By Matthias Benko
The gnats and mosquitoes are swarming all around me. I try to ignore the annoying buzzes and the forming bites. As I keep walking around the parking lot with the group, I catch my first glance at a gargantuan nest box. The next thing I feast my eyes on stops me in my tracks. I have just seen my first Purple Martin.
The Purple Martin colony I have described is located at Willow Slough FWA in Morocco, IN. This is where the Indiana and Illinois Young Birders met up for some birding this past Saturday. Getting there was no easy task for my mom and me. It required waking at 5:30 in the morning, getting everything together, and traveling 250 miles by car. However, once we got there, I could tell the birds were worth a long road trip. As we gathered at a central point in Willow Slough, we found a Red-headed Woodpecker nest. It was definitely amazing to see such a beautiful creature feeding young. We then walked around the parking lot, looking for species. We saw American Robins, Common Grackles, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. Once we reached the lakeside, I saw my first Purple Martin. It was so mind-boggling to me that a bird could be bright purple. After I had looked at the nesting colony for a few minutes, our group heard thunder. Since the main attraction of this trip was Kankakee Sands, we decided to drive over there before the rain struck.
The drive to Kankakee was actually quite productive. On the way there we saw Indigo Buntings, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Dickcissel (a new species for me), and an Eastern Meadowlark. We arrived at our destination, the headquarters, and I had my first amazing look at a Dickcissel (the first one was obscured by brush). Then, a Henslow’s Sparrow was sighted, and I got my first look at this species. I was so happy to see this bird because, unfortunately, it is endangered in the state of Indiana. After the Henslow’s Sparrow, I got my first look at a Grasshopper Sparrow. The other highlight at the headquarters was a Common Yellowthroat. After that, our group decided to head to another area of Kankakee.
The first sighting in the area we arrived at was a Bobolink; however, only one person saw it. Besides that, we also saw an Orchard Oriole, a Baltimore Oriole, and a Lark Sparrow. We ran out of luck after the Lark Sparrow. It had begun to pour so heavily that we decided to end the field trip a few hours early. It would have been awesome to stay longer, but it would have been no fun to bird in the pouring rain.
This was truly an amazing field trip. I would like to thank the IYBC team for planning such a marvelous trip. I can’t wait to go back to Kankakee on a sunny day.