Bird Watching Daniel Wright Woods & Half Day Forest Preserve
Saint Mary’s Road at Everett Road, south of Route 60, Mettawa, Illinois
Dynamic Birding Duo
What a combo. Like green jewels among the suburbs, Daniel Wright Woods and Half Day Forest Preserve make up a great birding hotspot for spring and fall songbird migration. Linked together by a footbridge over the Des Plaines River, these two forest preserves offer a variety of habitats that can add up to a large number of species in a day of birding in migration, including over 20 species of warblers.
This is another forest preserve, along with Ryerson Woods Conservation Area, that is part of the Des Plaines River Corridor. This is a crucial habitat for migrating songbirds that utilize the river as a rest stop on their trips north and south.
Birds to See
Passerine migration is the main reason that birders come to these forest preserves. In spring and fall, any section of this double park can yield a wide variety of birds. Along the river is the main place to find migrating warblers and vireos, with specialties like Cerulean Warbler, Hooded Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo.
Half Day Forest Preserve has more broken habitat with scattered fields and some native grasslands. Half Day can hold a wide variety of sparrows during migration and sometimes in great number. Some of those species include White-Crowned, Field and Fox Sparrows. This area could also hold more sought-out sparrow species such as Le Conte’s and Clay-colored Sparrows in May and October.
Wright Woods is mainly known for its warbler concentration and connection to the river. A good day in fall or spring at these forest preserves can yield large numbers of migrating songbirds.
Where to Bird
A great place to start an expedition to these forest preserves is at the parking lot of Daniel Wright Woods. The trees surrounding the parking lot can be quite active during the early morning hours. Almost every year a Yellow-Throated Vireo can be heard singing in the trees to the west of the public bathrooms. There has been a nesting pair there for years.
A walk around the small pond adjacent to the parking lot as well as in the open meadow just west of the pond can be a great place to start picking up migrating songbirds in both spring and fall. Many species of warblers have been seen along the low-lying bushes and trees around the pond, including Blue-Winged, Mourning and Black-throated Blue Warblers.
On the west side of the pond (straight ahead from the parking lot), there is a main trail that heads out into the woods and to the footbridge that goes over the Des Plaines River and into Half Day. This is a place to spend some time because many migrating songbirds use the river like a highway and you never know when the next wave will come in. At the right time during spring and fall, the trees seem to drip with warblers and other songbirds. During the right season, this place is one of the few spots in Lake County where one might find a Barred Owl.
Over the footbridge you enter a different forest preserve and a different habitat. Broken up into small sections separated by open grass, there are many trails that wind through Half Day Forest Preserve that offer great looks at not only warblers of edge habitat, but many species of sparrow. Keep your eye on the grass during migration and it might look like it’s moving because of the large numbers of White-Crowned Sparrows and other migrants. Be sure to check out any large flock of sparrows because you never know what other birds could be tagging along.
The southwest section of Half Day also has a few small ponds and open grasslands that can yield different songbird and sparrow species that aren’t seen in the more mature hardwood forest habitat of Daniel Wright.
During migration in Lake County, Daniel Wright and Half Day Forest Preserves are a must stop. Forest preserves like these two give birders the chance to see just a generous sampling of the songbirds that travel through the Chicago area.