On two trips to my local forest preserve, I was able to see a variety of colorful warblers, other birds, and a few interesting mammals as well when I visited LaBagh Woods in Chicago. Mid May is peak time for spring warblers, so I decided to break out of Covid-19 lockdown for some sun, hiking, and to see some beautiful birds. These are all perfect activities for social distancing.
Day 1 at LaBagh Woods
I parked across the street on Tripp Ave. and crossed Foster Ave. into Gompers Park. Thanks to a recent 3 inch downpour, the North Branch of the Chicago River was extremely flooded and the area behind Gompers Park looked like a Louisiana Bayou. I walked along the bike path and spotted downy woodpeckers and a Baltimore oriole. There was a trail into the woods, so I decided to check it out. The trail basically petered out, but it was pretty easy to walk in the area although it was rather wet and muddy.
Related: Spring bird migration at Bakers Lake
Family of mink
A movement caught my eye to the right and I saw a mink only about ten feet away. Another movement to my left proved to be another mink. They had a hole in the ground next to the tree and were coming and going from there to the flooded area in search of food. I watched them for another ten minutes while also looking for warblers. There were some birds in the trees in the distance, but I could not get a good look at them.
Crossing the North Branch of the Chicago River in search of spring warblers
I continued on the bike path until a trail spurred off to the right and crossed the Chicago River. As soon as I got to the other side, I started looking to the right for warblers. I found an open spot that overlooked the flooded woods with good views of a down tree. I remained her as still as I could for over an hour.
This turned out to be a good spot. There was an American redstart flitting around in the bush. Then a magnolia warbler appeared on the down tree. I got the best picture of the spring here of the beautiful warbler. I think the magnolia warbler may be the prettiest of the group. They have a bright yellow belly with black marking, and a gray cap with white and black on the wings.
The redstart continued to dance around in the woods and occasionally came out on the tree in order to be photographed. I also saw black-and-white warblers, a veery, and a catbird. Soon it started to get dark, so I returned to my car vowing to return.
One difficult bird group to identify is thrushes. I saw several thrush type birds. I know for sure one of them was an ovenbird. An ovenbird looks like a punk rocker with its red spiked crest. If an ovenbird was in a band, it would definitely be in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I believe that I identified a veery and a northern waterthrush at the scene.
Day 2 searching for Spring warblers at LaBagh Woods
Three days later I returned and basically did the same path except I explored further into the woods. Unbelievably, in between the days hiking, it rained another 3.5 inches. In four days, we received over seven inches of rain. When I returned, the woods were just as flooded as the first day.
I went back to see if I could see my family of mink. I hoped their home did not get flooded. The mink were nowhere to be found, but I did run into a small herd of deer lying on the forest floor. Hard to believe there is so much wildlife right under our nose in the third most populated city in the United States.
I did not see as many warblers on this trip, so I continued to walk around LaBagh Woods to see if I could find a better spot. The birds were definitely not as plentiful, but I still did see magnolia warblers, redstarts, and black-and-white warblers, but just not as plentiful.
Spring warblers – Wilson’s and yellow warbler
The highlight on this trip was seeing two Wilson’s warblers and a yellow warbler down by the riverside. I love the Wilson’s warbler’s black toupee. I also like the fact that they must be Tom Hanks’s favorite bird – W-I-L-S-O-N. A pair of yellow warblers kept flying around the river right next to the bridge. Yellow was the color of the day.
Hike through the woods to the street with more deer and more spring warblers
Since the birds were not as plentiful, I hiked a little farther into the woods and explored a little deeper. I eventually ended up in a neighborhood on the edge of the woods. As I walked along road with the forest on one side and the houses on the other, I came across another deer sitting in the woods and then another one running along the road. I returned back the way I came and then back on the bike path. I followed the bike path on the east side of the river into various groves.
At the first grove, I spotted a common yellowthroat and a Baltimore oriole. At the next grove, I spotted a black-throated blue warbler. This was a new warbler for me. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a clear picture as it was hopping around so much.
First hike through LaBagh Woods
I have lived in Chicago for 15 years and never took the time to walk through LaBagh Woods. When I have the urge to get outside, I usually go out of state to Wisconsin, Michigan, or even as far as Tennessee. With the coronavirus pandemic upon us, it has forced me to check out places closer to home. Seeing migrating spring warblers definitely made it worth the trip, but even without interesting birds, I found LaBagh Woods a cool place to hike locally. LaBagh Woods is part of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
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I never explicitly had a trip to watch birds.. but yeah… something I can explore, thanks for sharing your journey 🙂
I usually do not either. I hike and canoe and always look for them along the way. With the pandemic lockdown, I have had some time on my hands, so I tried something new.
What a great story of your visit to LaBagh Woods! So wonderful to see the beautiful birds and other wildlife. Thank you, Ted!
Thanks Gillian. Spring migration in Chicago is a magical time.