Category Archives: Illinois

Controlled burn brings green

In March we visited Chain O’ Lakes State Park and walked the Badger Trail. The area had recently been subjected to a controlled burn and we could really notice the Robins in particular were lovin’ it.

Earlier this month we walked the Badger Trail again. What a difference!

Chain O' Lakes

Chain O' Lakes

Chain O' Lakes

Everything was so green! The trees are still a bit bare, but the ground was lush with fresh vegetation covering the ground. Ground that was black from burning just six weeks ago.

Another difference we noticed: instead of Bluebirds on the Bluebird houses, there were Tree Swallows.

Tree Swallow Chain O' Lakes

During our March visit, we saw at least three pairs of Bluebirds on the houses. On our walk last week, we saw only saw two individual Bluebirds, and they were sitting on tree branches and not near any of the houses. The houses all appeared to be occupied by swallows. Here’s the female Bluebird we saw. At least she found a nice branch upon which to perch.

Bluebird at Chain O' Lakes

We also saw this group of five Sandhill Cranes. I always love seeing these guys.

Cranes at Chain O' Lakes

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On April 27th we visited Volo Bog with both my parents and my husband’s parents. We had a nice walk around the boardwalk under threatening skies. Remarkably, it didn’t rain during our stroll.

Slouching Barn Swallow

The dark, heavy clouds looming overhead were enough to bring down even the most cheery person – or bird. I noticed this Tree Swallow sitting on one of the Bluebird boxes looking kind of slouchy. I think it noticed I was taking its photo, because it corrected its posture immediately!

Barn Swallow at attention

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Techny field trip

Yesterday we went out with the Evanston North Shore Bird Club again. This time the leader was a young man named Sulli and he brought us into Valley Lo Country Club, a spot normally off-limits to non-members. Sulli is a monitor for the Techny Basin Conservation Area with the Bird Conservation Network and has special permission to bird on the club’s property.

Sulli lead our group of 12 participants around the golf course of the club and around Techny Basin as well as Lake Glenview and Air Station Prairie, a prairie habitat set aside from the old Glenview Naval Air Station. Here is part of our group at the golf course:


One of the highlights was very good looks at a Palm Warbler at Techny Basin. During the trip I mentioned to Joel, a birder we had met on the Looney Trip, that we hadn’t seen warblers before, but I was so wrong, oops! We’ve seen the Palm Warbler in non-breeding plumage in Florida in 2006, as well as a surprise non-breeding Yellow-rumped Warbler in Deerfield last year. It would be true to say we’ve not seen any warblers in their full breeding glory, though!

We saw lots of great birds on this outing, but unfortunately I did not get lots of great photos. Highlights were: Common Loons (still here!); a flying Green Heron; a flying Merlin; the Palm Warbler; Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers; courting Red-breasted Mergansers; Northern Flicker; Cedar Waxwings; roosting Black-crowned Night-herons; and a flying Sora which was flushed by Sulli and Joel. Several of these were lifers for us.

We did have very good looks at the Red-tailed Hawk on the golf course. It wasn’t bothered by us at all and even did a little preening with us watching.



I had a hard time getting on the Black-crowned Night-heron but Sulli was very patient and helped me get a good look at at least four of them (I think he saw more!). Boy, they were hiding! Here’s one:


It was another great outing with Evanston North Shore Bird Club on a beautiful Saturday. The forecast for the next few days is bleak with lots of rain and colder temperatures. I’m glad we could get out while the weather was so fine!

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Volo Bog bird walk

On Saturday we visited Volo Bog State Natural Area. I visited the park on a grade school field trip but I don’t remember it very well. This was Arthur’s first visit to the bog.

A bog is a type of wetland habitat where ground level water is acidic. Bogs are very common in parts of Europe and especially in the Netherlands (peat bogs). I’ve seen several peat-harvesting exhibits when visiting museums in Holland. Volo Bog is a quaking bog and is maintained by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It is the only remaining open-water quaking bog in Illinois and is the home to several rare and/or endangered species for the state.

We joined the Volo Bog State Natural Area Bird Walk which was a free guided bird walk co-sponsored by McHenry County Audubon. Group leader Joel took our group of about 10 participants on the Tamarack View Trail which is a 2.75 mile loop trail around the bog.


Bird Walkers at Volo Bog

The trail was lined with Bluebird houses in the open areas.


Almost all of the houses we saw were being claimed by a pair of Tree Swallows.

Tree Swallow Pair

The walk overlooks a couple of ponds from several vantage points.



Nearby one of the ponds we were very surprised to find a bird hide.

Bird Hide at Volo Bog

They are not common here in the U.S. but the abundance of hides in the Netherlands was one of the sparks that helped get us into birding. I’ll have another post about bird hides in the future. This was a nice little hide with enough built-in benches to hold about 8 birders.

Close to the hide we spotted this Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe

We also spotted a group of three Northern Flickers tussling between some trees. Joel speculated this was probably a female and two males. Here are two of them:

Northern Flickers

A part of the trail was flooded about a half mile from the start of the loop (or in our case, from the end). We had to climb over a fence and walk on the road for a bit.

Flooded Trail at Volo Bog

A part of the Tamarack Trail was also floating boardwalk.


We walked behind most of the group and it felt like the boardwalk was buckling violently, although I suppose it probably felt worse than it actually was. It reminded me of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.


After the bird walk, Arthur and I walked the much shorter Interpretive Trail, which is almost entirely floating or fixed boardwalk.



The boardwalk goes into the heart of the quaking bog. Part of the trail was lined with Tamarack trees, which are unusual because they are deciduous pines. They are a threatened species in Illinois and the Tamarack Zone at Volo Bog is close to the southern edge of their North American range. Every fall the needles of the Tamarack trees fall into the water, releasing tannic acid.

Pitcher Plants are another endangered plant species that can be found along the Interpretive Trail. These carnivorous plants absorb decomposed insects that fall into the plant’s water cups.



I had no idea there were carnivorous plants here in Illinois so I was really amazed to read about and then see these pitcher plants!

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Skywatch Friday: Chicago from IBSP

Last Saturday on our Looney Trip we were very lucky with awesome weather. The sky was clear and temperatures were seasonal, in the 50’s F. Wind was minimal.

From our viewing area at Illinois Beach State Park, we could see the Chicago city skyline, 50 miles to the south.

Chicago from Illinois Beach State Park

The moon was visible in the late afternoon sky from the beach.

Illinois Beach State Park

Broken Pier at IBSP

We went to the park to look for Red-throated Loons, which had been sighted there earlier in the day, but we were skunked. We did see lots of gulls resting on the beach.

Illinois Beach State Park gulls

Starting on Sunday, the next day, temperatures dropped into the 30’s and we had heavy cloud cover with sleet, hail and snow, and strong, cold winds.

For more photos and stories of the sky, check out the other submissions for this week’s Skywatch Friday.

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Looney for Loons

Yesterday we went on the Looney Trip outing led by Dave Johnson and sponsored by the Evanston North Shore Bird Club. Our group of 16 visited several sights in search of Common Loon and other waterfowl and migrants. We met a lot of local birders and got to see a bunch of great birding locations that were new to us.

We met by Diamond Lake, where we started off with several Common Loons swimming on the calm water. After viewing the loons and other waterfowl on the lake, Dave distributed walkie talkies to the 8 cars in our group and we headed to our first stop at the north side of Long Lake, where we saw 5 Common Loons, some at very close range.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Our next stop was at Lake Marie, where American White Pelicans had been reported in recent days. We had great looks at 13 pelicans, a first for the Looney Trip (which Dave has been leading for over 15 years!). Here are two on the water, in the distance.

American White Pelican

Arthur also counted 27 loons here, which were also giving great looks (not too much diving). Here some of our group checks out the action.


Next we stopped briefly at Chain O’ Lakes State Park where we saw some pelicans flying. We saw two Sandhill Cranes landing at a shallow pond by the main road. Some of the group (including us) got nice looks at a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. These were much too fast for photos, unfortunately, because both of these were lifers!

Next we made a brief stop by Grass Lake to view an active Bald Eagle nest. We learned that this nest is the first recorded Bald Eagle breeding in Lake County in well over 100 years. Wow!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The other nests surrounding the eagle’s are abandoned Great Blue Heron nests. The herons left when the eagles moved in. Not too far from the eagles there was a separate heronry with lots of GBH nests and tons of Double-crested Cormorants.


Around lunchtime we headed to Pistakee Lake to look for birds from the marina at Bald Knob. Here we saw more Common Loons, plus thousands of Lesser Scaup, an immature Bald Eagle flyover, and this Killdeer by the piers.


Next it was time for lunch, which we had at Castaways at Sunset Bay. It was a treat for us to get to talk with other birders. We heard of fun tales of neat birding adventures and learned of even more great places to check out for birds in our area and beyond. The restaurant was really accommodating for our large group, too – we were a group of 11 people with at least six separate checks.

After lunch some of the group headed for home while the rest of us drove to Illinois Beach State Park on Lake Michigan to search for Red-throated Loons which had been reported there earlier in the day. This was an area of the state park we had not visited before so it was nice to check it out. We were skunked on the loons but did see several Red-breasted Mergansers, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and we heard a Field Sparrow singing. And the view sure was nice. Here’s Arthur looking for loons.


Looking south from IBSP

We decided our day was over after IBSP, but Dave and a few others drove down to Kane County to search for a Black-necked Stilt reported there. I saw later on the Illinois listserv IBET that they got the stilt. Way to go, guys!

We had a great day and we look forward to going on Dave’s Looney Trip next year! I really thought Dave was an outstanding and knowledgeable leader, making sure everyone got to see the birds and picking a great route. The more experienced birders on the trip were also wonderful, open to share their knowledge with the newer members of the group and answer all of our questions. If you went on the trip too, please leave a comment!

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Two surprise lifers

Common Loons have been reported on several lakes in Lake County (where we live) and nearby Cook County. We made a lame attempt at getting loons late last week but were skunked. The lakes we tried, where birds were reported, are very difficult to access as they are surrounded by private homes.

American White Pelicans have also been reported in the last few days, and today a report came in on a sighting that was almost too good to be true: pelicans and loons on a lake about 10 minutes from our house – with a detailed description on how to access a viewing area. We grabbed our scope and headed out minutes after reading the report.

The birds were sighted on Fox Lake, and could be seen from the parking lot of Mineola Marina, a restaurant and marina facility on the southeast side of the lake.

We arrived at the parking lot under heavy rain. We scanned the water for birds and could see three loons and several pelicans, all very far away, with the naked eye. You might be able to make out a few white spots – pelicans – in this one (click to view full size).

Fox Lake from Mineola Bay

Before getting the scope, we took photos of the closest loon. This is the best photo and a short video. You can hear the rain coming down in the video. The sound like thunder is actually wind – no thunder or lightening here today.


The loons were very hard to photograph or get in the scope as they were constantly diving. Well, that is what they do.

We also took a few photos of the pelicans. They were a bit more slow-moving. In the second photo you can see the fibrous plates on their upper bills, which are grown during breeding season. The plates are shed after the eggs are laid. Pretty wild, huh?

American White Pelicans on Fox Lake

American White Pelicans on Fox Lake

Next we brought out the scope to get better looks.

Looking through the scope in the rain

We tried our hand at digiscoping but it didn’t go too well. We’ve ordered a universal adapter to attach our camera to the scope, but it’s on backorder.

American White Pelican, badly digiscoped

That’s okay, I’m still getting used to handling the scope and tripod on their own. I still reach down towards the tripod when I want to move the scope laterally – the knob for that is much higher up, on the head. D’oh!

The weather couldn’t have been more miserable – the pileup of snow we got on Sunday was melting, making the ground soft and muddy. The sky was a dark grey curtain spilling down a constant stream of rain. True duck weather. But you know what they say – the weather’s always perfect for birding! Especially when there’s a prospect for lifers involved. Both of these were new birds for us!

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Robins love controlled burn

We visited Chain O’Lakes State Park on Saturday and walked the short Badger Trail on the north side of the park.

Chain O'Lakes State Park

The grass around this loop trail was recently burned and the scorched ground was bustling with recently-arrived American Robins.

Robin on burnt ground

Robins were everywhere – singing in the trailside trees, hopping along the ground and feeding like crazy on the dirt.

Controlled Burn

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