Momentarily sated by last week’s Texas birding bonanza, I undertook this week’s travels with neither binoculars nor camera. Carting all that gear through airport after airport grows tiresome. Of course, as soon as I landed in Chicago, I had reason to regret my decision, as my hotel lies directly across from the Chippewa Woods Forest Preserve. Chippewa Woods is a portion of the Indian Boundary Division, a subsection of the Cook County Forest Preserves, which is itself a mighty greenbelt encompassing 27 lakes, ponds, quarries, reservoirs and sloughs. Waterways come to mind because I explored the sodden woods after what must have been a furious rainstorm.
Even with binoculars, I might have struggled to identify some of the birds perched on bare branches; the overcast conditions rendered everything above eye level into silhouettes. But as I walked, I could make out the abundant Northern Cardinals clearly enough. The trail took me down into a marshy area that, though too far north to technically qualify as bottomland, appeared to lose an occasional territorial dispute with the adjacent Des Plaines River. The sloppy path, studded with great clusters of snail shells of the palest green, adhered to my shoes one step at a time, so that by the time I’d gotten out, I was caked with slate gray mud. This habitat was quite productive, supporting abundant Northern Flickers and the most impressive profusion of Brown Creepers I’ve ever seen. These cryptic climbers flitted from tree to tree, ascending trunks with proud, marshmallow bellies out in front. This is where I could have used a camera!
The higher ground had a lot less to offer, which is perfectly natural this time of year. Mallards, Tufted Titmice, American Robins, and Brown-headed Cowbirds represented most of the identifiable avifauna. A few Eastern Phoebes appeared to be testing riverside perches for the burgeoning spring while a lone Red-tailed Hawk traced lazy patterns high above. Other species were obscured by the dim light and my lack of optics. Fat finches or sparrows, brown above and darkly streaked below, remained tanalizingly just out of reach. A couple of warbler types managed to avoid showing any diagnostic marks. Worst of all, a pair of thrushes led me around, showing markings too dark for Hermit Thrushes but tails and wings too rufous for Wood Thrushes. No amount of chasing could clear up the confusion. Serves me right for coming unequipped. Rest assured I won’t make that mistake again!