I spent Saturday morning, April 27, 2013, sitting outside with a cup of coffee going over page proofs for our Art of Migration book featuring Peggy MacNamara’s beautiful artwork which soon will be published by University of Chicago press. It was fun sitting outside looking through the text even though I still eventually got cold enough to need to go back inside. All around me were signs of what I was reading about.
But I want to start with something about last Thursday afternoon because it illustrated the joy of migration and tied into this morning. On Thursday, I was on my way home up Lake Shore Drive, unfortunately for reasons I cannot understand, traffic patterns shift seasonally just like the birds. Over the past few days, northbound Lake Shore Drive has begun to get backed up during the evening commute. This can go back all the way to the Foster Avenue exit when it is really bad. Those changes are frustrating, but I did not find it quite as oppressive on Thursday. As I reached the lines of cars trying to get off the Drive, I began to see one of my favorite birds of Chicago summers, Chimney Swifts, dipping and diving low over the parks along the lakefront. It was cool, so the only insects for these newly arrived birds were probably coming off the park grass, later in the year they will often be high in the skies presumably catching other types of insects. In all, I estimated 40 Chimney Swifts as I inched my way northward and this is the kind of birding from the car that is hard to when there is less traffic and speeds are higher. These birds have come from wintering grounds in the Amazon Basin that scientists still do not really understand.
Fast-forward to Saturday morning. In the yard, different species of sparrow search for seed I have set out. A single Song Sparrow and Slate-colored Junco are still around. Most of their populations came through several weeks ago. White-throated and Swamp Sparrows are now the most numerous yard sparrows, but a Field Sparrow also stopped by for a short while. Then, I hear a pleasant and distinctive chatter that will become commonplace soon. I search the skies and finally spot the first Chimney Swift of the year over my yard. Later a Turkey Vulture glides over silently, heading north. In the yard, I also spot a House Wren and a Black-and-White Warbler that are new for Spring. I hear and spot a few more swifts, and then a swallow high up that I cannot identify to species. In all I record 27 species in the yard and get through about half the book. Its warming up, May is coming and thousands upon thousands of birds are on the move through the Chicago region.