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
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

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.

Tri-County Revisited

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

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.

Barn Swallow Nestlings IMG_4081_1

This Gray Catbird could not have picked a less colorful background…

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

or the Mourning Dove below. A lot of gray tones going on here. But the morning light gives the dove its pinkish color anyway.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

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

Male Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

Then there was the Red-Winged Blackbird that took on the Red-Tailed Hawk.

Red Tail with RWBB IMG_4348_1

The hawk was not happy.

Red-Tail with RWBB IMG_4347_1

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).

Red Tail with RWBB IMG_4353_1

Even this Tree Swallow, which is normally quite blue-looking, looks gray here as it naps.

Tree Swallow taking a nap

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.

Willow-Alder Flycatcher

Willow-Alder Flycatcher

And the most noble gray bird is also blue…and always a welcome sight.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

More to come from the field soon. I also have some recordings coming up. But tomorrow’s early rise calls.

Paul Douglas Forest Preserve – Part I (Apologia)

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I have been thinking about visiting Paul Douglas Forest Preserve, which is way up northwest in Cook County, in Hoffman Estates, to be exact, for quite a while, and I finally managed to get up at 3:15 AM Sunday morning so I could get there before the heat became unbearable. It turned out to be a pleasant, sunny morning with quite a breeze going at times.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Paul Douglas is a huge preserve, surrounded by one continuous paved trail that extends 7.5 miles – and so it is a destination for runners and bike riders. Not an ideal birding situation, but it’s good for the birds because they can nest there relatively undisturbed. I did not perhaps prepare as I should have, I just figured out how to get there and went. I walked about a mile from the parking lot and at birding pace that took me almost two hours, so I walked back. I’ll see the rest of it some other time.

Tree Swallow nesr

Tree Swallow nesr

The target bird, if there was one, was Yellow-Headed Blackbird, but either because I didn’t find out specifically where they were located or else they were not present, I did not see or hear any. But I saw some beautiful birds anyway, even if most of them were too far away to get great photos. Often the best birds are when you least expect them, anyway.

My first bird was a Willow Flycatcher. The camera wasn’t ready for him but he cooperated anyway and I managed to get his song as well. His song is the sneezy little “fitz-pew” below the picture.

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

It turns out I’ve been trying to put this post together for days but always when I’m falling asleep at the end of the day, so it looks like it might take me at least one more installment. And now that one of the lights that’s on a timer has gone out, my indoor birds are telling me to go to sleep.Of course they’re right. Blogger guilt may be getting to me, but it’s been a busy week.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

I will be back tomorrow with more notes from the field.



"Fledgling" Thistle

“Fledgling” Thistle