Date: 7/31/17 6:07 pm From: Walter Marcisz <wmarcisz...> [ILbirds] <ILbirds-noreply...> Subject: IBET Chicago Ornithological Society Calumet Marshes Bird Walk results (7-30-17)
Chicago Ornithological Society Calumet Marshes Bird Walk (30 July 2017)
This was a truly great trip – it has been a long time since I have honestly been able to say that about a Calumet marsh bird trip. The Calumet marshes had become so degraded for so many years that they had essentially lost their breeding marsh bird component. Some areas remain highly degraded, but through intense effort others have been restored wonderfully, and the birds have returned. That is the subject of this report.
Our group met at O’Brien Lock & Dam, and what a group it was. A head count of 39 participants. Too cumbersome for Hegewisch Marsh (not enough parking space), but suitable for Big Marsh, which has ample parking. So after we had seen the sights at O’Brien, our caravan headed to Big Marsh. Before we left, Al Stokie split off from the group and promised to scout out some other wetlands and report back to the group later. Glad he did.
During the fall of 2015, acres of invasive Phragmites reeds which had infested Big Marsh for decades were removed, and a regimen of water level management was implemented. As a result, during the ensuing years Big Marsh actually became a functioning marsh again. The birds certainly seem to think so. It had been a decade or two since I had seen former Big Marsh residents like Least Bittern and Common Gallinule there, but during the spring and summer of 2017 both species were observed there routinely, along with good numbers of other marsh denizens like Soras and Virginia Rails.
Upon our arrival at Big Marsh I gave a series of disclaimers about how we might not see anything interesting etc., etc. Well that didn’t happen. At our first stop a LEAST BITTERN made a brief sally across the marsh right in front of us, and a VIRGINIA RAIL called for us nearby. Then a COMMON GALLINULE erupted in what passes for song (their trademark cackling whinny) in the distance. I think everybody knows by now that I just love that sound! We continued along the trail and soaked in the sights, a (non-native) MUTE SWAN pair with a brood of young, several foraging GREAT EGRETS, and scattered WILLOW FLYCATCHERS, EASTERN KINGBIRDS, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS, & CEDAR WAXWINGS.
At the end of the trail, another VIRGINIA RAIL was heard calling, and then a second LEAST BITTERN was heard repeatedly giving its “kak” call. A few determined birders who persevered were able to catch a glimpse of this second bird. Singing male MARSH WRENS rose from the cattails in display – a few of us tried to photograph them, but to no avail. One observer saw a WHITE-EYED VIREO and reported it to the group. We tried our best to relocate the bird, but we had no luck. On the trip back, we tried for the Northern Bobwhite and Northern Mockingbird which had been reported here in recent weeks, again with no luck. But we received a consolation prize – a singing ORCHARD ORIOLE. And then came Al Stokie with his report. He had visited Burnham Prairie – lots of birds there, but nothing truly outstanding. But at Hegewisch Marsh he had seen nine Common Gallinules (2 adults & 7 young). Thanks, Al! The trip participants who remained made a beeline to Hegewisch Marsh. As we left Big Marsh, an OSPREY flew overheard, heading southwest, but more on that later.
At Hegewisch, an adult COMMON GALLINULE was quickly located (and photographed) with 2 young nearby. A second adult was heard calling to the west. For a while it seemed like anything could happen – a SORA was seen by several participants, and another LEAST BITTERN flew low over the marsh in front of the group.
EPILOGUE: Sometimes really interesting things happen after the group splits up. A few groups of birders reconvened at O’Brien Lock after the trip. One observer found 2 MONK PARAKEETS there (missed during our morning visit), and a second group of birders found a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD there. Well – it seems we had been looking in the wrong place. A few of us stopped to visit the OSPREY nest on a cell tower at 130th & Doty Avenue near I-94. Pair of adults with one gorgeous juvenile – photographed! We all left with smiles on our faces.