Category Archives: Other Wildlife

Wildlife other than birds

Winter Birding Ideas – The Kankakee Sands

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk (click to see the larger version)

The Kankakee Sands is a complex of prairie and wetland habitat owned and managed by the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Birding is excellent all year round. Summer is the season to see the grassland specialties like Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows and Dickcissel, which are hard to miss and fill the air with their songs. Winter brings a different set of visitors, most notably birds of prey like Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Short-eared Owl (the owls are best seen at dusk). The main mammal claim to fame is a herd of about 70 American Bison. These iconic North American animals were introduced to the Sands in 2016 and play an important role in maintaining the integrity of the grasslands.

How to Bird The Kankakee Sands (and look for Bison)

The Kankakee Sands is about an hour and a half due south of Chicago off US41 in eastern Newton County, Indiana. Morocco is the nearest large town and lies about six miles to the south. When I bird the Sands, I drive slowly down county road 200W between county road 675N on the north and 225N on the south, looking and listening for wildlife. These roads don’t get a lot of traffic, especially in winter, and are generally safe to drive. County roads 500N and 400N east of US41 can also be productive for birds of prey in winter. Note that in winter the roads might not be drivable because of heavy snow.

American Bison

American Bison (click to see the larger version)

The Bison are best viewed from the Bison Viewing Area west of US41. To reach it, take 400W south from 400N for about half a mile. Look for a gravel road that goes east and take it to the parking lot. Walk up to the top of the rise and start scanning. The Bison are usually to the south, east, or northeast. You can usually see them with your eyes but binoculars make the experience more enjoyable. This is also an excellent place and vantage point to look for Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and other winter birds of prey. I’ve included a link to my January 9, 2021 Kankakee Sands eBird checklist to give you an idea of what I saw on that visit.

To read more about The Nature Conservancy’s efforts at Kankakee Sands, go to this site – Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands.

Kankakee Sands eBird Checklist
January 9, 2021

Mudpuppy, April 12, 2023


Dead Mudpuppy at Montrose (click to see the larger version)

Montrose is known for all kinds of critters but we don’t do well with amphibians. Part of the reason for this is that Montrose doesn’t have much in the way of amphibian habitat. We used to have American Toads in the pannes, sometimes in the hundreds, but the pannes dried up recently and the toads disappeared.

The Chicago area is home to a large salamander called a Mudpuppy. They’re in Lake Michigan but since Mudpuppies spend their entire lives under water we don’t see them, unless a fisherman accidentally catches one. This is what must have happened to the dead 10 inch long Mudpuppy on the fishing pier on April 12. The Mudpuppy either grabbed the bait or was incidentally snagged by the hook. The unsuspecting fisherman probably thought he caught a salmon. When he reeled it in he realized he didn’t have a fish but something else entirely, something weird and alien looking, like a miniature version of the creature from the black lagoon. Out of frustration, or panic, he threw it on the pier, where it died, an unfortunate end to a fascinating native animal.

Little Troublemakers

Presumed Zebra Mussel shell from Montrose Beach

Presumed Zebra Mussel shell from Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)

Almost every square foot of Montrose Beach has Zebra or Quagga Mussel shells. These invasive, non-native mollusks have altered the ecology of Lake Michigan and created problems for commerce. It’s hard to believe something so small can create so much trouble for people and the environment. One positive aspect of their presence is that they provide food for several species of duck, like Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup.

The photo shows a presumed Zebra Mussel shell. The shell is bleached from exposure to the sun and blowing sand, but you can still see how this species got its name. The next time you’re at Montrose Beach, try finding both Zebra and Quagga Mussel shells. The Nature Spot website has a great section on how to identify the two.

Something Fishy

Lake Trout

Lake Trout (click to see the larger version)

Ah, there’s nothing like seeing a dead fish to lift the spirits. I usually don’t post photos of deceased animals but this one is worth mentioning. On November 29, 2022 I found a washed-up Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) on Montrose Beach. This might be the first Lake Trout I’ve seen at Montrose. Most of the large predatory fish in Lake Michigan are non-native and introduced, like the familiar Chinook and Coho Salmon. Lake Trout were once the dominant large predatory fish in the Great Lakes; lamprey predation, pollution, and overharvesting greatly reduced their numbers. Thanks to conservation measures, they’ve rebounded but they aren’t as common as they once were.

Identification: We know this is a Lake Trout and not an introduced salmon because of the small white spots on the body and the deeply forked tail. Our non-native salmon have dark speckling on their bodies and shallower tail forks.

Something Different – The Amur Cork Tree

Amur Cork Tree and a Hermit Thrush

Amur Cork Tree and a Hermit Thrush (click to see the larger version)

One of the benefits of birding is that it touches so many other disciplines – you end up learning something about botany, entomology, weather, even physics. Montrose hosts an impressive variety of trees, including an exotic Asian species known as the Amur Cork Tree. Most naturalists don’t think highly of non-native plants because of the adverse effects they can have on the environment. One redeeming quality of the Amur Cork Tree is that it produces large amounts of juicy berries that fruit eating birds like American Robins and Hermit Thrushes love. The photo shows one of the Cork Trees from Montrose. Note the clusters of dark berries and the Hermit Thrush about to eat them.

The next time you’re at Montrose, practice your tree identification skills and see if you can find our Amur Cork Trees.

Midges, Midges Everywhere


Bobolink (click to see the larger version)

What’s more interesting in this photo? The male Bobolink feeding near the top of the tree or the midges buzzing around him?

If you were at Montrose in late April or early May 2022, you couldn’t help but notice the swarms of midges (midges are insects related to mosquitoes). If you happened to walk through a cloud of them, a few may have ended up in your eyes or mouth. The midges may have been annoying to us but the birds were loving them. Seeing White-throated and Swamp Sparrows feasting on these tiny insects in the tree tops was odd, something you’d expect from warblers, but they were taking advantage of an abundant food source, like any smart bird would.

Photo: Male Bobolink from Montrose Point in Chicago, May 7, 2022