A Travellerspoint blog

Wrapping up August at home

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 89 °F


After a day of rest to recuperate from the wonderfully intense birding I did in Idaho, I was back at it again, this time much closer to home — the Palos preserves!

I started out at Sag Quarries Forest Preserve to see what migrants might be around, as well as hopefully find a flip site that I suspect has the chance at holding Graham’s Crayfish Snake, a would-be lifer. A family of MALLARDS greeted me in the parking lot:

Unfortunately this WOOD DUCK was struggling in the middle of the water, probably caught on fishing line or something. What a shame. If it was closer, I would have swum out but it was far out in a mucky lake and I just couldn’t take the chances. When I returned, it had either escaped or drowned.

There were a few Midland Painted Turtles as onlookers.

I stumbled upon the growing population of Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs at this preserve which used to be exceedingly rare in Cook County. What an awesome sight, and to catch one, too! They are extremely difficult to capture but once it got the sense I wasn’t going to hurt it, the frog just chilled on my hand for a bit.




Unfortunately the supposed flip sight was buried deep in an overgrown, inaccessible marsh so I gave up and will hopefully return in the spring when the plants aren’t as high. My next stop was a nearby preserve for herps (secret so as to protect their well-being) and soon enough, I began finding a number of American Toads:

And the smallest Chicago Gartersnake I have ever seen!

These American Toads were more brightly-colored which made total sense as they were found in a sandier part of the preserve. The other darker individuals were all found in dark muddy, mucky streams. Love these evolutionary environmental adaptations.

Usually this preserve has loads of salamanders (around this time of year 2 years ago my buddies and I found 83 in one trip!), but today it only produced two Blue-spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma laterale. Glad it wasn’t a complete dip in this department.

Next, I headed down to the Orland Grasslands for more prairie-oriented birds and snakes. A couple White-tailed Deer greeted me:

A cool Praying Mantis, my second sighting at this location! Here you can see how it earned its name:

And after a great deal of flipping, I found this beautiful, in-shed Smooth Greensnake under a brick. Super cool!!! Its colors are extremely muted and its eyes a cloudy blue due to it being close to shedding (“in-shed”).

It was a lot of flipping and that was the only one I found so I called it a day. Bird-of-the-day to the Osprey with runner-up to an unphotographed RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.


Today was my first Oak Park Bird Walk of the fall at Columbus Park in the evening. Unfortunately, several factors including it being an evening walk, a loud party nearby, and the cicadas made detecting birds difficult. There were a few though, including this BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON:

And a nice RED-SHOULDERED HAWK that landed in view on the golf course:

Then it flew up into a tree:

There were a good number of immature AMERICAN ROBINS around:

And a nice SPOTTED SANDPIPER in the lagoon:

Our bird-of-the-day for the walk came in the form of over twenty COMMON NIGHTHAWKS that started streaming overhead at the end of the walk, a noteworthy perk to doing an evening walk. Awesome!!


Another day, another bird walk! This time in my neighborhood and unfortunately it was the slowest bird walk I had ever led. There were absolutely no migrants around unless you counted a flyby flock of 12 CEDAR WAXWINGS. Ugh. At least bird walk participant Laura D showed me this vacant Red-shouldered Hawk nest which was used earlier this summer:

And we might have found the reason why it was so slow; a juvenile COOPER’S HAWK was patrolling the area! This happens fairly commonly — we have a slow walk and then it turns out a Cooper’s is on the hunt.

But unfortunately, I have also noticed annual decreases in bird numbers as more and more tall trees are cut down in my neighborhood. It is depressing and at this point, I have decided to only lead neighborhood walks in the most active part of May as unfortunately I just don’t think my neighborhood is the same migrant trap it used to be for this reason. It’s such a shame.

Some numbers to back me up: we only racked up a measly 10 bird species in almost two hours of birding my neighborhood this morning whereas past August walks consistently broke 20 species on pretty much the same route. And this past May, walks averaged in the low 20s while Oak Park Bird Walks in 2014-2017 averaged about 35-40 species in May. Again, I credit this due in part to the ongoing bird declines but especially to the loss of most of our local old growth oak and elm trees since the walks at Thatcher Woods and Columbus Park have remained relatively consistent, species count-wise.

At least Laura and I were able to find some awesome mushrooms growing by the sidewalk. Any ideas on the species?

Bird-of-the-day today goes to the Cooper’s Hawk with runner-up to the Cedar Waxwings. Not a whole lot from which to choose. We have some storms forecast to come through and hopefully they bring more migrant birds with them!

Stay tuned: a full day of birding tomorrow followed by more bird walks on tuesday and thursday before I head back to New York!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 02:44 Archived in USA

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Nice photographs! It enhances the Saturday Twilight Walk

by Margot McMahon

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