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Whooping cranes, snowy owls, big bucks: Surprises outdoors bring their own joy and wonder

Recent sightings of snowy owls on the lakefront, my first sighting of wild whooping cranes and the joy of spotting a big buck are among the surprises that add joy and wonder to outdoor experiences.

A snowy owl on the lakefront in late November. Credit: Mark Simpson
A snowy owl on the lakefront in late November.
Mark Simpson

I’m a big fan of being sidetracked when outdoors, whether fishing, hunting, hiking or birding.

The last week brought sharp reminders from readers and my own experiences.

On Thursday, Dan Rogers and I watched two big white birds fly in low over a wetlands behind Steve Palmisano while we duck hunted in Lawrence County. Could it be? Oh, it was, the first sighting of wild whooping cranes for all of us.

A freaking marvel.

Downstate biologist Paul Skoglund had mentioned whoopers had been spotted recently. But I sure didn’t expect to see any.

All the years I have scoped out sandhill cranes and never saw a whooper mixed in, then I spot a pair while duck hunting.

Go figure.

  • Mark Simpson messaged the Fish of the Week from southern Lake Michigan. At the end of message, he added, “Oh, and we saw this guy out there as well.”

He attached a good photo of “this guy,” the snowy owl at the top.

A snowy owl observed Friday while fishing the wall off downtown Chicago. Credit: Ray Cote
A snowy owl observed Friday while fishing the wall off downtown Chicago.
Ray Cote

In my business, that’s called burying the lede.

It’s been a good fall for snowy owls on the lakefront.

On Friday, Ray Cote sent another photo of a snowy owl (left).

“This afternoon on the wall south of the gap at Chicago,” he messaged.

I suspect snowy owls are seen in those areas because they can avoid some of the human contact of urban areas.

Years ago, snowy owls used the restrictions around the former exclusive airport, now Northerly Island Park, for that isolation.

  • On Sunday, my wife needed to be at church early for choir. After dropping her off, I went for a mile-plus walk.

Only 50 yards in, a big buck moseyed across the trail, then disappeared fast enough that I never got a photo.

A small buck, one of four bucks spotted Sunday morning at Vollmer Road Grove. Credit: Dale Bowman
A small buck, one of four bucks spotted Sunday morning at Vollmer Road Grove.
Dale Bowman

That was just the beginning, by the end of the first half of my hike, I had seen the big one, a decent buck, and two small bucks with does (right).

No surprise that non-hunters think deer hunting should be a snap.

Just a tip, deer in the wild act far differently than those roaming the forest preserves.

ILLINOIS HUNTING

Speaking of deer, when harvest numbers come for the muzzleloader-only season, they will post at chicago.suntimes.com/outdoors.

WILD THINGS

Considering it’s mid-December, a lot of sandhills are being sighted around Chicago. I suspect flirting with record warm temperatures has something to do with that.

STRAY CAST

Watching the Bears play becomes like cheering on kids their first time fishing.