Long Before the Rain

It’s been almost 3 months, which seems hard to believe, but this is a more historical account from McGinnis Slough for birds seen on September 19th, when the slough looked more like a marsh at best. Yet there was more bird activity and a couple less common sightings.

It started off inauspiciously with a European Starling.

But at some point I found a Northern Waterthrush, which is a warbler species I haven’t seen in a long time. They aren’t particularly rare but they don’t travel around in warbler flocks and are often close to water and the ground.

One of my first White-throated Sparrows of the season was in the grass.

Perhaps the bird of the day as far as offering itself up for photographs was Palm Warbler.

Among the land birds was this Swainson’s Thrush.

The Double-Crested Cormorant below gave me several expressions of its flight pattern.

More views of the faded-looking Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly at the top of the post.

I never know exactly where I can expect to see a Great Blue Heron here but I practically always do.

More flying birds to capture – a Great Egret and, of all things, a Blue Jay or two, which don’t normally make themselves so available.

Two warblers – a Nashville and then below, a female Common Yellowthroat.

I saw Gray Catbirds at this location more than once.

The light played interesting tricks on these two Wood Ducks flying through the marsh.

The rose mallow flowers seemed late and sparse but they prevailed.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler blending in below.

More flying birds. Cedar Waxwings directly below, and below them, the inevitable Canada Geese.

A couple views of the parched-looking slough.

And a closer-cropped view of the Great Egret seen in the flight sequence above, after it landed.

I have been seeing some amazing birds all week which has kept me more than busy. Even though migration has slowed down, there are still birds to be seen. I will be back as soon as possible with more recent sightings.

Leading Myself

I had been envisioning all week what it would be like, yesterday, to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and go through my normal routine of waking up my body, preparing and serving breakfast to my indoor flock, filling the feeders and changing water in the bird baths for the outdoor flock, and then getting ready to leave in time to arrive at Columbus Park and lead a walk that was to start at 7:00 a.m. I don’t organize the walks. I have been asked to “lead” this and other Saturday walks that alternatively go to Thatcher Woods in River Forest through the first Saturday in November. Leading basically means showing up, in case the organizer can’t make it. That will be the end of the “fall migration walks” and the same schedule will restart in April for spring migration.

I made several discoveries yesterday. Perhaps most important was the conclusion that I managed to arrive on time after the organizer had already advised me he couldn’t make it, I had a few moments to spare, which means I might be able to sleep maybe 20 more minutes before Saturday morning’s visit to Thatcher Woods.

So I arrived on time. And started talking to one of the golfers who use the same parking lot for access to the adjacent golf course. And I waited. I watched for cars with people getting out of them bearing binoculars. But all the cars arriving produced golf clubs. I soon came to the conclusion that I was the only person showing up for the walk. Below is a picture of what the sky looked like at that time. Maybe with the combination of clouds and no organizer, I was not enough of a draw.

Those little black dots in the clouds are Chimney Swifts.

I figured I may as well check out the park for birds anyway, all dressed up with my gear as I was, so I started walking across the lawn to the water where there were only a few Mallards. It was still quite cloudy and beyond my desire to compensate for the lack of light.

I confess I was a little leery of walking through the park so early alone. Although it has always been a safe place with others, I was not familiar enough with the spot to feel entirely confident. But then it started to lighten up, and I was hearing birds, and I figured well, I could see what was there. And I’m glad I did, because instead of following a group around – some “leader” I am – I now feel like I actually could lead a walk through Columbus Park.

Below is a video I took with my phone of Chimney Swifts flying over – it starts out mainly hearing them but then when I realized I could zoom in a bit you can actually see them. There’s also a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the beginning, for good measure.

Chimney Swifts

It began to brighten up a little, which helped the photo taking situation. It was difficult capturing the Blackpoll Warbler below in the shady portion of the park, however, but I kept trying.

I agonized over the pictures below as I was sure it was a Bay-breasted Warbler but for some reason ebird insisted it was a rare sighting for this date. I submitted my photographs and so far they have not challenged me.

I wasn’t seeing a lot of birds in the water, so I looked forward to going to the native plant garden next to a portion of it where I would likely see more birds, and I did.

Palm Warblers like the one below were expected.

I haven’t seen a lot of Tennessee Warblers this year – so it was nice to find this one.

And below, a very young-looking American Goldfinch.

On the way out I managed to capture a sneaky picture of a Wood Duck drake through some tangled branches. Also saw the resident Great Blue Heron in a well-camouflaged spot.

One more of the Tennessee Warbler

At 8:30 a.m. I felt as if I had covered the area – even though I missed a raptor I barely saw flying over. I encountered a birder who was waiting on someone to start her walk through, and we exchanged notes. Columbus Park is her go-to spot, like the Portage is mine. She may join us at Thatcher next week. I am no longer dreading these early Saturday morning rises.

I was tired, especially after having gone swimming the night before, so I took a long nap when I got home. But I am glad I managed the early start and stayed for the birds. I’m sure I would have seen more birds if I had company, but I encountered some nice, smiling runners and walkers and felt more connected to Columbus Park, which is really a beautiful place.

Sundays at McGinnis – Part 2

As promised, here’s my last visit to McGinnis Slough. I have been out birding every morning since, mainly at the Chicago Portage but a couple other places too, and fall passerine migration is in full swing. I don’t know if I will ever get through all my photographs, but I intend to start posting them soon as much as possible.

It was delightful to spend a little time with a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher at McGinnis.

This Song Sparrow perched nicely for me.

Another bird I felt very privileged to see well was the Marsh Wren below. I could hear wrens in the reeds but they are always nearly impossible to see. Then, while I stood in the same spot looking at whatever waterfowl I could see, this one popped out in a bush to get a closer look at me.

I also saw a Brown Thrasher – a bird I used to see a lot more of but now rarely. And then my first Palm Warbler of the fall season.

A few more of the Marsh Wren…

Finally, a cooperative flower. It appears to be a hibiscus. But I am used to seeing the big pink rose mallow flowers that bloom here every year and they have been few and far between.

More views of the American Redstart that is at the top of the post.

I wonder if the slough will ever have enough water again to host the hundreds of ducks that usually show up in the early spring.

Common Green Darner

Tall Boneset is now blooming with the Canada goldenrod.

Several Barn Swallows took a break from scooping bugs out of the air…

And there was one lone Tree Swallow.

I managed to barely see the Trumpeter Swans – and noticed there was only one Cygnet. I fear the other two did not survive. I suppose the likeliest predator would be a coyote.

Peter Mayer has just written a beautiful song called “Trumpeter Swans” which I have already listened to maybe a hundred times…

The Herons were all hanging out in what little water is left.

And I caught a Wood Duck in flight.

I was a little surprised to see Northern Shovelers.

These fuzzy-looking acorns caught my eye. They are not acorns. They are called “hedgehog galls” and are formed by wasps.

Northern Crescent

This Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is probably halfway to its winter home by now.

Okay. I hope to be back very soon with a feast of warbler photographs. There have been other interesting birds too. Thanks for checking in!

Sundays at McGinnis – Part 1

This is the first of two short posts from recent visits to McGinnis Slough. I visited the slough the past two Sunday mornings. The 29th of August was cloudy as reflected in these photos. Just as I was about to leave, it started to rain, thus the rainbow farther down the page.

There were not many birds to photograph. The Wood Ducks were visible through the vegetation that has taken over much of the slough.

The Common Green Darner below is a marvelous dragonfly. This is the female of the species.

A brief visit from a Red-tailed Hawk…

A few Great Blue Herons remain on site.

These berries caught my eye – but I bet they’re all gone by now.

I don’t know why I try to capture swallows in flight, but sometimes I almost do. Barn Swallow below.

When I sat down on the picnic table at the north end, I inadvertently disturbed an American Toad that was sitting underneath it.

Milkweed beetles, chicory flowers and a Monarch Butterfly.

One more of the Great Egret that’s also at the top of this post.

The Rainbow

I came home to a cloudy situation in the yard, not many birds available, but sort of captured this female House Finch leaving.

I’ve been busy birding every morning and now I have to keep up with all the photographs as fall migration kicks off.

I’ll be back with another brief stop at McGinnis from yesterday and some different birds.

Sounds of Spring

On that warm weekend nearly three weeks ago – I write this as we chill again after a bit of April Snow yesterday morning and into freezing overnight – I went to McGinnis Slough for a few birds and was greeted by a lot of singing in the sunshine. Thankfully, there was not a lot of traffic noise from LaGrange Road. The primary contributors to the recording are Red-Winged Blackbird males.

Birdsong at McGinnis Slough

This time I got to see one of the Sandhill Cranes that I missed the weekend before. I have to wonder if they are nesting there…

No shortage of Red-Winged Blackbirds showing off.