If you’re a beginning bird-watcher looking for tips or an experienced birder looking for avian adventures, consider participating in the Forest Preserve District’s new "Big Day – Bird Hike Challenge."
The program kicks off April 3 and runs through Aug. 17 at six preserves. Participants can pick up bird checklists at Plum Creek Nature Center or Monee Reservoir Visitor Center, and return them to the same locations for a chance to win a pair of high-quality binoculars valued at more than $200. The free program is for ages 18 and older.
"Through spring and summer, there will be more than 100 species that you should be able to find in these six preserves," said Bob Bryerton, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve. "The hope is that birders will be able to set personal bests in the process."
The inspiration for the program comes from the movie, "The Big Year," which was about a bird-spotting competition, Bryerton explained. "Basically, the Forest Preserve's 'Big Day' concept is similar to a big year of birding, except that it involves one-day birding challenges."
Participants can visit any of the featured preserves, count and record all of the birds they see in a 24-hour period and submit checklists to Plum Creek or Monee Reservoir to be entered in the drawing. Submitting more than one checklist for additional days of bird-watching increases the chances of winning. The prize winner's name will be drawn at the "Hummingbird Festival & Nature Celebration" on August 18 at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve.
To help birders, all six preserves featured in the "Big Day" program will host "Morning Bird Hikes" from 8-10 a.m. on these dates: Sunday, April 8, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve; Saturday, April 14, Monee Reservoir; Saturday, May 19, Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve; Sunday, May 20, Messenger Woods Nature Preserve; Saturday, June 16, Hickory Creek Preserve – LaPorte Road Access; and Sunday, June 17, Messenger Marsh.
"During these guided hikes, we will give tips and tricks for identifying birds in a group setting," Bryerton said. "Going in a group is always fun, and you usually see more species together than individually."
Bryerton encouraged birding newbies to give the program a whirl.
"Even if you know only robins and cardinals, you can take part in this," he said. "Just count what you can identify, and little by little you will increase what you know. This program also will help you build confidence by having someone to confirm that, yes, you are seeing a Blackburnian warbler or other cool species you have not seen before."
In addition to submitting checklists to the Forest Preserve, program participants can act as citizen scientists by submitting their birding data to the ebird.org website.
"So the basic idea is to challenge yourself to expand your knowledge of birds, and to help contribute to the overall information on where these birds are located," Bryerton said.