The Other Goose Lake and Beyond

On Tuesday morning, I made it up to the Hebron Trail in a little over an hour and a half. I didn’t leave quite as early as planned; I woke up to some sort of a circuit-breaker issue in the kitchen which had disabled my Internet access but it was a temporary fix after all and it became more a matter of resetting clocks on the coffee pot and microwave and WFMT on the boombox.

As I started to write this yesterday, we were experiencing a lovely downpour. When I went to empty out places where rain accumulates later it looked like we got an inch in about 20 minutes.

Even though Goose Lake Natural Area has received more rain and is no longer considered in drought status, the water levels are still extremely low and that continues to make it really hard to see Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I walked the trail to the lookout, and stood there for maybe a half hour or so, not seeing too much of anything. I thought how nice it would be if a Yellow-headed Blackbird came close enough to the platform so that I could see it well enough, and then one did. It looks to be a molting adult male.

There are always plenty of Song Sparrows here and I recorded the one below singing.

Song Sparrow – Goose Lake Natural Area

Here are a few more Song Sparrow photos of various individuals.

Also present were several Common Yellowthroats, starting with one on the trail.

A look at the trail as it stretches out into the open, and then a view of the marshy area with a verbascum thapsis, or Great Mullein, right by the trail.

There were a few Canada Geese which I did not bother with, and. below, some American Coots, but hardly enough water for much else. I did see a couple Great Egrets come in for a landing later but they were totally obscured by vegetation.

I encountered a tree full of Red-winged Blackbirds. There may have been a Yellow-headed Blackbird in this group too. But between the backlighting and the distance I took it for mostly Red-winged Blackbirds and juveniles at that.

I am always intrigued by the female Red-winged Blackbirds.

The female Red-winged Blackbird below was showing off her captured bug.

Below, the bird on the left is a Gray Catbird and the bird on the right, a male Red-winged Blackbird.

Red-winged Blackbirds in the Compass Plants
A likely juvenile Red-winged Blackbird

After hearing a Willow Flycatcher or two, I managed to photograph this one.

As I stood on the platform, suddenly six Sandhill Cranes flew overhead and into the marsh, where they disappeared into the tall grass.

On the way back to my car I saw this juvenile Northern Flicker.

And followed a Barn Swallow as it swooped around. Bothering with this exercise in futility attests to my desperation.

I did see a sitting Ruby-throated Hummingbird on my way back out. Actually, a friendly young cyclist with binoculars had stopped to talk with me and mentioned she had seen this bird. She also told me I could check out North Branch which was only a few minutes away.

Even though it was getting late in the day and almost 11:00 AM, I decided to go and check out the North Branch Conservation Area. Indeed it was only a few minutes away by car. As it turns out, were one to walk the entire length of the Hebron Trail, you could cross Keystone Road and continue on the gravel-paved trail that runs through North Branch. Although this is a fine plan on a bike, I doubt seriously I will ever do this as I have never even walked the entire 5.5 miles of the Hebron Trail and it is another 1.5 miles at the North Branch connection, making it a round-trip 14 miles. Perfect on a bike, but not on foot. But it’s good to know the two are connected and provide extensive habitat.

The first thing I noticed when I started walking the trail at North Branch was dramatic billowing clouds in the blue sky.

Below are a few scenes of the prairie at North Branch. The middle photo features Cupplant which looks a lot tamer than the towering monsters that have overtaken my backyard.

That late in the day I didn’t know what birds I might see. I definitely wasn’t hearing much at that hour. But there were a couple very busy Eastern Kingbirds.

I did find a Field Sparrow here.

And I was happy to see a male Orchard Oriole, if obscurely.

There was an Eastern Bluebird checking me out.

Below, a Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, some Rattlesnake Master and Wild Bergamot with a bee.

I didn’t make it as far as the bridge going over the Nippersink Creek, which is what the “North Branch” refers to, and I’m sorry that I didn’t go that far but it was getting late and I had that long drive home to look forward to. So I will definitely stop back here again, I hope sooner than later.

A Monarch Butterfly attracted to my lens hood

There were plenty of Dickcissels here too, although I could not see them until I spotted this one atop a utility wire. I think years ago I saw my very first Dickcissel on a similar perch.

The clouds were just beautiful that day and I liked the distant Great Egret using them as a backdrop.

American Goldfinches are going to be easier to see now that there are plenty of plants with fresh seeds to eat.

Two more parting shots of an Eastern Kingbird…

The Compass Plant is one of several well-presented species here. I suspect much has been planted, which is fine. I confess I just read a great article in The Atlantic extolling the beneficial aspects of grasslands that are often overlooked in our conditioned preference for tree cover, and it reminded me of how valuable these areas are. It has the somewhat unfortunate title “Trees Are Overrated” but I suspect that is attention-getting strategy.

All that walking on Tuesday gave me permission to only swim on Wednesday, and today after early rain and gardening was for shopping. I plan to return to the Portage tomorrow morning to see if anything new shows up.

Farther Afield

After reading about someone’s trip to Goose Lake Natural Area on Saturday, I decided to drive up there Monday morning, weather permitting, as it has been a while since my last visit and as much as I try to drive less, I’m not flying anywhere so I can justify an occasional longer drive. I should have left earlier than 7:00 AM because with traffic I didn’t get there until almost 9:00 AM and it was getting warm already, but I still managed to hear enough birds if I didn’t see all that many.

A few Mallards, perhaps, in what little water exists

As far as I can tell this area has not yet recovered from last year’s drought, so the birds are still farther away than they were a couple years ago. It would probably make more sense to carry a scope than a camera but when I’m alone and faced with that choice it’s easier to carry a big lens.

The first bird to greet me just after I walked through the woody area was a Yellow Warbler.

There were several Song Sparrows posing and singing and they were hard to ignore.

I did eventually record a bit of the song from the bird at the top of the post.

Song Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are always the draw here, but again because of the low water levels, they were extremely hard to see. However I checked my ebird records and in previous years up to 2020 I saw more of this species in the month of July, so I will try to get back up there next month sometime. One reason for the increase will be juvenile birds taking wing.

If you can see a tiny black spot in the middle of the photo below, that is the view I had of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds this visit. Below that are several severely cropped photos of a few males flying around. About all you can see is the yellow head and black body.

By contrast Red-winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

And a few had time to chase a Turkey Vulture.

Early on, a Northern Cardinal brightened up the landscape a bit.

At one point there was a Common Yellowthroat which was extremely backlit but discernible anyway. I heard many of them singing but could not get one to pose. This one was distracted by the insect prey in his bill.

I always expect to see Willow Flycatchers, and I did have three individuals in my photos, but I can’t recall having heard them and they weren’t always so easy to see.

I took a little snapshot recording while I was standing close to the observation deck. You can hear a Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, a Crow, and maybe other species carrying on in this short clip. The wind noise is a bit distracting.

Goose Lake Natural Area

I found a Gray Catbird in the willows.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are suddenly more scarce. I am seeing individuals instead of gangs of males. I suspect their mission is complete for the year.

I walked quite a ways past the observation deck. Here’s what the trail looked like beyond that point. I have never walked all the way to the end (is there one?) but I walked a total of 3.40 miles. according to ebird.

There were not a lot of birds to photograph on this part of the walk, but I did see a Monarch Butterfly and a Painted Turtle.

I couldn’t help but notice some Prairie Spiderwort. I have some of this growing in my backyard.

A nice surprise on the way out was a perched male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. He was far away and backlit but cooperative.

So that about sums up my birding this week. I have errands to run tomorrow when it will still be quite hot but I trust by now the traffic lights are functional. I likely won’t get out for a walk until Saturday morning, but that’s okay. I am looking forward to the cooler forecast.

Feeling Warmer in the Sun

I went to the Chicago Portage on Monday morning, the last time we had full sunshine, and I met a lot of birds and some people too. It was cold, but the sunshine gave a little bit more than the illusion of warmth. In all it was good to go slowly and watch the birds, but I took way too many photographs. I wonder how I will manage to get through warbler migration at this rate.

After stopping and talking to some people on the trail and mentioning that Golden-crowned Kinglets had started showing up when they asked me if there was anything new, I encountered about half a dozen of the birds and managed to capture one who volunteered for a lot of clicks.

It was almost worth it to memorialize the blue sky background.

Somewhere next to the trail by some spindly young hackberry trees I saw this very thorny plant that had the only green leaves in the entire preserve. I am not familiar with this at all. I welcome identification from any botanists out there.

I kept waiting for this Northern Flicker to fly so I might capture its golden shafts but it was definitely not going anywhere.

I never know when I will see a pair of Northern Cardinals. In this case I think she was waiting for him.

I spent the longest time behind this bird photographing it without identifying it. Backlit and alone on the path in front of me, it seemed unfamiliar. I have now decided it’s a Brown-headed Cowbird. I think I have never seen one in the cold before – in other words, it was so fluffed up I couldn’t recognize it.

There are a few American Goldfinches at the Portage. Here’s one, early on in my walk, looking rather cold.

If you stood in the right spot on the trail where I suspect asphalt will be going in, it was possible to see American Tree Sparrows everywhere. At some point one sat and started singing, and I tried to record him over a lot of noise. I did manage to get a couple recordings, as faint as they are, and they are below this photograph. I heard one singing earlier this year and compared it to the recording on my Sibley cell phone app which was made in Alaska, where they breed.

I did manage to take too many pictures of American Tree Sparrows fading into their surroundings.

I almost forgot, a Killdeer landed in the marsh and this was the best I could do through the vegetation.

I was delighted to find a Fox Sparrow in my photographs. I don’t remember taking these pictures. My camera remembered well, though.

I couldn’t help but notice the duckweed staging a comeback.

Messing around in the marshy area were a few female Red-winged Blackbirds.