More Notes on a Big Year
Below are some additional notes from throughout the year from author Glenn Perricone as well as the list of 227 species observed during his big year of birding.
January – March
I started the year off with a bang, finding a pileated woodpecker at Fullersburg Woods.
A true shock came on Jan. 15 when I found an out-of-season marsh wren chattering in a wetland at Waterfall Glen that had maintained a trickle of open water. This cold summer bird was not expected in the preserves for another three months!
At Deep Quarry Lake at West Branch and on the DesPlaines River at Waterfall Glen, I particularly enjoyed watching as male common goldeneyes threw their heads back in an arch that touched their scapulars and exclaimed a loud “meep” to impress females.
Throughout late winter, one of the silliest birds to visit DuPage , the American woodcock, danced through the sky over West Chicago Prairie and Greene Valley, in dizzying circles and dives, “peenting” their way into the hearts of females (and my own).
April – May
I regularly spotted diving horned and eared grebes as well as common loons on the forest preserves' deeper lakes, the birds stopping for the fish buffet before continuing their migrations north.
My first vagrant bird of the year, a dark-morph Swainson’s hawk at Springbrook Prairie, was particularly special as it represented the 250th species that I had seen in my lifetime in the forest preserves.
I was fortunate to happen across my only Wilson’s phalarope of 2020 at Pratt’s Wayne Woods. I had a brief five-second look at the colorful female sandpiper before she slipped away into cattails. Despite 20 minutes of searching, I was unable to find her again.
A bird of high demand by most birders, the cerulean warbler, was very cooperative at Elsen’s Hill at West DuPage Woods. Usually cerulean warblers are buried in the top-layer canopy; however, one male came down to eye level to grant me fantastically close looks as he picked caterpillars from the underside of sugar maple leaves.
I was surprised to find that the forest preserves' agricultural fields also hosted interesting birds. At Dunham a male vesper sparrow sang from a fence post, and at Kline Creek Farm a horned lark fed on cracked corn in the fields.
At Springbrook Prairie, a pair of northern mockingbirds attracted birders with their complex mimicry of other birds’ songs. Unlike a gray catbird, which runs through its repertoire song by song, or the brown thrasher, which sings all of its mimicked notes in doublets, the northern mockingbird plays his stolen songs on repeat.
A spring bird count at Hidden Lake contributed 67 different species, including a late pair of gadwall ducks, Virginia rails, a mystical-sounding wood thrush, and pair of red-headed woodpeckers nesting in a dead tree snag.
At Waterfall Glen the “veer-veer-eee” of the veery thrush and snappy repetitions of the prothonotary warblers filled my ears.
June – July
At Pratt’s Wayne Woods and Hawk Hollow, one of my favorite breeding birds, the Bell’s vireo, skulked in the dogwood thickets singing his snappy “bippity-boppity-boo” song.
A highlight for many local birders was a prairie warbler making a county-first breeding attempt at West Chicago Prairie.
Along the oak savanna at Churchill Woods, yellow and black-billed cuckoos as well as monk parakeets were found feasting on cicadas.
While searching for a stilt sandpiper at the Wood Dale/Itasca Reservoir, I was disappointed to watch the shorebirds suddenly rise from the mudflats and take off. This type of behavior generally indicates that a predator is nearby, and sure enough I found a merlin chasing at the heels of the stilt sandpiper and others.
September – October
In early October, pine siskins began popping up throughout many forest preserves, a precursor to what was to come. A pair of vagrant red-necked grebes easy to see from the fishing pier on Deep Quarry Lake at West Branch marked the first time the species had been documented in a DuPage forest preserve. At the scenic overlook at Greene Valley, regularly occurring Lapland longspurs provided excitement on days when the winds were not conducive to raptor migration.
November – December
At McKee Marsh at Blackwell I met a young birder who became interested in the hobby during the pandemic as a reason to get outside. As she was describing her list of favorite birds we were interrupted by an incredibly rare evening grosbeak flying overhead.
Big Year of Birding Species List
American black duck
American golden plover
Great blue heron
Black-crowned night heron
Great horned owl
Northern saw-whet owl
Eastern wood pewee
Great crested flycatcher
Northern rough-winged swallow
American tree sparrow
Cape may warbler
Black-throated blue warbler
Black-throated green warbler