Birding the 3-day Weekend

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American Goldfinch (female)

I’m finally getting around to these pictures from the Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday morning I led the second walk at the Portage and the weather could not have been more different, shall we say – weather is becoming more than an idle topic for conversation lately as we keep having these 40 degree temperature swings in either direction – than the first walk which was rainy and chilly: this time we had plenty of sunshine and it was getting downright warm. We saw fewer species than the first group, as migration had progressed substantially in the two weeks between walks, but we had a good time.

GREG 5-26-18-4606It was nice to get good looks at the Great Egret that seems to be back in the area. The Green Herons were absent this visit but I suspect all the herons go back and forth between the Portage, Ottawa Trail and the Des Plaines River, so I am sure they are still around.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were a presence. We didn’t even hear a Downy Woodpecker which is really unusual as I always expect to see or hear at least four any time of year but they must have been very busy being quiet.

It’s occurred to me that Song Sparrows are likely the only breeding sparrows at the Portage. Habitat requirements being what they are, I never thought this was odd but at the same time it seems there are a couple Chipping Sparrows that come back to my neighborhood every year so I wonder even about that. I guess it’s location, location, location.

Early on we saw one of many Warbling Vireos we would hear constantly.WAVI 5-26-18-4581And the Indigo Buntings did not disappoint.

This was as close as I could get to a Northern Flicker.NOFL 5-26-18-4620Two surprise birds below, neither of which were very visible, but I can now look forward to finding them again. Great Crested Flycatcher on the left, which we saw on our way out, and the camera just barely caught the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo on the right. I had pointed the camera lens at its curious-looking eyes peering out at me from where it was perched, and then it flew. I’ve heard cuckoos before at the Portage but have never seen one there until now.

For all the warmth and midges swarms, there weren’t many swallows that morning. Below is a Tree Swallow taking a break.

TRSW 5-26-18-4642There were likely more Common Grackles than we saw, but this one was foraging in the bottomlands by the Des Plaines River.

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Two days later on Memorial Day, I decided to go birding early at McGinnis Slough and then swim in the Orland Park fitness center pool, my dream scenario ever since I’ve had to go to Orland while my usual swimming hole has been under remodeling. I’ve been driving by the Slough at night after work to go swimming, often seeing deer foraging in the grass before the days got longer and thus lighter at that hour, but now I had the entire day free and it was hot so a swim after birding seemed to be the perfect idea. I haven’t been able to swim well with my knee out of whack, but the pool has been excellent therapy.

Below is a Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, which we also had at the Portage. A reminder it’s time to get ready for dragonfly identification again.

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Wood Duck

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Double-Crested Cormorants

It was nice to see families at McGinnis, like the Mallards below.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are more numerous here.

RWBL 5-28-18-4745RWBL 5-28-18-5043Two distinct silhouettes below: Double-Crested Cormorant and Turkey Vulture.

Song Sparrows like McGinnis too.

Another Goldfinch…

AMGO 5-26-18-4685Waterfowl at McGinnis are usually distant and hard to see. Sometimes I take pictures and blow them up later to see what I was looking at, not that I ever get a very good image. Below the Mallard family are a couple pictures of a Great Blue Heron in flight and more Wood Ducks. I was surprised to not see any Great Egrets yet at McGinnis, as they can be everywhere. Likely they’ve been thrown off by the crazy weather too and I’m more confused than they are. I’m sure I’ll see them as we slide into summer.

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Here’s one more picture of a most accommodating Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

RBWP 5-26-18-4695I’ll be staying close to home, there’s much work to do in my yard. Not feeling up to rushing yet. Still savoring life in the slow lane.

 

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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Fall Migration Begins

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Tennessee Warbler

There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.

Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.

The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.

The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.

On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.

GBHE and GREG Portage 09-02-17-3862Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.

INBU Portage 09-03-17-4235INBU Portage 09-02-17-3666Likely INBU Portage 09-02-17-3973INBU Portage 09-02-17-3901Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.

So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.

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Warbling Vireo

The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.

Portage 09-03-17-4557Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.

The shelf fungus seemed a bit diminished on this visit.

 

Shelf Fungus Portage 09-02-17-3790Below, three first-year birds.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

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European Starling

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Mourning Dove

The cardinal is a likely candidate for first-year status as well.

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Northern Cardinal

Another view of the Portage, showing off all the native wildflower planting done lately.

Portage 09-02-17-4016I couldn’t decide which photograph of the Common Yellowthroat below to include, so here are both.

COYT Portage 09-02-17-3671COYT Portage 09-02-17-3670And one more of a Tennessee Warbler, adorning Giant Ragweed. Tennessees were most numerous yesterday.

TEWA Portage 09-03-17-4459Apologies for being absent of late. My work situation is in flux, which creates a different kind of distraction. But I promise I’ll be back soon with an update from the yard. It’s been cool enough overnight to leave the windows open all weekend. I think Fall is my Favorite Season.

 

Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

WAVI 6-25-17-0526

Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

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Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

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Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

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Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

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Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Busy Breeding Birds

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Sunday morning I got up early before the predicted heat ensued and went to the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook…

Sign-1709Sanctuary-1694

because I felt like I hadn’t had a proper Eastern Bluebird yet this year. I found only one Bluebird but he did not let me down. He even chirped a slight song but it was not strong enough to beat out the surrounding chorus.

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There were a few other birds on the wire…

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

Juvenile Barn Swallow

The first bird, the parking lot bird, if you will, was a Great Blue Heron flying over.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings moving through. I caught one laggard.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

But the dominant species overall was Red-Winged Blackbird.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

And the Blackbirds were no less shy taking on Turkey Vultures than they had been the Red-Tailed Hawks at McGinnis a couple weeks ago.

Turkey Vulture chased by Red-Winged Blackbirds

Turkey Vulture chased by Red-Winged Blackbirds

Indeed it was a little dicey walking around the paths. Being the height of breeding season, the Red-Wingeds were not in the mood to tolerate my presence. Click on the picture below to see the spider in this female Red-Winged Blackbird’s bill.

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

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The Sanctuary is a small place, but it managed to make the House Sparrow below look exotic.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

After about an hour in Oak Brook, I decided it was time to head back east and check in at the Portage.

Portage-0119

The water levels are high, in large part, I suspect, to the felling of so many trees. There were puddles directly in front of me on the path, visited by a Killdeer…

Killdeer

Killdeer

and a Song Sparrow…

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

There were Warbling Vireos singing up a storm here, as they had been at Dorothy and Sam’s place too. In the sample below, the Warbling Vireo is the very busy-sounding song going on behind all the other noises.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Juvenile Wood Duck

Juvenile Wood Duck

The Portage was full of juvenile birds, like the Wood Duck above. I was glad to see a Green Heron fly over and another, albeit far away, ensconced foraging over the water. I am glad the Green Herons are back.

Green Heron

Green Heron

And after not seeing any Mallards the last two or three times I visited, now there is an entire family.

Mallards

Mallards

Also ubiquitous at the Portage are House Wrens. There were at least four males singing on territories. Here’s one of them.

House Wren

House Wren

Juvenile American Robin

Juvenile American Robin

There are always loads of American Robins at the Portage, and now there will be even more as the youngsters start figuring things out.

The big surprise, perhaps, was on the other side of the fence. I followed the path that leads down to the train tracks and the Des Plaines River. I stopped halfway to peer into the bottomlands and saw a Great Egret. I think this is the first time I have seen a Great Egret at the Portage.

Behind the Portage looking down to the Des Plaines River

Behind the Portage looking down to the Des Plaines River

Changes in habitat create subtle changes in the creatures that use it. It will no doubt continue to be an interesting year at the Chicago Portage.

Great Egret

Great Egret

When I went back to my car, I met Adrian and Stella, whom I have seen walking their dogs at the Portage. We had a delightful visit and I look forward to seeing them again.

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And now I must get back to work, looking for my old car title, and going through more photographs. The weather forecast is for rain and thunderstorms much of the week so there may be hope for inside endeavors.

 

Spring Eclectic

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

I’m feeling the effects of too many trips. I haven’t changed time zones, and I thought going short distances would be a piece of cake, but it seems every time I leave, for all the last-minute preparations, I may as well be leaving the country.

I’m still combing through the photos of the past week, but thought I’d post a couple birds with songs from pictures I took this morning. I visited McLaughry Springs Woods and McGinnis Slough, both in the Palos region of southwest Cook County, Illinois. 

Baltimore Oriole - McLaughry Springs

Baltimore Oriole – McLaughry Springs

This Oriole was singing at McLaughry Springs, but he was camera-shy. It was a lot easier to take photos of the Oriole near the parking lot at McGinnis, as he was trying to distract me from finding his mate sitting on the nest.

Baltimore Oriole McGinnis IMG_0314_1

Then, while I was briefly in St. Louis, I took an early morning walk Friday through the park that spans either side of the Arch running along the river.

St Louis Arch IMG_7413_1

In the Arch park, there were at least four Warbling Vireos singing, although I saw only one briefly. There were not very many species present. Oddly enough, the only bird I managed to photograph was a female Baltimore Oriole.

Female Baltimore Oriole

Female Baltimore Oriole

In any event, below is the Warbling Vireo who posed for me at McGinnis. I didn’t manage to record his song, but have substituted one from the St. Louis birds. The busy-sounding vireo song is running alongside some chirps from a Robin in the foreground.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

And for a last image, here is a real surprise. Just as I got out of my car and got my gear together at McGinnis, I saw a distant Yellow-Billed Cuckoo fly into a tree. The Cuckoo did its best to hide but I managed to get this picture before it gave up its perch to a Robin. This is a bird I rarely see.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

I’ll try to manage another post before the Memorial Day weekend. 🙂

Southern Illinois paradise

Sandstone cliff

I have been in the southernmost part of my state the past few days and I may as well have been in another country. I had no Internet access but did not miss it. The pristine habitat of the Shawnee region is so remarkable, it is easy to slip into a sense of timelessness. And there is no limit to the discoveries one can make. Our stay was much too short.

Summer Tanager

Warbling Vireo

There were birds everywhere.

Black and White Warbler

Eastern Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

The most elusive birds periodically became cooperative.

Prothonotary Warbler

This Prothonotary Warbler has staked out his territory in the wonderful Heron Pond portion of the Cache River Basin.

A boardwalk invites us into the thick of it all.

It was hard to leave.

We heard Kentucky Warblers everywhere we went, but did not see one until the morning of our departure.

This Kentucky serenaded us from his digs in Giant City.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warblers spend a lot of time furtively foraging on the ground which makes them hard to see, but this one was nice enough to fly up and perch just above our heads almost at eye level. What a beautiful bird.