Monday, July 4, 2011

Prairie companions

Today I visited the largest prairie restoration east of the Mississippi River. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is near Joliet, Ill., on the site of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. The 19,000-plus acre preserve was created in the 1990s.

I went seeking three life birds and came away with two of them(!). I saw a Bell's vireo at the parking lot at the Explosives Road trailhead and later recorded a Henslow's sparrow along the Henslow's Trail. Both are uncommon and elusive, most often heard and not seen in their very specific habitat. Alas, I did not see an upland sandpiper, which are apparently even more scarce at Midewin now than ever. I also missed out on loggerhead shrike, at the northern extent of its range.

Still, it was a beautiful morning, with lots of singing dickcissels (above) and many other prairie birds. Other highlights included: about 30 bobolinks on the Henslow's Trail, grasshopper sparrow most everywhere and a male orchard oriole. I also encountered a number of ticks and managed to (mostly) keep them at bay.