Dickcissel

Once abundant, the sighting of a dickcissel by the columnist has become a rare treat.

Kankakee Sands is a wildlife restoration area, a large area, thousands of acres of grassland, lakes and woodland plots, in northwest Indiana with some land in northeast Illinois.

Roads run around and through it and there are power lines along the roads. There are many parking places where visitors can stop, get out of their cars and look around. There are also many hiking trails.

With my older daughter, I met a friend of my daughter recently and the three of us toured some of Kankakee Sands. We spent about half a day there, the other half of the day driving to and from. We were looking for birds, primarily, but there are other activities, hunting, fishing, trapping. There is even a campground in one area.

The visitor center was closed the Saturday we were there, but an information booth provided details about the property, a map and a bird list.

From the visitor center we saw bison — American buffalo. They were in a grassy field behind the visitor center, a field that was fenced, presumably so the bison couldn’t roam and cause problems on private property.

At a stop we made at a parking place nearby, we spotted the first rare bird we saw on our visit to Kankakee Sands, a dickcissel. It was perched on a branch of a small shrub and it was facing us, singing. We saw clearly the white patch below the bill, the black patch below the white and the bright yellow breast.

At a stop a short distance farther on, we saw a second rare bird, a Henslow’s sparrow, a little brown job with a streaked breast. Dickcissel and Henslow’s sparrow have both declined greatly since I was young. I used to see dickcissels regularly along country roads when I went roaming on my bicycle and I saw a Henslow’s sparrow when I visited certain fields. Now, until I saw those birds at Kankakee Sands, I hadn’t seen either in several years.

Other birds were numerous. There were male red-winged blackbirds on the power lines along all the roads. There were crows and meadowlarks. The bird list we had picked up at the information booth states there are both eastern and western meadowlarks at Kankakee Sands. The difference between them is distinguished only by song and those we heard, which was only when we stopped, were all eastern.

We saw two red-headed woodpeckers in a tree in a little plot of woodland, another bird that has declined greatly in number since I was a boy and a beginning bird watcher. We saw one eastern kingbird, also perched in a tree.

My daughter and her friend saw one lark sparrow, yet another bird that has declined greatly and that I had not seen in several years. Nor did I see that lark sparrow at Kankakee Sands. My daughter and her friend had gone for a walk and left me at the car. It was my decision to stay at the car. I was tired. Time was when I would have been leading their walk, but that was years ago.

My daughter and her friend and I saw only a small part of Kankakee Sands and only a few of the birds, it seems, that are on the bird list for the property. We saw field sparrow and vesper sparrow, kestrel and red-tailed hawk. We saw one brown thrasher. We saw one duck, a mallard.

Kankakee Sands is near Indiana 14’s western terminus at U.S. 41, approximately 125 miles west of Fort Wayne. The viewing area is open to visitors every day. Visit nature.org.

Neil Case may be reached at neilcase1931@gmail.com.

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