A trio of hard-to-find warblers cooperated nicely for area birders

  • A Kentucky warbler, a rare visitor to DuPage, delights birders in late May at Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Naperville.

    A Kentucky warbler, a rare visitor to DuPage, delights birders in late May at Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Naperville. Courtesy of Todd Fellenbaum

 
 
Updated 7/10/2020 10:25 AM

On occasions when I simply must see a rock dove, I know where to go.

A small flock hangs out on the utility wires outside the Glen Ellyn McDonald's on Roosevelt Road. They are what I call sticky birds, loyal to a site. Pigeons have a steady weakness for parking lot french fries.

 

The Chicago region, of course, is a permanent or part-time home to more exciting birds. Many are uncommon, even rare. But seeing the rarities can be a challenge -- they are often "one-day wonders," observed by a lucky birder or maybe a small group in the right place at the right time.

Birders like me depend on stickiness. I am rarely among the first people on the scene after a rare bird is spotted and then reported online. Unless it's an ivory-billed woodpecker, I'm inclined to try for a look after the bird is reported several days in a row. I like to know the odds of success are really good.

This laid-back style of birding, of course, can backfire. I've missed some rare birds from being late to the party.

Not recently, though. In the past six weeks, I've followed in many a birder's wake to enjoy fine views of three coveted warbler species. All three birds were sticky indeed -- just where the reports said they would be and in no apparent hurry to leave. Birders call them "continuing" birds.

Checking off Kentucky, mourning and prairie warblers shouldn't be this easy. For sure, I'm indebted to the original finders of these yellow-bellied beauties and to the many birders who posted their sightings in the days that followed.

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The Kentucky warbler, as I related here last month, was a lifer for me. Mike Madsen found it at Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Naperville on May 23. I went there on May 25, and by then dozens of birders had eyed the bird, a singing male. The Kentucky's "churry-churry-churry" song is loud and distinct, making this one easy to locate.

Having a guide helped, too. Joan Campbell texted me from the woods, urging me to get my butt in gear for a chance to confront my longtime nemesis.

Twelve minutes later I was heading south on Route 53. Once on-site, I expected more of a struggle.

Kentucky warbler is usually secretive and hard to view. You might hear it, but seeing it can be iffy. The Greene Valley bird, however, was moving from branch to branch, teasing us with occasional open looks. I could not have been happier.

A mourning warbler lingered at Lyman Woods in Downers Grove, offering birders good viewing opportunities of a normally reclusive species.
A mourning warbler lingered at Lyman Woods in Downers Grove, offering birders good viewing opportunities of a normally reclusive species. - Courtesy of Philip Dunn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A reported mourning warbler at Lyman Woods in Downers Grove grabbed my attention next. Here was another elusive species apparently outfitted with a tiny pair of molasses slippers. Discovered by Graham Deese on June 5, the bird was sheltering in place.

Joan agreed to meet me at Lyman, her home patch, on June 10. She's a bird monitor at the preserve and leads walks there for the DuPage Birding Club. She'd already seen the mourning warbler and took me directly to it. Easy peasy, and my best look ever of a species I'd last seen in 2003. (I might need to get out more.)

Prairie warbler is uncommon in northern Illinois. A male like this one, discovered at West Chicago Prairie in late June, was still present in July.
Prairie warbler is uncommon in northern Illinois. A male like this one, discovered at West Chicago Prairie in late June, was still present in July. - Courtesy of Jackie Bowman

My luck continued on July 1 with a prairie warbler -- fittingly, along the Prairie Path at West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve. Matt Wistrand found the bird on June 25 as he was biking by, alertly detecting its high-pitched buzzy trill. Acting like a male bird on territory, it stayed put long enough to be my first prairie warbler outside of Florida.

My inaugural visit to West Chicago Prairie was fruitful in another way. A singing yellow-breasted chat -- yet another sought-after warbler -- greeted my arrival, posing on a bare tree in the early morning sun. (Picture perfect, except my camera was in the car.)

Chats breed on the preserve, and this might be the best place in DuPage to find one.

So, there it is, three successful sorties around DuPage and not a wasted minute or mile. Target birding at its best! It shows that sometimes it's OK to be late -- with good information, and perhaps a little help from a friend, you can still get the bird.

To track notable bird sightings, consider using eBird, a free service of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Sign up at ebird.org to receive a daily list of uncommon or rare birds for any state or county in the United States. I get the Illinois and DuPage reports.

• Jeff Reiter's column appears monthly in Neighbor. You can reach him via his blog, Words on Birds.

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