The best birding spots aren’t always in exotic locations. Never is that truer than at Waukegan Beach, where the harbor, beach, dunes and open waters at Waukegan Beach have all held interesting birds despite the abandoned industrial buildings that lead to the beach itself.
In spring and fall, this is a great spot for shorebirds. In late October and November, even the elusive Purple Sandpiper can frequently be found. The open waters of Lake Michigan also hold lots of migrating and wintering waterfowl. Some winters, Waukegan Beach can be a reliable spot for Snowy Owls and rare gulls.
Birds to See
In migration, shorebirds including Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Piping Plover and Willet can show up here, and any area of open water can yield migrating waterfowl. In late fall, a Purple Sandpiper can often be found on the rocks of the pier. In early spring and late fall, the pier is great for migrating waterfowl. (Be careful about walking out on the pier during the winter, as ice can form on the walkway making slipping off a danger.) In winter, the harbor can be filled with waterfowl practically at your feet.
Birding Waukegan Beach
As the weather gets warmer, it is necessary to bird Waukegan Beach early as possible. The beach fills quickly during spring and summer.
To get to Waukegan Beach, take I-94 to Grand Avenue heading east (toward Six Flags). Take Grand Ave. until it dead-ends after crossing over the Amstutz Highway. Take a right down toward a train yard and take your first left on Clayton Street. Ahead will be the harbor. Check the harbor for migrating and wintering waterfowl. (You can walk out on the “government pier” to get closer looks.) In the winter, the docks south of the harbor should be scanned for wintering gulls and waterfowl as well as Snowy Owl.
To get to the beach, go back to Clayton Street and take Seahorse Drive. Walking the beach to the north can produce many migrating shorebirds and ducks. Someone even found a Tricolored Heron while walking the beach in the spring of 2009.
The beach between the piers usually holds a flock of gulls. Be sure to scan the flock for rarities, including Lesser Black-backed Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull. This is also reliable spot for terns such as Forster’s, Caspian and the occasional Common Tern. Even an Arctic Tern has been seen along the beach.
Also, be sure to walk out on the pier to scan for waterfowl during winter and migration. Some interesting species include Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Loon and all three species of scoter.
A small section of trees to the north of the main beach should be checked out in spring and fall migration. In the right conditions, this small section of dune grass and trees can be one of the most productive songbird migrant traps in all of Lake County.