Dan Lory may be the most prolific birding writer in Chicago. Since 2018, he’s posted 109 essays on his Bird Shorts Facebook page, and 77 “Feathursday” Features on Thursdays for Chicago Ornithological Society’s website.
“My bird essays began in January 2018 as a good-natured dare to my college-age son,” Dan says. “I was determined to show him that birds are fascinating creatures, and that birders aren't just a bunch of geeks sitting around discussing how to tell the difference between a Bay-breasted Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler in fall plumage.”
Many of Dan’s posts are set at Park 566, the South Side site of an old steel mill along Lake Michigan, not too far from Dan’s home in Hyde Park. The park’s mostly made up of the rubble and slag of the old mill.
“Park 566 may not be the best place to plant a vegetable garden,” Dan stated dryly in a piece last December about Purple Sandpipers.
The stories consist of elegies to common and rare species alike, as well as interesting and funny reflections on all sorts of things. The essays are often accompanied by knockout photos as Dan is a stellar photographer, too. Here’s another excerpt from the Purple Sandpiper piece.
“During my daily walk, I try not to think too much about what’s under my feet. It’s also true that I need not worry about the toxins there; I’ll be dead before they have time to kill me. Actually, I’m more concerned about twisting an ankle on the rugged chunks of slag and other scrap that litters the park.
"By now, you are probably wondering what all this has to do with the Purple Sandpiper. It was not by design, of course, but as it turns out, the steel mill’s careless and irresponsible dumping of huge plugs of slag from the blast furnaces created about a mile of craggy shoreline that is ideal for the short-legged, plump little Purple Sandpiper. Given a choice between a smooth, sandy beach and slimy algae-covered rocks, the Purple Sandpiper will take the rocks hands down.”
Here’s one about the Hermit Thrush, a species passing through Chicago in large numbers right now.
“Subdued in color and manner, the Hermit Thrush is anything but when it sings. It has possibly the most hauntingly beautiful song of any bird in the Midwest. I can't think of anything more peaceful than sitting in a campsite in the pine forests of north Michigan at dusk on a quiet, windless evening while two or three Hermit Thrushes are singing. It's indescribable--not just the beauty of the song itself, but the atmosphere it creates in the woods. It literally turns the forest into a mystical place. The song of the Hermit Thrush is definitely on my list of things that every person should experience at least once while alive on this earth.”
And Dan’s closing paragraph captures the essence of Nature Loves Chicago and what we can do right now to mark this moment.
“No one will be going to Michigan to hear the Hermit Thrush sing until this quarantine is over. In the meantime, to help keep yourself and your loved ones healthy in body and spirit, get out and look for that little bit of the North Woods right in your neighborhood.”
Read Dan’s Feathursday Features on the Chicago Ornithological Society blog. Join the Bird Shorts Facebook group here.