Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Environmental Sustainability

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Early Bird Gets the Worm

Early Bird Gets the Worm


‌Four-thirty A.M. in Woodstock, IL: the only creatures awake are us and the birds. Driving into Boone Creek Conservation Area, the rain from the previous night was slowly tapering off. The five of us stepped out of the van to begin our 11 bird point counts for the McHenry County Audubon Society and the Bird Conservation Network.

Why are we crazy enough to wake up before sunrise to watch and listen to birds? In fact, birds are a good indication of biodiversity within an ecosystem. Organizations like the Audubon Society can use this information to draw valuable conclusions about state of restoration projects, and they can monitor populations over time and throughout seasons. Plus, we love birding!‌

Boone Creek Conservation Area is predominantly grasslands and oak savannahs, with some forested areas in between. It used to be a duck hunting club, but has since been restored to its current state. 

As such, there is a wide variety of birds found throughout these varying habitats. Our job is to spend seven minutes at eleven different points within the park and record type and number of each species we see and hear. This task requires us to trudge through mud and trek through 7-foot tall grasses in order to get to the eleven predetermined observation points.‌

There were five of us on this morning. Father Steven Mitten, the most experienced birder, led the group with his 30+ years of experience. Sammy Keyport, Katie Pacholski, and Erin O’Connell are intermediate level birders who assisted Father Mitten with identification. Joe Gasior is new to birding, but eager to learn and help the team. Typically in bird counts, at least two people record sightings, to ensure that all species are noted. This is because birds do not often stay in one place for very long, and we want to guarantee accuracy. At the end of the day, the two note takers (Joe and Katie) compare notes and produce final numbers to submit to the McHenry County Audubon Society.

Even though it was overcast and a bit foggy, we observed 46 different species of birds. Of these, the most notable include our first Dickcissel (seen at the top of the page). ‌

Actually, we only heard its call, but that is equally as exciting as seeing the bird itself. We saw a few Indigo Buntings, which are beautiful deep blue birds with a bubbly song.

‌In addition, we saw and heard our first Henslow’s Sparrow. Father Mitten saw two Green Herons fly overhead, which are peculiar birds with iridescent plumage and a deep, distinctive call.

Overall, it was a successful day of birding! We had spent three hours conducting our counts, and at 8 A.M., we headed back to LUREC for breakfast.