15 October 2010

Hocus Pocus

For the past several years, Lindsay and I would join Brian Miller of South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society for a fall camping trip to Indiana Dunes on the first weekend of October. This year, Brian wanted to try something different. Instead of a camping trip, the three of us joined Pat Underwood and the Berrien Birding Club on 2 October 2010 for a field trip to Chicago to, among a few other places, a birding hotspot known as the Magic Hedge. More formally, this location is known as Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary.

After getting out of our vehicles, our view of a stormy Lake Michigan with the metropolis of Chicago as a backdrop didn't seem like such a great place to spend a blustery October morning looking for birds, but the Magic Hedge never fails to produce. A short walk from this location yielded the Magic Hedge itself, which consists mostly of non-native honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) shrubs planted decades ago to block the view of the army barracks that previously were present. The Magic Hedge is named both for these shrubs and the fact that an abnormally high number of migrant birds find shelter here each year during migration. Although warblers and sparrows usually provide the most excitement, our highlight bird at the Magic Hedge was initially seen with a flock of gulls flying over land. As our highlight bird emerged from the flock, I noticed that it was dark in color, had narrower wings than the gulls with which it had been flying, and its wings were sharply bent at the "elbow." My first thought was Black Tern (Chlidonius niger), but I quickly realized that the bird had an extension on the tail characteristic of jaegers. Our bird turned out to be a Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus), a seabird rare in the Chicago Region that is normally seen far out over Lake Michigan! With a Parasitic Jaeger and a plethora of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata), Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa), Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula), and other passerines, I was so busy looking at birds that I failed to take a single photo of "the hedge" itself!

Another part of Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary consists of the beach community pictured above. Normally this is a good place to find LeConte's Sparrows (Ammodramus leconteii), Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis), and Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris), but on this windy Chicago day any bird that we saw was blown out of view almost as quickly as it arrived.

Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) don't normally grab my attention, but I couldn't resist a couple of photos of this one walking into the wind on a breakwall.

Our next stop was at Wooded Island, aka Paul Douglas Nature Sanctuary at Jackson Park. Our target was Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus), an escaped species that has become established at a few locations in northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana. We were able to find a nest and we saw one of the characteristic neon green feathers on an opening in the nest, but no birds were seen.

This was certainly the strangest thing we saw all day. The best we could tell, this Raccoon (Procyon lotor) had climbed 25-30 feet into this tree, into the hollowed out portion of the trunk, and couldn't get out. We were pretty sure that it was no longer alive.

Lindsay couldn't resist a couple of shots of this statuesque Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

At Wooded Island, we saw our first-of-season Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) having a snack in an ornamental pine tree (Pinus sp.) in the Osaka Japanese Garden.

We saw this odd couple from a distance. You can get a better look by clicking on the photo. On the left is arguably the cutest of all of the ducks, a Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis); on the right is a snake bird, a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

The Parasitic Jaeger was the highlight of the day, but a close second was the insect shown above. For as long as I have known of their existence, I have wanted to see a mantidfly. Lindsay and I were behind the group birding when we noticed many in our group beginning to congregate. Wanting to know the cause of the commotion, we caught up to the group and saw the insect that had landed on a member of our field trip. As others were trying to figure out what kind of insect would have the forelegs of a mantis and the body of a fly, I blurted out "mantidfly!" This mantidfly is Dicromantispa sayi. Thanks to Ted MacRae of Beetles in the Bush for verifying my identification.

The final stop on our Saturday excursion was at the Migrant Trap, aka Hammond Lakefront Park and Bird Sanctuary in Hammond, Indiana. Like its counterpart the Magic Hedge in Chicago, the Migrant Trap is a small wooded area within highly urbanized surroundings that is a haven for migrating birds that are exhausted from their flight across Lake Michigan on their trip south for the winter. Also like the Magic Hedge proper, there aren't many botanical wonders at the Migrant Trap, but the birds don't care.

We didn't spend much time at the Migrant Trap, and most of the birds were hunkered down to stay out of the relentless winds. This Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) was out in the open but blended in quite well with the River Birch (Betula nigra) on which it was "creeping."

For the day, our group tallied 49 species:
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Canada Goose
  • Mallard
  • Ruddy Duck - one at Wooded Island
  • Cooper's Hawk - at the Magic Hedge; more than we've ever seen in one place, unless the same bird flew by us 10+ times
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Peregrine Falcon - one in Illinois (at the Magic Hedge) and one in Indiana (at the Migrant Trap)
  • American Coot
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Parasitic Jaeger - (!) one at the Magic Hedge
  • Rock Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • Chimney Swift
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - several at the Migrant Trap
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • American Crow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch - our first of the season
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • Winter Wren - at the Migrant Trap; we didn't see it, but the group did
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet - lots
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet - lots
  • Hermit Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • European Starling
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Nashville Warbler - at the Migrant Trap
  • Cape May Warbler - one of the first birds seen by our group at the Magic Hedge, but Lindsay and I missed it
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler - everywhere, couldn't miss 'em
  • Black-throated Green Warbler - at the Migrant Trap
  • Pine Warbler - one at Wooded Island
  • Palm Warbler - here and there
  • Blackpoll Warbler - one at the Magic Hedge, with characteristic yellow feet
  • Northern Waterthrush - one at the Magic Hedge
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln's Sparrow - at the Migrant Trap; the group saw it, but Lindsay and I missed it
  • White-throated Sparrow - I love their songs, which are filling the air right now
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco - many; our first of the season
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow
Hocus pocus! A magical day, indeed!


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Will keep that place in mind, looks like a great nature day.

beetlesinthebush said...

Yes, the mantidfly is Dicromanstispa sayi, but the term "snakefly" actually refers to a different order of insects (Raphidioptera, formerly a family of the Neuroptera).

Don't you just love it when a taxonomist leaves a comment?!

Scott Namestnik said...

Yeah, Bucko... I would highly recommend all of these sites for a day of birding.

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks Ted! I appreciate your taxonomic support! I see that I misinterpreted the page I was looking at on BugGuide.

Maybe I will meet you in two weeks at the Natural Areas Conference?

Steve said...

I traveled through Chicago en route to Evanston just a couple of days after the BBC trip, and I noticed signs on south LSD pertaining to a native plant/migrant bird habitat restoration at Burnham Park. Do you know anything about that?

Scott Namestnik said...

Hi Steve. I don't know anything about the native plant/migrant bird habitation restoration at Burnham Park, but I did a Google search and found the following...


Steve said...

Cool. I thought perhaps that Jimmy F could have been involved with it. It's nice to see another lakefront sanctuary in the works.