Three Visits to Columbus Park

Two weeks after the last formal walk at Columbus Park on May 14, I joined the two Eds from those walks to see what was up after it seemed all the warblers were gone. Suffice it to say that the water birds made up for the lack of passerine diversity. In spite of an event going on at the park, two Great Blue Herons and two Black-crowned Night Herons tolerated all the noise and our attention and gave us some great looks.

There’s invariably a Great Blue Heron here but I’ve never seen one up in a tree like the one in the series below.

These photos are from April 16, May 14 and May 28 so the vegetation keeps changing.

On April 16 we were lucky to see an early Northern Parula.

Although I saw this species on a few other occasions these were the best looks I had all spring.

Also in the old reeds left over from last year was an American Tree Sparrow.

A Northern Rough-winged Swallow posed over the water

There was one little Field Sparrow back on the April visit.

There’s usually at least a pair of Wood Ducks but they don’t always offer such great photo opportunities.

Below from the last visit, a Wood Duck hen with six ducklings.

Once the Red-winged Blackbirds show up, they stay for the summer.

On the last visit there were some more grown up goslings than an on earlier visit.

Back in April, two Double-crested Cormorants swimming together.

The Black-crowned Night Herons are sometimes so well camouflaged.

Back in April I followed this Great Blue Heron in flight.

On May 14, there was a visible Red-eyed Vireo.

And on the last visit two weeks later, a Warbling Vireo made itself known.

Here’s an earlier photo of a Great Blue Heron.

The Black-crowned Night Herons are simply photogenic.

But I’ll let the Wood Duck have the last word.

A rainy forecast for today gave me the time to sit here and put this together. I’ll be back out on the trail tomorrow morning. There will likely be more photographs of dragonflies coming, like the female Eastern Forktail Damselfly below – if that is indeed what this is. I noticed it at Columbus Park on the last visit.

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.