This is the 48th of 50 Days of Chicago Nature. Read previous posts here.
Bird monitors may have some of the mightiest responsibilities among our conservation volunteers. Their duties provide us with a sense of the population status of our most fragile species. The fate of a species could depend on what we learn from monitors.
"I do get familiar with the places and do anticipate seeing birds," says Jenny Vogt, a bird monitor for 13 years. "I'm disappointed when a bird I expect to see isn't there. It makes me think, 'Hey, what's going on here?'"
Monitors visit specific locations across the region at least twice each breeding season to check on birds. They wade into prairies and trek through woodlands, looking, listening and keeping careful track of species and their GPS coordinates. The days can be sweltering, and the locations are often remote.
"Some years the grass is as tall as I am by June and dripping wet with dew," Jenny says. "So it's quite the adventure at 5:30 in the morning. For me the biggest challenge is getting just drenched with dew."
Jenny monitors parcels of the Cook County Forest Preserve District in the far reaches of northwest Cook County. She’s familiar with less common bird species of the Chicago region, both by sight and by sound. On a recent day, Jenny observed Bobolinks, Henslow's Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and Willow Flycatchers.
The data help land managers improve habitat and researchers prioritize species of growing concern. Jenny's gotten to see firsthand the influx of species at a property that had once been an agricultural field.
"Nothing more exciting than having my first Henslow's Sparrow show up and hang out and start breeding," she says. “It's been really awesome to watch the area grow up."
Jenny conducts her surveys as part of the Bird Conservation Network, a volunteer-led coalition of 21 organizations that has preserved and restored bird habitat in northeast Illinois, southern Wisconsin and northwest Indiana for more than 15 years.