American Birding Podcast



#ABArare Elaenia sp. in Illinois

I had a great morning.

I went birding this morning in Colorado Springs, with ABA board members and staff. We didn’t see a lot, but it was great fun. Then I went back out in the afternoon, and I got some great shots of a Canyon Wren. Awesome bird.

Then, after some late afternoon business at ABA HQ, we all went to dinner, and my day went straight to hell. I learned that the teen dynamic duo of Illinois birders, the Gyllenhaal brothers, discovered an unusual flycatcher in Chicago. Another teen powerhouse, Nathan Goldberg, suggested that this bird might be an Elaenia.

Nathan was correct. There is an Elaenia in Chicago. 6 miles from my house. And I’m in Colorado Springs.

Elaenia sp. Douglas Park, Chicago, IL April 17, 2012, Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal

There is quite a lot of detailed, lively discussion about this bird, as well as very detailed location information at the Illinois Birders’ Forum:

I write this tonight in the shadow of the Garden of the Gods … but surely, the gods have forsaken me.

Hopefully, the bird will stick around long enough to allow many people to see it (maybe until Monday, when I return to the Midwest), and maybe, just maybe, enough information will be gathered to positively identify it.

Editor’s Note: The consensus seems to be building between White-crowned Elaenia or Small-billed Elaenia, both austral migrants.  If White-crested Elaenia, this is a second ABA record following a bird at South Padre Island, Texas, in February 2008.  If Small-billed, this is a first ABA record.


Ethan Gyllenhaal describes finding the bird…

“My dad and brother had been seeing a bittern at Douglas Park the past few days, and we saw it almost immediately. Then we saw a small, drab bird flitting in the willows. I instantly knew it was a flycatcher, but it took me about 10 minutes of pondering to try to guess an ID. Because I never think of non-ABA flycatchers while trying to ID these already difficult birds, I assumed based on the size, lack of vest, and dark tip to the lower mandible that it had to be a Least. I then spent another 10-15 minutes trying to convince myself of this ID. Upon investigation of the photos, a white crown stripe was revealed, which sent chills down my spine. The more I stared at the photo, the more it looked like other options had to be considered. Then people started suggested Elaenia. It, of course, seemed insane, and I used my limited knowledge of Elaenias to try and convince myself of my original ID, but then I posted it to facebook, and people with more tropical experience than me all thought that Elaenia was the best option.”

Here’s a direct link to a map of this bird’s location:

Elaenia map

Directions to the Bird via Aaron Gyllenhaal:

This bird was found at the edge of the fenced-in sanctuary lagoon in Douglas Park on 4/17. Douglas Park is on the west side of Chicago, south of I-290 (take the Sacramento exit). The entrance to Douglas Park is at the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Sacramento Blvd. From that intersection, go south about 100 feet and when the road curves right, turn left.  Then, take the first right turn after that, around the east side of the high school. Continue down this road until it dead ends in a parking lot in front of the Field House. This parking lot has the Field House to the south, a pool to the west, and the main lagoon to the east. The fenced-in combined sanctuary/junior golf course is south the the Field House, and that’s where we saw the bird.

Walk along the front of Field House to the west. When the building ends, curve left and follow it south until you come to a fence. There is an entrance to the sanctuary right there, at the corner of the building (steps go more-or-less over the fence). Once inside the fence, follow the path to the right until you reach the junior golf course. Look south and east and you will see a patch of willows and other shrubbery on the west side of the sanctuary lagoon — this is where the bird was on Tuesday.

For the past few days the gates on the east side of the Field House have also been open — that’s another way to enter/exit the sanctuary (but farther from where we saw the bird).

It was last seen on the far west side of the sanctuary lagoon, just south of the willows in a budding tree right along the water’s edge. It seemed to be following the edge of the marsh to the south and east when we last saw it. CAUTION there has been an American Bittern there for the last 2-3 days, so try not to disturb it. Also, watch out for golfers!