Farther Afield

After reading about someone’s trip to Goose Lake Natural Area on Saturday, I decided to drive up there Monday morning, weather permitting, as it has been a while since my last visit and as much as I try to drive less, I’m not flying anywhere so I can justify an occasional longer drive. I should have left earlier than 7:00 AM because with traffic I didn’t get there until almost 9:00 AM and it was getting warm already, but I still managed to hear enough birds if I didn’t see all that many.

A few Mallards, perhaps, in what little water exists

As far as I can tell this area has not yet recovered from last year’s drought, so the birds are still farther away than they were a couple years ago. It would probably make more sense to carry a scope than a camera but when I’m alone and faced with that choice it’s easier to carry a big lens.

The first bird to greet me just after I walked through the woody area was a Yellow Warbler.

There were several Song Sparrows posing and singing and they were hard to ignore.

I did eventually record a bit of the song from the bird at the top of the post.

Song Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are always the draw here, but again because of the low water levels, they were extremely hard to see. However I checked my ebird records and in previous years up to 2020 I saw more of this species in the month of July, so I will try to get back up there next month sometime. One reason for the increase will be juvenile birds taking wing.

If you can see a tiny black spot in the middle of the photo below, that is the view I had of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds this visit. Below that are several severely cropped photos of a few males flying around. About all you can see is the yellow head and black body.

By contrast Red-winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

And a few had time to chase a Turkey Vulture.

Early on, a Northern Cardinal brightened up the landscape a bit.

At one point there was a Common Yellowthroat which was extremely backlit but discernible anyway. I heard many of them singing but could not get one to pose. This one was distracted by the insect prey in his bill.

I always expect to see Willow Flycatchers, and I did have three individuals in my photos, but I can’t recall having heard them and they weren’t always so easy to see.

I took a little snapshot recording while I was standing close to the observation deck. You can hear a Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, a Crow, and maybe other species carrying on in this short clip. The wind noise is a bit distracting.

Goose Lake Natural Area

I found a Gray Catbird in the willows.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are suddenly more scarce. I am seeing individuals instead of gangs of males. I suspect their mission is complete for the year.

I walked quite a ways past the observation deck. Here’s what the trail looked like beyond that point. I have never walked all the way to the end (is there one?) but I walked a total of 3.40 miles. according to ebird.

There were not a lot of birds to photograph on this part of the walk, but I did see a Monarch Butterfly and a Painted Turtle.

I couldn’t help but notice some Prairie Spiderwort. I have some of this growing in my backyard.

A nice surprise on the way out was a perched male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. He was far away and backlit but cooperative.

So that about sums up my birding this week. I have errands to run tomorrow when it will still be quite hot but I trust by now the traffic lights are functional. I likely won’t get out for a walk until Saturday morning, but that’s okay. I am looking forward to the cooler forecast.

Mellow Yellow

I went up to Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County over the Memorial Day weekend to see if I could get any closer looks at Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Unfortunately, due to the drought, the birds were too far away from the trail side or the viewing platform. But I did get some nice looks at Yellow Warblers.

The easiest bird to capture, of all things, was Willow Flycatcher. I can remember having a hard time seeing these guys whenever we heard them years ago on our birding class walks – but at this location I can always count on seeing them well.

It was so hot and dry, this Killdeer looked desperate.

On the wooded part of the trail I spotted a Red-Eyed Vireo.

Even the Red-winged Blackbirds didn’t feel much like showing off.

I think this must be a female Red-winged Blackbird taking in some shade.

A Green Heron flew by.

I will never tire of seeing Sandhill Cranes, and there were two.

So I’ve been kind of in perpetual motion, or so it seems. Last Saturday’s Berwyn Historical Society inaugural Garden Walk was great fun. I never considered that I was doing much planning or had any theme at all for my backyard but it stood out because of all the trees I planted almost 20 years ago. People were calling it a sanctuary! Who in their right mind plants a small forest in a postage-stamp sized yard? I didn’t want the grass that was there, and I wanted birds, so I planted trees, especially as they were offered to me by the Arbor Day Society the moment I moved in. In retrospect, I’m even happier I did this because I lost the original Ohio Buckeye years ago – so I could have been without any trees at all.

The week in preparation for the walk was hot and somewhat hectic but I loved working outside in the yard almost every day. I also had fun discovering the names of many plants I had never managed to identify. Best of all was the day itself. I had a fabulous time talking to people and in the process learned more about myself and my gardens. Maybe it wasn’t so haphazard after all. I look forward to having the time to really take care of the yard through all the seasons and continue to learn what the plants can teach me.

I will be back. I haven’t been birding for over a week, but I did manage to visit the Portage a couple times prior to the garden walk. Now we are in line for thunderstorms, making up for some of the rain we didn’t get in April, so that might curtail my birding activity this weekend. Life goes on, sometimes to my amazement.

Double-dipping Goose Lake Natural Area

After groveling about making the long drive all the way up to McHenry County around Memorial Day, I went back on July 5th to celebrate my birthday and then again on July 25th. Needless to say now I’m getting used to the drive and the trail and I may have a hard time staying away before October which is when I plan to go back for Sandhill Cranes that purportedly congregate in the fallow farm fields.

I feel like I could start giving some of the individual birds names, like the Willow Flycatcher at the top of the post. I even heard a confirming “fitz-bew” on the last Saturday.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (male)

I expected to see more Yellow-headed Blackbirds. On the fifth, the males were really too far away for decent photographs, but I did get to see a female close to the observation deck. I went back on the 25th because I wanted to see many juveniles like I did years ago, but I couldn’t find one Yellow-headed Blackbird anywhere. I must have just missed them. But that’s okay, because I saw some other interesting birds, and it’s just so peaceful to be there. In fact on the second visit when I got there, I had the whole place to myself. I didn’t stay long though because it was very hot.

I found the Gallinule below in my photographs from both visits. This is a great place to go if you carry a spotting scope. But I don’t have the energy to carry a scope and a telephoto lens. Perhaps I should rethink my philosophy of cutting corners. For instance, the combination of two visits in this blog post – it’s becoming evident as I write it that it’s entirely too long.

I did see a pair of Sandhill Cranes on each visit. I have not seen any with offspring, which is a bit disappointing.

Another “only in my photos” discovery – a last Black Tern seen on the 5th. Well, my camera saw it.

Here’s the turtle covered with duck weed that appeared in the background of one of the Yellow-headed Blackbird photos above. If you click on the pictures you can see how the duck weed makes it look like something from another planet.

There are still a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds here and everywhere. They are in no hurry to leave, I suppose, because they won’t have so far to go in the fall.

Not a Red-winged Blackbird but a juvenile Cedar Waxwing

I was hoping I would find a Yellow-headed Blackbird when I blew this up but it turned out to be a Red-winged Blackbird. That’s okay, it’s kind of nice to see the feather pattern, albeit faded. Below the photo, two different Red-winged calls I heard on these visits.

A Killdeer in flight…

The “other” blackbird – Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Dragonflies like this place.

On both occasions there were swallows, but in particular on the 25th there seemed to be a lot of them. It was nice to see the Bank Swallows – I don’t see them very often.

The Song Sparrow below was on the 5th. There are two more individuals further down the post whose songs I recorded and put underneath their photographs.

This Yellow Warbler was the last one I saw, on the 5th.

I am quite sure this is probably the same Great Blue Heron, although the photos are from both occasions.

I always seem to startle this Great Egret, which must have been right by the viewing platform as I approached.

A Green Heron flew by twice on the 25th.

Here’s Song Sparrow No. 1 and Song Sparrow No. 2. Song Sparrows reportedly have thousands of songs so it’s not unusual that they were singing different tunes…

And another singer I was happy to record – and manage to photograph, as they are often elusive in the marsh – a Marsh Wren.

My most cooperative subject at this location has been a Willow Flycatcher.

There were a couple distant Wild Turkeys hanging out not far from the Sandhills on the 25th.

Always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly… – I stand corrected. The two on the left are Viceroys!

I think it might be a ground squirrel on the left… there are holes on the trail that look perfect for a ground squirrel. But they could both be Chipmunks…

I found this feather interesting on my walk back to the car on the 25th. I thought it might belong to a hawk or a turkey, even, but none of the extensive feather identification webpages have given me the answer. My first thought was a crow, actually. Maybe I should go with that…

My reward for showing up on the later visit was to see these two Black-crowned Night-Herons arrive and perch not far from the viewing platform. One is an adult, and the other a juvenile.

Black-crowned Night-Herons (adult and juvenile)

Many thanks for making it to the end of this long post. As hot as it was a week and a half ago, as I finish writing this, we have dropped down into fall-like temperatures for a couple days. A reminder. I suppose, that nothing stays the same, as if I needed it. No, honestly, it’s absolutely delightful to have the windows open: I feel less confined and it’s delightful. Stay safe and I will see you again soon in another post. 🙂

Return to Goose Lake Natural Area

After the Portage weekend it felt like time to revisit the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and maybe get to see a Black Tern, so I got up early on the 30th — a month ago already! — and went to Goose Lake Natural Area near Hebron. I am beginning to absolutely love this place, except for the hour-and-a-half it takes to get there, but of course that’s why it’s so special. I hope to go back sometime this coming weekend – after I visit the other Goose Lake, which is less of a drive in the opposite direction.

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were on their territories and the one closest to the trail was easier to see than last time. I think I caught an obscure photo of a female in the top center of the photos below.

The Yellow Warbler below stayed partially hidden, but I caught up with its cousin later.

Yellow Warbler

There were plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds, but the males didn’t offer themselves up for photos. They probably know they are not the main attraction at this place. Below are couple females.