After getting lost in Evanston because I listened to my GPS (one of the better towns to end up lost in the Chicagoland area, I might add), I ended up in Waukegan Beach. The rarities that had been here ( Hudsonian Godwit and Glossy Ibis) moved on the evening before were gone (the Hudsonian Godwit to a spot only a couple of miles away that I didn’t know about). So I contented myself with Spotted Sandpipers and Yellow Warblers (Setophaga petechia):
I decided to venture next over to Illinois Beach State Park, where a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) had crawled up and onto the Dead River Trail:
I rounded a bend, to discover my first Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) in Illinois in years ahead of me on the path. Hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes fly through Illinois, and dozens remain to breed. A few even winter here. However, the vast majority of Sandhill Cranes in Illinois are seen only in the northeastern counties. As I rarely visit those counties, it was a treat to do so, and to catch up and see this bird I haven’t observed since December 2016.
There were two here, feeding in a small wet area between dunes. Standing as tall as a deer, Sandhill Cranes are surprisingly tame, or at least this pair were. I watched them forage for a bit in the open woods, before moving on.
I walked out into the sandy dunes of the beach, looking at the bizarre vegitation. Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), Bearberry (Arctostaphyos uva-ursi), Marram Grasses(not pictured)… this is the vegetation of the New England coast, not Illinois! Those first two are state-listed and only found in this limited habitat, as abundant as they are otherwise.
A strange white butterfly flew along, feeding on some white flowers. Any suggestions as to its identification would be welcome. I’m thinking of getting into butterflies more.
Of course, where there is a beach there are waves- the waves of Lake Michigan, the great inland ocean bordering Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and (duh) Michigan. And the inland ocean has inland ocean birds, in the form of Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia):
Here, a Caspian Tern brings back a shad it has caught. (I presume this is a shad… it could be a red herring and turn out to be something entirely different.)
Behind the gulls, on the far side of the creek known ominously as the Dead River, pines grew in a natural forest, something quite out of place in Illinois. This pines dune forest is considered a very sensitive ecosystem and as such, almost no one is permitted to cross the Dead River and venture into this restricted area. Of course, I really want to go there now after knowing this. Illinois’ only record of Red-cockaded Woodpecker comes from this forest, one of the few open pine savannas in all of Illinois. The habitat is so bizarre to find here that it attracts birds hundreds of miles out of place, and contains plants and animals so sensitive that people aren’t allowed. I will go there someday, legally, but for now it remains the forbidden zone.
However, the existence of the forbidden zone and its open, grassy pine woods does mean that certain species of birds are present here that would otherwise be found further north or west. The most obvious of those is the Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus), a roly-poly Western fellow, mostly likely to be portrayed by Jeff Bridges or John Goodman in a movie about the blackbirds. I digress, considerably. Brewer’s Blackbirds, for the most part, are only found here in the summertime in Illinois, combing the beaches of Lake Michigan.
In the dunes themselves, other Westerners like this Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) grow:
Alongside the cactus, this migrating Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) felt out of place. Though it was mid-May, few leaves were on the trees- one of the cooling effects of the lake. As a result, the Magnolia Warbler was forced downwards to find cover and food.
The Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) felt the most Illinois-ian, of anything- dull, the extremities are the most colorful parts, and it’s found in transitional habitats. Illinois is a big transitional habitat- East meets West, North meets South- but for all that it’s a bit dull- no flashy scenery like mountains or canyons, for the most part, and most of the more interesting “colorful” parts are the edges of Illinois. So the Field Sparrow is, and so it is a great symbol of Illinois.
Speaking of small, dull birds, the Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum) were about. I probably saw hundreds of them, but this is the best picture I got of one, at the southern end of North Point Marina, just north of Illinois Beach State Park and my nest stop afterwards. Palm Warblers are so named for their wintering grounds- the palms of Florida have Palm Warblers in January. In May, they were heading back to the taiga bogs to nest, moving by the hundreds. I found my lifer Clay-colored Sparrow in with them, but it failed to reappear for a photo after I’d gotten my camera out of its bag. So I took this bird’s photo instead… a blurry photo of my second pick for a photography subject. Well, it is at least more colorful than a terracotta-hued sparrow.
But enough of this. I ventured up to the north end of North Point Marina, curious to see what was about. North Point Marina is the furthest northeast one can walk in Illinois- further north and you end up in Wisconsin, further east and it gets considerably wet. Caspian Terns, Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) and a lone Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) sat on the beach, watching me take photos of them and occasionally diving after the occasional lunch wrapper or stray small fish in the surf. Bonaparte’s was a surprise, the rest weren’t.
As I was walking up to the beach, I spotted a small shorebird wandering about north of the gulls, nearly on the Wisconsin state line… It was a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)! Hallelujah! I’d finally found one! This has been a nemesis of mine for a very long time, and it took driving virtually into Michigan for me to find one. The Ruddy Turnstone is uncommon away from the lakeshore in Illinois, and living downstate away from its habitat makes them difficult to find.
I spent about the next fifteen minutes photographing this one bird as it pecked along the shoreline and pretended I didn’t exist. I love the indifference that shorebirds along a beach give to people. Put the same birds on a mudflat and they would freak out with me 100 feet away. Here I could virtually step on it before it would acknowledge my presence.
So, I could see the Wisconsin border and a Ruddy Turnstone in the same view- that was fun! Past the breakwater, it’s all Wisconsin. So, all those trees- Wisconsin.
Due to general stupidity, I forgot to drive into Wisconsin so that I was actually in Wisconsin sometime this year and could claim it as a state I’d visited. Instead, I drove through Lake county, finding bizarre local attractions like the Gold Pyramid House along the way:
I ended up, after a cursory, unsuccessful search for Yellow-headed Blackbirds at Moraine Hills State Park, driving over to Mchenry Dam to see the Fox River. At this point, I was driving half-asleep, and decided to walk about and wake myself up. The river, some ten feet over or so, was a good wake-up call. That post in midground right side is supposed to be on the EDGE of the water:
In the flooded forest adjacent to the dam, a surprise Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) called. I had no idea at the time that this Southern species of bird breeds here and has done so for many years. I got to show it off to a novice with binoculars, and see it in close proximity to three Sandhill Cranes- something I never expected to do! It was a fun send-off to a day spent along the beach, to find something that reminded me of home. I would drive home the following afternoon, but I still had Indiana Dunes to see with Kyle. Though half-asleep, I made it back to the place I was staying with no casualties or damages. The following day- Indiana Dunes!