Kids today have such colorful colloquialisms, don’t they? Instead of describing an ill-conceived venture as wobbly, weak, lacking in coolness, or destined for the opposite of success, witty webheads say it’s made of fail. That’s a powerful concept; the recipe is so fatally flawed that fail is baked right into the bread. Sounds like my recent attempt at Illinois birding.

Chicago birding apparently doesn’t agree with me. My first stab at it, an early morning run to Rollins Savanna on the heels of a California red-eye, was fruitful in retrospect, but most of that excursion was spent under shelter because of torrential rains. Who knew monsoons visited the prairie anyway? After that, Illinois became kind of ill. On my last business trip, it seemed a critical corner had been turned. My hotel was right across the street from the Chippewa Woods complex, providing access to a riparian corridor that promised all kinds of natural delights in the right season. Of course, that was in March, most assuredly not the right season, and anyway I had left both bins and camera at home!

This time, I schlepped my large lens along with the expectation of assailing Axehead Lake once my workday ended. But then the first fly buzzed into my avian observation ointment: I was in a different hotel, one much further than the last one. No problem, said I; Google Maps revealed that if I walked an indeterminate distance in the hot Chicago sun, I could access the park on the other side of the interstate. Yet, a mile of concrete brought me to the desired junction only to reveal that there was no pedestrian crossing to the other side! Still, I was undeterred. Having come this far and with only the cold comfort of my hotel behind me, I veered north hoping to find a path to the promised land. I walked and walked, striking out again and again, until finally, I discovered a rather sketchy site by which I might penetrate the woods. I won’t get into details except to say I might very well have been trespassing on either public or private land. Either way, I felt uneasy but nonetheless exultant at entering some sort of wooded setting.

Locating a trail, I followed my instincts to the waterway I knew was here, the one that separated me as surely as any highway from my desired destination. At the marsh bank, it was clear that I wouldn’t be crossing this small, shallow river. As a matter of fact, since the trail ended here, I wouldn’t be going anywhere but back out. To add insult to injury, a bank that seemed so innocuous and fraught with potential in March became a haven for all manner of blood-sucking insect come July. I hightailed it out of there as fast as my blistered feet could carry me, taking a couple more dispirited stabs at birding before finally admitting defeat. Then came the death march back to my strip mall abode.

So what did I see during this most inauspicious journey? Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jays, kingbirds, cardinals, swallows, and the like… nice enough birds, but ones I see every day anyway. The baby raccoons that crossed my path were also engaging, as were the hordes of fluttering moths and skippers, but again, nothing I’d walk multiple miles for. The mosquitoes might have been new though… as I said, made of fail!

I flew into Chicago and all I got was this lousy Kingbird…

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.