My Big Year quest now leads me to Chicago and Michigan. I chose Chicago for two reasons both of which are significant. First of all, it’s probably the best place in the country to see Connecticut Warblers during spring migration. Not a sure thing by any means, but certainly a real possibility. However, I may well be a couple days too early. Secondly, I began bird watching in the Chicagoland area. The significant event for me was the fall migration of 1965. My family had moved further out in the suburbs to Barrington, IL. that summer. I was a teenager entering my junior year in high school and far from a happy camper abut this move. All my friends were back in Des Plaines and as you can imagine that’s rough on a high school kid. So my brothers, particularly Tom, who was entering his freshman year at Barrington, and I spent a lot of time exploring the woods behind our 5 acre lot which was itself blessed with a grove of mature white and burr oaks. A marsh was at the bottom of the hill of the undeveloped property next to ours. Since we were little kids my brothers and I had received a solid foundation in understanding and appreciating nature from our Dad. Our Uncle Bob was a genuine birder and would amaze us with stories of his travels to Mexico and other wild destinations. This influence heightened our awareness of the birds around the new property. Both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos were seen all summer long. Upland Sandpipers could routinely be found in the fields in front of the house. Sora Rails were to be found in the marsh. This was an exciting new world to be explored. And since I was now severed from all my friends, I made the most of it.
But one dreary, rainy Chicago day in September, we were all surprised and amazed at the number of migrants that were flitting about at eye level in every tree. I was experiencing my first fallout -when weather grounds the birds. The warblers were everywhere! Redstarts, baypolls, Chestnut-sideds, Cape Mays and a lot more that we probably misidentified. The warblers I saw that day was what ratcheted up my interest. Yes, there were a couple of detours, particularly during college, when the only birds I chased were Big-breasted Matress-Thrashers, but that fall migration of 1965 launched me on my way. So it was important for me to return during this “Big Year”. I would spend three days in the Chicagoland area, then travel north through Michigan, first to Tawas Point on Lake Huron, a fabulous migrant trap, then to Mio, the home of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler and finally to Whitefish Point in the UP where hopefully, just hopefully Connecticut Warblers will already be singing on there breeding territory at Trout Lake.
There’s an opportunity to add twenty new year-birds over the next nine days. In fact for 15 of those 20 this is realistically the best opportunity . If I miss them here I’m in trouble. Or at least I’ll have to adjust my schedule after my return from Alaska to pick up the missed strays most likely in mosquito rich bogs of the north woods. Hey wasn’t that mentioned in Obamsik’s book “The Big Year”? In fact Lyn Barber actually missed Connecticut Warbler in 2008.
These 15 target birds are included in a new list I created called “Target Birds Remaining -2011” which can be reached in the “Birdlist Column Header”. By the way, many of you have asked for a schedule/calendar of my remaining trips and I’ve put together a summary page that can now be found in the Trip Calendar column. Keep in mind, that things are fluid. In fact, whether I see this damn Connecticut Warbler or not will determine where I go after Alaska. If I get it on this trip, I go to Florida and Texas immediately after Alaska. However, if I miss it then I go back to the fabled Sax-Zim Bog (see blog on Feb 21) in northern Minnesota.
Anyway, stay tuned and I’m glad to have all of you with me in spirit.