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.

Hummingbird Moth Migration

Hummer Moth IMG_0335_1

White-Lined Sphynx Moth

Last week for two days in a row in downtown Chicago, I saw Hummingbird Moths, also known as Sphynx Moths, with the first one being on my way to work Thursday morning in the flowering plants at 100 South Wacker Drive. Now that fall warbler migration has begun I have had my camera ready. But I think even if I had to stop and put the lens on the body, this moth would still have waited for me. It seemed to respond to attention.

Hummer Moth IMG_0293_1

If you know the name of this plant please tell me: it’s installed everywhere which makes me think it’s rather common and very hardy.

When I got to 155 N. Wacker Drive a few minutes later, I did manage to see a Nashville Warbler out in the open. I had a female Mourning Warbler too but she was not so cooperative.

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Later in the afternoon, at Lake Shore East Park, I was hearing birds but not seeing them, so I started imitating some call notes and this Blackburnian Warbler emerged to check me out.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Also had a brief encounter with a Swainson’s Thrush.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Few and far between are Monarch Butterflies. I can remember only a few years ago seeing scores of them at a time and now I am lucky to see one. I would like to see this species recover; I hope it’s not too late.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

On the way back to work, at the Aon Center, was another hummer moth.

Hummer Moth IMG_0367_1

This one was a bit easier to capture. Click on the pictures for an enlarged view. I think the eyes are fascinating.

Hummer Moth IMG_0375_1

Indeed these moths look to me like some kind of magical made-up creatures that belong in a Pixar movie.

Hummer Moth IMG_0373_1

Not that I’ve ever watched one. I’d rather see the real thing.

An Abundance of Swainson’s Thrushes

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods

Every migration season is different, and if one species dominates this fall migration in Chicago, it has been Swainson’s Thrushes – I have seen them everywhere, almost every day, and this has been going on the entire month of September.

In the forest preserves I have counted so many they have sometimes seemed to outnumber the Robins. The second most numerous species in the preserves has perhaps been Northern Waterthrushes. But I have seen Swainson’s even in downtown Chicago.

155 N. Wacker

It has gotten to the point where I have stopped taking pictures of the Swainson’s Thrushes because it’s unnecessary just to document their presence. But then every once in a while there have been models that were hard to resist.

Today at LaBagh Woods, the Robins and the Swainson’s Thrushes were foraging from rocky shoals in the Chicago River.

Thrushes in the Chicago River

La Bagh Woods

Wilson’s Warbler

I went to La Bagh Woods for the first time this past weekend after hearing it identified as a birding “hot spot,” particularly during spring migration, for years. This has been a weird warbler migration year, so I thought I might as well check it out. The primary regional hotspot, Montrose Harbor, has been predictably pretty good all season, particularly during the week while I’m at work, although the numbers have been low even for Montrose.

After coming downtown all week I am not in a hurry to frequent the lakefront. It’s generally crowded, which is not my favorite way to see birds. How can I be sure a bird is looking at me if there are ten other people with binoculars/cameras trained on it? This is also the place where those who can bring out their 800mm lenses and huge tripods and I feel silly, almost apologetic, schlepping around a 400mm lens.

Wilson’s Warbler

I started out at La Bagh seeing a Wilson’s Warbler. I have always found Wilson’s to be friendly when they’re down about eye level, and this one was no exception. It was pretty shady though.

Wilson was not far from the landmark graffiti, which came in handy later when I was trying to find my way back to my car.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

No surprise that I found a Lincoln’s Sparrow, I guess. There have been a lot of them this year. And here’s a goldfinch.

American Goldfinch

There’s an old railroad bed running alongside the preserve. The tracks have been removed, leaving gravel to walk on, out in the open, which is where I saw a Golden-Winged Warbler.

Golden-Winged Warbler

I wasn’t close enough to get a sharp picture but I’m excited anyway, this is the first Golden-Winged I’ve seen in years. Even though the warblers have been few and far between, they have been rewarding nonetheless.

Other forest creatures were perhaps better models. I’m sorry I didn’t manage to capture the two coyotes I saw early, but there were several deer,

Doe

and chipmunks,

Chipmunk

and a squirrel looking strange carrying its young in its mouth up the tree.

Squirrel with young

There were a few thrushes. I managed to capture a Veery with its back toward me,

Veery

and this Swainson’s Thrush on a log.

Swainson’s Thrush

What else? A Blackpoll Warbler with his back toward me.

Blackpoll Warbler

A preening Baltimore Oriole with his back toward me too.

Baltimore Oriole

I could call it La Back, instead of La Bagh.