Birding on a cold winter’s night yields results
(published 2-19-04)

On the last evening in January, with outside temperatures hovering just above zero, I went to church. But not for religious services. I was there to hear about birds.

The venue was the New England Congregational Church in Aurora. The event was the annual benefit dinner and silent auction for the Fox Valley Wildlife Center. It was the organization’s largest fundraising event of the year, and it had the look of a major success. The patrons I observed—about 125 in all—certainly were not holding back at the auction tables.

The event also served as a tribute to Kay Johnson, the wildlife center’s founder and past president, who recently retired. In an after-dinner ceremony, Johnson was honored for her lead role in establishing what is Kane County’s only wildlife rehabilitation facility. Located in the Elburn Woods Forest Preserve in Elburn, the center began caring for birds and animals in 2001.

Then came the “sermon”—a presentation called Birding the Midwest by Kathy and Bob Andrini from St. Charles. Bob, a retired high school biology teacher, is president of the Kane County Audubon Society and teaches birdwatching courses at the College of DuPage. Kathy, his wife, is a former preschool teacher. Both are avid birders and enjoy sharing their expertise. In fact, on the same day as their presentation, the Andrinis led a group of COD students on a frigid eagle-watching trip to the Mississippi River.

Fortunately, Bob and Kathy regained feeling in their toes and fingertips just in time to present their remarks and slides. And we birders do love looking at bird slides, especially in the dead of winter. Know how baseball fans get all warm and fuzzy thinking about the start of spring training? Same thing with birders, except when it’s cold and snowy we’re thinking about the return of Red-Winged Blackbirds in March, Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers in April and, of course, the inevitable wave of migrating warblers in May.

The Andrinis wisely geared their remarks to beginning birdwatchers. While the room was obviously full of people who support wildlife, only a handful were obsessed birders like me. The presentation was a nice introduction to the common birds of the Fox River Valley region and included some helpful tips on identification. My guess is that audience members were fairly impressed by the variety of bird species that can be seen in Kane and surrounding counties. Even a Bald Eagle, if you’re lucky.

Of course, seeing the birds is one thing, taking pictures is another. Nature photography is an art that requires great patience and skill. Judging by his slides, Bob Andrini has plenty of each. His many close-up shots were achieved by “digiscoping”—a process where one attaches a digital camera to a tripod-mounted spotting scope, which is what birders call their fancy telescopes. For distant subjects, like ducks on a lake, digiscoping is a great way to document your sightings. The method can yield amazing photos of your backyard feeder birds, too.

Most of Bob’s photos were taken on the Fox River or at Nelson Lake Marsh near Batavia—one of the area’s outstanding sites for waterfowl and marsh birds. Kane County Audubon leads a birdwalk at Nelson Lake at 8:00am on the first Saturday of every month. The walks are open to everyone. If you’re a casual backyard birdwatcher and want to see some new birds in a diverse habitat, this is a great opportunity. For more information, call 630-584-8386.

Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, resident who became hooked on birding about 10 years ago. He can be reached at jreiter@wordsonbirds.com.

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