Two Visits to McGinnis Slough

Even though I never go to McGinnis Slough these days prepared to see a lot of birds – which would require bringing my scope – I invariably see something interesting. It used to be a great place for hundreds of Great Egrets and multiple Great Blue Herons, but for the past several years the numbers have dwindled to a few individuals. During waterfowl migration it’s still a place to see good numbers of several species. My last two visits were sort of before and after spring migration. But I like the fact that it’s not crowded. You can’t your bike through it, so that likely keeps people away. And you could miss it driving by at 50 mph on LaGrange Road, even though the entrance is newly paved and there’s a lovely wrought-iron fence, maybe to keep the deer from crossing the highway.

So these photographs are from April 4 and June 7 of this year. From grays and browns in early April to greens and blues in June. April 4 was a good day for Tree Swallows, even if they look washed-out on a cloudy day.

Tree Swallow and a Northern Shoveler
Blue-winged Teal

The gray and brown was enhanced by a little low-lying fog on the April visit.

I haven’t seen an awful lot of Eastern Phoebes this year. I think flycatchers in general have been scarcer, which I can only assume speaks to the lack of insects. I hope they can recover somehow.

Eastern Kingbird, another flycatcher

In the tail end of waterfowl migration, some Lesser Scaup were close enough to photograph.

Those white blobs are actually American White Pelicans on the far shore.
The slough was quite marshy in June.

The June visit featured Warbling Vireos chasing around at eye-level, and then one sang for me. I managed to record a bit of his song below after having him pose for all these pictures.These guys are hard to spot normally so I indulged.

I often see Wood Ducks lined up on this fallen log. The June visit was no exception.

Wood Ducks

Baltimore Orioles aren’t advertising for mates anymore so they’re a little harder to spot.

Going down the path to the north, I encountered a couple does.

There were a few Cedar Waxwings in the same general area as the Warbling Vireos.

This White-breasted Nuthatch would have been even better if he had turned around.

Red-winged Blackbirds abound.

And in the flying-by department…

Herring Gull
Double-crested Cormorants

I’m used to seeing rose mallow, and maybe it will appear later in the summer, but I think this wild iris is new.

Thanks for making it to the end of this long post! We are in for a long, hot, sunny weekend around here. With luck, I will find more birds to share with you.

Cold Storage

COME 03-18-18-7289

Red-Breasted Mergansers at Saganashkee Slough

Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…

SOSP 03-18-18-7042

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.

The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.

WODU 03-18-18-6867

Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines

Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…

And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”

NOCA 03-18-18-7061

Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.

In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.

HOGR 03-18-18-7120

Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough

MALL 03-18-18-6849

Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…

Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)

I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.

August at the Chicago Portage: Finale

Green Heron

Green Heron

I did not make it to the Chicago Portage this past weekend to check on the possibility of hummingbirds again. But maybe it’s still worth commenting on the remaining creatures I encountered on the 17th.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juv RWBB Portage-8-17-2014-3822

It’s that confusing time of year again. Young birds are as big as their parents, but distinguishing them is sometimes difficult, especially in poor light. Often I take a picture I know will be lousy just to blow it up later, adjust the exposure and see if I can figure out what it was I was looking at. As it is, the “sparrowy” looking birds all turned out to be Song Sparrows (except for the Red-Winged Blackbirds). There were several Indigo Buntings too but due to poor light and whatever else they hid themselves within, they did not make the cut.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Now that you’ve seen both the juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird and the Song Sparrow, see if you can figure out what the bird is below. You could almost make a case for either one, I think.

What's this?

What’s this?

Then there are the group photos. The birds don’t always cooperate but sometimes the challenge of how many you can fit in the frame takes over.

European Starling Tree

European Starling Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree – too far away, really, but good enough for numbers.

Mourning Dove Tree

Mourning Dove Tree

There was a group congregating in the water too. A family of Wood Ducks getting ready to depart.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

Shorebird migration is in full force, but the Portage isn’t a hot spot. Still I had the two most likely suspects in attendance.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper



I love the look of juvenile European Starlings. Until they turn mostly black, it’s possible to see they do have eyes.

Juvenile European Starling

Juvenile European Starling

Another black bird, but instead of a shiny navy blue head, this juvenile Common Grackle is a rich dark chocolate brown.

Juvenile Common Grackle

Juvenile Common Grackle

The Cedar Waxwing below strikes me as an adult, but chances are some of those in the Waxwing Tree above, if only we could see them, were youngsters.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Down by the second bridge was a very friendly Eastern Phoebe enjoying flying off his perch for insects,

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The bugs that I cannot identify. This beetle looked to me like it would be easy to find in my Big Beetle Book (not the title) but so far I have been unable to identify it. While I don’t think I’ve discovered a new species, I am beginning to understand this confusion is often the way it is with insects. Period.

Unidentified Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

The ladybug could be the most common native species, but I’m not going out on any limb.

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don't know

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don’t know

More birds–and bugs — pardon me, insects — to come.

Sunday at the Portage

BC Chickadee IMG_8415_1

Black-Capped Chickadee

After two days getting up before 4:00 a.m., it was wonderful sleeping in somewhat Sunday morning before going over to the Portage. I had no expectations, I only wanted to go out and explore. Perhaps that is the best thing about going to a place you know well: you are always primed for surprises. I started walking in slowly around 8:30. Mine was the only car in the parking lot, so I had the entire place to myself. And it was quiet.

Portage IMG_8078_1

I was not surprised to see Wood Ducks, indeed they have been there every time, but it was special to see the young drakes in their new grownup plumage.

Wood Ducks IMG_8162_1

The surprise was seeing two young raccoons behind them.

Wood Ducks and Racoons IMG_8094_1

I managed to get a picture of one.

Raccoon IMG_8168_1

The last few visits to the Portage have been scarce on woodpecker sightings even though I knew they were always there…so it was nice to see this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

RB WP IMG_8108_1

Through a break in the trees, a Red-Tailed Hawk was visible, perched on a bare limb over the water.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

While I was trying to photograph the Magnolia Warbler below…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

a Winter Wren caught my eye. It’s always a surprise to see a Winter Wren. Especially after I had given up trying to find the Carolina Wren who was singing earlier.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Downy Woodpeckers are always plentiful, but this one was busily drilling at eye level.Downy IMG_8488_1

And not all the Gray Catbirds have left.

Gray Catbird IMG_8289_1

Heavy rainfall the night before filled the bottomland with water.

Portage IMG_8328_1

A lone Canada Goose was by the water near the Wood Ducks, standing on one foot

Goose IMG_8166_1

while many more flew overhead.

Canada Geese IMG_8223_1

The most unusual sighting did not produce great pictures, but there were enough to identify a Northern Parula. My ebird sighting was questioned because I had to add this bird to the list; I did not dare add it until I was sure I had pictorial proof.

N Parula IMG_8438_1

N Parula Warbler IMG_8436_1







There was no shortage of Yellow-Rumped Warblers. Indeed, they were everywhere, although none were as photogenic as the week before. But I caught this one skipping across the duckweed.

Yellow-Rumped IMG_8515_1

The change of seasons renders the Portage a magical place.

Portage IMG_8323_1

Filling in the Blanks

Green Heron

Green Heron

Somehow I managed to talk myself into getting up early both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend. Both days began on the cloudy side, with Saturday turning into rain by 10 a.m. But I finally saw some birds I had missed so far this season. Both Green Herons were at the Portage, for instance.

Flickr IMG_2961_1

Last weekend the woodpeckers eluded me, but this time I had the Northern Flicker above, in addition to Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downies and a Hairy.

Fledgling Robin IMG_2724_1

Juvenile Robin

Some juvenile Robins are starting to forage on their own. And there were at least four Gray Catbirds on territories. Below is one of them.

Gray Catbird IMG_2785_1

This juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird sitting on one of the foot bridges was scolded furiously by her dad as I approached.

RWBB Child IMG_2890_1

Wood Ducklings revealed…

Wood Ducklings IMG_2848_1

Wood Duck ducklings

Finally, the mirage I saw last weekend emerged. It was indeed a scurrying flotilla of Wood Ducklings. There are seven of them, and when they dart around en masse they look like a strange 7-headed creature.

Wood Duck IMG_2864_1

Above, mama Wood Duck.

Song Sparrow IMG_2828_1

Song Sparrow

Again, the same silent Song Sparrow. Maybe it’s a she.

Snapping Turtle IMG_3037_1

Still plenty of water on both sides of this path, when I caught the Snapping Turtle crossing.

Snapping Turtle IMG_3041_1

And a beaver going about his business.

Beaver IMG_3053_1

And Southwest Airlines flying over…

Southwest IMG_2820_1

Sunday it was grassland birds at Plum Creek Forest Preserve, way down at the southern tip of Cook County, organized by Chicago Ornithological Society. The birds were often too far away to photograph, but we were surrounded by Dickcissels and Henslow’s Sparrows.

Dickcissel IMG_3118_1

The Indigo Bunting below was interesting from the standpoint of his plumage. I don’t know if he was a juvenile or more likely somewhat leucistic, since his song sounded adult.

Indigo Bunting IMG_3100_1

Always a delight to see a Great Crested Flycatcher.

Great Crested Flycatcher IMG_3265_1

Great Crested Flycatcher

And the only Henslow’s Sparrow of the seven or eight we heard who dared show himself was still buried in the grasses, for all practical purposes. Others ventured closer to him but I chose to hang back; Henslows nest on the ground, and I didn’t want to disturb anybody.

Henslow IMG_3171_1

I leave you with a shrug from one of the Green Herons who had just about had enough of sitting still for so long.

Green Heron Stretch IMG_2939_1

I’ll try to shorten the space between posts. If I can stay awake long enough. 🙂

Preening at the Portage

I haven’t been to the Portage in a few weeks, so I decided to visit this morrning after the rain. We haven’t had rain in such a long time, even the weeds stopped growing. I was glad not to have seen the Portage parched.

I knew the birds would be waking up to a fresher start. The same family of Wood Ducks was on their log.

Wood Ducks

A lot of birds were busy preening. This Northern Flicker looked up only once and then went back to tending his feathers.

Northern Flicker

Can’t blame the Green Heron for preening after spending all morning hunting in the muck of the duckweed.

Green Heron

A lot more birds were looking like juveniles. This is the time of year when even Robins can get confusing.

Juvenile American Robin

But the Portage has more Robins than anywhere else I’ve been. Here’s a grown up.

I saw only a couple Baltimore Orioles. This one was a beginner.

Baltimore Oriole

At one point, a Killdeer flew in to sit on a log.


A long, hot week lies ahead. There’s more rain in the forecast too. Summer is here.

Wood Ducks

Breeding birds at the Chicago Portage

Young Rabbit

I dropped by the Portage early this morning trying to beat the heat – we went up to 97 degrees today. After I was greeted by this rabbit, I saw 39 species. Not remarkable, but not bad given the strange weather we’ve been having. There has been no rain lately, so the water level is way down at the Portage and the nearby Des Plaines River.

But breeding birds have returned, and I managed to get some pictures of a few. Almost from the very beginning I heard Red-Bellied Woodpeckers calling, so perhaps it was inevitable that one would be available for a photograph.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The House Wrens are back in full force too.

House Wren

A female Wood Duck sat on a log with her seven ducklings. I imagine the youngest was staying closest to mama.

A Great Blue Heron flew over faster than I could get its likeness clearly. But down below, one of the two Green Herons that I have seen here every summer was trying to stay cool.

Green Heron

Indigo Buntings were singing everywhere, and doing their best to elude the camera. Here’s one not completely hidden.

Male Indigo Bunting

I have been awaiting the return of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwings

Song Sparrows are on their territories, singing, of course.

Song Sparrow

It’s sad when I think of this beautiful Yellow Warbler…

Yellow Warbler

being a favorite prey species of the female Brown-Headed Cowbird. Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests so the other birds can raise them, often at the peril of their own offspring. Note how this Cowbird matched the twig she’s behind so well, it looks like part of her.

Female Brown-Headed Cowbird

On my way out I stopped on the north bridge, where I saw the other Green Heron in the distance, but my attention was drawn to two Great-Crested Flycatchers setting up housekeeping. Look carefully and you can see the male sitting below left and the female hanging out from a cavity at the right of the frame.

Great-Crested Flycatchers

The male flycatcher remained on lookout while his mate investigated the cavity in the dead tree for nesting possibilities.

Great-Crested Flycatcher