after the storm and, I suppose, before the next.


Rusty Blackbird

When flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles occur, we’re always looking for Rusty Blackbirds in the mix and until last Sunday I had not seen any. When, just by luck, I happened to be standing on the trail just as a flock of blackbirds flew into the tree in front of me, and lo and behold, mixed in with the Red-wingeds were Rusty Blackbirds!

Below, there’s one Rusty and one Red-winged, for comparison.

These two look like the official greeters.

I was treated to another busy White-breasted Nuthatch.

After an entire summer looking for Red-bellied Woodpeckers and never seeing them, now they are becoming easier to spot. You can even see the “red” on the lower abdomen in the bottom photograph.

I’m really drawn to the gold-colored leaves.

The duckweed turned gray with the cloudy sky, making a strange background for the Mallard below.

A female House Finch and a barely visible Downy Woodpecker.

Below is a flock of American Goldfinches and then one individual well-camouflaged by the vegetation.

This might be the first time I’ve noticed what looks like a cattail gone to seed.

One more of the welcoming committee.

We are getting a little snow, followed by a brief warmup, and then more cold and gloomy weather. I plan to go out as much as possible, just because it’s good to stretch my legs, and then I never know what I will see. Either way there are lots of warbler photographs coming from a few months ago. I should have time now to go through them and celebrate a good haul.

Spring Fever on Hold

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Red-Winged Blackbirds arrive at the Portage and start singing. It’s likely an intense desire to embrace any sense of Normal.

All these photos are from a quick trip to the Chicago Portage last Sunday morning, after the clocks were set ahead. There were not a lot of birds, but I managed to capture a few.

I’m happy to see the Robins returning too. The anticipation of spring is palpable. Now, if I can just get over the time change. It’s hard to get up in the morning, in the dark. Even harder perhaps knowing that nearly everything has been put on hold for voluntary, and increasingly involuntary, “self-distancing.”

After a fairly well-attended choir rehearsal on Wednesday, we received notice yesterday that the temple will be closed for the next four weeks, which totally puts on hold our entire schedule. We were to sing on Sunday and prepare for our special Choir Sunday on the 29th, but that’s not going to happen. No rehearsal, no services. We will stay tuned, but I know without rehearsal, it will be harder to hold those notes when we resume.

I managed to capture this Rusty Blackbird flying in with the Red-Wingeds, likely on his way north.

Even European Starlings are returning. They used to be present year-round but in the last few years I’ve missed their presence in the dead of winter.

There are always Downy Woodpeckers, though I might not always see them.

Same goes for the Black-capped Chickadees. It was chilly and windy but the days are getting longer and the birds have their work ahead of them.

Flyovers included a singular Ring-Billed Gull and One American Crow. I suppose Crows are a reminder of what happens if you don’t “self-distance”, as in the spread of West Nile Virus.

On the trail that runs behind the opening in the fence and runs parallel to the Des Plaines River, I witnessed a flurry of White-Breasted Nuthatch activity with what appeared to be one male and two females.

I missed any opportunity to snatch the last Super Moon because it was pouring rain on Monday night, but here’s a glimpse of what it looked like back home after swimming on Tuesday.

One more of this buff blackbird.

The extra time to lay low has given me an absurd sense of precarious calm, in that, I suppose, it takes a little pressure off the time crunch that normally accompanies my daily routine, even if it adds a new, rapidly-changing stress. Suddenly all the solo activities that I squeeze into tiny time fragments are clamoring for attention. Among them are playing more music, processing more pictures and writing more blog posts… There’s a desire to commence spring cleanup too. The challenge will be to stay awake. If I’m at home and sitting on the futon with my laptop, naptime is a real threat.

I hope for your wellness and safety, wherever you are. As much as we must distance ourselves physically, we need to come together in spirit all the more.

Catching Up

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

After weather and whatever have kept me inside the past couple weeks, I am looking forward to birding both mornings this weekend and then next Saturday “officially” for the Christmas Bird Count. Then I know what will likely happen: the immediate will foreshadow the past, and I’ll still never get around to what are soon to become “last year’s photographs.” So with this post I hope to catch up with a couple dangling picture portfolios… Starting with the last fall migration bird walk in Columbus Park on October 20th.

Juvenile Rusty Blackbirds

The most unusual birds we barely saw were the Rusty Blackbirds above (two out of five of them). It was too hard to tell exactly what they were until I developed my photographs. We were otherwise seeing the usual suspects …lik Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows.

I did not expect to see a robin sharing space with a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Robin and Red-Tailed Hawk

Just barely caught this adult White-Crowned Sparrow and saw a juvenile later.

Two more of the Red-Tailed Hawk.

As I’m hard-pressed for anything colorful around here lately, I’m sharing a few photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden, visited last month when the choir went to St. Louis. Not many birds made themselves available that afternoon but the garden is lovely.

Thanks to all readers, followers and commenters for checking out my blog and tolerating my state of flux. Gotta go now, but winter’s just getting started!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Wetlands and Bottomlands



Last Sunday my friend Lesa and I joined Jeff Smith’s DuPage Birding Club outing to the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin-Hopper Lakes in Bureau County, Illinois.  The weather was cooler than predicted and cloudy, but it was good to get out. As you can read the link, the refuge is fairly new. Twenty years ago the water was still drained out of it for soybean and corn fields. Since restoration, Hennepin-Hopper has attained Audubon Important Bird Area status and in February of 2012 was listed as a wetland of international importance.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

On the map, Hennepin-Hopper inhabits an area to the south and east of the crook in the Illinois River when it changes course from west to south. In addition to marshes and lakes, there are a lot of bottomlands close to the river as well. We walked a trail through the marshes that border the lakes, and there we saw and heard plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows proclaiming their territories.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I believe we had all seven woodpecker species: Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Red-Bellied, Red-Headed, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Pileated, which is the rarest of all, but for some reason the Pileated was the only one I got representative pictures of, and it was far away.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

We had a couple Red-Tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. One Red-Tail was close enough to photograph. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

At one point we heard Blue Jays harassing something and it turned out to be a Barred Owl, distant and well-hidden behind several trees. The only thing making this photograph possible, I suppose, is the absence of leaves.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Also a bit rare, Rusty Blackbirds. We’re always on the lookout for them as they pass through. The drab backlighting doesn’t do them justice unfortunately.

Female Rusty Blackbird

Female Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird

This Great Blue Heron blended in, even in silhouette.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

So where are the lakes and the waterfowl, you say? A lot of pictures like the one below, but hardly ever close enough to take pictures of the several species we had.

Waterfowl at Hennepin-Hopper

Waterfowl at Hennepin-Hopper

A few species hung a bit closer to the edges, like Bufflehead…



and Northern Shovelers.

Northern Shovelers

Northern Shovelers

And our only shorebird species was a Killdeer.



American White Pelicans were a presence. Below, several flew over shortly after we arrived.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans

Later we caught up with them or some others on the Illinois.

Pelicans on the Illinois River

Pelicans on the Illinois River

Here’s a closer view of one that flew overhead.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Perhaps the bottomlands left the greatest impression on me. The reflection of the tree trunks in the water is mesmerizing.



Turning homeward, we stopped by some bottomlands to see Wood Ducks and Mallards, but were eventually distracted by a Little Brown Bat hunting over the water.

Little Brown Bat

Little Brown Bat

It’s been a hellishly busy week but I will be back.


Spring arrivals

FOY or FOS? I suppose it all depends on the distinction you want to make. FOY is First of Year, FOS is First of Season.

Yesterday in the park there were four new species of birds, first for my season or my year. Sneaking out of the office two afternoons in a row has paid off.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. No wait, I saw one a few days ago. Well, this one was new anyway.

Brown Creeper

A Brown Creeper.

Rusty Blackbird

A Rusty Blackbird. I was looking for these guys. There were about six of them yesterday, but today they were gone so I’m glad I got a chance to visit with them. I took so many pictures of this one he finally started singing, to break the monotony of his photo shoot.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. I saw another today who wouldn’t sit still long enough. Sometimes they’re very cooperative. Rarely do I see the Ruby Crown he’s named for.

Field Sparrow

and today, in addition to a better view of a Field Sparrow than that when I saw my first last week,

Chipping Sparrow

there was a beautiful Chipping Sparrow, as an added bonus. This was a FOY.

Red Admiral

The Red Admirals were big on sunshine today.

Song Sparrow

And although Song Sparrows have been around for weeks, you never know when you’re going to find a particularly handsome one.

More to come when I get a little less bogged down at work!