McGinnis Slough and A Weekend of Prayer

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Swamp Sparrow

I gave in to the prospect of the only nice weekend weather Saturday morning before my dentist appointment and went to McGinnis Slough. Reports of waterfowl seen a day or two before reminded me it was time to renew my relationship with this favorite destination, and the prospect of fall colors made it even more enticing. So now it will be a month or longer, looking back on fall from winter soon, by the time I get around to the last organized bird walk weekend.

The moment I got out of the car I felt restored. I was the only human and could temporarily forget about the whir of traffic noise nearby.

McGinnis - 11-3-18-4099There were still a few Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out, singing.

RWBL - 11-3-18-4107In addition to a lot of Swamp Sparrows, there was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season, the arrival of which always reminds me of winter coming…

I was not expecting to see Yellow-Rumped Warblers…or orange conifers…but apparently both exist together. I think the tree is an American Larch or something like that, which turns yellow or orange in the fall.

YRWA - 11-3-18-4291And of course the waterfowl. Below, a view of only a couple hundred of 850 American Coots. Or so I calculated…

Hundreds of Coots - 11-3-18-4332And here are two cute Coots up closer.

AMCO - 11-3-18-4423There was a nice little group of Green-Winged Teal…

and quite a few Northern Shovelers, although I could not seem to get a good photo of the flashier male

NOSH - 11-3-18-4231At one point two Mute Swans flew overhead. The second time they weren’t entirely mute and I thought they sounded a bit like Snow Geese so they had me fooled for a minute, but my photographs later said Swans.

The Coot below was enjoying the early sunshine, and so was I, but the clouds started to move in quickly after that.

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Plant life taking on fall form…

A Wood Duck was close enough for a photo but by then the sun was hiding.

WODU - 11-3-18-4417A few more of the Yellow-Rumpeds and the tree they were in.

Another Shoveler…

NOSH - 11-3-18-4128The trees looking windswept and leafless…

Trees at McGinnis - 11-3-18-4122Sunday morning the choir sang two services, singing “Somebody Prayed for Peace” and “Sweet Freedom” which is based on the national anthem. Afterward I went to city hall for early voting, deciding that it might not be such a bad thing to try, even though I live half a block from my polling place. As I sat in the gallery section of council chambers waiting my turn at the voting machine, I was reminded of sitting in a church pew and struck by the metaphor of voting as a form of prayer.

Random contributions from my new cell phone…the leaves are from one of the towering Sycamore trees I passed this morning on my way to the train, the salad consumed yesterday features the last of my cherry tomatoes, and beneath all that, one experiment in my new Saturday tradition which is to have one midday meal of scrambled eggs and onions and whatever else I’m looking to use up…in this instance, even some stale pita chips. Food as a form of prayer.

One more landscape from McGinnis and a Red-Winged Blackbird looking thoughtful.

This coming weekend will be very busy with the choir tour. I hope to return to this page soon afterward.

Three Days in Michigan, Part I

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Broad-Winged Hawk, Hartwick Pines 7-17-18

I had the good fortune to meet up with my roommate from previous trips to Ecuador and Panama, and join her for a family reunion a couple weekends ago. The lodging was a remote location near a sprawling golf resort in Michigan. I could have been out of the country because my GPS quit working right before I arrived, and I did not always have cell phone coverage, so it felt like a real getaway. Four of us were birders, so we spent the better part of the three full days we had together exploring various locations. These pictures are from the Manistee National Forest.

My car was too small to be comfortable enough for the day trips, so I was a lucky passenger. I tend not to pay close attention to where I am being taken, and I don’t keep a journal when I’m on a trip, so if it were not for my friend’s son keeping an ebird list I wouldn’t be able to recall where we went. My contribution was to bring a book on birding locations in Michigan, which I gladly handed over to Oliver and his wife, and they decided where to go. I was happy to be away and would have gone anywhere. Even though my drive up was only about 4 hours, the ecosystem and even the time zone were sufficiently different, so the feeling was equivalent to going much farther away.

I had planned to do only one blog post for the whole trip because I felt like I didn’t get very many pictures, the birds were far away and when the birds were closer the lighting was difficult, but now that I’ve processed everything it seems a better idea to break it up into a couple posts. Birds were not all that easy to find. We heard the swamp sparrow, above right, singing like crazy but until we found him and he moved around on his perch a little bit, he was half-hidden behind a leaf. The bird on the left is a Cedar Waxwing.

It was wonderful to see multiple Turkey Vultures. Not that they aren’t in Illinois but I have missed seeing one in the neighborhood this year. And we were out in the middle of some kind of nowhere, so it was possible to see groups of them soaring high in the sky. It was also nice to see a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (with all the sap holes in the tree). They breed in Michigan. At home I get to see them only in migration. That’s a Wood Duck below left-hand corner.

I think I have seen Cliff Swallows before only in Ohio and perhaps Michigan so it was hard for me to recognize the youngsters below.

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Cliff Swallows

The last pictures I took in Illinois of Dickcissels were all of their backs to me, so even though the bird below is hidden in the foliage you can at least see its pretty yellow throat. It looks like a young bird, as does the Bobolink below it.

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Dickcissel

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Boblink

I found the dragonflies more cooperative than the birds. And, in the presence of a dragonfly expert, I learned I have been misidentifying some of them. Below left is a Ruby Meadowhawk. The upper righthand ID is a female Little Blue Dragonlet, and below it is a Halloween Pennant – which I think we saw every day. More dragonfly pictures to come.

Here’s one of the Swamp Sparrow singing.

SWSP 7-15-18-6616I intend to be back soon with more from Michigan. It’s been busy at work and all of a sudden, even though the entire month of August is ahead, it seems like summer is already on the wane. I do appreciate the cooler temperatures we have had lately but I know better than to expect them to stay. However it’s heavenly to open the windows overnight.

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Winding Down

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

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Montrose and My CF Card Snafu

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I hadn’t been to Montrose Point – the Magic Hedge – for years, so I thought it was a good idea when my friend Susan suggested we meet there on my one free Sunday morning this month, which turned out to be Palm Sunday on the calendar, for those of you who relate to that. It was a fine day, and not overly crowded with friendly birders or photographers, which can happen later in the season with warbler migration.

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Winter Wren

I was pleased to discover that the paths are now more clearly marked and the natural areas roped off, which likely makes the birds feel more secure.

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Tree Swallow

Unfortunately I only have maybe half the pictures I took, because I neglected to make sure they had all transferred off the camera that takes compact flash (“CF”) cards as well as SD cards.

While I was in Panama I discovered that I could no longer transfer pictures off a CF card reader to the laptop, so I had to wait until I got home to find the patch cord that came with the Mark III 5D and transfer them directly from the camera. Something has apparently changed in the software and I wonder if the plan is to render CF cards obsolete.

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Swamp Sparrow

All that said, while I was transferring my Montrose pictures, the laptop appeared to be finished ingesting them and I disconnected the camera and wiped the card clean. Only when I went to process did I realize I was missing the last hour or so of photos that I took.

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Common Grackle

I was mourning this loss for days because I had some great shots and they were gone forever. But I also knew the loss would be minimized the sooner I took more pictures, and told myself it was a learning experience. (“What’s your favorite song?” “Uh, I guess the one I just wrote.”)

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Brown-Headed Cowbirds and one female Red-Winged Blackbird

I will never reformat a CF card, or an SD card, for that matter, again before I check to make sure I have transferred everything off of it. (Repeat after me…)

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American Robin

After some deliberation it appears all the thrushes we saw were Hermit Thrushes, below.

One generous individual pointed out to us the female Coyote below, who otherwise faded into her surroundings.

Coyote 4-9-17-0568I won’t elaborate on what is missing from these pictures after we saw the coyote… I’ll be back soon with more from Panama, just needed to put this to rest.

P.S. Three more days until the March For Science!

LaBagh Woods

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-1000I try to get to LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve a couple times a year if not more, at least during migration season. These pictures are from two weeks ago when I went with my friend Susan. It was extremely muddy after recent rains which made some of the trails impassible. Number of species and photographs were not as forthcoming as I might have hoped but we had a good time  Disclaimer: I’m presently suffering from a horrible head cold that started yesterday morning so I will keep this short and sweet.

It was a photo contest between Nashville Warbler (above) and Magnolia (again, show-offs that they are) but it was wonderful to see the elusive and scarce Golden-Winged Warbler. Below are two separate individuals of this species. At least I think they are different birds, we saw them quite a distance from each other.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are always welcome. Below, male and female.

RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0654RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0676I don’t think I stopped bothering to take pictures of American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers (below) but there weren’t many volunteers.

And yes, the Magnolias, posing even when they aren’t.

Below, a Cooper’s Hawk sitting quietly in a tree.

COHA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0822After hearing Northern Parulas in several locations it was gratifying to finally be able to see one or two well and photograph below.

The migrants that likely aren’t going any farther are House Wren and Eastern Phoebe, below.

Also a Swamp Sparrow who could stay in the area.

SWSPLaBagh 5-15-2016-0809The bird below is a male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – and the lighting is so intense and back-lit there is just no way to show off his ruby throat. But it was nice to see him perched. Welcome back, little fella. Still waiting to see a hummer in my yard…

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A few more athletic poses by the Nashville Warblers.

If you look closely at the top of the bird’s head below you can see a little rufous in the feathers of a male Nashville Warbler. I don’t know if I have ever seen this with binoculars but the camera lens makes it easier to believe.

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0964I will be back with more of spring migration. This weekend is probably going to be the last we will see of the warblers that keep going north.

Fall Sparrow-rama

Swamp Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Now that the fall sparrows are all but gone, I’ve decided to pay tribute to them. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to photograph some less common species that made the front pages of the local list-serve, one or two which I even managed to see, I had some cooperative models nonetheless, and they’re all compelling to me in their subtle variety.

Dark-Eyed Junco

And for me, anyway, I need a break from the evening news.

White-Crowned Sparrow

I hope you are all safe and secure, wherever you are, as storms seem to be raging across the planet.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden

As you might notice from the locations, the sparrows were plentiful in the Chicago lakefront parks and also in the marsh area of McGinnis Slough, a Cook County suburban forest preserve.

Clay-Colored Sparrow, Daley Bicentennial Plaza

When I first photographed the Clay-Colored above, it was such a cloudy, or as my mother used to say, “glismal” day that I thought perhaps he was a Chipping Sparrow. Imagine my delight upon developing the image to discover he was a Clay-Colored Sparrow! They are a bit similar but Clay-Colored are rather more unusual and I haven’t seen one in a while. The grayness of the day certainly contributes to his clay color!

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

As common as Song Sparrows are when they breed here, they seem less so in migration.

White-Throated Sparrow, Daley

So many White-Throated Sparrows come through, often you can hear one or two singing, although usually they’re first-year tryouts.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Daley

I like pictures that sometimes show just enough of the bird for identification…

Swamp Sparrow, Daley

Sometimes that’s all a bird’s going to show you.

Dark-Eyed Junco, Daley

Or in Daley, there are lots of sparrows in the grass but all too often the grass overshadows them.

Fox Sparrow, Daley

Fox Sparrows are another favorite of mine. There are four subspecies in North America; we get the red guys.

Savannah Sparrow, McGinnis

There’s more plumage variation among Savannah Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow, Daley

And even White-Throated Sparrows have two subspecies that intermingle. The bird above is the tan-striped variation, the earlier one is the white-striped.

House Sparrows, Daley

And then of course there are the House Sparrows. They aren’t really sparrows, they’re weaver finches. But don’t tell them that: they like to think they pass for sparrows and the city HOSPs, at least, don’t mingle with the other finches.