the Rookie Birder

I have watched birds all my life, but after reading "The Big Year," "Grail Bird" and especially Kenn Kaufman's "Kingbird Highway," plus Santa's timely stocking stuffer of "Sibley's 2003 Eastern & Western Field Guides," I made the decision to become a rookie birder beginning January 1st, 2006.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Belted Kingfisher, Common Grackle and two types of hawks

LaBagh Woods & Sauganash Prairie, Chicago, Illinois
North of Foster, east of Cicero & I94

& Ronan & West River Park, Chicago Illinois
Along the Chicago River beginning at Lawrence to Argyle and north

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006, 915-1115am

My neighbor Karen was kind enough to take me out today to take a tour of her warbler route in the LaBagh Woods and Sauganash Prairie areas on Chicago's Northwest side east of I94 and north of Foster Avenue. Her experience suggests that if the warblers are seen at Montrose Beach & Harbor in the Magic Hedge, then they will also be at LaBagh, and no doubt there will be less birders, though there will be more ground to cover in one of Chicago's most unknown urban oasis.

We parked in the east side of the park and immediately walked up to the railroad tracks. Almost as soon as we were up on them we heard and then spotted a Northern Cardinal, two American Robins, a Ring-billed Gull flyover and a COMMON GRACKLE (photo Robert Houde). Okay, it was only a Grackle, but it was a sign that the migration was beginning, and it was bird #85 and Chicago bird #43. Was never quite so happy to see a Grackle, Karen just laughed quietly at my enthusiasm.

During my tour she showed me a number of great areas for warblers, pintails, teals, shorebirds. We spotted a two separate packs of Dark-eyed Juncos, and with her ear and eye, she helped me find American Goldfinches (photo Doug Greenberg) which became bird #44 for Chicago. We also had the unfortunate experience of watching a possum expire from drowning in the river. How the heck did he get himself into that fix? The answer would remain a mystery, and there was really nothing we could safely, or maybe, should have, done, to help it. Still, this just didn't feel like a good nature experience for me.

Before we got to Cicero Avenue, Karen spotted a raptor flying near the river, but we could not find it. We made our way to along the path on the north side of the river until we got to Cicero, where we crossed over the bridge and began a tour of
LaBagh Woods.

We walked south to the wetland marsh area and found numerous Mallards in the now very wet marsh area. I heard a whistling bird call we were unable to locate, and though we did not find what was making this call, we did spot the resident Red-tailed Hawk perch slightly to the north of the marsh at the top of a tree. It stayed long enough for us to give it a great look, though at a distance.

Once we completed our tour, Karen humored me with a quick stop at Ronan Park and West River Park to see if I could find the Belted Kingfisher reported there, as well as the Black-crowned Night Herons that were spotted there last night my MJ who posts on IBET.

Two thirds of the way from Argyle toward Lawrence on the east river bank I spotted the BELTED KINGFISHER (photo Robert Hughes) female just as she was about to swallow a crawfish. What a treat to see this. I was spell bound with this bird. I have always had a fascination with kingfishers, this one was no different. How did I know it was a female? Unlike many birds, the female Belted Kingfisher has the color, a unique redish or rufous breast marking. Her crest was impressive and with the irregular clattering rattle she made as she flew along the river, it felt like she was the punk rocker of the Chicago birding world. She would be life bird #86 and Chicago bird #45.

As we moved north, we heard woodpeckers, saw Mallards, a Common Goldeneye, a pair of Herring Gulls in breeding plumage, a Ring-Billed flyover, and Canada Geese. But no Black-crowned Night Herons. And we really looked. Because we did, once we crossed north over Argyle into West River Park, Karen immediately spotted a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (photo Bob Lankford) on the east bank. Long tail, brownish coloring, streaked with brown on a white breast, slight white stripe over the eye. It just let us watch him. I don't think, nor do I know, that this bird would take a Goldeneye for lunch, but I did note that the last two times I had been here there were 15-20 Goldeneyes in the water, including just yesterday. But today there were only three in the river. Did they leave because of the Cooper's Hawk?

While we were watching the Cooper, I spotted a beaver in the water four feet from where we were standing on the bank of the river. There were signs of beaver activity all along the river north of Argyle, but now he was right there for a minute or so before he dove and disappeared. Great to have such a visitor taking up residence in Chicago, gives you faith the river is cleaning itself up after all the years of neglect, BUT, he was wreaking havoc on the small trees and landscaping in this newly planted park area, AND he had begun working on a 40 foot willow on the east river bank, since yesterday, how long would the Chicago Park District put up with this "guest?" Time would tell.

Though I wanted to head back to the Wilson Street Bridge just to our south to see if I could get another look at the American Black Duck x Mallard drake hybrid I spotted there yesterday, but I had to get back to the office and get some work done. It was a good day, two new birds and one new Chicago bird, PLUS the beaver. This birding thing is getting me out to see more wildlife than I had ever noticed in my urban existence, and it put a smile on my face. For today we had found:

#85 Common Grackle

#86 Belted Kingfisher female
and that Chicago River Beaver north of Argyle


  • At 11:53 PM, Blogger Chris Moonbeams said…

    Hello, Just wandering the blogosphere and here I am at your blog. I enjoy the style of how you have put it all together. I'll be coming back again.



Post a Comment

<< Home