Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Indiana and Illinois Lake Michigan sites


I crossed the border around mid-day. After getting off the Interstate and driving the local highway through the patchwork of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a NPS unit, I headed for the beach at the very southernmost tip of Lake Michigan, named Miller Beach, for the town of Miller. There were two birder's there, with scopes. One was Byron Butler, who I had exchanged some emails with, and Ken Brock, autjoer of the "Birds of the Indiana Dunes", and super authority on the area. They were there following up a report of a Reddish Egret, a truly vagrant bird, second Indiana record, and way far from it's normal haunts on the gulf coast. We chatted, exchanged stories, they amazed me with ID-ing skills for flying ducks. I told Ken a story involving his book.

On a prvious trip several years earlier I had bought the book at the Visitor Center for the Lakeshore, and then studied it back at my campsite. I saw that Parasitic Jaeger was on the list for the park, but when I looked at the species description it sounded like it was seen about once a year if somebody got lucky. So I dismissed the thought. The next morning I had stopped at several beaches, and at one had watched a flock of gulls approach. Ther was one that was darker, and more energetic. They finally came almost directly overhead, and the odd gull out even had a tiny extension in the center of the tail. Didn't believe it. Got out the field guides and serched the gulls for somethig all gray in any plumage. Only possibility was Heerman's, and that had never been seen there. Finally let myself be convinced that I'd seen the Jaeger.

The afternoon was slow birding and was getting repetitive, so I followed their suggestion and directions and drove west to the Hammond migrant trap. It's a scrap of woodland near a Casino, maybe a little over a quarter mile long and 100 yards wide at the thickest. But it's the only woodland for miles along the Lakeshore, and attracts a good numbers of a variety of birds. Since I was in Southbound migration time it was a perfect setup, and I wandered through its jumble of old construction debris (anything but pristine place) and scrubby thickets. Found a lot of good birds for my Indiana list, but was getting alarmed by the ominous clouds. Byron and Ken had commented on the forecast. I kept watching the sky over the lake expecting to see a squall line approaching, but nothing looked too pressing. Got to the end of the woods, walked to the side away from the lake and discovered big weather bearing down from the land side. Thrashed around getting to the parking lot, there was a fence, and figured out the truck was about a third of a mile away. Started running; I can't do that for long and the humidity was peaking also. The rain came up behind me hard before I was even half way back, with serious fireworks. I feared a lightening strike, being the tallest structure in a wide flat empty parking lot. and by the time I reached the truck I was sopping wet. I mean squishy soaked. Wiggled into a dry shirt, but my pants made the seat wet for the next two days. After a long drive back to the park campground on the opposite side from Miller, in rain all the way, I waited out the storm, and was finally able to get dry around dark. Had the pants strung up inside the shell with little clamps attached to the interior braces of the shell. Very rustic, kinda like a drowned rat living in a broken washing machine.

Next morning I was back at Miller, as were several other folks, and the Reddish Egret showed up. We got great looks, and careful verbal descriptions and photos. I wanted to go into Chicago, and left mid-morning, allowing for another pass through the trap. More good birds got the Indiana total up to a tolerable 108, much better than I'd expected.

Chicago, Illinois - the Magic Hedge

Getting to the legendary Magic Hedge in Chicago required driving through a lot of not as obviously magic ciyscapes. Lots of Expressway, stealing glances at the GPS trying to figure out where the turns were, rhis being an older piece of software not dedicated to guiding the driver like an automaton. Sorta fun, unless you're in bumper-to-bumper at 60mph. Getting out later was even worse since it was rush hour and I was with the outbound flow. But the two hours or so at the hedge were immensely satisfying. Once I got parked and reluctantly left the truck full of gear and optics etc, deep paranoia was my constant companion. As I birded, I'd keep circling back to check that all was well. After about a half hour of birding alone, I met a local birder (whose name I can't recall, this being written almost a year later). He showed me some places that I wouldn't have expected, like some lakeshore and a little beach, with shorebirds, a few new species, a weed field full of Palm Warblers, a couple of gulls, a bonus Peregrine Falcon, and more passerine migrants, many warblers, thrushes, vireos etc., more new ones than I'd ever hoped for. I ended up adding eighteen species for the Illinois list in about two hours. Then it took about as long to reach something like open country on the way northwest out of town. My theory is that since Chicago is smack against the lake, all the suburbs that should have been to the east got transferred to the west, doubling the thickness of suburban mall rind. It went on and on, with much crawling. I had spotted a likely state park along the northern border, but it took so long to get there that it was dark when I arrived, and I left defore dawn to try to break 100 species in Wisconsin.



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