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.

On the walk back to the car I spotted the Wild Turkey below. It was flushed by people approaching from the other direction.

I left thinking I had missed the Black Terns but found this photograph of a fleeting glimpse of one leaving the area.

A family of Pied-Billed Grebes below – I think mom was trying to show the kids how to find food.

I managed to capture the female Belted Kingfisher below flying across the water and then the marsh, looking for a place to perch with her catch.

Willow Flycatchers like this place too.

A couple Great Egrets flew over.

A Common Yellowthroat was bold enough to look me in the lens.

I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher below before I managed to barely see him when I first hit the trail.

An American Crow…

A bit puzzled by the nest in the reeds below until it proved to be an American Robin sitting on it. So they do nest in places other than trees and the fascia of suburban houses.

A male Mallard flew by, reminding me that he’s a beautiful bird too.

A small flock of Double-Crested Cormorants flying over – of all the flock names, I will choose a “swim” of cormorants. You might prefer “flight,” “gulp”, “rookery” or “sunning”.
The Hebron Trail…
An unusually cooperative Gray Catbird
One more of the Yellow Warbler

I’ve been busy at work, so goes the bulk of my laptop time. Hoping for a bit of a respite this coming weekend, and not too many deafening firework explosions. Summer is definitely upon us. Take a deep breath.

Back to the Portage

It’s all I can do to keep up with migration this spring, let alone the pictures I have taken…So I’m attempting to do this in chronological order but it won’t be easy. This past Saturday started out cool but sunny. I decided to start my walk in the opposite direction of what I normally do. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put my little portable stool in my backpack so I decided to walk back to the car to get it. As I walked, I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher, and then saw him in one of the Redbud trees bordering the lawn behind the statue. The morning had promise.

Great-Crested Flycatcher
I have decided to photograph the statue every time I go to the Portage now to gauge the light conditions.

Last Saturday was a riot of colorful birds. I counted a dozen male Indigo Buntings. They were everywhere and they were not particularly shy, so I took advantage of their fearlessness. You can see how the light affects the hue of the blueness, when actually their feathers are all black.

I ventured out to the gravel road that runs along the MWRD property and found two male Scarlet Tanagers. They were trading songs.

But I discovered a glimpse at a Summer Tanager later in my pictures.

For all the male Baltimore Orioles singing and displaying these last few weeks, I have seen only one or two females so far. But that’s because they’re busy tending the nest.

Yellow Warblers may stay and breed at the Portage. Invariably I hear them but don’t always see them. So I was glad to capture this one.

White-Breasted Nuthatches are present all year, but are not seen or even heard frequently now.

The female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak below is the last one I have seen. I am not aware of any starting families at the Portage, but it could happen.

We have had a lot of rain, and even more after these pictures were taken. There were two Canada Geese trying out the newly flooded waters.

So this time of year of course I’m looking for warblers wherever I can find them. I just calculated that over the last couple of weeks I have seen 21 species total. I haven’t been able to photograph them all, but most, sometimes discovering them in my photographs. I will try to post as many as possible. They won’t always be textbook-looking photos. For example, the Golden-Winged below I barely captured but it was the details from the photographs that I was able to identify it as a likely female.

One more Magnolia Warbler

Then there are the flycatchers. They can be confusing. I have since seen the Eastern Wood-Pewee again in the same location looking more like himself so I am guessing he was having an off day (typically he would look more pointy-headed).

Eastern Wood-Pewee
I think this is a Willow Flycatcher…passing through.

On this day I saw this Turkey Vulture being escorted away by a Red-Winged Blackbird.

Song Sparrows are present, singing, and likely staying to raise families.

i keep hearing and sometimes seeing Chestnut-Sided Warblers every time I have been to the Portage since my first intimate encounter with one last Tuesday.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

There’s a little rapids under the first bridge where the water runs out of the Portage. No water ever runs into the Portage, as far as I can tell, but It’s still nice to see the flow over the rocks.

More often heard than seen, Blue Jays are out and about but rarely available for photos, so it was nice to see this one.

I found this female Common Grackle to be attractive in her own way.

I had noticed this nest before but wasn’t sure anyone was using it until I managed to capture these two Goldfinches. You will probably have to click on the first photo to see the female poking her head out of it. I have since not been able to find the nest, which was not far from the trail, but it could still be there and hidden in all the plant growth that has occurred since.

Sadly, Black-Capped Chickadees are getting harder and harder to find. Long taken for granted, I am convinced they are in decline, at least locally. I caught this one in a hurry.

Here’s my Robin photo of the post.

As the leaves are finally coming out, it’s interesting to see how the spaces change.

Below is one of my favorite birds, a Blue-Headed Vireo. I have seen them a couple times this spring which is surprising to me, as I don’t think I have seen one for years.

Woodpeckers are busy everywhere.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

And last for the moment, I finally was able to catch the male Eastern Bluebird in focus. He has a habit of posing in difficult places, but he sat long enough this time. And although I think I heard him this past week, I haven’t seen him since. I hope the pair is still nesting and I will be looking for baby bluebirds this summer.

I have been to the Portage four times since last Saturday! I am beginning to feel like I live there. Every time I have gone, there has been a different species or a special encounter with one I’ve seen so far this spring. As many people have remarked, the cool start has been difficult for the birds migrating to their breeding grounds. I can only hope those who have visited the Portage are finding what they need in this little hotspot and will survive and flourish on the rest of their journey.

I will be back with lots more. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you are safe, well, and able to get out and enjoy this spring.

October’s End

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.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

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.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

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.

American Coots

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.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch