Birding Plum Creek Forest Preserve
Plum Creek Forest Preserve is an excellent birding hot spot in southern Cook County. It is approximately 1 hour by car from the north side of Chicago. It features a variety of habitats which makes for a wide and diverse mix of birds seen there. (NOTE: if you are searching googlemaps or other maps programs, please don't mix this spot up with Plum Creek Nature Center! Another fun place but further south in Will County!)
Plum Creek FP can be tricky to navigate if you've never been there. Here are some guidelines and tips for birding this amazing hot spot!
This preserve will have some great birds year round, but my favorite time to go is early to late June. The endangered Henslow's Sparrow nests here in the prairie habitat. You can also see some great grassland birds like Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark (both listed as threatened), Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow and Sedge Wren. I like to begin the trip in this spot nice and early, before it gets too hot for birds and people!
Here is the pin for parking by the prairie:
If you are coming south down Burnham Avenue from Sauk Trail, you will pass the official entrance to Plum Creek. (The sign says Plum Creek Play Meadow, and you can use this title to search on googlemaps and other GPS systems). Keep heading south until you see a silver triangular sign on the right. (This is a "no passing zone" sign seen from the back but it marks the spot perfectly!). Depending on the recent weather, the pull off can be wet and muddy so BE CAREFUL before you pull in! If the ground is firm enough, you can fit up to three cars in this area. You will probably want to wear high boots into the field because the ground and vegetation is often very wet and muddy.
These videos take you along a mowed or flattened path along the treeline and towards the back of the field. You can often see and hear many passerines along the edge of the woods, such as Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole and Scarlet Tanager. Be sure to listen for Henslow's and Grasshopper Sparrows and Sedge Wrens to your left as you head out into the field. Field and Song Sparrows should abound. Bobolinks, Meadowlarks and Dickcissel are usually further back. At times there are waterfowl or waders present back there if water levels are high enough, so it may be worth schlepping the scope!
Next you have the choice of driving to the next spot, or hiking through the scrubby area across the street from the prairie. The entrance can sometimes be overgrown, but if you look closely you will see it. Again, boots are a must as this ground can get very wet and muddy. If it is dry, expect uneven ground with large ruts, as folks often like to take horses on this trail. This scrubby area is goldmine when it comes to finding great species like White-eyed Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat! Plenty of other birds like Gray Catbird and Ruby-throated Hummingbird can be seen in here, too.
This trail will link up with the trails north of there through the woods. If you want a little less of a walk, you can park at this pin and enter the woods here: https://goo.gl/maps/XYYkxHbU1UfnyHQG7; 41.4793276,-87.5385163
There are 45 MPH speed limit signs on either side of the street and there is a log on your right. You will immediately see the trail cutting into the woods.
You will hear lots of woodland birds like nuthatches, chickadees and woodpeckers. You can see and hear lots of flycatchers in here, too, like Eastern Wood-Pewee and Great Crested Flycatcher. But the most notable is Acadian Flycatcher. I have had good luck walking straight down the path until it splits to the left. https://goo.gl/maps/BBqRzHfqAh1ryaen7; 41.4793897,-87.5343287
I've heard them right at this intersection, or a little further down to the left. You can also check eBird before your trip to see if anyone has posted recently about where they heard Acadian Flycatchers (or any other birds) at Plum Creek, too.
Again, these trails go north towards the main parking lot, so you can take either fork and loop around back to the parking pull off. If you go straight at the fork, you'll be heading towards Plum Creek. Though the trail does not run very close to it, you can still get some great riparian birds back here, like wrens and warblers. Keep your eyes open also for Barred Owls, which can be seen at any time of the day if you're lucky!
If you are up for a little less walking, you can drive up to the main entrance. I like to park all the way down at the end in the "lollipop". There is a trailhead there and another across another meadow. You should see barn swallows around in the summer. Bluebirds and goldfinches should be around, too. More sparrows, flycatchers (especially Willow) and sparrows can be easily seen in the vegetation near the parking lot.
You can walk the mowed path just off the top of the lollipop. Be aware that in spring it can be very wet or even flooded. The low trees to the left can be great for ground warblers like Common Yellowthroat and Mourning. Eventually this path will come to a T. You can go either way and the path will loop around back to the parking area. The right fork tends to be a bit more wooded. The left fork is wooded until it opens out into the meadow.
Here is a map with the trails color coded. They are all about a mile, give or take.
Whatever time of year you go, Plum Creek Forest Preserve will have plenty of quality birds to see! Here is another video I took on my August trip, as well as a few shots from past COS field trips.