Area birding clubs give hobby a social dimension
(published 7-29-04)

I subscribe to a free e-mail list for birders--a place where fanatics like me can post their bird sightings and share information. Recently one person wrote to the group looking for advice. She was a beginning birder who claimed to have seen all the "common" birds in her backyard and neighborhood and wanted to know how to expand her "life list." A birder in Palatine, suggested that she join the local bird clubs and go on all their field trips.” Great answer, I thought.

For me, keeping pace with one birding club is hard enough, and if I attended all of its schedules field trips I'd have to quit work and resign from my family. But there's no doubt that joining a club opens up opportunities to see more birds. The outings focus on local “hot spots,” and the leaders are usually experts who can identify virtually any bird by sight or sound. Plus, you’ll generally see a greater variety of species when birding in a small group, simply because more people are looking and listening.

We are fortunate to have two excellent birdwatching clubs in this area: the DuPage Birding Club and the Kane County Audubon Society. Joining either one would be a great way to take your interest in birds to the next level.

Members of these clubs range from beginners to highly advanced birders. Some watch birds primarily in their backyards; some have birded all over the world. But the wide range of experience and skill levels is not a problem. Most birders, I’ve found, are friendly and helpful--another reason why this hobby is so easy to enter. The expert birders seem to really enjoy the teaching role. In the field, they go out of their way to help beginners see and identify the birds.

When I moved to Glen Ellyn seven years ago, I knew nothing about the local bird scene. The DuPage Birding Club was just what I needed. The club’s meetings, guest speakers, newsletter and field trips brought me up to speed quickly. Without the club, I may have never participated in the Christmas Bird Count, gone on a woodcock watch or “discovered” some of this area’s best birding sites. There’s something very motivating about these clubs--they'll get you out and about, to places you might never go on your own.

The DuPage Birding Club was founded in 1985 and has more than 200 members. Meetings are held at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn. For more information, visit To receive a sample newsletter, call (630) 778-6672.

Kane County Audubon is 38 years old with about 110 members. Most meetings take place at Peck Farm in Geneva. For more information, including a sample newsletter, call (630) 584-8386, or email

You needn’t be a member to attend a club meeting or field trip. Give one a try and guests are always welcome. Even if you participate in a small fraction of a club’s activities, you’re bound to meet some nice people who share your passion for birds. That’s the greatest club benefit of all.

Copyright 2004 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.

A day at Midewin: grassland birds and more (published 7-1-04) There are many kinds of birds that most likely will never turn up in your yard. But some of them are not that far away. With a little effort, and if you know where to go, you can find them. I call them “destination” birds. My destination on one of the first really warm days of June was Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington, about 15 miles south of Joliet. The site is widely known for its abundance of grassland bird species, and now it’s more accessible than ever. On June 5, about 5,000 acres of Midewin were opened to the public for the first time. I was there the very next day, taking advantage of one of this region’s prime birding opportunities. Midewin was established in 1996 as the first national tallgrass prairie in the country. It’s on the site of the former Joliet Arsenal, where explosives were manufactured, packaged and stockpiled by the U.S. Army. Grass-covered concrete storage bunkers still dot portions of the 20,000-acre property. Birding groups have been going to Midewin during the last eight years for pre-arranged tours conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. Now you can experience the prairie on your own. Several easy, self-guided hiking trails are set up that offer a nice variety of birds, butterflies and wildflowers. My target, of course, was grassland birds. Two minutes into Midewin’s new Henslow Trail I was watching a singing Dickcissel. I’d only seen this species once before, and throughout the day I’d see many more. There were plenty of Bobolinks too, filling my ears with their bizarre in-flight vocalizations. True to its name, the Henslow Trail takes visitors through ideal habitat for the endangered Henslow’s Sparrow, another bird I really hoped to see. Well, I didn’t see one, but I heard several. My luck was better with Grasshopper Sparrow, another grassland specialty. Twice I was able to watch one perform the high-frequency trill that inspired this species’ name. Midewin’s bird variety is not limited to grassland residents. My “bird of the day,” in fact, was a Loggerhead Shrike. I’d never seen one before in Illinois, where it’s designated as a threatened species. Other sightings included Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Yellow Warbler and numerous Eastern Kingbirds and Indigo Buntings. One of the pleasures of Midewin is the wide-open prairie itself. There are some impressive vistas already and the best is yet to come. The goal is to restore the entire preserve to native prairie and build many more miles of hiking trails. It’s a massive undertaking that could take up to 20 years. Now is a great time to explore Midewin. The Forest Service is offering birding tours at 7:30 a.m. on July 3rd, 17th and 24th. Details about these and other nature programs are available by calling (815) 423-6370. Or visit Midewin’s website at Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, resident who became hooked on birding about 10 years ago. He can be reached at Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.