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Watching the natural world: A pandemic theme keeps rolling along with the chance for a lasting change

With the isolation and at-home nature of the pandemic, people continue to observe the natural world around them more closely and it is a beginning to seem like a long-term change.

A Pandora sphinx moth found during by stewards weeding cocklebur at Montrose Beach. Credit: Ted Jindrich
A Pandora sphinx moth found during by stewards weeding cocklebur at Montrose Beach.
Credit: Ted Jindrich

When I double-checked the ID of a least bittern Mike Salbego found in the Dunning neighborhood with Doug Stotz, he pulled up a memory.

‘‘The closest I have seen to something like this was many years ago, when an American bittern spent all day in one of the small trees along the south side of Monroe Harbor near the Shedd Aquarium,’’ tweeted Stotz, the senior conservation ecologist for the Field Museum. ‘‘During migration, bitterns and rails can end up in pretty bizarre places. I remember a few years back when a yellow rail was hiding out under seats in Wrigley Field one afternoon.’’

During the isolation and at-home time of the pandemic, one tangential benefit is people paying more attention to the natural world around them.

Salbego’s bittern photo pulled up a memory for Nicole Guarino, too.

‘‘It made me think of a time I saw a large bird in Lincoln Park [Aug. 30, 2018] just hanging out,’’ she emailed. ‘‘I was really surprised at its size, including a large pointed beak. I have wondered since then what the heck it might be.’’

When I passed it along to Stotz, he tweeted back that it was an immature black-crowned night-heron, possibly from a colony at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Nicole Guarino found this mystery bird in 2018 in Lincoln Park; Doug Stotz identified it as an immature black-crowned night-heron. Provided
Nicole Guarino found this mystery bird in 2018 in Lincoln Park; Doug Stotz identified it as an immature black-crowned night-heron.
Provided

On Saturday, volunteer site steward Leslie Borns sent around a group email that read: ‘‘This morning one of my volunteers was weeding a huge swath of cocklebur along the rocks at Montrose Beach when he came across this moth on one of the cocklebur leaves. Anyone familiar with this species?’’

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Doug Taron, a noted butterfly aficionado, quickly replied: ‘‘Beautiful! That looks like a Pandora sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus) to me.’’

On Sunday, John Vukmirovich emailed: ‘‘A few minutes after 8 a.m., off to my east-northeast, I heard the clear and distinctive call of a sandhill crane!’’

In recent years, sandhill cranes have become the natural marker of seasonal change for the attentive Chicago outdoors crowd.

There also has been an increase in nesting sandhills (sometimes mistaken for herons) locally. Readers have photographed adults with colts in the oddity of 2020.

Borns earned the final word.

When I checked the credit on the Pandora sphinx photo (Ted Jindrich, a steward at Montrose Bird Point Sanctuary), Borns exclaimed: ‘‘Nature blows my mind sometimes. That’s how I felt when I saw that picture!’’

Teal

Teal hunting in Illinois opens Saturday. As to whether any teal were around, ‘‘I haven’t been out looking around too much yet, but I saw a few on Friday and over the weekend,’’ replied Randy Smith, the wetland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

He noted Aaron Yetter, who was conducting shorebird aerial inventories in the Illinois River Valley for a few weeks, thought teal numbers were about average. Yetter plans to fly the first waterfowl/teal survey Wednesday for the Illinois Natural History Survey.

‘‘Habitat-wise, there is a lot of shallow water and mudflats, good conditions for teal, but often challenging for teal hunters,’’ Smith emailed.

Draws

On Monday, the IDNR announced hunters who draw waterfowl permits will be emailed. Anticipating not being able to hold daily draws, permit allotments have been increased for online draws for some sites. More changes will come.

High school fishing

Plainfield South boat No. 1 took third at the Lake Springfield event for the ICASSTT (Illinois Coaches and Students State Tournament Trail) series.

Stray cast

I make it a toss-up whether coming American League Rookie of the Year Luis Robert leads the Sox to the World Series or a shore angler catches the Illinois-record Chinook.