A Travellerspoint blog

Palos Targets & an Unexpected Herping Slam!

Cook County, IL

semi-overcast 80 °F

Today, I head to the Palos area to try for three birds I have missed in Cook this year so far: White-eyed Vireo, Northern Bobwhite, and Least Bittern. My goal is to be in the top 20 birders in terms of species # by the end of the year for Cook County. My friend Isoo is currently leading the pack with a whopping list of over 260 species!

I started the day at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester where a Bobwhite has been reportedly calling recently. Unfortunately, it was a dip despite trying in the correct locations in which it had been heard by others.

My plan was to head to McGinty Slough Forest Preserve to try for White-eyed Vireo, but I noticed along the way that I would pass right by a certain forest preserve where there is reportedly a stronghold of salamanders, including the county-rare Eastern Newt. So, I wanted to check it out since I had never been to that preserve before! I have to keep the location of this exact preserve a secret, unfortunately, to preserve the safety of all the salamanders there.

The derecho storms yesterday were extremely damaging across the state, but they did provide a decent rainfall to spur salamander activity (since many of their burrows were presumably temporarily flooded in the rains). I immediately started to see the expected salamander species, Blue Spotted, AKA Laterale for my Latin-name-loving herping friends. One thing that is so endearing about holding salamanders is that they instinctively try to burrow in between the cracks of your fingers while holding them. Of course, I always gently handle them for a few seconds for a quick photo or two, but then immediately release them back alongside their logs — too much human handling can cause harm!

This one was a monster. It was most likely a Unisexual Mole Salamander due to some faint bluish markings, but my friend Simon thinks it might even be something else given its size! Either way, it was a pure beast. I was holding him upright — the photo just would not paste into this blog correctly.

Then, my eyes nearly popped out of my head as I flipped a small shred of broken bark and saw the tail of a beautifully yellow-spotted salamander: WOW! My second Spotted Salamander of the summer! And she was a pure beast! Look at the shape, size, and coloration of this animal: just a perfect-looking creature in my opinion.

When I thought things couldn’t get any better, I flipped a considerably larger log and found a tiny reddish salamander hunkered down underneath. I was beside myself: my lifer EASTERN NEWT!!!!!! Given that there are only a handful of public observations of this species in Cook County and this is the one known stronghold for newts in the county, it was like I had struck gold. Even a Spotted is incredible for Cook, but a Newt?! Insane!! So cool!! Newts are considerably less slimy than the Mole Salamander species found today, and this is even evident just by looking at the slightly more rough appearance of the creature in the photo. Super cool! I will probably run into many more of these when I finally get back to New York and explore the herping in that part of the country.

Two heard-only PILEATED WOODPECKERS were the only notable birds at this preserve.

After finding a whopping four types of Sals, I called it quits and drove over to McGinty Slough in hopes of the White-eyed Vireos which had been last seen there yesterday. A CEDAR WAXWING posed for me:

And an OSPREY flew over:

But despite finding exactly the right habitat for the White-eyed, it was a miss. At least a nice Eastern Tiger Swallowtail greeted me back near the car:

A quick drive along Ford Road at Cap Sauer Holding was fairly quiet with the exception of this pretty RED-HEADED WOODPECKER:

This Leopard Frog blended into the grass:

Next stop: McGinnis Slough for the last target of the day: Least Bittern! One had been heard calling just the other day in the cattail marsh near the parking area so I decided to give it a try. Swallows were roosting in the trees overhead including BARN:

And adult and juvenile TREE:

Frustratingly, yet another dip! This is what late-summer birding can be unfortunately, but hey, at least it was a wildly awesome day herping! Bird-of-the-day to the flyover Osprey with runner-up to the heard-only Pileated Woodpeckers. Creature-of-the-day to the Eastern Newt.

By the way, did I tell you I’m taking a gap year this year? Not into paying 35K for Zoom...

Good birding,
World Life List: 1120 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:19 Archived in USA

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Great pics of the birds & beasts - thanks!

by Mary Stevens

Please keep us posted on your "gap year" adventures.

by Marlene Scott

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