Sunday, July 17, 2005

Birding Northerly Island.

For those of you outside the Chicago area, Northerly Island is located on the Lake Michigan lakefront just off of Lake Shore Drive on the Museum Campus, right near downtown. Northerly Island was built for the 1933 World's Fair, but for many years it was used as an airport called Miegs Field.

A few years ago, Chicago's bird-loving (I'm not kidding) Mayor Daley decided he wanted to turn the airport into a park. The prompted heated objections and a few lawsuits from the State of Illinois, private pilots, etc, but since the City actually owned the land undeneath the airport, when the airport's lease expired, Da Mare locked the gates and plowed up the runways with bulldozers. (Well, he didn't personally drive a backhoe, but you get the idea.)

So now NI is pretty much empty until the City gets the money to develop it into a formal park. In the meantime, the Park District has planted a few trees and a bunch of "pretty" grasses, and NI has developed into a great birding location, especially during sparrow migration. You usually don't see a lot of people (or dogs!) when you bird out there, and this spring there were goodies such as Upland Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, and Northern Mockingbird (a good bird for Chicago) that briefly stopped at NI on their way north.

A few months ago, the Park District, in its desperate search for new funds, decided to lease the northern portion of NI for a "temporary" concert venue. This plan was formulated without any public input, and many people suspect that the bid process was somehow rigged, since the company that everntually was awarded the bid (Clear Channel) was advertising this new Northerly Island Pavilion concert venue before the bid was actually awarded. Adding insult to injury, local promoter Jam Productions, one of Clear Channel's few remaining competitors, was aced out of the contract, even though they were the ones that came up with the idea in the first place. I'm hoping that Jam sues CC and the Park District so we can get to the bottom of the whole bid award fiasco (Jam has already sued Clear Channel on a separate issue and received a mega-verdict in federal court), but that has not happened yet.

Anyway, all of the conservation and birding groups were asleep at the wheel on this one, so there was no opposition to the concert venue proposal from any conservation group, and now we're stuck with this "temporary" concert venue for at least five years.

I attended my first show at NI Pavilion last night, and it is a very interesting place. The capacity is supposedly 7,500, but to my eyes it looked like it was in the 8-10,000 range. Maybe next time I go back I'll do a seat count. The sound was ok, but the sight lines were horrible. The center sections are ok, but there is no slope, so unless you stand up you might not have a great view of the stage. The side sections are a joke. From most of the side sections, you can barely see the stage, you can't see the drummer, and can't even see the rest of the performers unless they're near the front of the stage. Security was pretty lax, and parking/traffic was awful. Whoever at the Park District decided that a sold-out soccer game with 60,000+ fans should end at the same time a sold-out concert with 7,000+ fans was scheduled to begin deserves a special place in Hell.

And it is amazing how many people, and how much equipment, it takes to run even a relatively small "temporary" concert venue. The acres of asphalt and steel seem pretty permanent to me, but if CC and the Park District say this venue is "temporary," well then I guess it must be true.

On to the birds...had 8 Black-crowned Night Herons fly by NI last night, this morning I birded the area again and had at least 9 Savannah Sparrow territories, and at least 7 hunting American Kestrels. I don't think I've ever seen 7 kestrels hunt the same field before, it was pretty amazing to see this with the City skyline in the background. Also had a funky sparrow that I think was an immature Lark Sparrow, which would be a pretty big find (not sure there are any recent summer records of Lark Sparrow in Chicago or Cook County), but I still have some questions about the id of this bird.

Also saw in the Tribune this morning that my friend Robbie Hunsinger and her crew at the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors ( are very close to getting a temporary bird rehab facility located at the NI terminal building to help with their efforts to rescue stunned and injured birds that hit glass in the Loop during migration. (For a nice story on this subject, see: This is great news, and I'll continue to talk about NI and the window-kill issue in future entries.


Birding is NOT a crime!!!! said...

Hey, I thought there was only one Clear Channel employee reading this blog, but after reading the first comment, there must be at least two!

Seriously, though, we at BINAC welcome comments from all posters, no matter how misinformed they may be!!!!

Let's have fun and let's have at it!

Anonymous said...

Now that hizzoner, The Mayor, has successfully installed a "Temporary" Concert Venue in the park, when does BINAC feel it likely we will see a "Temporary" Casino and attending restaurants at this site. After birding it would be great to slog down some Vienna Beefs and shoot a few games of craps. Sure to bring in birders from all over. By the busload in fact. Hizzoner thinks of everything!!!

Birding is NOT a crime!!!! said...

Quit sobbing, there's no crying in birding! This is a birding blog, not a tea party!

Mike, welcome to BINAC, but you should know that Scala's Beef is way better than Vienna!!!!! We should think about putting together a longer piece on Hurricane birds...maybe a compilation of what has been seen, and where, in the last week or two? And predictions about what might show up, and where, after Emily? I think that would be a very interesting topic.

Anonymous said...

Nice Blog Ken. Seems like a great way to suppliment IBET. Topics can be aired in ways which would not be suitable for discussion there. The trick will be to get folks to visit your blog at the right time. Perhaps you could announce your topic on Ibet and then you could invite interested folks to your blog for a discussion? I am sure the same rowdies we hear on Ibet will jump at the chance to sound off.

Hurricane topic is very interesting. I plan to track each storm this season. Also I plan to collect data on pelagic birds displaced and birders observations from local listseves. I have a few posts from Tennesse and Alabama which you should read as they articulate the nuts and bolts of birding hurricanes.

Also, I hear they are hiring attorneys today at City Hall. Do you have any criminal trial experience?

Birding is NOT a crime!!!! said...

Thanks Mike. I don't think many people are taking jobs at City Hall right now, although if you don't even have to be alive to get promoted, a few might still be interested.

I don't want to clutter up IBET too much but I do think a lot of Illinois birders will find their way here eventually.

Are you going to write up the Hurricane stuff you compile? Because I think that would be an excellent topic for a post. There was a mailing list on this subject (see below), but it shut down. Too bad, sounded like a good idea:

[hurricane-birds] closing down hurricane bird net
From: "Wallace Coffey"
To: hurricane-birds
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2004 07:19:35 -0500
Dear Subscriber to Hurricane Bird Net,
Due to a lack of interest, the network for Hurricane birds is being closed.
Your name will be removed from the list in just a few moments. Only a handful
of birders subscribed to the list. There was no message ever posted. Thanks
you for signing up with us for this attempt.

Wallace Coffey
Moderator and Manager
Bristol, TN