Sunday, April 02, 2006

From the Field: Birding Olive Park or Blame it on the Rain

I made a typical birder mistake and relied on the local weather forecasters to plan my birding for today. I had intended to hit the Palos area for waterfowl and early migrants; one of the local birding clubs even had a field trip in that area today, although you wouldn't know it since there was no message to the local birding listserves, and the info on the club's web site is wrong. But all of the weather forecasts predicted rain, strong thunderstorms, and even hail for today, so I decided to just stay in.

Well, wouldn't you know it, it rained downtown for only about 15 minutes and that was it. With the local roads being a mess, and the White Sux having their Opening Day today, it really didn't make sense for me to try to head out to Palos after the rain passed through.

So, to console myself, I took a nice walk around the neighborhood, and hit
Olive Park for a bit. In Chicago, spring can mean everything from shorts and a t-shirt to winter coats, hats, and gloves. Today I had all of those conditions in the same walk. When I started my walk it was in the 40s, overcast, and very windy. The temperature is slowing rising, and by the end of my walk it was sunny and about 55 degrees. Of course, as soon as the sun came out it started to rain again. Very strange, even for Chicago.

The birding was really pretty slow, especially compared to Northerly Island yesterday. Olive Park has been really disappointing since it was "restored", and since parking is difficult, on one really birds there anymore anyway. It's really a shame, because that used to be one of the better spots along the lakefront.

There have been 3 Saw-whets and one Snowy Owl reported from downtown Chicago in the last week or so, and of course I didn't see any of them. We did try for the Snowy and one of the Saw-whets on Friday night, but had no luck, and the "habitat" where the Snowy was sighted (a very urban area with the only space being an abandoned gas station's parking lot) seemed questionable...but that's what city birding in Chicago is all about -- sometimes you find great birds is the most unlikely spots.

I did make an effort to look for Saw-whets in some arbor vitae-ish hedges but came up empty. At least I didn't see any naked people, or homeless people, and didn't get attacked by any of the aggressive resident Red-winged Blackbirds. I'd say that about half the time I check those hedges one of those three things happens.

Speaking of blackbirds, a flock of about a dozen Red-winged Blackbirds has taken up residence around my building. I live in a very urban area, so this is quite a treat for me. I think they were attracted by the seed that some kind soul (not me--usually when I say something like this that is code for "I did it" but I really didn't this time) threw in front of the parking garage. This is the same parking garage where the local S.W.A.T. teams was searching for a carjacker a few months ago.

I'm sure the Red-wingeds will move on soon, but their constant calling really makes it feel like spring in the city.

Since there were so few birds, it was pretty easy for me to keep track of everything I saw today:

Canada Goose 1
Mallard 3
Common Goldeneye 1
Ring-billed Gull 30
Rock Dove 2
Eastern Phoebe 3
American Robin 1
Brown Creeper 2
Eastern Towhee 1
Fox Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 7
Swamp Sparrow 8
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Red-winged Blackbird 11
House Finch 4
House Sparrow 32

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