City Migrants – Fall Migration 2016

If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until after fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him, of “what a beautiful bird you are.”

First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.

Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)

Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.

Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.

Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?

starlings-9-9-2016-lse-park-0604I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.

cogr-9-16-2016-lse-molting-1005Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.

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Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.

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Hermit Thrush

Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.

Two Blackpoll Warblers…

Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.

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Bay-Breasted Warbler…?

Two more Blackpolls below.

And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…

and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).

And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.

My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.

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Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.

gcki-9-29-2016-lse-park-1873On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.

I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.

The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.

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Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.

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Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.

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I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day. 🙂

Gems of Spring

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Magnolia Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Well, the Spring Warbler Migration has been in some kind of full swing, in fits and starts, depending on the weather and, for me, my work schedule…

I have more photos of more birds to process but I wanted to share some images taken on various days in different places in and around the Chicago Loop. I think someone should come up with a set of colors named after these birds, like “Wilson’s Warbler Yellow” and “Canada Warbler Blue.”

The male American Redstarts below show a second-or-more year male (the bright orange, black and white guy) and a first year male who has only a hint of that orange going on his flank but was happy to confirm his Redstartness by flashing his tail.

I had to dig hard to get the pictures of the Canada Warbler below. He was buried well into this flowering tree in Lake Shore East Park but we managed to communicate through a tiny window. Click on the pictures to see them better.

Below, Black-and-White Warblers, male and female, both seen in Millennium Park on different days. The female is in the lower right photograph.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers with their little black caps. This guy was flitting about in the trees looking for insects at Lake Shore East Park on Monday afternoon.

I have seen several Ovenbirds but they have not been volunteering for pictures. I barely caught the one below off guard.

OVEN LSE Park 5-16-2016-1096After all the Yellow-Rumped Warblers appear to have moved on, below is a female. You can make a comparison to the male below her.

YRWA Portage 5-1-2016-7905Common as they are, Common Yellowthroats are still pretty.

I had too many pictures of this Magnolia Warbler to choose from, so here’s another.

MAWA LSE Park 5-16-2016-1054I’ll be back with more Warblers and other birds of 2016 Spring Migration.

Secrets of the Chicago Portage

Portage 5-1-2016-8019The fact that this place always looks like it may have started on another planet never escapes me, and now I may have some insight into why.

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Baltimore Oriole

But first I’d like to share a few photos from last Sunday, just as the rain was stopping. I managed to count 40 species, some of which I never saw but recognized by their vocalizations. So spring migration, in spite of whatever weather challenges the birds face, goes on regardless.

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Spotted Sandpiper

My first bird willing to pose was this Spotted Sandpiper. I can’t recall ever seeing one so true to its name. Later I encountered two other common shorebird species, the Killdeer and Solitary Sandpipers below.

Waterfowl was present but not much worthy of a photo except for a solitary Blue-Winged Teal.

Blue-Winged Teal Portage 5-1-2016-7661The only warblers willing to engage with the camera were Yellow-Rumped and Black-Throated Green Warblers. All the warblers I saw were in the same tree. I had a Blackburnian Warbler which is always a treat, but the poor light just wouldn’t do him justice.

Still here’s the Blackburnian on the left and a Palm Warbler on the right.

And for a blue-gray day, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

Below is a Brown Thrasher who was singing enthusiastically. I neglected to take my recorder with me but shot the video beneath his picture which recorded some of his song. This is a mimid species, which means he imitates other calls and recites them, singing each call twice. Toward the end of the video a Red-Winged Blackbird sings.

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So I have to hand it to the woodpeckers for keeping things lively.

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I was a bit surprised to see a male Belted Kingfisher land and sit still.

BEKIPortage 5-1-2016-8052And this Red-Tailed Hawk became a bit annoyed with me when I noticed him sitting very still and trying to blend in with the tree.

Close to the end of my outing I found the female Scarlet Tanager below.

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But now for the surprise. As I was almost leaving, a cyclist stopped on the bridge where I stood to talk about the Portage. He said he had been visiting this place for 40 years. He didn’t look a day over 52 so I guess he’s been visiting since he was a youngster. Anyway, he told me years ago companies were dumping chemicals here and the water turned numerous bright colors. He also said he had talked to some of the Cook County foresters who were removing trees and they told him they had never seen such strange decay in some of the trunks.

I tried to find some documentation about what he told me but so far I have been unable to find anything specific to the Chicago Portage. I suspect the Environmental Protection Agency postdates the dumping, of course. This explains a lot to me about this strange little oasis in development. It’s sad, but then it’s also encouraging to see how nature rebounds, I guess.

It remains to be seen what the county’s plans are for this place. The cyclist also mentioned something about a commuter train going all the way to Joliet running along I-55 and a transportation hub at Harlem. Just a stone’s throw from the Portage. I can wait.

YRWA Portage 5-1-2016-7891

Back at the Slough

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough 10-25-15

It seems strange to have been away from this page for so long, only to find time to come back after this weekend with all the sanity drained out of humanity. It almost feels like I need to start over. So I’m going with pictures from 3 weeks ago when I managed to get out to McGinnis Slough.

Gadwall at McGinnis

Gadwall at McGinnis

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Gadwall

The problem with the Slough is always that most of the birds are usually quite far away and you need a scope to see them.

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Great Blue Heron, McGinnis Slough

So most of these pictures were taken a bit closer in. Like this cooperative Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

I didn’t realize this was a Clay-Colored Sparrow until I started going through the pictures. A nice surprise, don’t see this guy too often.

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Clay-Colored Sparrow

And this was one of the last Yellow-Rumped Warblers I saw this year. I guess in the photo below, if you’re going to see the rump you aren’t going to see much else…!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

YRWA McGinnis 10-25-15 -6212There were about 400 American Coots at the Slough that day, and here’s one of them.

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American Coot

One more time with the Song Sparrow.

SOSP McGinnis 10-25-15 -6020I picked up my annual bird seed order from Chicago Audubon yesterday: I try to buy enough to last through the winter. Was greeted by Bobbi who was helping distribute the orders, and we got to discussing international travel (we were both with a group in Australia back in 2009). And then she told me she came back from a month in Paris only a few days ago. The world just shrunk that much faster.

Where Have All The Birds Gone?

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, scaling a building wall next to 155 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago

I could just as easily re-title this post to “Where Has All The Time Gone?” since I’m still trying to make adjustments to my ever-changing schedule. But this will be a brief tribute to some of the birds I have seen passing through downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. (There will be still more photographs from the rest of the month in a future post.)

The following warblers were present at Lake Shore East Park on September 28. This was probably the last “peak” of warbler migration along the lakefront.

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American Redstart

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Blackpoll Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler

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Magnolia Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warblers tend to come through and hang around a bit later, so I was not surprised to see this one the following week.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler, October 6, 2015

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I was surprised to find the Connecticut Warbler below poking around in the grass as I was walking through Millennium Park on my way to Lake Shore East. There wasn’t much light and the bird was under some trees so this was the best I could do with the photograph.

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Connecticut Warbler, Millennium Park, October 5, 2015

I have seen only a few White-Crowned Sparrows this fall, like the one below which popped out at 100 N. Riverside Plaza.

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White-Crowned Sparrow, October 2, 2015

I think the White-Throated Sparrow below was also from this new location. I will have more pictures and more to say about this newly discovered green space area along the Chicago River in a future post.

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White-Throated Sparrow, October 5, 2015

There have been a lot of Brown Creepers this fall migration.

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Brown Creeper, Lake Shore East Park, October 6, 2015

And Ruby-Crowned Kinglets…

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

For a couple weeks, almost, the most ubiquitous bird seemed to be Hermit Thrushes. I am still seeing an individual here and there.

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Hermit Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are now all gone.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, October 6, 2015

At first I thought the bird below was yet another Hermit Thrush but on closer inspection I have decided it’s probably a Gray-Cheeked Thrush. Light can be tricky, but the heavy spotting on the breast and the darker flanks give him away almost more than his facial pattern.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, September 28, 2015

And for the longer view, here he is again sharing tree space with a shy Lincoln’s Sparrow.

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So the warblers are all gone until spring. I did have a late Black-Throated Green Warbler on October 22nd which I posted on my flickr page before I realized I could now just upload it directly into ebird. It was my last “rare bird” sighting.

Below is another picture of the beautiful Blackpoll Warbler from September 28.

BPWA LSE Park 9-28-15 -3013I have more posts in mind and am just working on finding the time and mind space!

Thanks for your patience and indulgence!

Three Weeks: Chicago Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Back on the 10th of May I was at the Chicago Portage and counted 52 species. On the 17th of May, visiting with two friends, we counted 35 species. This afternoon, after gale winds in the morning and some rain, I went over to see what was up and counted 29 species.

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Three weeks ago was the height of spring migration, and already by last weekend it was slowing down.

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

CAGO Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2361

Gosling, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Last week the goose family had dwindled to four goslings and today I was told by a woman I talked to on the trail that they were down to three. I did run into the geese today, but they were foraging in the grasses and I did not want to bother them, as they were pretty well hidden. So I am taking her word for it.

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln's Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

The Red-Eyed Vireos are still present and singing, so they probably breed here, but all the thrushes except for American Robin have left, and the sparrow species as well. There was quite an influx of Veerys this year, I don’t usually see them.

WCSP Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0022

White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15

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Green Heron, 5-10-15

But as the last of the sparrows were getting ready to leave, the Green Herons were returning. I believe there are two although I have not yet seen them both on the same visit. I think they also hang out at Ottawa Trail Woods which is also where we went last weekend. I have included a few pictures here are from Ottawa Trail Woods, as it is basically part of the same ecosystem.

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Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15

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Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15

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Spotted Sandpiper at the Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

On the 10th I saw both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, not on sandbars or mudflats but on dead wood in the water. The water levels were a bit lower though. I have not seen or heard any shorebirds since.

SCTA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0145

Scarlet Tanager, 5-10-15

The Scarlet Tanager above basically flew down and sat right in front of me. I was so surprised I barely got his photograph.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Myrtle female, 5-10-15 – You cannot see the yellow rump but this is the first year I have noticed they also have yellow on the crown

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Yellow Warbler, 5-10-15

The only warblers willing to pose were the most common ones. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers are gone, but the Yellow Warblers stay for the summer.

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Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

INBU Ottawa Trail 5-17-15-2379

Indigo Bunting, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

BASW Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2243

Barn Swallows, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

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Female Belted Kingfisher, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Indigo Buntings are everywhere. I have not seen the females yet but the Portage has at least four males singing on territory. I have also seen many Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.

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Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

BAOR Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3661

Baltimore Oriole, 5-25-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3640

Green Heron, 5-25-15 – Not as visible today as three weeks ago.

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 - There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 – There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

TRSW Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3534

Tree Swallow, 5-25-15

Red Admiral Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3562

Red Admiral on a wildflower I have yet to identify – I should know it! But I have never seen it at the Portage before. Is this some kind of monarda?

I included the butterfly picture because to me it signals the end of spring migration and the beginning of summer, when butterflies and dragonflies vie for my attention.

WODU Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2349

Wood Duck, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

I didn’t see any ducks today at the Portage. In years past there have always been a breeding pair of Wood Ducks, so I hope they are busy nesting.

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can't be all hers?)!

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can’t be all hers?)! (Ottawa Trail, 5-17-15)

I hope to be back soon with a short report on birds in Berwyn. I just saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at my hummingbird feeders this evening, which gave me the perfect reason  to clean and refill the feeders. While I was out in my yard my neighbor appeared and told me he saw the hummer yesterday! Maybe I’ll get a picture this year before September.

Staying In To Finish This Post

Juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough

Juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe, McGinnis Slough

I would be out visiting with the Crows but the entire week is going a bit insanely so I am finishing up this post I started last night. When it takes days to write a blog post I have to keep revising those optimistic references to “yesterday” and put them in the proper perspective.

The pictures in this post are from the Chicago Portage and McGinnis Slough, both Cook County Forest Preserves, taken this past Sunday.

Chicago Portage

Chicago Portage

Encouraged after I managed to fold the back seats down Saturday morning in the Prius (a first!) to accommodate my birdseed order from Chicago Audubon, and then carried all several hundred pounds of it from the car to the back porch without throwing out my back, I ventured out Sunday morning with the Tamron 150-600mm lens attached to the 5D, just to see how it handled the lens. I decided the weight difference between the 5D and the 70D is minimal.

Wood Duck, Chicago Portage

Wood Duck, Chicago Portage

Because I was looking for the turkeys at the Portage, I decided to walk in from the opposite direction than what I usually take, which was a stupid thing to do from a photography perspective because I was walking into the sun, but I persisted anyway, and never encountered any turkeys. It was an otherwise beautiful morning, starting out a bit chilly but quite clear and later becoming warm.

Canada Geese, Portage

Canada Geese, Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Portage

Downy Woodpecker, Portage

Downy Woodpecker, Portage

Monday was heralded as our Last Likely Warm Day. Monday evening was opening night for Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera, so I met my friend after work, we went to dinner, then attended most of the pre-opera lecture which was helpful and amusing, and then we saw the opera. The production was stunning, Stephanie Blythe was magnificent, as was the entire cast and chorus. I have not heard so much beautiful and strong singing from every cast member in a long, long time. It was nice to renew my relationship with the art form if not my subscription.

(Below, probably the last warblers I will have seen around here this year.)

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Portage

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Portage

I did not get home until 11:15 or thereabouts after the opera, so I managed to get only about 5 hours of sleep or less. In the meantime at work we endured almost two entire days without the ability to communicate by email or Internet. Now that the problem has been resolved we are playing catch-up with a lot of work. The trip to Costa Rica, in the back of my mind for months, is now racing to the forefront, making almost every waking moment into a decision about to take place.

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Most of the birds at McGinnis were too far away to identify even with a scope. There were several hundred American Coots and it appeared there were Scaup but I could not identify whether they were Lesser or Greater. I thought I could see three Harlequin Ducks, but I could not see enough of them beyond telltale white patches on their cheeks so I did not report them. They would have been lifers for me, I think, but not really if I couldn’t see them completely (they don’t look very fancy this time of year anyway, yet). Plus people get excited about Harlequin Ducks and I didn’t want to get them started on a wild duck chase…

Northern Cardinal, McGinnis

Northern Cardinal, McGinnis

Except for the Pied-Billed Grebe at the start of the post (there were several of them) and the female Northern Cardinal above eating buckthorn berries, I did not get many photographs at the Slough. But the seasonal landscape changes attracted me.

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McGinnis Slough

White-Throated Sparrows, so common in the Chicago Loop, are special to see anywhere else. There were several at the Portage, along with a few White-Crowned Sparrows, and also some Fox Sparrows who continue to evade the lens.

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White-Throated Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I will be back with a post or two before my trip to CR.