Summer Wildflowers 2017

We found lots of wildflowers in Douglas Park’s Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary during the summer of 2017! This slide show includes many of the wildflowers that have bloomed that summer in the park’s meadow and prairie habitats.

These photos were taken from early June through the first few days of August, 2017. The photos include a mix of wildflowers that grew in Chicago before it became a city and flowers that originated elsewhere in the world.

If you want to explore Douglas Park’s wildflowers on your own, this guide from the Field Museum will help you identify them:

Go here to see what bloomed in Douglas Park during 2016:




Breeding Birds of 2017: Pied-billed Grebes

Pied-billed Grebes successfully reared their young on the Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary lagoon last summer. All through this spring we wondered, could they do it again?


By early April there were two Pied-billed Grebes hanging out together on the sanctuary lagoon. (April 8, 2017)


But after mid April we only saw one grebe, always alone. We sometimes heard it sing, but we were concerned that we never saw a second grebe. (April 17, 2017)


Then in mid May we saw an encouraging sign. The lone Pied-billed Grebe approached a small flock of Hooded Mergansers…..


…and then attacked, chasing them off! Male Pied-billed Grebes defend their territories against both other grebes and ducks of all kinds. So maybe this grebe was on territory, and its mate was on a nest hidden somewhere in the reeds and cattails. (May 16, 2017)


But then, for more a month, we saw only one grebe on the lagoon. It sang most days we visited the park, but we wondered what was happening with its mate. (May 29, 2017)


Finally, on June 18, we saw the mother grebe with eight half-grown young!  She must have kept her brood hidden in the reeds for several weeks, at least when we were in the park. (June 18. 2017)


The mother grebe was still a bit shy with her young. As soon as she saw us, she had them line up behind her and follow her back into the reeds. We did not see them again for the rest of the day. (June 18, 2017).


For the next few weeks we saw the grebe family during each of our visits to the park. Usually they stayed far out on the lagoon, with the mom staying close to the young grebes. (June 26, 2017)


The mother grebe caught small catfish to feed her young ones….


,,,passing the fish to the young grebes and then swimming nearby to make sure everything went well.


This time, the catfish proved a challenge for the young grebe. The fish was dropped at least three times, but each time the mother re-caught the catfish and passed it back to the young grebe….


…until finally the fish was successfully swallowed! (July 11, 2017)


By the second week in July, some of the young grebes were already catching and swallowing small catfish on their own. So it looks like the parent grebes have had another successful year raising young on the sanctuary lagoon! (July 11, 2017)

You can learn more about Pied-billed Grebes here:

Follow this link to hear the song of the Pied-billed Grebe:

Breeding Birds of 2017: Cooper’s Hawks

More than 20 kinds of birds have been raising their young in Douglas Park during the spring and summer of 2017.  Here’s a photo report on one species: Cooper’s Hawks.

This year Cooper’s Hawks nested across Sacramento Avenue from the Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. I was able to follow the progress of the Cooper’s Hawk nest from early March, while the nest was still being built, through July, when both of the young hawks were out of the nest.


The Cooper’s Hawk nest was build high in a honey locust tree on the west side of Sacramento Avenue. (March 5, 2017)


The parents were still adding sticks to the nest in early March. (March 5, 2017)


The eggs were laid by mid April, and we could see the mother hawk keeping them warm. Sometimes we just saw her head. (April 25, 2017).


Sometimes we could just see the mother’s tail and wing tips. (May 16, 2017)


The eggs had hatched by late May, and we had our first peeks at the downy white young (the small white patch to the left of the mother). (May 29, 2017)


By early June the mother was defending her nestlings when we got too close. (June 4, 2017)


By mid June the young hawks were ready to emerge from the nest. (June 18, 2017)


The young hawks tried out their wings, flying to nearby branches. (June 18, 2017)


In late June, one of the young hawks was still at the nest, The other young hawk had moved elsewhere. (June 26, 2017)


In early July, one of the young hawks was still near the nest, waiting for a parent to arrive with a meal. (July 3, 2017)

February Birds in Douglas Park

I saw 30 kinds of birds in Douglas Park during February, 2017. Twenty of those species had also been seen in the park during January. The other 10 showed up during and just after the abnormal warmth of the last half of the month.

Immediately below is a slide show with 14 of the 30 February birds on display. Keep scrolling down to find out more about the birds in the slide show.

Go here to see the full list of birds seen in the park during February, with the most recently spotted birds at the top of the list.

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This Red-tailed Hawk has been hunting in Douglas Park since at least December of 2016. Either ambitious or foolish, this young bird has been seen chasing a  Mallard over north lagoon and (twice) strafing and flushing large flocks of Canada Geese. In turn the park’s crows give the hawk a hard time, calling and diving at the hawk when it’s perched in trees.


Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest and most common woodpeckers in Douglas Park. I saw three or more Downy Woodpeckers during each of my February visits.


Most years Red-bellied Woodpeckers just visit Douglas Park during spring and fall migration. However, this Red-bellied Woodpecker has spent the whole winter in the park, often hanging out with the multi-species flock that is usually somewhere between the Cultural Center and the north end of the lagoon. (The many eyes of multi-species flocks are good for finding food and for spotting predators in time to warn their members to head for cover.)


During previous years White-breasted Nuthatches have just visited Douglas Park during late summer and fall migration. This nuthatch, however, has been seen crawling on park tree trunks during almost every visit this winter. It usually stayed pretty close to the Cultural Center’s multi-species flock.


Brown Creepers can be seen creeping up Douglas Park tree trunks almost every winter. This is a photo of the creeper I’ve been seeing and hearing this February.


American Goldfinches can be seen in Douglas Park year round. They usually eat wildflower seeds. However, this goldfinch is eating elm buds to help turn its feathers bright yellow for the summer.


Black-capped Chickadees are also year-round residents of Douglas Park. This winter some chickadees hung out with the multi-species flock by the Cultural Center, some were in the sanctuary, and at least one pair was usually seen south of Ogden.


Southerly winds in late February brought increasingly large numbers of Ring-billed Gulls to Douglas Park. Ring-billed Gulls have yellow legs and yellow bills with a black ring near the tip. (Earlier this winter the larger, pink-legged Herring Gulls had the park to themselves.)


At least a few American Tree Sparrows have been in the park all winter long. In late February their numbers started to increase as sparrows that spent the winter further south stopped by the park on their way north.


Male Red-winged Blackbirds have been singing in Douglas Park since at least February 19. That’s not a particularly early date for them to show up. Last year I saw my first Douglas Park Red-winged Blackbird on February 21, and in 2013 I saw my first on February 18.


There have been at least a few American Robins in Douglas Park all winter long, probably subsisting on dried crab apples. The robin count was up to nine during my last February visit. There may be a couple of dozen robins in the park later this spring, but the really high robin counts come once the crab apples and hackberries ripen in the fall and early winter. I counted 200 robins in the park on December 13, 2013.


Song Sparrows had returned to Douglas Park by February 23rd. Most years at least a couple of Song Sparrows nest in the park, so listen for their songs at least through mid summer.


My most exciting February find was this male Eastern Bluebird. On February 23rd, he flew north over the soccer field and landed in this crab apple tree filled with dried fruit. I hoped he would stick around until all the fruit was gone, but I could not find any bluebirds during my February 26th visit to the park.


On February 19th and 23rd I heard Killdeer flying over the park, calling, but they never settled down to earth while I was watching. Then, on February 26th, I found 11 Killdeer foraging for food on, of all places, the artificial turf soccer field. I’m not sure what they were eating, but I hope it had nothing to do with the goose poops that litter the field this time of year.

Go here  to see a preview of the birds that may be arriving at Douglas Park this spring.


Remembering July on a cold February day

I enjoyed my January visits to Douglas Park. Despite the cold and snow and ice, I found 21 kinds of birds in the park last month! But now it’s early February, and the winter weeks are starting to drag. At times like this, it’s good to remember that the sun and its warmth will soon return. So here are some of my photographic memories of the birds and bugs I found in Douglas Park last July.

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Here’s more information about the creatures in the slide show:


Monarch Butterfly sipping nectar from Swamp Milkweed flowers at the edge of the lagoon, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Black Swallowtail butterfly at the edge of north lagoon, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Young Pied-billed Grebe on the sanctuary lagoon (where it was hatched and raised), Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Indigo Bunting (male) singing in the sanctuary meadow, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Common Yellowthroat (male) with a beak full of insects to feed its babies, sanctuary meadow, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Mallard (female) with her ducklings, the Lily Pond, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, female, edge of the Lily Pond, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Red Admiral butterfly sipping nectar from a thistle flower, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (male), edge of a sanctuary prairie patch, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


Dogbane Leaf Beetle, edge of the sanctuary lagoon, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)


American Goldfinch (male), eating thistle seeds in a sanctuary meadow, Douglas Park. (July, 2016)

To experience more summer in February, check out these Nature in Douglas Park pages:




January Birds in Douglas Park

Here are some of the 21 different kinds of birds found in Douglas Park during January, 2017.

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There’s a complete list of the park’s January birds on eBird:

Keep scrolling for more information about the birds in the slide show.


Downy Woodpecker hiding among the Phragmites reeds at the edge of sanctuary lagoon. The Downy was pecking at the reed stems in search on insect larvae.


Dark-eyed Junco on high alert, checking out a threatening noise.


Female Northern Cardinals keep their camouflaged colors year round, unlike the bright red males


The reddish wash on the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s belly inspired its common name.


White-breasted Nuthatches usually explore tree bark in search of bugs, but this one is checking out a threatening bird call.


Some of the hundreds of Canada Geese in Douglas Park wear a numbered collar, placed their by researchers. Go here for more information.


American Crows harassed the park’s Red-tailed Hawk, but the hawk just kept looking for food.


Here’s a closer look at the narrow dark bands on the Red-tailed Hawk’s tail, which identify it as a young bird. (Only adults have a fully red tail.)


Like most winter birds, Dark-eyed Juncos puffed up their feathers to keep warm.


This Hairy Woodpecker is a larger cousin of the Park’s Downy Woodpeckers, with a longer and stronger bill.


American Goldfinches lose their bright colors in winter, which helps them hide among the dried plants whose seeds they eat.


Brown Creepers climb up the trunks of trees in search of tiny insects..


Bright red male Northern Cardinals supply a bit more color than most other winter birds.


These Mallard ducks left the park when the lagoons froze over, but returned during the late-month warm spell.


This male American Kestrel was hunting for sparrows and goldfinches in the large sanctuary meadow.


There were more than 500 Canada Geese in Douglas Park by the end of January. These geese were resting on the lagoon between visits to the lawns and soccer fields, where they grazed on grass.


Herring Gulls can often be seen atop the Cultural Center roof. This gull flew down to the lagoon’s ice and caught a small catfish, which it picked up and dropped a few times before swallowing it whole.


These American Tree Sparrows were searching for small seeds on the soccer field.

To see more photos of winter birds at Douglas Park, check out this Nature in Douglas Park page: