Secrets of the Chicago Portage

Portage 5-1-2016-8019The fact that this place always looks like it may have started on another planet never escapes me, and now I may have some insight into why.

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Baltimore Oriole

But first I’d like to share a few photos from last Sunday, just as the rain was stopping. I managed to count 40 species, some of which I never saw but recognized by their vocalizations. So spring migration, in spite of whatever weather challenges the birds face, goes on regardless.

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Spotted Sandpiper

My first bird willing to pose was this Spotted Sandpiper. I can’t recall ever seeing one so true to its name. Later I encountered two other common shorebird species, the Killdeer and Solitary Sandpipers below.

Waterfowl was present but not much worthy of a photo except for a solitary Blue-Winged Teal.

Blue-Winged Teal Portage 5-1-2016-7661The only warblers willing to engage with the camera were Yellow-Rumped and Black-Throated Green Warblers. All the warblers I saw were in the same tree. I had a Blackburnian Warbler which is always a treat, but the poor light just wouldn’t do him justice.

Still here’s the Blackburnian on the left and a Palm Warbler on the right.

And for a blue-gray day, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Below is a Brown Thrasher who was singing enthusiastically. I neglected to take my recorder with me but shot the video beneath his picture which recorded some of his song. This is a mimid species, which means he imitates other calls and recites them, singing each call twice. Toward the end of the video a Red-Winged Blackbird sings.

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So I have to hand it to the woodpeckers for keeping things lively.

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I was a bit surprised to see a male Belted Kingfisher land and sit still.

BEKIPortage 5-1-2016-8052And this Red-Tailed Hawk became a bit annoyed with me when I noticed him sitting very still and trying to blend in with the tree.

Close to the end of my outing I found the female Scarlet Tanager below.

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But now for the surprise. As I was almost leaving, a cyclist stopped on the bridge where I stood to talk about the Portage. He said he had been visiting this place for 40 years. He didn’t look a day over 52 so I guess he’s been visiting since he was a youngster. Anyway, he told me years ago companies were dumping chemicals here and the water turned numerous bright colors. He also said he had talked to some of the Cook County foresters who were removing trees and they told him they had never seen such strange decay in some of the trunks.

I tried to find some documentation about what he told me but so far I have been unable to find anything specific to the Chicago Portage. I suspect the Environmental Protection Agency postdates the dumping, of course. This explains a lot to me about this strange little oasis in development. It’s sad, but then it’s also encouraging to see how nature rebounds, I guess.

It remains to be seen what the county’s plans are for this place. The cyclist also mentioned something about a commuter train going all the way to Joliet running along I-55 and a transportation hub at Harlem. Just a stone’s throw from the Portage. I can wait.

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Birding the Hood

AMRO Berwyn 5-24-15-3391A combination of unpredictable weekend weather and outright curiosity caused me to spend some time in the last few weeks walking around the block, so to speak, to see what birds were present. Other factors also pushed me over the edge: reading John Marzluff’s Welcome to Subirdia (still reading it but like three or four other books I’ve started who knows when I’ll finish it), hearing Red-Eyed Vireos singing on my way to work, seeing Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks at my feeder, and not wanting particularly to get up in the middle of the night so I could arrive somewhere farther by daybreak.

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American Robin, 5-24-15

Of course the Robins have been on territory for quite a while, and they pretty much act like they own the place, but they’re still fun to watch.

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Wood Ducks, April 27, 2015

One evening I got home from work and saw the two Wood Ducks in the picture above when they landed on top of a chimney across the street. They looked as surprised to be there as I was to see them.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks on the feeder 5-10-15

RBGR Berwyn 5-10-15-9736The three Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks sampling sunflower seeds above appeared to be an adult male, a female and a somewhat immature male (the guy sitting on top of the feeder in the first picture). Maybe the pair were showing junior his first trip north.

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Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak 5-16-15

A week later there was still a male in the neighborhood. Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks breed in this area, but I think they still prefer the forest preserves.

On May 16 I found two Red-Eyed Vireos but they wouldn’t pose for pictures. However I did manage to engage the cooperative, hungry female Black-and-White Warbler below. She was just down the street from my house.

Black and White Warbler Berwyn 5-16-15-1993

Black-and-White Warbler, 5-16-15

Black and White Warbler Berwyn 5-16-15-1975

Also not far away was the Yellow Warbler below. These are not unusual species but to see them not far from the house is unusual for me, since it never occurred to me that if I was just patient and looked a little harder, I could likely find some warblers in the neighborhood.

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Yellow Warbler, 5-16-15

Blue Jays tend to be heard and rarely seen, but I did get good looks at this one. He probably thought I was a curious sight, walking around with binoculars and a camera.

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Blue Jay, 5-16-15

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Maybe most surprising was seeing a Hermit Thrush dash out from underneath a parked car. I had been seeing one in my neighbor’s yard, so it’s likely the same individual.

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Hermit Thrush, 5-16-15

The flowers are all gone now from my Horse Chestnut but that day the bees were enjoying the bounty.

Bee on Horse Chestnut Berwyn 5-10-15-2154Now I’m looking forward to fall migration to see if I can repeat the experiment on those iffy mornings when I don’t necessarily feel like going “somewhere.” It’s certainly easier to take a stroll around the block, and I don’t have to worry about finding my way back to where I started.

RBGR Berwyn 5-16-15-2084Spring migration is pretty much over, although late-comers and late-leavers are still surfacing here and there. Now my focus will turn to breeding birds and, whenever possible, finishing my review of photographs from trips I’ve already taken before I set off for somewhere else…

City Visitors, or Where the Birds Are

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Apologies to all my followers for not posting sooner (and all those I follow for not showing up), but I have been busy with work and trying to spend every free moment paying attention to birds indoors and out, so by the time I get around to reviewing photos I fall asleep. So there have been about 10 potential blog posts running out of my head over the last two weeks before I could hang onto them.

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

So before I fell asleep again last night as it was past my bed time, I decided to simply share with you some of my favorite subjects over the past week from a couple city parks and green spaces. Except for the Least Flycatcher, I have limited this post to warbler species.

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

The first day I found the Black-Throated Green Warbler at Union Station, there was also a Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing and a Baltimore Oriole singing as well. Actually it was the Baltimore Oriole’s song that drew my attention to the now-fenced-in-for-no-obvious-reason garden area. The fact that the garden area was inaccessible to me and the smokers who like to sit on the benches probably made it more attractive to the bugs and the birds who were eating them. I did not get a great picture of the Black-Throated Blue, but was glad to see him. The Oriole was coy but uncooperative.

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Male Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Lake Shore East Park has been my most constant afternoon destination, and there were a couple good days, but it doesn’t seem as birdy as last year or the year before. The weather has been a factor all spring too, with alternating warm fronts and cold fronts confusing everything. We are presently about thirty degrees cooler than we were on Monday. Monday was hot.

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatchers were fairly common for a couple days. Catbirds have been regular sightings in every nook and cranny.

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Male American Redstarts come in two plumages. The first-year males still look a bit like the females, only orangey instead of a paler yellow. The after-first-year males are black and orange-red.

American Redstart

American Redstart

American Redstart, first-year male

American Redstart, first-year male

Hardly a day has gone by that I have not seen or heard a Northern Waterthrush. I usually see them on the lawn, so it was nice to catch one resting on a branch.

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbirds are still around, too.

Ovenbird, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbird, Millennium Park

Spring would not be spring without male Magnolia Warblers.

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Redstarts are everywhere now. The adult males seem to like to show off.

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Below is a first-year male, looking eager to start his first breeding season.

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I hope to get another post or two in order over the Memorial Day weekend (thunderstorms are predicted for Memorial Day). As always I think I will be able to conquer my entire to-do list because I have an extra day. So far Saturday’s weather looks best, so that will be a birding day. Passerine migration is nearly over, but I need proof.

Here They Come

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

I was pretty sure the migrating Sandhill Cranes were on their usual schedule: flying over Monday-Friday, during banker’s hours, while I was stuck sitting in the office. Of course I read about them constantly on the IBET which added to my frustration. But the warm southerly winds that have been prevailing all week were going strong yesterday and I decided to visit McGinnis Slough, even though no one has submitting any ebird sightings since November, and then check back again at the Chicago Portage (I may do a post later, in my backward fashion, about last week’s visit which I never managed to publish).

Things are heating up almost everywhere, actually. At work, we’re busy. I’m getting ready mentally for my trip to Colombia which is only 12 days away. I’m meeting with my new bird care person who I suspect is falling in love with the birds, which is probably a requirement if you’re going to fuss over them as much as I do. And it seems to be taking more energy this year to get over winter, but I think that’s about to change.

McGinnis Slouth

McGinnis Slough

Ice at McGinnis

Ice at McGinnis

McGinnis is still under ice. I took the scope with me just in case but ended up leaving it in the car. Nevertheless I had enough gear. I’ve been testing out my wide angle lens which was repaired last week (over a year since I dropped it in the steel-bottomed vehicle in Africa) because I figure it’s small enough to take with me to the Andes and it might be very nice indeed to have handy for a breathtaking vista or two. And I’m also using the extender on the Canon 100-400mm lens, to see just what it’s capable of. I’ll have plenty of time to return to playing around with the monster Tamron lens when I get back.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

But crunching around on the frozen tundra produced a few of the most predictable early birds. I had already seen Red-Winged Blackbirds downtown in Lurie Garden so I knew they would be returning to their territories everywhere else. Song Sparrows may have even slightly preceded them. And Dark-Eyed Juncos? Did they ever leave? They have been here all winter, and predictably they disappear in the spring, but I wonder if some may hang out all year long.

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

There were no Sandhill Cranes flying over McGinnis, probably because I expected them. Instead, flocks of Canada Geese, in their usual noisy fashion.

Canada Geese over McGinnis

Canada Geese over McGinnis

CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1144CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1141As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Chicago Portage briefly last weekend. The dominant pair of Canada Geese was there at the time, laying claim to the ice. I suspect it’s the same pair I have seen there for years. In any event, I was a little surprised to see two tagged geese that I am sure I reported last fall – C011 and C016.

C011 and C016 at the Portage

C011 and C016 at the Portage

I am not sure the pair pictured below is the dominant pair, as there were two unbanded pairs yesterday.

CAGO Portage 3-15-15-1291

I was about done counting geese when the first flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over. I heard them coming first, but overhead they were silent.

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

But before I left, a fight ensued, with the dominant gander attacking C016, and the two banded geese left.

Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1406 Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1404

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

As luck would have it, while all this was going on, a lone Sandhill Crane flew over quite low, and I think it might have landed if all the fracas wasn’t going on. It kept flying, I suspect to the low-lying parts of the adjacent preserve, Ottawa Trail Woods, where I haven’t been yet this year.

Sandhille Crane Portage 3-15-15-1421

Sandhill Crane, Chicago Portage, 3-15-15

Sandhille Crane Portage 3-15-15-1428

Other species at the Portage yesterday were also predictable and I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but I was a little surprised to see a beautiful Fox Sparrow. I’ve been seeing them more here the last year or so. They don’t breed here, though.

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15

White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15

The White-Throated Sparrows likely won’t be sticking around either, but I wish I had more time to observe them. It seems to me their ranges have been expanding; I’m sure some were breeding on the Chicago Lakefront over the past few years.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

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American Robin – with a lot of unusual white on its wing

The year-round birds are getting ready, too. I saw some definite chases going on among the Black-Capped Chickadees.

Fungus Portage 3-15-15-1498

Maybe the most interesting thing was this fungus that covered an entire downed tree trunk.

Today we are having one of those rare, sudden warm days, before the winds shift and the temperature plummets again – but I think we are through with the freezing temperatures. I hope!

The Quest for Two More Warblers

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Toward the end of the work week I had been thinking of only two things: sleeping in on Saturday to get my sleep for the year, and possibly visiting McGinnis Slough for birds on Sunday.

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A Kentucky Warbler sings at Swallow Cliff Woods

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As luck would have it, tales of a Kentucky Warbler and a Cerulean Warbler emerged on the IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) list-serve toward the end of the week, and with the birds being seen at Swallow Cliff Woods, which is just up the street from McGinnis Slough, I decided to try for these two warblers that are unusual in this area. Warbler migration is pretty much over with anyway, so the chance to see these two special birds was irresistible.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

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Thanks to birders already on the scene I had no problem finding the two birds, and several mosquito bites later, I had pictures and recordings of their songs as well. The Cerulean was harder to photograph even when it dropped down to less than neck-breaking level, because the backlighting made it impossible to capture his delicate blueness.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Thanks to all the good-natured, generous birder souls who helped me get on these birds.

By the time I got to McGinnis Slough it was getting hot. I didn’t know what to expect this time of year, overlapping passerine migration and the presence of breeding birds. I didn’t have a scope with me, but there did not appear to be much action in the water anyway. The main action occurred overhead with Red-Winged Blackbirds chasing Red-Tailed Hawks. I managed to get a few pictures of one Red-Winged Blackbird catching a ride on the raptor. Have to wonder how that feels, to be a small bird riding on a predator of all things. The Red-Tail was not happy about it.

Red-Tailed Hawk chased by two Red-Winged Blackbirds

Red-Tailed Hawk chased by two Red-Winged Blackbirds

Click on the pictures to see larger images.

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Shortly after the Red-Tailed Hawk/Red-Winged Blackbird saga, I ran into a friendly couple, Julie and Jim, and their new shelter puppy Annabelle whose mother was a Border Collie and the father was undetermined (but probably safe to assume it was not the mailman) – she’s a very pretty dog – and we had a very nice visit. I hope to encounter Julie and Jim again, and welcome them to my blog. There is definitely a magical quality to McGinnis and the nicest surprises happen when I least expect them.

There were other species besides these two at McGinnis but most were either distant or heard only. As the mid-day heat approached and weekend chores beckoned, I took a few shots at a Red-Winged Blackbird guarding his territory and headed back home.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

In the next few days and weeks I hope to get caught up with all the travel pictures for inspiration.

But for now I will sing the Sunday-evening-gotta-go-to-work-tomorrow blues, succumb to general exhaustion and get ready for bed.

Thanks to all who follow this blog and check in every once in a while. I will try to be a better blogger (I get twinges of guilt every few days when I haven’t posted or managed to even read anybody else’s blog)…

Good night and sweet dreams.

More Chicago Visitors – Lake Shore East Park

The parade of colorful birds continues…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler, May 15, 2013

Unfortunately, I have had so much to do lately I have not been swimming (which makes me crabby) and I have not been blogging (which makes me feel guilty).

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

So I am taking a short break from my sorry state of affairs and going back in time about a week, the day before the St. Louis trip to be exact, to share some images from Lake Shore East Park, the new bird oasis.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

I try to take pictures every workday, starting at Union Station and 155 North Wacker Drive on my way in to the office, and then going to Lake Shore East Park on my lunch hour (and working late to make up for my lingering).

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

On the day the picture above was taken, I counted 12 male Common Yellowthroats in the park – they were everywhere. Such a dilemma: “Oh no, not another Yellowthroat.”

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

There were several Magnolia Warblers too. Above, a beautiful female.

American Redstart

American Redstart

The American Redstarts have been downright exhibitionists lately. This adult male gave me several photographs to choose from.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And my last image for now is a White-Crowned Sparrow. I have still heard them singing a bit too. They have a lovely, distinctive song, and if I find I have a recording of one I’ll add it later.

This is probably my last post until I return from the Chicago Ornithological Society trip this weekend, which has the Kirtland’s Warbler as its theme. I hope to see the Kirtland’s and a lot of other birds I don’t normally see, like Common Ravens! 🙂

 

First-Year Migrants

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Imagine what it’s like to experience your first spring migration. Maybe you have some idea of where you’ve stopped since you made it through fall migration, but it’s been a while. After birding LaBagh Woods this morning, where I found these first-year warblers, I could barely remember where I parked my car. These guys are flying hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles and they’re not lost.

American Redstart

American Redstart

I knew about first-year male American Redstarts, but this is the first time I’ve thought about first-year Northern Parulas since I haven’t seen that many Parulas in my birding lifetime.

It was a beautiful day in Chicago, if a bit on the chilly side this morning. The birds became more active when the sun took hold.

I will try to post more from LaBagh and some other spring haunts, but I’ll be out of town two days for work this week and in northern Michigan for Memorial Day weekend. The garden has suffered through all this: I just started digging out my vegetable patch this evening – but at least that made my robins ecstatic.

A few more pictures of the Northern Parula and the American Redstart. For one year, they almost look alike.

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Northern Parula

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American Redstart, first-year male

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Northern Parula, first-year male