Saturday 8 January 2022

The Midwest - Day 12 - Illinois: Montrose Point and home

Chicago Skyline

I stayed the night on the shore of the lake up near Waukegan so I could be near Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. I did a little birding first thing around Zion, and also a few of the North Dunes trails but it was bleak, pretty birdless, and I wasn't really feeling the love for it and decided to head south to Montrose Point, per eBird at least the most birdy (or birded) place in Chicago. This was an area I had earmarked as being good during my research, so I had a reasonably decent idea of how it was laid out.

Would that that it has been as good as I had hoped it was as the reality that morning was rather different. Perhaps I was just tired after such a long trip, ready to go home. It has been said by those reading these trip reports that my 'holidays' don't seem very relaxing, and it is true that I push myself quite hard. Is catching up with me? Whatever it is my species list at Montrose point topped out at just 14 during a four mile walk! The birdiest area was the preserve right on the point, a nice area of scrub and trees - full of House Sparrows, Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees. A Lesser Scaup and a few Goldeneye were in the inner harbour, but overall it just wasn't very birdy. The prior few days had seen upwards of 40 American Robins feeding on fruit trees near the bait shop; today there were just two. Perhaps the weather had caused either a temporary increase in species outrunning bad conditions and they had now all returned to wherever they had come from. 

Northen Cardinal

American Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

I packed up at Lincoln Park, the big switch from birding mode to travel mode, always one of my least favourite jobs. I performed a thorough search of my enormous car and laid everything out in the boot, and then gradually broke it all down into my two bags. I use an old Thinktank Airport International bag for my birding gear - this is a roller bag that fits with cabin baggage rules and is just brilliant. For birding trips like this I get rid of all the internal dividers to leave myself with one big space. The camera and lens goes down one side, my tripod (a heavy duty Gitzo travel version) down the other, and my scope somehow fits in between in one particular orientation. This leaves a few gaps that can be used for teleconverters, the tripod ball head, camera strap and various other bits that get wrapped in my gloves and my red hat and stuffed in. I then fill the gaps with underwear and socks which is always appreciated by the TSA. I have no idea how much the whole thing weighs, but as it looks normal-sized I never have a problem, and it's not like I fly on budget draconian carriers is it? My other bag is a small Thinktank shoulder bag. This takes birding literature, binoculars, travel paperwork (mountains of it these days), my wash stuff, my headphones and Snuffi. I also tend to get out of birding gear and into travel clothes at this point. I've no idea if this is frowned upon by Chicago city ordinances, but it was very cold and I was very quick! 

At O'Hare the Avis people commented on how filthy the car was, I blamed Minnesota, and that was that. Naturally I had to unpack my entire bag of optics to get through security and repeat the Lincoln Park process at the other side, but I was soon on my way - JFK first and then London, all my paperwork - QR codes, certificates and test results accepted without question. At some point between these airports my other suitcase with my wellies and clothes in it disappeared, but I was reunited with it in Wanstead a few days later; not that you get to choose but this is actually very convenient and made my tube journey home much easier.

So there we go, my first really big adventure since the pandemic began, it had been brilliant, uplifting, and on a personal level very important.

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