Joe Bats 1000!

A week ago I went on a guided bird walk led by my old Thailand roommate Joe Suchecki.  We were in search of grassland birds and saw Bobolink, Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and Meadowlarks.  Ho Hum…  These are typical birds we find in many large fields in the area.  What we really wanted to see were some of the rarer species – Henslow’s Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Yellow-breasted Chat.  We didn’t find any, partially because he didn’t have time to take us out to where these birds tend to inhabit.  At the end of his walk he said if we wanted to see these less-common birds to just let him know and he would take us out again to look just for them.  So we let him know.

We met Joe a few days later and he reiterated that our target birds were Henslow’s Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Yellow-breasted Chat  –  I’d be happy with seeing one or two of them.  Off we went, lined up behind Joe, as he cut off the trail into a meadow I’d never entered before.  There were the expected Bobolink and Dickcissel along with Red-winged Blackbirds and Savannah Sparrows.  After about 10 minutes Joe came to a standstill and said he heard a Henslow’s Sparrow.  Sure enough, there was one flitting around the grasses about 40 yards away – one down, three to go!


We headed back to the main path and followed it another quarter of a mile, at which point he turned and started walking into another meadow.  Again, different types of birds were flying around, and again Joe stopped.  Slowly he brought his binoculars up to his eyes and calmly stated, “There’s a Clay-colored Sparrow.”  We all looked at the top of a hedge and sure enough, Target 2 was in sight!


Joe walked on while we wondered aloud how he could find these elusive birds within a 1,700 acre park!  Two hundred yards further, stopped again and cocked his ear.  Then came the unmistakeable sound of a Yellow-bellied Chat hopping around in a low tree.  One hundred yards away he found the female Chat.  I’ve only seen one Chat in my lifetime, yet Joe found us two out in the middle of nowhere.  Three of four found!


We started to walk toward the path, with Joe in the lead, clasping his hands behind him, and chatting to Karen.  He stopped talking mid-sentence – he thought he heard a Grasshopper Sparrow.  Could it be?  I’ve only seen one, and that was in Michigan.  To see a Grasshopper Sparrow here would be an Illinois Lifer.  Everyone was searching for movement in a low bush 50 yards away.  Suddenly it appeared – a Grasshopper Sparrow popped up at the top of the foliage to check us out before flying off.


If I didn’t know better, I would swear Joe had conjured up each of those four hard-to-find species.  Someone in the group wondered aloud if Joe put in a “reservation” with each of those birds to make an appearance.  No matter how he did it, it was a powerful display of birding: to know where to look, catch the song, find the bird among the many others, and bring 9 others to see these special meadow dwellers.  Joe called his shot and was four-for-four: he batted 1000!


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