A Travellerspoint blog

Shorebirding Calumet!


all seasons in one day 87 °F

After dropping off my mom and work this morning, I zipped down to the south side to begin a day of birding the South Shore and Calumet. My target birds for the day were as follows: Neotropic Cormorant at Rainbow Beach, Red Knot & Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Forsythe Park across the border in Hammond, IN and Little Blue Heron at Burnham Prairie back on the Cook County side.

Let the adventures begin! I arrived at Rainbow around 9:20 and immediately found an annoying woman walking up and down the length of the protected beach, flushing, yep you guessed it, shorebirds! I managed to pick out the characteristic wing flash of WILLETS which flagged the rare bird alert — awesome starting your day with an unexpected rarity! (though I would describe Willet as merely uncommon this time of year). Here two are pictured in flight with a RING-BILLED GULL.

Thankfully they briefly landed which alerted me to the presence of other shorebirds including SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS & SANDPIPERS, LEAST, and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS (again mixed in with Gulls here).

A nice flock of GREAT EGRETS flew over at one point:

Unfortunately, I dipped on the Neotropic Cormorant (just like in Idaho!). So, it was on to Indiana for the Knot and Whistling-Duck. At Forsythe Park I immediately picked out a BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER transitioning into winter plumage:

And quickly spied my target the RED KNOT (nonbreeding plumage) between CANADA GEESE! Absolutely awesome! Indiana lifer.

CASPIAN TERNS with more geese:

A good number of shorebirds were present including SEMIPALMATED PLOVER:



Then, I found it! Target bird #2, a BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, was sleeping amongst the Mallards and geese! Absolutely sick! Indiana lifer #2 for the day, too.

Some smaller, darker drake GREEN-WINGED TEAL were mixed in, also in eclipse:

Small but mighty. This SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER sizes up a CANADA GOOSE (with Leasts and other Semis in the background).

Here is a wonderful comparison shot of two extremely-similar “peeps” that tend to confuse birders. The bird on the left is a Semipalmated Sandpiper with a grayer back & black legs while its neighbor on the right is a Least Sandpiper with a rusty brown back and yellow legs. These are the simplest, most obvious field marks for telling these birds apart this time of year.

Aaand…more Semis and a Least with a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (left):

GREEN-WINGED TEALS with one showing off its namesake speculum:


More Semi Plovers:

PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. This bird, slightly larger than a “peep,” I fell apart because of its distinctive “cut-off” between the mottled chest and the white belly.

Now here’s where the peep ID gets trickier. This bird at first glance looks like a nice pale Semipalmated Sandpiper but the thing to pay attention to here is the bill. It is noticeably longer than the Semipalmated and has a slight downward droopiness to the tip of it. Furthermore, if you look extremely closely, you can see a tiny “shoulder spur” of ruddy brownish coloration right at the hinge of the wing. These identifiers clinch this bird as a WESTERN SANDPIPER which is a rarity and in fact only the fifth one anyone has seen in Indiana this year! So a self-found rarity! Always love that — my last self-found bird of this caliber was an Illinois Say’s Phoebe back in 2020. Super proud of this ID too since shorebirds used to be my weak spot.

More Pectorals:

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER with a Painted Turtle and Mallards:

While scoping shorebirds, this GREEN HERON landed basically right in front of me, giving absolutely incredible views:

And here is a comparison shot between the WESTERN and a SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER. The bird on the left is facing more towards us than the one on the right. I will let you decipher the ID!

Another Pectoral:

Eastern Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle sunning with Painteds:

After that wonderful stop, I headed over to Burnham Prairie and immediately found my last target bird, the LITTLE BLUE HERON! Absolutely sweet! This was a Cook County/northern IL lifer for me and it gave crushing views right alongside the entrance drive. Believe it or not, decades ago this bird used to breed in the Calumet area but due to habitat loss it is now a vagrant to this part of the state. It is in its immature plumage which will gradually molt into a darker grayish blue plumage as the bird reaches maturity. The bicolored bill is a dead giveaway to separate this bird from Egrets.

There were also shorebirds here including my tenth shorebird species for the day, SOLITARY SANDPIPER:

And my eleventh, LESSER YELLOWLEGS:

Along with a GREATER — note the much longer bill:

This GREAT BLUE HERON made for four-heron day (Great Blue/Little Blue/Green/Egret):

And finally, the most ominous mammatus clouds I had ever seen started boiling over the preserve and I knew it was time to call it quits. The resulting storm produced squalls of rain, a short stint with hail, and a bit of lightning making for a magnificent drive home.

Bird-of-the-day to the self-found Western Sandpiper with runners-up to the Red Knot, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Little Blue Heron. An absolutely fantastic day of August birding.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 03:01 Archived in USA

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


What a day for you! Love the green heron shots. Bummer on the neco again, I might try for it again here some time soon.

by Poo

Comment with:

Comments left using a name and email address are moderated by the blog owner before showing.

Not published. Required
Leave this field empty

Characters remaining: