Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Little House on the Prairies

Other than the quick trip down to Starved Rock State Park for a few days, I spent the month of May living in my 2 suburban Chicago “homes” – Burnidge Forest Preserve (Paul Wolff CG) in Elgin, and Big Rock Forest Preserve just west of Aurora.


Burnidge is the closest campground to my old house (and my family’s houses), so it’s always my first choice park.  I love being able to park in one of the big RV sites along the edge of the prairie and watch nature’s show every day.

An early May thunderstorm provided quite a great sunset one night--


I arrived to Burnidge just as the trees were beginning to leaf out, so had the great experience of getting to watch Spring bloom twice this year (first in New Mexico, and then here in Illinois!).  The forest at Burnidge has many old Oak trees that were just spectacular to watch in Spring--

P1030949P1030954 Oak

The Mayapples were growing quickly too.  A sure sign that Spring had finally arrived in the Midwest!

P1030962 MayapplesP1030969 Mayapples

I loved the mix of trails at Burnidge—some just mowed grass trails through the prairie field!


But more exciting this year, was to hike the trails with my binoculars and camera to practice my budding bird-watching skills.  Lots of “new-to-me” birds to see (most who only stay east in the Eastern half of the U.S, so not a lot of repeats from Bosque in New Mexico).  But there was one repeat customer--

P1030922 Red-winged Blackbird

I’m now convinced the Red-winged Blackbird is the most common bird in America, East or West!  These guys were all over Bosque, and all over Burnidge (and Big Rock) too.

Once I got away from the open fields and into the forest, I started spotting some new birds, like this Eastern Towhee--

P1030942 Eastern TowheeP1030946 Eastern Towhee

and this Rose-breasted Grosbeak--

P1030981 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

One evening, I started my hike from the open field behind the RV and discovered this Bobolink with its distinctive yellow cap--

P1040266 BobolinkP1040275 Bobolink

The rolling south loop was a nice hike through forests and fields—great for birding!  Of those I could capture photographs of, I enjoyed seeing my first Eastern Kingbird.  Quite a difference from the bright yellow Western Kingbirds I saw at Bosque!

P1040296 Eastern Kingbird

This Orchard Oriole was quite pretty perched on its pine branch--

P1040330 Orchard OrioleP1040328 Orchard Oriole

and this American Goldfinch sat at the very top of a tall pine tree glowing like a bright Christmas tree bulb!

P1040316 American Goldfinch

Parked next to the large open field, I would often hear a loud “TOOT! TOOT!!!” in the mornings or evenings.  It sounded like a steam engine locomotive train whistle!  What in the heck could it be?  After a few weeks of wondering, I finally got my answer one morning when I heard the tooting right outside my RV window —a Ring-necked Pheasant!

P1040361 Ring-necked Pheasant

This goofball would very slowly stick his brightly-colored head up above the prairie grasses and scan around the field for a minute or so looking for his mate (or perhaps he was just showing off!).  When his “periscope” time was done, he’d scream out his “Toot! Toot!”, flutter his wings loudly, and then slowly sink down into the grass again.

P1040405 Ring-necked Pheasant

He’d repeat this display every 5 minutes, and once, I was finally lucky enough to catch the little loud mouth while screaming one of his ear-splitting “Toots!”

P1040454 Ring-necked Pheasant

What a nut!

P1040456 Ring-necked Pheasant

I sure would have loved to see this bird’s full body, but alas, they spend most of their time hidden in the tall grass.  Best I could settle for was this quick tail shot (wouldn’t Travels With Emma Judy love this “The End” shot!)

P1040495 Ring-necked Pheasant

Burnidge and Big Rock are owned by Kane County and have 14-day stay limits, with a 7-day wait before you can return.  Fortunately, you can stay at the other park during your 7-day “out” period, so that’s exactly what I did in late May when I tried out Big Rock Forest Preserve for the first time.

Big Rock is newer and not as well-known yet with local campers, so even on the weekends, it’s usually easy to get a spot (no reservations are taken at either campground).  The trails & birding here are pretty good.  Not as good as Burnidge, but perfectly enjoyable.

I didn’t see any new bird species at Big Rock, but did see a few old favorites like this Northern Cardinal--

P1040224 Northern CardinalanP1040225 Northern Cardinal

and this Blue Jay--

P1040250 Blue Jay

I also spotted this Northern Flicker headed into its nest about mid-way up a tree--

P1040207 Northern FlickerP1040208 Northern FlickerP1040210 Northern Flicker Nest

and this brilliant, tiny Indigo Bunting--

P1040194 Indigo Bunting

Returning to my campsite, I enjoyed watching (and listening to) this Song Sparrow--

P1040254 Song Sparrow

But soon another thunderstorm was rolling in, so no time to linger!


I’m looking forward to spending more time at these two campgrounds soon when my post-op surgery restrictions are over and I can again lift grocery bags, lawn chairs, etc (to return to living in my rolling home). 

It will be interesting to see how these parks have changed over the season!


  1. Once you get bitten by the birding bug... there is no turning back and no cure.... and it rules your outdoor experience...when I drive I'm birding, when I hike, Im birding, when I camp, Im birding, when Im at a picnic, Im birding, I stand at my window IM BIRDING...sometimes I never see anything but tree tops! It can be maddening when you hear it but can't find it then you start birding by ear, and you repeat the song or call back to yourself trying to ID that bird. Oh and its contagious so warn your friends! Enjoyed these wonderful bird sightings!
    I was bitten in 1990 and never looked back!

  2. I agree with what Sondra said. I got 'bitten' in the early 70's. :)

  3. When I was younger, I would see a group of birdwatchers peering through their binocs and thumbing through their bird guidebooks, and think, how foolish, what a dumb thing to waste one's time doing.

    Then I got myself interested in photography.

    Then I saw some great photos of a yellow warbler on the limbs of an apple tree in full bloom that a good friend took.

    Then I had to go buy a 200-400mm lens so I could try and duplicate his shots as my landscape lens just couldn't get me close enough.

    Then I saw other photographers images of eagles and other birds in flight, so I had to go buy a nice tripod and gimbel head for the tripod so I could try and duplicate those shots.

    Then I realized that often, even my nice expensive 200-400mm lens still often was not getting me close enough so I had to buy an even more expensive 600mm lens.

    Then I found I had to travel long distances to find the types of birds I wanted to photograph.

    Now that I have all but bankrupted myself following these magnificent creatures all over North America, I realize that I have become addicted to this birdwatching thing myself. Be careful, as the others have said, this is an addiction that is impossible to conquer.

  4. Wonderful bird pictures - I really enjoyed them. Hope all is going well for you and you are soon back on the road.

  5. Beautiful photos and birds. Although I have a gaggle of all kinds of birds flitting around here, I don't have the patience, or a good enough camera to get shots. I've tried a few times.........Take care and it sounds like you're mending well!

  6. Great pictures, do not get to see that many pheasants any more.


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