Tag Archives: Sparrows

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

May 13, 2023 – A Fantastic Day

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow (click to see the larger version)

Saturday, May 13 qualified as a fallout given the volume of warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, and other passerine migrants present. Over 140 species were reported to eBird by all observers. The rain, north winds, and temperatures in the 50s didn’t slow down the birds or the birders. My highlights include

Ruddy Turnstone
Common Tern (14)
Common Loon (getting late)
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Clay-colored Sparrow (2)
Orchard Oriole (4)
22 warblers
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Northern Parula
Canada Warbler
Scarlet Tanager (4)
Dickcissel (3)

We’re at the peak of spring migration; birding will be productive for the next 2 to 3 weeks. This is the time to call in sick or take those personal days off.

LeConte’s Sparrow, The Sparrow With Orange Eyebrows

LeConte's Sparrow

LeConte’s Sparrow (click to see the larger version)

We do well with sparrows at Montrose. To date, 24 species have been recorded there, and of these, 20 are regular. One of the more sought after sparrows is LeConte’s, a rare but regular migrant at Montrose. LeConte’s Sparrow is normally found in grassy type habitats, but during migration they can show up almost anywhere. We’ve seen them on bare ground under trees and even on the concrete fishing pier. Migrant birds can’t always find the right habitat on their journeys and can end up in strange places. The LeConte’s in the photo spent a few hours in a brush tangle near the pond at the Marovitz Golf Course on April 20, 2023.

April is sparrow month in Chicago. While you’re sorting through all the Swamp, White-throated, and White-crowneds, don’t forget about LeConte’s, the sparrow with orange eyebrows (Nelson’s Sparrow also has orange eyebrows, but we don’t see them in April).

Birding and Weather Forecast, April 10 – 14, 2023

Weather forecast screenshot

Weather forecast screenshot. From weather.com (click to see the larger version)

We’re in for an extended period of mild air and south winds starting Monday, April 10 and lasting the rest of the week. Tuesday through Friday look excellent. We should see an influx of typical mid spring migrants, including both kinglets, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a variety of sparrows. LeConte’s and Henslow’s Sparrows are a good bet, and mid April is prime time for Smith’s Longspurs. If you have sick days you should think about cashing those chips in, or maybe find yourself conveniently sick a morning or two this week. As always, check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for recent sightings.

LeConte’s Sparrow and the Weirdness of Migration

LeConte's Sparrow

LeConte’s Sparrow (click to see the larger version)

Migration is weird. Birds can and do show up in strange places and out of their normal, preferred habitat. You may have your own experience with this, like a Sora or Virginia Rail that showed up in a garage or parking lot. This LeConte’s Sparrow proves the point. LeConte’s are grassland and marsh sparrows, but this one found itself beneath a group of hawthorn trees at Montrose on September 29, 2022.

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