The big push of migrants that began a couple weeks ago just as the leaves were finally starting to emerge on the trees brought some lovely birds to the Chicago Portage along with the anticipated warblers. These photographs are mostly selected from May 9 and May 12 visits.
There’s nothing quite like the sight of a Scarlet Tanager. Below are photos of both sexes.
The trees were still just beginning to get heir leaves, which made seeing the first migrants a lot easier. Below is a Great-crested Flycatcher that just sat while I clicked away.
I saw a female Eastern Towhee at a distance on May 8, four days before I saw a male.
The male Eastern Towhee was quite striking.
A Swainson’s Thrush barely stands out against a muddy-looking background.
It was about the last time I was going to see a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher well. They are still around but busy nesting.
I can almost count on seeing male Baltimore Orioles but the females are less visible, so it was nice to capture this one.
Yellow Warblers are still around, those that stay to breed here, but now that they have established their territories they have all but vanished.
Indigo Buntings, the summer show-offs at the Portage are back in good number. I will have a lot more photos of these guys.
Most rewarding has been the return of Green Herons now that there’s some water.
Northern Flickers aren’t always easy to see.
Here’s one more of this stunning male Scarlet Tanager.
I am pretty much over my breakthrough Covid infection, but even though it was fairly mild, it’s not something I want to repeat, so I am not considering myself invincible from this latest “booster”. I am more determined than ever to wear a mask in any indoor setting.
It’s raining this morning and cool. But we will be heating up just in time for the Memorial Day holiday. I still have a lot of photos from the last couple of weeks to share and I hope to be back soon.
I had a lot of other photographs I was going to post from previous visits but they will have to wait. In spite of the rainy forecast Saturday morning, I went to the Portage and even though it was overcast, it was magical. Within a minute or two I had heard 10 bird species. I saw most of them and many more.
Perhaps the first bird I saw and heard was a Baltimore Oriole. There were easily half a dozen males staking out territories. This was the only one sitting out in the open.
I encountered a small flock of warblers fairly early. I was lucky to be able to sit on a big fallen log that has become permanent enough to attract graffiti. The opportunity to sit and look up into the trees was welcome. Below, couple Yellow-rumped Warblers.
I encountered small groups of White-Crowned Sparrows. They were delightful to see, but they weren’t singing. I have had them in my yard for a couple weeks and they have always started singing the minute I open the door. It was nice enough of these guys to pose for pictures.
I’ve been hearing Yellow Warblers for a couple weeks but hadn’t seen one yet at the Portage. But I found this one in my photos.
And then, of course, the Indigo Buntings. I underestimated their ability to look gorgeous even in poor light.
Below is a series of Black-and-White Warblers. There have been times I haven’t been able to capture these guys and girls, so this was a real treat for me.
I think I’ve decided Hackberries are my favorite trees. The birds like them a lot, and the Portage now seems to be full of them. They are in the elm family and I suspect were planted to fill the gaps left by all the elms we lost over the years to Dutch Elm Disease.
Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee demonstrating why he likes Hackberries. They seem to attract good worms.
A few birds I would expect to see all summer…
There were at least 30 swallows over the water. I had three species – Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. They are all represented in the slide show below.
I looked up and saw this Scarlet Tanager. I’m going back to see if I can find another.
I always hear at least one White-Breasted Nuthatch but I haven’t seen any for quite a while. This one made up for all the ones I missed.
Here’s what a Magnolia Warbler might look like straight above you. Below I have grouped several views of the “Maggies” who always seem to engage with the camera.
There were some barely-there birds…
With one more Magnolia Warbler photo, I am done with this post. We are going to get warm over the next few days. I wish I didn’t have to work, it would be ideal weather to see more birds. But the somewhat crummy weather this morning created conditions for some nice encounters with beautiful birds. I really can’t complain.
I never intend to go birding in the afternoon, but on Friday I jumped at the chance when we were encouraged to take the afternoon off. It was cloudy, and you can never count on what birds will be up to after lunch. Sometimes I like the cloudiness, though, because it reminds me of birding in South America.
Maybe cloudy was okay for capturing this Cape May Warbler.
Then there was a very active, backlit Warbling Vireo. This is likely the only Warbling Vireo I will photograph this year. There’s always one. But they are all very busy singing now and protecting their territories.
Sometimes I hardly ever see goldfinches, and at other times they seem to be everywhere. All I know is they’re not in my yard too much anymore so I suspect many of them are at the Portage or other nearby forest preserves.
With all the rain and now warmer temperatures, the green-up is happening rapidly.
I often hear Killdeer but don’t always see them. I managed to capture this one flying across the compost piles on the MWRD property.
Starlings have been entertaining. I have seen one doing happy dances a couple times, although unfortunately it was hard to get him in focus on this trip. But I did capture him flying.
And now how about paying some attention to the ladies? It seemed to be a good day to capture pictures of the girls. Maybe they thought they were less noticeable on a cloudy day.
I found the female Indigo Bunting below quite fascinating, in that she was preening or otherwise trying to get a grip on her feathers and the photos reveal her black and bluish feathers underneath. Who knew? (Forgive me for thinking “only her hairdresser knows for sure.”)
As a comparison to the above, here’s the male in all his glory and various feather colors.
Song Sparrows are more often heard than seen so it was nice to catch this one foraging for something.
And it’s not often I see a pair of Downy Woodpeckers. Maybe afternoons are lazier for the birds.
I had a wonderful encounter with a Philadelphia Vireo a couple years ago. I hope to see more of this species. And this was the first day I saw the Eastern Kingbird. By Memorial Day there were two Kingbirds hunting for bugs from their perches over the water.
Early on there was a small flock of Cedar Waxwings but they were hard to distinguish in the shadows and blended in perfectly with the tree colors.
Another elusive Black-and-White Warbler. These warblers are relatively easy to see, but so far had been defying my lens. However stay tuned because I have had some more productive encounters.
Even the Baltimore Orioles looked a bit washed out. But I noticed a nest, and that was a welcome sign. The female builds the nest, so I can only imagine she was inside of it.
It has been hard to go back to work after a long weekend, even though I have not yet returned to the office. Most amazing to me has been the time spent in the field, so to speak. I never feel like I have this luxury to fully absorb my surroundings except when I am on vacation. But something about the pandemic has slowed down everything after eliminated many social commitments. I can embrace birding religiously three days straight as a spiritual exercise. Even though I am encountering several more people on the trails, there is still enough space and quiet, with many moments left to witness how life continues beyond our immediate concerns.
It’s all I can do to keep up with migration this spring, let alone the pictures I have taken…So I’m attempting to do this in chronological order but it won’t be easy. This past Saturday started out cool but sunny. I decided to start my walk in the opposite direction of what I normally do. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put my little portable stool in my backpack so I decided to walk back to the car to get it. As I walked, I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher, and then saw him in one of the Redbud trees bordering the lawn behind the statue. The morning had promise.
Last Saturday was a riot of colorful birds. I counted a dozen male Indigo Buntings. They were everywhere and they were not particularly shy, so I took advantage of their fearlessness. You can see how the light affects the hue of the blueness, when actually their feathers are all black.
I ventured out to the gravel road that runs along the MWRD property and found two male Scarlet Tanagers. They were trading songs.
But I discovered a glimpse at a Summer Tanager later in my pictures.
For all the male Baltimore Orioles singing and displaying these last few weeks, I have seen only one or two females so far. But that’s because they’re busy tending the nest.
Yellow Warblers may stay and breed at the Portage. Invariably I hear them but don’t always see them. So I was glad to capture this one.
White-Breasted Nuthatches are present all year, but are not seen or even heard frequently now.
The female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak below is the last one I have seen. I am not aware of any starting families at the Portage, but it could happen.
We have had a lot of rain, and even more after these pictures were taken. There were two Canada Geese trying out the newly flooded waters.
So this time of year of course I’m looking for warblers wherever I can find them. I just calculated that over the last couple of weeks I have seen 21 species total. I haven’t been able to photograph them all, but most, sometimes discovering them in my photographs. I will try to post as many as possible. They won’t always be textbook-looking photos. For example, the Golden-Winged below I barely captured but it was the details from the photographs that I was able to identify it as a likely female.
Then there are the flycatchers. They can be confusing. I have since seen the Eastern Wood-Pewee again in the same location looking more like himself so I am guessing he was having an off day (typically he would look more pointy-headed).
On this day I saw this Turkey Vulture being escorted away by a Red-Winged Blackbird.
Song Sparrows are present, singing, and likely staying to raise families.
i keep hearing and sometimes seeing Chestnut-Sided Warblers every time I have been to the Portage since my first intimate encounter with one last Tuesday.
There’s a little rapids under the first bridge where the water runs out of the Portage. No water ever runs into the Portage, as far as I can tell, but It’s still nice to see the flow over the rocks.
More often heard than seen, Blue Jays are out and about but rarely available for photos, so it was nice to see this one.
I found this female Common Grackle to be attractive in her own way.
I had noticed this nest before but wasn’t sure anyone was using it until I managed to capture these two Goldfinches. You will probably have to click on the first photo to see the female poking her head out of it. I have since not been able to find the nest, which was not far from the trail, but it could still be there and hidden in all the plant growth that has occurred since.
Sadly, Black-Capped Chickadees are getting harder and harder to find. Long taken for granted, I am convinced they are in decline, at least locally. I caught this one in a hurry.
Here’s my Robin photo of the post.
As the leaves are finally coming out, it’s interesting to see how the spaces change.
Below is one of my favorite birds, a Blue-Headed Vireo. I have seen them a couple times this spring which is surprising to me, as I don’t think I have seen one for years.
Woodpeckers are busy everywhere.
And last for the moment, I finally was able to catch the male Eastern Bluebird in focus. He has a habit of posing in difficult places, but he sat long enough this time. And although I think I heard him this past week, I haven’t seen him since. I hope the pair is still nesting and I will be looking for baby bluebirds this summer.
I have been to the Portage four times since last Saturday! I am beginning to feel like I live there. Every time I have gone, there has been a different species or a special encounter with one I’ve seen so far this spring. As many people have remarked, the cool start has been difficult for the birds migrating to their breeding grounds. I can only hope those who have visited the Portage are finding what they need in this little hotspot and will survive and flourish on the rest of their journey.
I will be back with lots more. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you are safe, well, and able to get out and enjoy this spring.
I was at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan, years ago on a Kirtland’s Warbler tour, and immediately remembered the window feeders at the visitor’s center that attracted grosbeaks like the one at the top of this post. It was too late in the season to see a Kirtland’s easily, although one had been reported about five days before we arrived, but there were other birds to see and the forest itself is beautiful.
The Pileated Woodpecker above was actually not far from where we were staying when Linde went out for an early morning walk, and I managed, as always, to get representative but not very good pictures which I had to adjust for the backlighting. I think I’ll start now with my New Year’s Resolutions and plan to visit the places where Pileateds are seen more often around here, to increase my chances of getting a decent photograph.
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (adult male)
So to finish up with the grosbeaks at Hartwick Pines’ feeders, the main attraction was the Evening Grosbeaks. Although they proved difficult to photograph I did manage the pictures below, which are of an adult male and I believe the one on the lower right is a juvenile.
The day before we went to Hartwick Pines we visited the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant which prides itself on its design to incorporate wildlife and native ecology into the whole process. If nothing else it’s a birding destination worth checking out.
With 11,000 acres of varied habitat it’s one of the best birding locations in the state. In the fields adjacent to the water treatment ponds we saw three Upland Sandpipers. They were too far away to photograph well but I did manage to catch them flying.
I think I saw more Black Squirrels this time than I have on previous trips to Michigan, but it was still hard to get a decent picture of one.
On the drive up I saw a Common Raven and then finally on our last outing one flew over.
The wastewater treatment ponds predictably had waterfowl. It was nice to see a Ruddy Duck (left, above) and we had to offer proof of the Lesser Scaup (on the right).
There was no shortage of young Mallards in various stages of development.
Mute Swans, albeit introduced, are still lovely to look at.
In the summertime birders flock to sewage ponds in particular to see shorebirds. We saw only a few and they were pretty far away. Above on the left, a Lesser Yellowlegs, flying top right, a Killdeer, and below it is a Herring Gull, which is not a shorebird but a segue into the next photograph.
On our way out we found most of the gulls were on the road in front of us. We estimated 2100 Ring-Billed Gulls and about 100 Herring Gulls mixed in amongst them.
Here’s another Halloween Pennant. I have seen more of these dragonflies this year and I don’t recall having seen them before. Changes everywhere, big and small, and I guess this could be yet another one of them.
The woodchuck above was found by Marty, a non-birder in the group, whom we dubbed the Mammal Spotter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woodchuck before…!
Our last bird from Hartwick Pines, the Scarlet Tanager above, offered himself up for a series of photographs. Those tall pines do their best to make lighting difficult but I could not resist trying to capture him since he was at eye level.
And one more photograph of the Broad-Winged Hawk which started off Part 1, who was also at Hartwick Pines, vying for the Most Memorable Bird award.
I decided to take a walk around the Portage last Sunday. It was my first birding outing since my return from Ecuador. I was almost more interested to see if there were any butterflies since I have noticed a distinct lack of them this year and I am not happy about that.
I got out a bit later than I should have, and I forgot the insect repellent which might have afforded me a few more butterflies, but I came away determined to go back this coming Sunday, get up earlier, and maybe visit McGinnis Slough too. We shall see how far I get with that thought.
There were some butterflies so I have to go through my once-a-year trying-to-identify routine. I figured out the two above, a Silver-Spotted Skipper and an Eastern Comma, but I am stumped by the one below. It appears to be in the Brush-Footed family but I haven’t managed to match it up exactly with anything yet. Identification is most welcome.
There were not a lot of birds, but I found more of them in my pictures later than I could see with my binoculars at the time. A recent visit to the eye doctor has helped me figure out why this is and I am scheduled for the first of two cataract surgeries next month. Maybe I can forego buying new binoculars.
Song Sparrows above, Indigo Buntings (male and female) below…
It’s always encouraging to see a Green Heron, although I haven’t seen two in at least a couple years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another one around.
Below on the left, two Cedar Waxwings my camera discovered, and a juvenile American Robin.
The water level is very low and what water there is, is covered with duckweed. I guess this is good for the American Goldfinches below.