Saturday’s Spring Bird Count and Mother’s Day Rain

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in the Spring Bird Count in DuPage County. I have done this count for a number of years, but this time, with social distancing, it was different. We split up so we each covered one area. I was assigned the Silver Lake part of Blackwell Forest Preserve, a location I was not familiar with, but was easy to navigate with the map Jody gave me, and I can get lost anywhere. Since I could only do the morning and there was no time limit, I had a wonderful experience listening for and spotting all the birds I could identify at a leisurely pace.

One of several Yellow-Rumped Warblers

I felt especially privileged because under the current New Normal, I would not have been allowed to visit DuPage County preserves because I am not a resident. The county decided last month to limit parking to its residents. We speculated there was an overflow of people from Cook County, where I live, due to the closing of the lakefront. So I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit this lovely place, but now that I am more familiar with it, I plan to do so when restrictions end.

Eastern Bluebird (male)

I was beginning to feel like I am the only person on earth who hadn’t seen a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak yet so I was happy to find one singing high up in a tall tree.

Love was definitely in the air, albeit chilly after freezing temperatures overnight, for local breeders. I usually can’t get a glimpse of a Blue Jay long enough to photograph, but this pair united for some courtship behavior, exchanging some tiny seeds you might be able to see if you click on the images below.

And when it was all over I somehow managed to catch this Blue Jay in flight.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are usually quite common, however brief the period of spring migration, so it’s easy to overlook how truly beautiful they are. This one was happy to display all his yellow parts except for his namesake.

I have no idea what was going on with this European Starling but I could swear he was dancing and singing.

This Tree Swallow was saving his energy for later when the sun would start warming up the ground and the air and there would be bugs to catch.

At some point Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are going to become impossible to find, let alone photograph, but that hasn’t quite happened yet.

Here’s two more of the goldfinch pair featured at the top of this post.

This distant Northern Flicker would have been impossible to capture were it not for the bright, clear sunshine.

I kept hearing this Common Yellowthroat and he was confusing me by not singing his “witchety-wichety” song, only a slow trill, if you will. So finally he came and sat right in front of me and continued singing. I have never had a Common Yellowthroat volunteer to be photographed. He must be a novice. Anyway, you can see in the third photo how windy it was.

Another warbler, only this one was harder to capture. Black-throated Green Warbler.

Robins are predictably everywhere but they get short shrift. I try not to take them all for granted and capture at least one.

A less-frequently-seen bird, also in the thrush family – a handsome Veery.

Song Sparrow taking a break.

This Canada Goose flew right in front of me so I couldn’t resist.

I heard the Orchard Oriole before I saw him. What a lovely tune.

Palm Warblers become commonplace too, but they are still pretty birds.

I miss seeing spectacles like 150 White-Crowned Sparrows or more on the lakefront, but am glad I was able to report the only White-Crowned Sparrow seen in our area on Saturday.

There were at least four Baltimore Oriole males. These two got into a little bit of a stand-off.

The victor for this spot.

Downy Woodpeckers are busy this time of year and not quite so visible.

Here’s another one of the Bluebird.

So this morning I wasn’t planning on going out at all because of the forecast for all-day rain, but the rain stopped, so I went to the Portage to see if I could find anything. The cloudy sky was a more dramatic backdrop than usual.

I took a snapshot of Pere Marquete from the parking lot sculpture to see what kind of exposure settings I might be able to use.

Just my luck – the male Bluebird who has been at the Portage now for weeks happened to be hanging out. The exciting news which I meant to report a couple weeks ago is that we have a breeding pair. I saw his mate with nesting material a couple weeks ago. As long as I have been going to the Portage, Bluebirds have never nested there. Apparently they found a log or a tree stump with a suitable cavity for a nest. So I will be watching for their offspring in the coming weeks.

It started to rain, and I had to decide what to do – go back to the car, or keep walking? I put my camera in my backpack, kept walking, and then ran into a flock of warblers high up in the trees. Oh great – no light, it’s raining, and the tiny warblers are nearly impossible to see. These few images are what I could capture.

Palm Warbler

Tuesday morning I am going to try to go to the Portage early in the morning – when there is sunshine and warmer temperatures – and come home to work in the afternoon. I hope I get permission to do this because the forecast from Wednesday through the weekend is for rain and thunderstorms. My hope is to see more warblers. You’ll hear about it if I do!

House Finch

Spring Comes to the Portage

Too many birds, too many pictures and not enough time. How can that be? I give up, at least for the moment. Yesterday’s summery sunshiny weather produced some wonderful encounters with birds that simply cannot wait. Pushing all my other planned posts, aside, here we go!

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers have arrived in abundance and were generally the first to distract me. They are notoriously difficult to photograph but yesterday was the exception. In the sequence below this perched bird, I happened upon a Blue-Gray at waist-level, focused on obtaining web filaments for its nest.

It was a treat to see this Swainson’s Thrush, however briefly..

Another skulker I don’t think I’ve ever seen here before was the Northern Waterthrush below. I was sitting down on a rock-like seat that looks over the water and noticed something moving.

Every year when I hear House Wrens I have to refigure them out, I don’t know why. And then they just sing ad infinitum before I ever see one. I managed to glimpse this one way up high in a treetop.

Not that I’m lacking for pictures, but this Tree Swallow didn’t make it into the last post and is here to represent the ones I saw yesterday but did not get a chance to photograph.

So now we come to the highlight of my day. It had been a sort of slow morning, actually, compared to the day before – which I hope to get around to in a not-too-distant future post – and I was a bit disappointed that I was seeing hardly any warblers. I speculated maybe the warm and calm winds on Saturday night were favorable to migrants continuing their voyages north and they weren’t stopping if they didn’t have to. So as I walked slowly back down the trail from where I’d seen the Waterthrush, I stopped when I heard a call that might be described as a sneezy trill followed by raspberries. It had been so long since I studied warbler calls, I wasn’t sure, so I checked the Sibley app on my phone as quietly as possible, and sure enough, I was in the presence of a Blue-Winged Warbler. I haven’t seen more than an unsatisfying glimpse of a Blue-Winged in years. So when two of them showed up in front of me, I was temporarily transported to bliss, away from the extra weight of being human lately. I could almost hear them saying “Hey, lady, nice Portage you got here.”

Among the other creatures coming back to life at the Portage, turtles and frogs.

Painted Turtle

There was this Chorus Frog American Toad crossing the trail. He sang for me. I have placed a brief recording of his song below him. Unfortunately, there’s a slow-moving freight train in the background. – Thanks to my friend Leslie, I have been corrected. I thought he looked more like a toad but I didn’t know toads sing!

In the sparrow department, a Chipping Sparrow, one of several elusive but very vocal Song Sparrows and a couple somewhat backlit photos of a Swamp Sparrow.

Most numerous at the moment are probably the White-Throated Sparrows but they’re just passing through.

White-Throated Sparrow

Warbling Vireos are back in force. I heard more on Saturday than I did yesterday but I managed to slightly photograph this one.

Warbling Vireo
Northern Cardinal in a nice spot, if distant

A Great Blue Heron flew right over my head.

Two common species of butterfly have been around this week, the Painted Lady and the Red Admiral.

Baltimore Orioles have arrived. I wonder if they’re possibly the same ones that visited my yard for the last time on Friday (I had three at once).

I was almost at the parking lot when I heard, and then saw, three Indigo Buntings – on the paved trail. They must have just arrived – getting their bearings, so to speak, because I have never seen them so tame. I’m sure I’ll be struggling to get any pictures of them the rest of the breeding season.

Here’s another Indigo Bunting I saw a bit earlier.

One of many singing male American Goldfinches

Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are still around, although I think these must be the females as I haven’t seen a red crown patch on any individuals for a week or more. But this one sure is a cutie.

A few views of the landscape.

Turtles basking in the sun.

The Portage is starting to green up. Pretty soon the water will be entirely green with duck weed.

This has to be my favorite photograph – the Blue-Winged showing off his worm.

Maybe you can tell I’ve been writing this post in fits and starts. It’s a bit disorganized because I inadvertently clicked on the “group” feature which seems to have cemented some unintended parts together, but I’m too lazy to start over again.

We have dropped thirty degrees back into cooler temperatures, and I guess that’s okay for Monday, but I want to hold onto the beauty of this past weekend as long as possible. I am thankful for spring migration and for my indoor birds, making it easier to get out of bed in the morning – albeit earlier and earlier as the days get longer!

Portage Promise

Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.

Baltimore Oriole (female)

As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.

Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.

Tree Swallow

Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.

This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!

One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.

A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.

Red-winged Blackbird (female)
American Goldfinch (female)

It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.

Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!

Slow Walks through the Portage

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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.

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Northern Parula

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Owls at the Portage

GHOW 04-08-18-9007Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.

Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.

GHOW 04-22-18-0989So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.

The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.

I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.

And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.

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Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…

Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.

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I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.

Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.

Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…

Woodpeckers: Downy, Red-Bellied, Northern Flicker…

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Northern Flicker

A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.

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Brown-headed Cowbird

These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!

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The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.

On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.

It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.

At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.

Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.

Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”

Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).

The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.

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Pied-Billed Grebes

Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.

It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.

We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.

More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.

YHBL 07-16-17-6279The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.

RWBL ET AL 07-16-17-6330Summer simmers on. I’ll be back soon.

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!

Breeding Birds

PRWA IDSP 05-29-2016-2349Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.

Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.

There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.

Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.

Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.

We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.

Cedar Waxwings above, at IDSP on the left and the other one from the Chicago Portage.

The Portage had at least four male Baltimore Orioles, and I was able to spot a female not entirely hidden on the right, above.