Slow Walks through the Portage

BAOR 5-6-18-3219

Baltimore Oriole

I have never been a hurry-up-let’s-get-this-over-with birder, but I am certainly moving more slowly these days because of my knee. But life in the slow lane has its advantages and the reduced speed has paid off. Two weeks ago I managed to count 55 species when I visited the Portage for four hours instead of the usual two, and last week with my first group we had 51 species in nearly about the same amount of time due in part to the fact that we got off to a late start because of the weather. Between the two lists I had 73 different species total. Of course it is spring migration, and it is not hard to spend a lot of time when you keep seeing more birds. Needless to say I did not get pictures of them all, or some pictures were useful later only for the purpose of identification. But in spite of having hardly any time or place to bird during the week, I feel as if I have seen some nice migrants in spite of my physical limitations. I took these pictures two weeks ago. I felt bad about not being able to do the Spring Bird Count, but I’m glad I managed to get out.

Breeding birds are back, and the most numerous after the Robins, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches are probably Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

Lots of Indigo Buntings are on site too. Many of them are first-year males like the ones below.

There are also several Warbling Vireos that have set up territories. I usually hear them more than I see them, but I got good views of this individual.

Some Yellow Warblers will likely breed here too.

I don’t think the Portage has breeding Ovenbirds but it was nice to see this one out in the open.

Two more warblers I was able to photograph…but they won’t be staying.

NOPA 5-6-18-2875

Northern Parula

AMRE 5-6-18-2837

Male American Redstart

My best surprise was to briefly see a Hooded Warbler and manage to get a picture of him. These are far less common. I used to see them on the lakefront occasionally. This was a real treat.

HOWA 5-6-18-2754

Hooded Warbler

The Great-Horned Owls appear to have just one owlet but it’s gotten pretty big and last week we saw all three of them all take off from their tree. I took these pictures of junior and mom two weeks ago.

The Downy Woodpeckers are busy.

Migrant thrushes, like the Gray-Cheeked on the left and the Swainson’s on the right, below, are passing through.

I don’t think there are enough places left at the Portage for Tree Swallows to nest.

Goldfinches are in full breeding plumage now.

AMGO 5-6-18-2820

On the sparrow front, I found a Chipping Sparrow, a few White-Crowned Sparrows who have all flown north by now, and one hard-to-see Song Sparrow. The Portage is home to breeding Song Sparrows, but I’m not sure about Chipping Sparrows.

SOSP 5-6-18-3128

Song Sparrow

As ubiquitous as Red-Winged Blackbirds are, they can still be beautiful.

House Wrens breed at the Portage. They’re always singing a lot, and every once in a while I might even see one… But it always takes me a few repeats to remember their song.

I have one more walk to lead at the Portage this coming Saturday. The last time I checked the weather the prediction was for thunderstorms, but that was the forecast last Saturday and we still managed to dodge the rain and see a lot of birds, so I am hopeful. It should be warmer too, which will add a whole new dimension – mosquitoes – after all the rain. As much as I find mosquitoes a nuisance, I also realize they’re food for a lot of birds.

INBU 5-6-18-3185

Suddenly Spring

NOWA 5-1-18-1834

Northern Waterthrush

I almost could have called it “Suddenly This Summer” because on May 1 we skipped spring and went straight into summer temperatures by noon. But along with the sudden push of warm air from the south came a lot of migrating birds, and after all, it was finally the real start to Spring Migration.

As luck would have it I was near the lakefront for the last part of the stem cell procedure on my right knee, which consisted of a blood draw early in the morning and then having a few hours before a return to the doctor’s office for the final injection. I realized the location’s potential the week before when I had the major procedure done. The medical building is virtually right across the street from North Pond, which is a favorite hot spot with lakefront birders. The week before it was blustery and cold with only a few of the hardiest migrants. But now I had a birder in my friend Lesa to whom I am grateful for being my chauffeur for the day. I was walking without crutches if moving slowly, but I was walking, and slow is generally good for birding. The slower you move, the more birds you eventually will see. And seeing birds was a great distraction from whatever pain I was feeling.

Perhaps the first warblers to greet us were four or five Ovenbirds poking about in the grass. Even though the weather was warmer, the trees and accompanying insects had not caught up with it yet and so a lot of birds were foraging on the ground for something to eat. The ground is an Ovenbird’s preferred foraging spot anyway. Ovenbirds can be nearly impossible to see on their breeding grounds, but in migration on the lakefront they are all over the place this year. I have seen them since everywhere I go for midday walks near my workplace.

Then it seemed there were Black-Throated Green Warblers everywhere.

Predictably, especially in the grass, were Palm Warblers. A note about these pictures, being my first warbler photographs of the season. The morning started off a bit overcast, and then I had only my 75-300mm lens as it seemed ridiculous to be carrying around anything larger in my compromised condition, so I didn’t get quite the clarity I wanted for many of these birds. But it was just such a joyous way to spend a medical day and provided an extra therapeutic perk altogether.

I am always so happy to see a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s not quite rare, but you never see more than one of them at a time, and they’re such delicate-looking little birds.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were predictable, but not easy to capture as they frantically searched for food.

Our look at the Pine Warbler below was brief, but this is a more unusual species in migration so I am glad I got this shot.

PIWA 5-1-18-1893The three species below are Yellow, Black-and-White, and Nashville Warblers.

Another spring migrant that seems to be showing up in force is the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Meanwhile, on their way out were Golden-Crowned Kinglet on the left and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet on the right, below.

Then there are the migrating Thrushes. Two below are a Swainson’s Thrush on the left and a Gray-Cheeked Thrush on the right.

I have been out since last Tuesday and have a lot more pictures to process and share with you, but it’s been really difficult to get caught up. All I can say is every day I’m a little bit better and there have even been a few moments when I’ve forgotten about my knee altogether!

WCSP 5-1-18-1792

White-Crowned Sparrow

Below, two glimpses of a female Eastern Towhee…

I will be back soon with more from Instant Spring Migration. Until then, spring on!

TEWA 5-1-18-1675

Tennessee Warbler

 

Lasting Impressions

WBNU Ottawa Trail 09-09-17-5295

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Somewhere the images I manage to capture of birds over the years accumulate in well-organized collages in my mind’s eye, and from those conglomerations comes empathy for the individuals of the any species and an appreciation for their irreplaceable contributions to life on the planet.

I haven’t seen many species of late, due  somewhat to my inability to frequent the lakefront parks, but when I revisit some of these photographs I took from weekends ago at the Chicago Portage and Ottawa Trail, I am reminded of how special birds surprisingly show up–because birds are creatures of flight, they can fly and land anywhere, and no ultralight aircraft will ever be a match for a bird–and I am lucky to be alive to see them. Like the Golden-Winged Warbler below that popped up at Ottawa Trail on September 9. I couldn’t get great pictures but I am grateful I got to see such a beautiful and sometimes rare bird.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below must be a youngster. Colors aren’t quite set yet, still has a fluffy, unfinished look about him.

I never tire of seeing a Magnolia Warbler. Below is either a female or a young male.

Flycatchers were still around during the first days of our heat wave, which is thankfully over except now we are approaching drought. The facing pictures of the Phoebe below were from the Portage and the one below them from Ottawa Trail.

EAPH McGinnis 09-17-17-8200

Eastern Phoebe

Usually I only hear Pewees but that day I got to see this one.

EAWP Portage 09-09-17-8013

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Swainson’s Thrushes were abundant but not always easy to see. After going back and forth I have decided the larger picture below is of a Gray-Cheeked Thrush.

SWTH Portage 09-09-17-7828

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And the last of the young Indigo Buntings were preparing to leave the Portage.

INBU Portage 09-09-17-7785

Indigo Buntings

I have never seen a Chipmunk sit still long enough for me to point a camera lens at it. This is worth sharing.

Chipmunk Portage 09-09-17-7976

Eastern Chipmunk

More recent memories to come and if I see a few more migrants before the passerine migration is over, I will try to share them with you.

Waiting for Change

Monarch in my Yard 8-30-15-0318I am waiting for the heat to go away, for the rains to come and cool us off. Also waiting for life to settle down again into some sort of routine, keeping the structure of the old and shimmying in parts of the new. The office move is complete but getting things to work properly is taking longer. I have suddenly added choir practice every Wednesday to the mix and am wondering how that will go as I have to reassign parts of my life to other schedules. At least to accommodate some kind of birding…

Swallowtail Portage 8-30-15-0204

And then Oliver Sacks died. For as much warning as he gave us, it still seems hard to believe. I have all his books to remember him by, though, and would like to get back to reading them.

Swainson's Thrush, LaBagh Woods

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods

And passerine migration, that thing that depends so much on the weather, isn’t really happening as much as one would want it to, especially when I finally had a little time this weekend to look for birds.

Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage

Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage

CEWW Portage 8-30-15-0056

Swainson’s Thrushes are pretty much everywhere but particularly closer to the lakefront. I have only seen a handful of warblers and not really had a chance to capture them with the camera.

Swainson's Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

Swainson’s Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

The pictures are from the last week or so, some taken in the downtown parks and others from local haunts or somewhere in between. No theme, no meme.

American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

AMRE LSE Park 9-1-15-0365

At the Chicago Portage for the last two weeks, the most numerous species has been juvenile Indigo Buntings. They are literally everywhere. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I was counting half a dozen brilliant blue males on territories all summer. It appears moms and dads have moved on and left their offspring to find their way.

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

INBU at Portage 9-6-15-0694There are still a few other straggling species too like Gray Catbirds and Cedar Waxwings.

Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage

Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage

And the insects are still going strong. I saw a larger group of Monarch butterflies at LaBagh Woods this weekend than I have seen all year. Milkweed is everywhere. I hope it helps.

Butterfly at Portage 9-6-15-0665These insects were very patient with the 650mm lens.

Eastern Comma Portage 8-30-15-0252Cricket Portage 8-30-15-0232

Butterfly at LaBagh 9-6-15-0637

I’m a bit exhausted by all the changes and yet there always seems to be more coming. I will try to be post once more before I take off next week for a short trip to the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Rally. I hope to have something to share from that experience.

Black-Crowned Night Heron (BCNH) on the Chicago River – Part One

BCNH LaBagh 5-23-15-3229

Black-Crowned Night Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Almost every work morning without fail, even in inclement weather, I have hauled the camera backpack downtown so I could be prepared, should the Black-Crowned Night Heron I have been seeing every spring downtown on the Chicago River show up again. Up until now I have not kept track of its visits on ebird, so I don’t know exactly when I saw it the last two or three years. I did find a picture of a piling in the river from June 4, 2014 on my cell phone, which must have been when I saw it last, but it’s hard to even see if there was a bird in it.

So I did take pictures of a Black-Crowned Night Heron at another part of the Chicago River, specifically LaBagh Woods, on May 23 this year when I joined Chicago Ornithological Society on a field trip. This was the first time I had been to the slough part at LaBagh. I hope I can find the slough again on my own next time I visit. It’s a magical place, reminding me of the Chicago Portage. The rest of the pictures in this post are from the LaBagh trip.

Mallard on Nest, LaBagh

Mallard on Nest, LaBagh Woods

I had all but given up on seeing the Black-Crowned Night Heron downtown, but I have been thinking about him, so I decided to do this post anyway today featuring the other one I saw up river last month.

Great Blue Heron, LaBagh, 5-23-15

Great Blue Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh

Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh Woods

As luck would have it, this morning, on the way in, as I was walking north along the river which I have started doing now that the work has been completed that the city or the building owners were doing on the west side between Adams and Madison–there are enough trees and low-lying plants that make me think this could turn out to be a good place to visit during migration–I suddenly saw the downtown Black-Crowned Night Heron flying across the river and landing on the other side! By the time I took out my camera and put it together, it had flown back across the river again, underneath me, to where I could not see it.

Swainson's Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Kingbird, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Kingbird, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

But I did get pictures when it flew again, and I will post them tonight! I find it amusing that I was focused on seeing the heron and then it showed up this morning. Who was sending who messages?

Gray Catbird, LaBagh Woods

Gray Catbird, LaBagh Woods

In previous years I can recall only seeing the downtown heron for one morning, but now I believe anything can happen.

Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Never uncommon during fall migration, this year Swainson’s Thrush wins my award for Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant. And although all these pictures were taken at LaBagh Woods on Sunday, where there may have been 100 but I reported 45 of these birds, I have seen Swainson’s Thrushes downtown daily and there were plenty at Columbus Park on Saturday, though not always offering themselves up for photographs. I’m sure Safety In Numbers had a lot to do with the pictures I took Sunday. Not that there were that many other birds vying for my attention.

SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5987SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6209SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5880SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5869SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6316

I give the bird below the award for Best Concealed Swainson’s Thrush Out In The Open.

SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6375

I hope to be back with more from recent near travels. I might not get out to see birds this weekend at all, so that could give me time to sit at the computer: I have a wedding to attend Saturday and rain is predicted for Sunday morning.

City Stopovers

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Fall is suddenly upon us with cooler temperatures, shorter days, and finally some rain. It has been raining all day today, true to the weather predictions which the past couple weeks have not held, at least in my neighborhood. So we were pretty dry until now. I finally gave in to reality and decided to get caught up on indoor chores, rather than go out on the migrant quest. But over the past week there have been birds arriving at the two spots I can visit regularly downtown, 155 North Wacker Drive on my way in to work and Lake Shore East Park on my lunch hour, in particular on Friday after the cold front pushed more birds down to us.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Tennessee Warbler behind glass at 155 North Wacker deli

Tennessee Warbler behind glass at 155 North Wacker deli

At 155 North Wacker I never know where I’m going to see birds, so the waterthrush flew up onto the top of a wall on Wednesday, and on Friday, the Tennessee Warbler was stuck inside the deli. I called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors without realizing I had not told them exactly where I was but by the time they got there the worker inside the deli whom I had been trying to help get the bird down and out the door managed to catch the warbler in something net-like, brought it out to me, and as soon as I could say “it’s fine” the Tennessee escaped his hand and flew into the trees. I would have rather gotten a picture of him free, but he was not having anything to do with us after all that.

Female American Redstart, Lake Shore East

Female American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

Redstarts have been most abundant. Of course this time of year a lot of them look more like Yellowstarts. The first year males are distinguishable from the females such as the one above by their more brightly-colored feathers and the prescient orange look to the yellow on the side of the breast. The young male below was a bit puffed-out looking through a lot of the shots; I hope he’s feeling better.

First-Year Male American Redstart

First-Year Male American Redstart

Swainson’s Thrushes have also been here and there. Not as many as I would have seen in the larger park space but still you could pretty much count on seeing or hearing one somewhere.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

Below is a not great picture of what may be the first Blackpoll I’ve seen this fall. There were other shots that fill out the whole bird a bit more but none as revealing. That’s one thing about taking pictures of warblers. You might end up with the tail feathers in one picture and the breast or head in another. Or you might just get a good look at the underside.

Blackpoll Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Blackpoll Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Below is a Female Wilson’s Warbler. Again not a great picture but a nice bird to see, nevertheless.

Female Wilson's Warbler, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Female Wilson’s Warbler, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Friday there were at least a dozen Palm Warblers foraging in the grass and in the trees in Lake Shore East Park.

Palm Warbler, Lake Shore  East Park

Palm Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

The third most common bird has been Magnolia Warbler. Below is what looks to me like a nice first-year male.

Magnolia Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Magnolia Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

If I can get up early tomorrow I might try the lakefront before work. If nothing else, I owe my crows a visit.