My birding has been pretty spotty the past couple of weeks. I’m sure I’m not the first to discover that full-time employment can be somewhat of a hinderance to your hobbies. Regardless, I’ve been able to visit Park No. 566 a couple of times before work. I will be quite happy when daylight savings time ends as the current clock is robbing me of pre-work morning sunlight. Regardless, the past week and a half has definitely seen a large outward movement of passerines. The gaudy numbers of late warblers and sparrows found early in October have given way to isolated patches of land birds and growing numbers of winter waterfowl. While the species counts have declined, the opportunities to enjoy natural beauty have not.
However, there were still some highlights the past couple of weeks. Short-eared Owls have begun to take up winter residency in the area and this one has now been spotted twice. I went to the Bartel Grassland in Orland Park last year to find my lifer Short-eared Owl and struck out so accidentally getting this bird at Park No. 566 was a thrill!
The songbirds that are arriving now are a mix of late migrants just passing through and those that will set up here for the winter. I hope this little Winter Wren decides to make the south lakefront its home for the next few months.
Finally, my schedule eased up where I could spend a large part of Saturday, November 1st exploring the south side. I had heard that access to the Big Marsh in the Lake Calumet area had been improved with the cutting down of some tall cattails. When I got there, I was able to easily find the newly exposed dike. Just from the small portion I could observe, I could see why the more-tenured birders speak highly of this area. The whole area is surrounded by mudflats and marshy ponds. Walking in, I flushed several Great Blue Heron as well as a state-endangered Black-crowned Night-Heron. Any November shorebirds are especially pleasing and I was happy to find that the mudflats were occupied by Killdeer and Dunlin. Gulls and a small sampling of ducks rounded out the birds that were hanging around here. Occasionally, a raptor would come circling overhead, usually a Red-tailed Hawk. I had forgotten how great of a place the Lake Calumet area can be for birds of prey and I would definitely be reminded of it at my next stop, the Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve.
As with other locations, the songbird density was down significantly but, hawks, eagles, and falcons have arrived in their stead. An adult Bald Eagle was observed north of the entrance drive, several Red-tailed Hawks and a Cooper’s/Sharp-shinned passed by overhead. Seen most closely, though, was a Northern Harrier that was skimming the tops of the grass for the 2.5 hours I was there. When it would crisscross the marsh, it’d cause quite a bit of commotion among the 6 Greater Yellowlegs that were feeding. As I was lurking in the perimeter grasses, I notice a lengthy animal swimming around one end of the marsh. I was in perfect position to watch an American Mink swim around a submerged truck. I’m hoping the fence around the entire wetland is enough to keep people from harassing the animal, as this sneaky weasel can be a tough find. The harrier however, had no problem finding it as it flew about 15 feet over the mink’s head. I watched for a little while until both I and the harrier lost interest. On my way out, a screaming American Kestrel zipped by bringing my raptor species count to 5.
My day ended with a quick stop at the MWRD plant at the bend of the Little Calumet River. This will be a frequent destination for me as the temperature drops and ducks look for the artificially warmed waters in this area. For now, I was entertained by the hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls that followed a passing barge.
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10/21 Park No. 566