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.

Late April Goose Lake

With the forecast of only one nice day this past weekend, I planned to go to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, which has become one of my favorite, if distant, destinations. One doesn’t know what to expect when venturing out these days. I knew I could count on the absence of crowds, even if there were some people walking, riding bikes, running, birding. Luckily this is a vast expanse and I could still feel quite alone most of the time, however I now take that sentiment in current context.

Starting down the Hebron Trail…

The walk is long to the Goose Lake part – at least it seems to take forever. There were not a lot of birds along the way this early in the season to distract me, but there was certainly a lot of up-and-coming moss.

The main attraction to me, then, was the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. The females haven’t started arriving yet as far as I can tell, but I wanted to be there when the males were setting up territories so I could hear them sing. With all the Red-Winged Blackbirds singing, they didn’t seem to vocalize in long phrases, but I did manage to get a recording, albeit with a lot of wind noise, of their characteristic rusty-crank-sounding song. The short song clip is below these photographs.

I might add that the Yellow-Headeds were far away and rather secretive. I want to go back in a few weeks to see if I can get a better look.

There were several Song Sparrows and I managed to get a few photographs of them. They had some lovely songs too. I almost wish I could have left the camera and recorded vocalizations, but it was windy that day anyway.

Another likely breeding sparrow in this habitat is the Swamp Sparrow. I was lucky to encounter the beauty below.

I miss Crows a lot. It’s been a chronic ache that started with my job location three years ago, made worse by the current situation banning visits to lakefront parks. So another thing I like about this location is that I always get to see Crows.

I confess I wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention to Red-Winged Blackbirds, but I did find this guy attractive. There’s a female in three photos below him.

I had to look hard to see the Goose on her nest below.

There were still a few Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there.

As I turned to go back, three crows were harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk.

I got distracted by a little more plant life and my first ladybug of the year.

There was an elusive Red-Bellied Woodpecker off the side of the wooded trail as I walked back.

I have been working harder than ever from home which was not at all what I expected when this whole pandemic thing began. As long as it’s raining I don’t mind so much. Oh well. Tomorrow is May 1.

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.

The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.

On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.

It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.

At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.