Five hotspots to visit in and around Chicago this winter
Next phase in Carvana debate takes place on Thursday in Skokie
With the start of a new year, new goals and new bird lists, now’s the time to plan some mid-winter birding adventures. Here’s a handful of favorites to get 2022 off on the right foot.
This is just the right mix of winter waterfowl and gulls with a handful of land birds, too. Start by parking in the lot on the southwest corner of Hayes Drive and Lake Shore Drive. Scan the waters of the Inner Harbor for duck species such as Scaup, Redhead and more. Then proceed south toward Marquette Drive—you might just kick up a few sparrow species in the brushy areas along the way. Go under Lake Shore Drive and take a look at the Outer Harbor. This is where a Great Black-backed Gull spent quite a bit of time last winter (see video below). Then walk toward La Rabida Children’s Hospital and up to the turnaround for a view of the open lake, where you may see species such as Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye.
Wilmette’s Gillson Park is like a little Montrose Point, with a similar topography and mix of ecotypes. Park in the beach parking lot and head east and south toward the dog run. There’s a little grove of conifers and hardwoods that’s usually good for a few Passerine species throughout the year. Walk up the landscaped path or stay on the harbor promenade and look for ducks such as Hooded Mergansers around the docks. For a lengthier walk, keep going all the way under Sheridan Road and emerge near Canal Shores Golf Course. There’s a good chance of picking up a few sparrows or a late-season heron or two on the North Shore Channel.
This is one of the few places in the Chicago region where getting all three local swan species is a distinct possibility. Bring a scope, if possible, as this is a vast body of water and birds tend to cluster at quite a distance from the parking lot. There will likely be a variety of diving ducks on the lake where the water remains ice-free. Walk out on the cross-dike that juts out from where the boat ramps are. Then proceed north along the railroad tracks and eventually east to make a big loop back. There’s a grove of alders along the northwest shore of the lake that can be a good bet for juncos and the occasional redpoll as well.
Bourbonnais isn’t quite Chicago, but it isn’t quite downstate either as it’s only about an hour south of the Loop. Walk from the area around the Exploration Station to the west and northwest. It’s the start of a big loop that encounters a number of ecosystems and skirts a very large open prairie. To the right is a good place to look for Ring-necked Pheasants, which are uncommon in Chicagoland. Then head through the woods and down along a rugged trail that abuts a steep canyon. At the bottom, take a look at the Indian Caves before scanning the Kankakee River for duck species. The trail loops back up the hill toward the open prairie and the comforts of the parking area.
Lock and Dam 13
Head about two hours west of Chicago to observe one of the Midwest’s great birding phenomena: wintering Bald Eagles massing on the Mississippi River. The locks and dams all along the Upper Mississippi have the effect of keeping water open on even the most frigid of winter days. Bald Eagles take advantage of this by using the open water for fishing. The barren landscape makes the sight of dozens of gigantic raptors on the ice and in the trees all the more dramatic. At some times of year, it’s also possible to see thousands and thousands of waterfowl in the area around the causeway.
Skokie Plan Commission to discuss Carvana tower on Thursday
Carvana is a car dealer with a unique business model. The idea is that customers may purchase a car online and go to a glass tower where their car is retrieved from a “vending machine.” The problem is these brightly lit glass towers aren’t so great for birds, especially when they are next to a Forest Preserve (Harms Woods) that also happens to be a State Nature Preserve. All that transparent glass often results in birds flying into windows.
A planned Carvana tower in Skokie has drawn opposition from area residents including birders from throughout the Chicago region and beyond. Before the holidays, WTTW’s Patty Wetli reported on the latest about the tower. The next public discussion is planned for Thursday’s Skokie Plan Commission meeting. There had been talk the Village Board would hold a final vote soon, but for now the matter is in the hands of the commission.
The issue is hardly unique to Skokie, as more than 1 billion birds die in building collisions every year. It’s one of the reasons for major bird population declines since the 1970s.
Bird advocates have requested that Carvana, a company with 24 locations nationally, include bird-safety considerations regarding glass and lights, as well as other details pertaining to the parking lot and traffic.
You may submit your comments regarding the project to the Village at firstname.lastname@example.org and please cc Chicago Bird Collision Monitors at email@example.com.
Stellar’s Sea Eagles are the stuff dreams are made of. They’re the kind of bird I remember only seeing in the back pages of my National Geographic field guide, listed along with other vagrants. The big Asian eagles are stunning in every which way, from their striking coloration to their massive, bright yellow bills. They make Bald Eagles—giants in their own right—appear diminutive in comparison. There’s been a Sea Eagle making its way around North America throughout the past year, appearing as far south as Texas (!). After a stint in Massachusetts, its most recent locale is off the coast of Maine. “It’s nuts. It really is. It’s one of those head-scratching things,” Nate Swick of the American Birding Association said…..E.O. Wilson was a giant of evolutionary biology who passed away on Dec. 26…..Gas leaf blowers were officially banned in the District of Columbia as an ordinance took effect Jan. 1…..Thanks to everyone who gave to “The Magic Stump” on Friday! We are inching toward our goal and will resume filming two weeks from now. Onward.