People outside of Chicago often stare at me in disbelief when I tell them how open and green the city is. I talk about forest preserves and bike paths and they answer with gunshots and beeping horns. But really, Chicago has coyotes aplenty to go with deer, skunks, possums, and way too many raccoons. Oh, and there was that time a cougar was shot by the Chicago Police Department a few blocks west of Wrigley Field. Less dramatic was the time Corey and I spied a fox one late night burying a mouse across the street from our house. The birding is even more impressive with dozens of species nesting and flying over my city block including a large hawk that often perches across the street from my house. On occasion we spy a bit of fur sticking to its claws.
If the Edison Park neighborhood is teeming with wildlife, you better believe the nearby Forest Preserve is as well. It just so happens that last Sunday our good friend Tom was leading a guided birding walk through the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve as part of the “Bird the Preserves Big Year.” The contests pits the forest preserves of Cook County against one another to see which team can identify the most birds. My money is on the team that has Tom. Why? Because if Audubon was still alive he would probably be asking Tom’s help in identifying birds. Thus far, Tom has witness all but two of the 138 species of spotted at Bunker Hill since March of this year.
Now I have known this stretch of Forest Preserve for quite a long time with my first introduction as a toddler riding on the back of my father’s bike. But I tend to rush through most sceneries with my eyes fixed to the road. I may cover a lot of miles but often see too few of them. Tom, however, has mastered the art of watchful lingering and knows well how to look and listen. Luckily for us he also enjoys sharing this perspective.
So at 7 A.M. the three of us, along with a crowd of fellow first timers and repeat offenders, were treated to a world of nests, birds, and avian intentions. A highlight for me was watching a Barn Swallow repeatedly scooping up little bits of mud in its beak to take back to its nest. Henna loved the many colorful Orioles she spied as well as an impressive Cooper Hawk sitting in its nest. Corey just liked being up earlier than maybe she has ever been on a Sunday.
This was a completely free event with Tom even bringing donut holes and binoculars for everyone. Tom leads one more guided bird expedition this spring but plans on leading more in the fall. For more information about guided birding walks throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve system, click here. And know this, there are not many things Corey and Henna will wake up early for. This is one of them.