Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂

Not Just Another Grassland: Bartel

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I thought to myself earlier in the week, looking forward to birding two grasslands, that by this time I might have had my fill of this type of habitat, but to the contrary, the next places to visit, circling in my mind, are more of the same. Except that they have not been and will not be the same. Yes, I saw some of the same species at Bartel Grassland that were at Goose Lake Prairie. But there were others that were different. And the habitats are remarkably unique within themselves.

Gathering for the Walk

Gathering for the Walk

Of course it was a different experience going on a field trip with the Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) and 15-20 people (it seemed like a large group) than being totally alone. But whatever I lost in being able to record sounds, I probably gained in sightings. And the genial camaraderie of birding with people, some of whom I knew or had encountered before, falling in and out of conversations along the trail, was welcome, and as always, educational.

Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

I haven’t been to Bartel for years, and then perhaps only twice. It is an ongoing restoration project. Each time I have been with a group and Dick Riner, the site steward, has been available for guidance and comment. I wish I had time to volunteer, to learn more from Dick and to experience the grassland from the ground up as it changes through the seasons. But I’m finding it hard enough to work in my own backyard. And the way Dick tells it, the high school kids are the best volunteers because of their energy physical capabilities. Grassland restoration is hard work!

Great Blue chased by RWBB 7-6-14-0966

Weather-wise we started out overcast and even a bit chilly. But that was not enough to stop a Red-Winged Blackbird from harassing a Great Blue Heron.

RWBB piggybacking on GRBH 7-6-14-0974

Someone mentioned the blackbird was riding piggyback on the heron. I can’t tell if the photograph above captured this or if it was some ruffled feathers, but you get the idea.

One of the target birds was Henslow’s Sparrow, which we heard quite a bit before we actually saw one. All the birds were too far away to photograph but I took my chances anyway and managed to get a few.

Henslow's Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow

We had a couple Savannah Sparrows that were a bit closer to the trail.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

At times the trail, or the beginning of one, stopped abruptly.

Marianne Hahn Trail 7-6-14-1199Marianne Hahn Trail Sign 7-6-14-1199

Perhaps best represented of the target birds were Boboliniks, even though Dick told us we seemed to have just missed most of them, when a few days ago there were perhaps hundreds more gathering to fly south toward their wintering grounds in Argentina. Bartel has the second largest population of breeding Bobolinks in Illinois, the first being at Midewin. But Midewin is so huge you might never be able to see as many as we did today. There were about 20. The females were a little easier to get pictures of.

Bobolink (male)

Male Bobolink

Two views of a female. Click on the pictures and you might actually be able to see them!

Female Bobolink 7-6-14-1171

Female Bobolink

Female Bobolink

Eastern Meadowlarks…were present but difficult to capture. Still it was nice to see as well as hear them.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The milkweed is thick and in full bloom at Bartel, and insects could not resist it. I found this bee hanging from it at the very start.

Bee on Milkweed

Bee on Milkweed

I don’t think I have ever seen a Halloween Pennant before. This is a new dragonfly for me, and quite a flashy one.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Whatever the moth on the milkweed, it was not revealing itself to me. But by now the sun was shining brightly, offering a better picture.

Milkweed 7-6-14-1090

Another look at the Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow 7-6-14-1111

On the way back to my car I noticed the Blazing Star starting to bloom.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

It’s been a beautiful weekend.

It’s going to be hard to go to work tomorrow.

To be continued…

 

 

Paul Douglas Part II

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

No surprise there were many Song Sparrows singing on Sunday, so while I can’t be sure whether the recorded song belongs to the bird above, it could be.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

There were several Savannah Sparrows too, but traffic noise made it difficult to record them singing. I managed to get a little song here.

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows

Early into the walk, I saw these two Northern Rough-Winged Swallows resting.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

While several Great Blue Herons and finally one Great Egret flew over, I liked this Double-Crested Cormorant, perhaps because it’s easier to get away with a silhouette and less detail.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I think the Dragonfly above is a Female Widow Skimmer, but I could be wrong, so if there are any dragonfly enthusiasts out there, please weigh in!

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

Cabbage Whites seem to be the dominant butterfly species of the week. Up until last week I seemed to be seeing Mourning Cloaks frequently.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

This Yellow Warbler was singing but I didn’t manage to get a decent recording. I only have two hands, and while I sometimes try to balance the camera in one hand and the recorder in the other, it’s usually futile, not to mention I wind up recording a lot of shutter clicks. The warblers were moving fast, and they don’t sing continuously. The photo option won out.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

As far as I can tell, the Brown Thrasher above is a juvenile bird.

Bobolink

Bobolink

Near the end of my walk, I ventured way down to the end of the parking lot to see if anything different was going on the opposite side of the marsh which I had walked past on the trail. It was getting hotter and later so I did not have much hope for anything new. Then, as I turned to go back toward my car, I realized I was hearing birds in the grassland directly beside me. So I stopped to listen, and heard the Bobolink above, a Meadowlark which I didn’t see until later, and what would prove to be a Grasshopper Sparrow.

Female Bobolink

Female Bobolink

I have not seen many Female Bobolinks and so was stumped for a while by the above image, but after a lengthy process of elimination it occurred to me who she was.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The Meadowlark finally showed up, although he would not come close enough for a good picture.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

And here is my surprise bird, the Grasshopper Sparrow. I have longed to see this bird for years. They are endangered in Illinois, so it is always a thrill to find one. And to see one, who seemed to be so comfortable sitting out there…maybe he’s a youngster. Anyway, below is a recording of all three birds and probably a few more singing along.

Bobolink

Bobolink

Fall Sparrow-rama

Swamp Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Now that the fall sparrows are all but gone, I’ve decided to pay tribute to them. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to photograph some less common species that made the front pages of the local list-serve, one or two which I even managed to see, I had some cooperative models nonetheless, and they’re all compelling to me in their subtle variety.

Dark-Eyed Junco

And for me, anyway, I need a break from the evening news.

White-Crowned Sparrow

I hope you are all safe and secure, wherever you are, as storms seem to be raging across the planet.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden

As you might notice from the locations, the sparrows were plentiful in the Chicago lakefront parks and also in the marsh area of McGinnis Slough, a Cook County suburban forest preserve.

Clay-Colored Sparrow, Daley Bicentennial Plaza

When I first photographed the Clay-Colored above, it was such a cloudy, or as my mother used to say, “glismal” day that I thought perhaps he was a Chipping Sparrow. Imagine my delight upon developing the image to discover he was a Clay-Colored Sparrow! They are a bit similar but Clay-Colored are rather more unusual and I haven’t seen one in a while. The grayness of the day certainly contributes to his clay color!

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

As common as Song Sparrows are when they breed here, they seem less so in migration.

White-Throated Sparrow, Daley

So many White-Throated Sparrows come through, often you can hear one or two singing, although usually they’re first-year tryouts.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Daley

I like pictures that sometimes show just enough of the bird for identification…

Swamp Sparrow, Daley

Sometimes that’s all a bird’s going to show you.

Dark-Eyed Junco, Daley

Or in Daley, there are lots of sparrows in the grass but all too often the grass overshadows them.

Fox Sparrow, Daley

Fox Sparrows are another favorite of mine. There are four subspecies in North America; we get the red guys.

Savannah Sparrow, McGinnis

There’s more plumage variation among Savannah Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow, Daley

And even White-Throated Sparrows have two subspecies that intermingle. The bird above is the tan-striped variation, the earlier one is the white-striped.

House Sparrows, Daley

And then of course there are the House Sparrows. They aren’t really sparrows, they’re weaver finches. But don’t tell them that: they like to think they pass for sparrows and the city HOSPs, at least, don’t mingle with the other finches.

Sparrow City

Back at work, my opportunities to see migrants back home have been few so far. I hope to get caught up with some of the birds tomorrow and in the next few weeks. It’s really hard to think about anything else during migration!

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrows are everywhere, and there sometimes seem to be more of them this year. One day I’m sure there were at least 100 in the little area of Grant Park I still frequent. I have photographed so many of them over the years I often disregard them looking for someone different, but I hate to overlook a bird who’s posing. And even if I stop looking at them, they invariably sing their way back into my consciousness.

White-Crowned Sparrow

The White-Crowned Sparrows are next in number. They’re singing quite a bit too.

Chipping Sparrow

There also seems to be a lot of Chipping Sparrows this year. They are a bit smaller than the other sparrows and can disappear into a few tufts of grass, so it was nice to run into this guy who seemed to be as interested in me as I was in him.

Hanging out with some Chipping Sparrows were three Indigo Buntings. Here’s one of them.

Indigo Bunting

Migrants aren’t only in the park. I found a Savannah Sparrow at 155 North Wacker Drive on my way into work this week.

Savannah Sparrow

I’d been looking for a Lincoln’s Sparrow ever since I tried to make a shaded Song Sparrow into one last week, so I was more than happy to photograph this little guy.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln’s always seem so good-natured to me. There’s something bouncy and fresh about this bird with his delicate streaking.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Back out in the grass, someone looked different. He was far away, but I recognized him immediately. A Clay-Colored Sparrow. In breeding plumage, a downright snazzy looking bird. He was the highlight of my sparrow saga.

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Maybe some day I will bond with a Clay-Colored Sparrow the way I did with this White-Throated one.