A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.
My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.
The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.
Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.
Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.
There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.
As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.
A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.
I got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.
Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…
Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.
I couldn’t get this Downy Woodpecker kid to turn around and smile for the camera but it was good enough to see his adult feathers coming in…
The House Wren below just has that newbie look about it.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker kids were out and about. I was surprised to see no red at all on the head of the one below on the top right.
Robins always look like something else this time of year, but I am no longer fooled.
I was beginning to wonder if all the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were gone, but then I found a bunch of them hanging out on the bare limbs of a dead tree. They were all juveniles.
These two young Northern Flickers seemed to be practicing pairing up already.
Nothing going on, on the Des Plaines, which was looking low.
Not much in the way of butterflies. A Monarch here and there, and this one Red-Spotted Purple.
But the dragonflies were quite amazing.
I’m going out on a limb with the ID below. I have a fancy book on dragonflies and damselflies but there are way too many choices.
Russet-tipped Clubtail female
I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…
Some kind of Bluet
I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female
or with Common Whitetails.
Common Whitetail male
Then there was this beautiful Grasshopper that is likely a Differential, but I am absolutely ignorant about grasshoppers so I’m not guessing.
And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.
Back to the birds. The fruit-eaters were enjoying the mulberry tree. That’s a Cedar Waxwing on the left and an adult American Robin on the right.
This Eastern Kingbird looks mature, but looks can be deceiving.
Some interesting things on the trail for the juvenile Song Sparrow below…
and for a male House Sparrow. I rarely see House Sparrows at the Portage but there were these two.
Juvenile House Sparrow
Saturday mornings tend to be work days. There was some burning of invasive vegetation going on.
Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen many in my yard lately, but I did see this pair at the Portage briefly.
Always happy to see a Great Blue blending in.
And it was even pleasant enough for a couple cardinals to make an appearance.
I heard more Indigo Buntings than I saw, but was finally rewarded by the adult male below.
For as much time as the Green Heron spent on this frog I am not sure he or she managed to eat it.
I hope the heatwave ends in time for next weekend. In the meantime I guess I can’t complain about being stuck in an air-conditioned office this coming week.
This time of year I normally visit Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County, but I wasn’t going to go that far or walk that much this year, so I followed through with my Fourth-of-July unfulfilled plan and went to Orland Grassland Saturday morning. Orland, which is reclaimed farmland, is surrounded by development, but it’s large enough to afford considerable habitat and much has been restored. Next time I’ll use the ebird app and do a checklist. This time I just wanted to get a feel for the place and see how much walking I could manage before the sun reached an intolerable height in the sky.
Dickcissels were abundant, but in general I heard more birds than I saw, or the birds I did see were pretty far away like the Eastern Meadowlark below.
There were a lot of Eastern Kingbirds and Tree Swallows hunting insects.
I caught glimpses of a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. Later two Great Blues flew overhead.
An assortment of beautiful dragonflies made themselves available for photographs.
Widow Skimmer (Female)
I really couldn’t get enough of the Halloween Pennant. What a dazzling creature.
All I can say is I’ll have to go back to Orland soon. But this weekend I am off to Michigan to meet friends and find more birds and plants and insects… I will be back, I hope, with much to report.
After being stuck in the office all week even when there was nice weather, I decided I had to get out to the Portage early Saturday morning before the sauna-like weather baked in. I didn’t get there quite as early as planned but it was good to be back and get my mind off everything else for a couple hours.
Unsurprisingly, more birds were heard than seen. It’s breeding season and time be to inconspicuous. Also, the building intensity of sunlight didn’t suit many birds well. A lot of singers were hidden in the leaves of the treetops. And if I did see one, like the catbird below, it was backlit in the shade.
I’m almost embarrassed for the Baltimore Oriole on the left and bottom right below, I’m not sure if he’d just taken a bath but he was a disheveled mess when I caught him preening.
Then there was this iridescent green beetle on the trail…
Green Tiger Beetle
And one of many Widow Skimmers. It seems ridiculous to be taking closeups with a 600mm lens, but the dragonfly didn’t seem to mind.
I had only one Red-Winged Blackbird volunteer.
And after weeks of hardly seeing any Downy Woodpeckers, I did see this one messing around in the leaves like a warbler.
But the highlight was seeing an adult Red-Headed Woodpecker. Last fall I saw a juvenile at the end of September, pictured below. I have been wondering all year if these birds would find the Portage suitable habitat now that the forest is less dense. It worked for the Great Horned Owls. And now there is a Red-Headed Woodpecker. I hope he stays.
Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker 9-30-17
I am only able to finish this short post because I didn’t go swimming tonight. The threat of thunderstorms kept me home. Not that I mind thunderstorms, but I don’t relish driving in them and anyway, for whatever reason, the threat can be enough for the fitness center to close access to the pool. So I’m sitting here safe, hanging out with the indoor crowd after a long day at work, hoping for a reassuring crash of thunder. In any event, whatever weather system this turns out to be, we will be cooler than the last three days and that will be a blessing.
Even if there is not much in the way of birds to see or photograph – a distant Baltimore Oriole, a flock of blackbirds flying by – I am still committed to going somewhere every Sunday morning, weather permitting. It has become part of my routine. Routine is great to fall back on when I feel unfocused, overwhelmed or just plain lazy.
So last Sunday I decided to visit Lake Katherine again, and then hop over to McGinnis Slough, which wasn’t far. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, which in reality never happened. The first bird near the parking lot was this skeptical-looking female Northern Cardinal.
Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine
I decided to skip the garden portion and walk around the lake. The first bird to record was likely the same Black-Crowned Night Heron I saw a couple weeks ago in the trees. Although his attempt to hide behind the grasses seemed successful to me, he wasn’t pleased with it and he took off before I could snap a picture of him in flight. When I am the cause of a bird’s flight, I don’t like to photograph it anyway, I feel too much like I’m taking advantage of the situation I created. Not to mention that usually the bird is gone long before I can get myself organized enough to capture it.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
It was a cloudy day which made it difficult to photograph anything in flight, actually. But these three helicopters sure were noisy.
Helicopters over Lake Katherine
Back on the ground, taking note of dragonflies, a Sphinx (“Hummingbird”) Moth and the geometry of a completely stripped thistle blossom.
Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine
Thistle, Lake Katherine
Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine
Juvenile Mallards as big as their parents and at this time of year, looking much the same.
Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine
There was a Great Blue Heron stalking prey, but after taking maybe 15 pictures of him crouched low, I grew tired and never did see him catch anything.
Great Blue Heron
The heron was a bit closer when I got around to the other side of the lake.
In the middle of the lake is a small island, and in addition to two small rookery platforms which I did not photograph, there are heron sculptures which looked a lot more interesting.
But my attention to the island was first drawn by a bright orange bird on the other side of it. It’s a Baltimore Oriole that hasn’t left yet. Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph, but I like the branches hanging over the pond lilies anyway.
Lots of Chimney Swifts, which are impossible to follow, but they were so close, I had to try. At least I got one flying cigar photo.
I believe the flower below is a form of evening primrose, of which I understand there are an unbelievable number of varieties. Anyway it looks similar to what has taken over part of my yard.
Evening Primrose, Lake Katherine
By the time I got to McGinnis Slough, it was 10:30 AM or so, which is getting late by bird standards. There was not an awful lot happening. Maybe the best bird was a very close Green Heron, but with the clouds and backlighting, it doesn’t appear colorful at all.
Green Heron, McGinnis Slough
It’s impossible to look out on whatever water there is at McGinnis without a scope, so I did the obligatory scan and counted some Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants, and I forget what else – I still have to input my ebird list – there wasn’t much. But there was a Deer Fly who was fascinated by the scope cover. Better the scope cover than me. I am usually swatting at these things, but this one was a model insect. My what beautiful eyes you have.
Deer Fly on the scope
On the way back to the car, a few Barn Swallows taking a preening break.
Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough
The American Goldfinch below is likely a juvenile male, if the faint darkness on his crown is any indication.
American Goldfinch, Lake Katherine
Summer continues, although for the moment we’re having brisk fall weather. The days are still long but they get shorter and shorter, and every other week it seems I have to make an adjustment to the length of the timers on the lights in the house, so the indoor birds can see where they’re going during people hours.
I don’t know what it is about Goose Lake Prairie, but I like going there, so that was my destination on the Fourth of July. I didn’t get out as early as planned but after the hour-plus drive I was walking the gravel trail from the Visitor’s Center around 7:45 AM. The Visitor’s Center is always closed on the Fourth of July. One of these days I’ll have to go when it’s open.
Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot
Not seeing a lot of bees these days so I try to pay attention when I do. This bee appears to be virtually bathed in pollen. I think it’s the little hairs on the flower petals that make it look that way. Click on the picture to see.
The first bird I managed to photograph was a Common Yellowthroat. From the coloring it looks like a juvenile.
But there were still plenty of males singing on territory, like the one below. A sample of his song is in the link between the pictures. You might also hear a Song Sparrow and an Eastern Meadowlark singing in the background of the recording: the Common Yellowthroat is the one singing in triplets.
Male Common Yellowthroat
I also saw a male Northern Harrier soon after I started out, but only because it had been chased into and then out of a tree by a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds. It was the only raptor I had until I saw a Turkey Vulture from the car as I was driving away.
Below, some of the many juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out in groups.
Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds
The Tree Swallows below were probably too far away to photograph, but I like the tandem effect of this picture anyway.
For the record, here’s a juvenile Song Sparrow. I could not seem to locate the adults that were singing.
Juvenile Song Sparrow
This is the time of year when anything that flies catches my eye. One thing I’ve noticed is the different dragonflies as they occur in different habitats. Butterflies, anywhere, are entirely another matter; they seem to be scarce and do not like to be photographed except from far away.
Widow Skimmer Male
Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer
The other prominent singer yesterday was a Dickcissel. The bird below eventually tolerated my presence so I could get these pictures. One version of his song is in below his pictures.
Although the weather was relatively cool starting out, the sun was hot and by 10:00 a.m. or so I felt I had probably seen all I was going to see. It’s not the kind of place you want to go off trail.
I decided to stop by Lake Renwick on the way back home, which has a heron rookery. There is a small viewing area at Copley Nature Park, accessible from Route 30 at the edge of Lake Renwick. Lake Renwick rookery itself is closed during the breeding season. This is another place I need to check out when it’s open for business.
A distant family of Great Blue Herons tempted me to shoot a few fuzzy pictures.
Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick
And birds flying by, like this Double-Crested Cormorant, with its distinctive silhouette.
Perhaps the most numerous species of the day besides Red-Winged Blackbird was Eastern Kingbird. There were many at Goose Lake and several at Copley Nature Park, this one being particularly cooperative.
In case I had any doubt about the heron rookery, this Great Egret flew overhead after I had been out of the car only a few minutes.
Oh well, one more early morning and then it’s back to business as usual. I’m joining Chicago Ornithological Society at Bartel Grassland in Tinley Park tomorrow. It’s an early start and an hour’s drive away, so I should be turning in very soon. After three days off I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of it. Being off, that is.
Today also marks my third year blogging with WordPress. I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of that too. Thanks to you all for making it fun! 🙂
Here are a few more pictures from two weeks ago that I never got around to. Like the one above, where the Barn Swallows were close to the bridge, but I was not tall enough to take a complete picture. (Age creeps up slowly until you notice… I don’t feel shorter, but certain things are suddenly out of reach!)
I did get a shot of a couple nestlings in their shelter mud nest.
This Gray Catbird could not have picked a less colorful background…
or the Mourning Dove below. A lot of gray tones going on here. But the morning light gives the dove its pinkish color anyway.
I confess I am presently too lazy to figure out this wildflower. If you know this blossom, please chime in.
Widow Skimmers are pretty common, though. Enough to be readily identified.
Male Widow Skimmer Dragonfly
Then there was the Red-Winged Blackbird that took on the Red-Tailed Hawk.
The hawk was not happy.
Click on the pictures if you want to see them larger (I just figured out how to do this, it’s only been 2 years).
Even this Tree Swallow, which is normally quite blue-looking, looks gray here as it naps.
Tree Swallow taking a nap
To make identification of Empidonax flycatchers easier on us, ebird allows us to check off “Willow-Alder” instead of making it definitely one or the other. While I heard a Willow and I believe this is probably a Willow, I’m not so sure because I did not see it in conjunction with hearing its call.
And the most noble gray bird is also blue…and always a welcome sight.
Great Blue Heron
More to come from the field soon. I also have some recordings coming up. But tomorrow’s early rise calls.