We awoke to the ringing of our alarms at the early hour of 1:56 AM, adrenaline pumping through our bodies despite running on 2 hours of sleep (Ethan going on none). First stop, Wolf Road Prairie. Two singing SEDGE WRENs and it's close relative the MARSH WREN were our first two birds of the day. After some effort, Miller Meadow produced a trilling EASTERN SCREECH OWL for us, a bird that has always proved to be reliable here on past big days. Moving south, we made a quick stop along Ford Rd at Cap Sauers for Barred Owl to no avail. We finished our nocturnal morning hours strong at Buttonbush Slough in Palos, with a grunting VIRGINIA RAIL, and to our surprise, a calling LEAST BITTERN! Our hopes were held high as the day was quickly approaching.
With first light quickly starting to brighten the sky and morning chorus picking up, we hit the ground running at Plum Creek Forest Preserve at 4:45 AM. Pulling off at the prairie area, we briefly glimpsed an AMERICAN WOODCOCK flying by, while the short "Tsi-lick" of numerous HENSLOW'S SPARROWs and descending song of FIELD SPARROWs echoed across the prairie. A few GRASSHOPPER SPARROWs and EASTERN MEADOWLARKs gave into the chorus, and a single DICKISSEL followed by a far off BOBOLINK completed our list for all expected grassland species. Continuing on into the woods, a male ORCHARD ORIOLE and a ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK belched out their beautiful songs right in the parking lot, and Eddie's sharp eye got us all on a flyby BLACK BILLED CUCKOO! Our fast paced walk though the woods yielded the expected WOOD THRUSH, TUFTED TITMOUSE and ACADIAN FLYCATHER, followed by calling RED HEADED and PILEATED WOODPECKERs! Now that was a relief, considering the fact that these two woodpeckers are pretty unpredictable and not particularly easy at any location in Cook County. We wrapped up Plum Creek with a singing ALDER FLYCATHER and an extremely far off BLUE WINGED WARBLER, putting us at just over 60 species at 6 AM. Plum Creek is known for its spectacular variety of high quality breeding birds, and our list really reflected that. Moving on, a 7 minute stop at the Orland Grassland South parking lot had us a flyby BALD EAGLE and a BLUE WINGED TEAL on the pond. We considered the eagle a bonus, as we had no location for this species at any point in the day. Now in the Palos area again, we were back at Cap Sauers by 6:55. We picked up the OSPREY on it's nesting platform at Bergman Slough, followed by a singing SCARLET TANAGER and a YELLOW BILLED CUCKOO in the canopy. Unfortunately, we missed the expected Veery and Yellow Throated Vireo here as well as the Summer Tanager Eddie found while scouting a few days before. Thankfully, Swallow Cliff proved to be an excellent stop. Almost dismissed as one of the many singing CHIPPING SPARROWs in the parking lot, a pair a PINE WARBLERs started singing from the pines! Pine Warbler hasn't been recorded breeding in Cook County many years prior to this, so this was a really awesome pickup for our day. Within moments of heading into the woods, a VEERY gave it's namesake " veer-u veer-u veer-u" song and an extremely distant SUMMER TANAGER sang a few notes. Heading up the mud trail, the annually returning KENTUCKY WARBLER sang once for us as well as a YELLOW THROATED VIREO, clearing up all of our misses at Cap Sauers. We were on a roll, and if there was anything within sight and earshot we were getting on it. A quick stop at Pulaski Woods came up empty for Hooded Warbler, but we picked up our only BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER for the day. A few minutes at Little Red Schoolhouse added GREEN HERON, COOPER'S HAWK and a few other common birds to our list. We rolled out of the Palos area at 9:15 with just under 90 species.
With the day warming up, things started to slow down as we rolled into Big Marsh in the Calumet area. For some reason, water levels were extremely high and the habitat had unfortunately come back unexpectedly poor this year. Despite our efforts, we amazingly failed to kick up a Sora, and missed American Coot and Pied Billed Grebe. We never got a Swamp Sparrow or Common Gallinule to call from the back of the marsh. However, multiple WILLOW FLYCATHERs sang "fitz-bew" and a MUTE SWAN flew over, one we were relying on here. With all our misses at Big Marsh, we decided that a quick stop at Hedgewisch Marsh would be worth it. On our way out, we played Sora out the window at Indian Ridge and finally got a response. Hedgewish provided a COMMON GALLINULE for us, but we came up empty again for the coot and grebe. We had to keep moving. We drove under the skyway on our way to Steelworker's Park, picking up MONK PARAKEET. Pulling up to the abandoned power station just west of the park, Ethan picked out an AMERICAN KESTREL, and the BELL'S VIREO was singing from his usual spot. The "che-beck" of a LEAST FLYCATHER yielded bird #100. We checked Rainbow Beach for RED BREASTED MERGANSER before departing the south side, and sure enough we found them! We left for the north side at 104 species.
Our next stop was North Avenue Turning Basin along the Chicago River, where we instantly picked up the continuing GREATER SCAUP, and even got lucky with a flyover PEREGRINE FALCON! This meant we wouldn't have to stop for this species later in the day, therefore we could use that time elsewhere. We high tailed it to Lincoln Park, where a fastwalk around the lilypool got us a CANADA WARBLER and a sprint through the zoo got us the long-staying AMERICAN WIGEON. Next stop, Montrose Point, where we hoped to add some lingering migrants to our day list. Let's just say we got more than a few. Basically jogging the entire way though Montrose, we started by picking up SANDERLING, DUNLIN, and a flock of more than 20 SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS on the beach. Despite the date and heat of mid-day, the hedge was still hopping with warblers. Within our short 10 minute loop around the hedge, we picked up 12 species of warblers, including BLACK AND WHITE, CANADA, MOURNING, and BLACKPOLL. Upon departure, Eddie found us a amazing YELLOW BREASTED CHAT and the chip a of seriously late NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH alerted me to it's presence in the foliage. In an hour at Montrose we had 55 species, more than anyone else had that morning. Our 13 new additions at this location put us at 122, and it was only 3:50!
After stopping to eat at for the first time all day, we decided to change our plans. The current schedule had us going north for Prothonotary Warbler, Brown Creeper, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle and Red Headed Woodpecker, but since we were having such a successful day we had all but 2 of those. Instead of going far out of the way for only 2 birds, we decided making a stop west near i94 would be a better use of time, and also get us back down south faster. The feeders we planned on stopping at were the only reliable place for Eurasian Collared Dove in the county. We also still needed House Finch, which would be a devastating miss. As if things couldn't get any easier, a EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE was the first bird we saw at the feeders, and a pair of HOUSE FINCHES were soon to follow. We headed south. Now amazingly ahead of schedule (this never happens on big days), we made a quick stop at Bemis Woods for another attempt at Hooded Warbler, but again, to no avail. We quickly picked up the YELLOW THROATED WARBLER in residential Westchester, and decided the smartest move would be to check Eggers Grove. There was a decent chance the pond may hold a grebe or a coot, and the Great Horned Owl chicks that just recently fledged should still be around. Storms began to form around us, and we were hit with heavy rainfall as we pulled up to Eggers. Scanning the pond for anything of interest, suddenly two juvenille GREAT HORNED OWLS flew in and landed right in front of us! Not only that, but we scoped out a PIED BILLED GREBE and BELTED KINGFISHER chattered from across the pond. 3 more birds in the bag baby!
Grateful that the rain had let up, our ears filled with the last sounds of marsh and grassland birdsong as we watched the sun set over Bartel Grassland. The melodic trill of a SWAMP SPARROW was a nice surprise, making up for our miss at Big Marsh earlier. As light continued to fade, we decided to try for Wilson's Snipe. During breeding season snipes are pretty tough to find in Cook County, but if there was any place where one would be, it would be here. For about 20 minutes we played different recordings on and off, trying everything we could to get a response out of a bird. We were about to leave when we heard a "pik pik pik" come from across the grassland, and sure enough a WILSON'S SNIPE flew right over our heads! Bird #131, and another awesome addition for our day! At this point, the only two birds we could possibly get were Barred Owl and Common Nighthawk, so it was back to Cap Sauers for the third time. Eddie and Henry got a few hoots out of a BARRED OWL, but unfortunately Ethan and I missed it, making it our 2nd dirty bird for the day. A final stop for Common Nighthawk near Eddie's house came up with nothing. And with that, we decided to call it quits. It was almost 11 o'clock, and we were exhausted from and incredible day of birding. In total, we finished with 132 species, a total we had never even dreamed of getting. 132 is now the 2nd highest June county big day total for the state, Lake County's total being only 3 higher than ours with several more breeding birds. Huge thanks to Eddie's family for graciously hosting us. June 1st, 2019 was a day to remember, and I can't wait to see what next year's June big day will bring!
For the birds,