Birding McLean County
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RURAL SITES (those outside Bloomington-Normal)


Only 5 miles north of the LeRoy exit on I-74, Moraine View is one of the best birding locations in the area. Its most noticeable feature is Dawson Lake, which is good in all seasons (except summer) for water birds. The exceptionally deep water has played host to many unusual visitors including both Common and Red-throated Loons, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoter, Harlequin Duck, and Eurasian Wigeon.  Recently, Greater White-fronted Goose and Canvasback have wintered on the lake. At peak migration, diving ducks can number over a thousand birds.  The diverse habitats that comprise the rest of the park are good for landbirds all year. Of particular mention is the marsh on the north end of the lake.  Tanglewood Self-guided Trail and the surrounding area are known for rails and Marsh Wrens in spring.  A House Wren is even suspected of wintering there in the winter of 97-98.  There is usually a pair of  Yellow-breasted Chats north of the floating bridge here.  Suitable habitats in the park (scrubby Russian Olive and willow thickets) may be your best bet for Bell’s Vireo in the county: at least 4 pairs were on territory at the entrance of the park 1999-2001.  Other birds easily encountered along the entrance road in late spring and summer include Dickcissel, Bobolink, and Yellow Warbler.  Blue Grosbeak and Loggerhead Shrike are good candidates for the area, but they have yet to occur with certainty.  The county's only pair of Louisiana Waterthrush hold a territory on the SW side of the lake along the "road through the woods."  Kentucky Warbler is suspected of breeding just north of here.  Veeries bred here in the late '70s and early '80s.  To get to MVSP, just follow the signs in a northerly direction from the LeRoy exit on I-74.  Alternatively, go east from B-N on IL-9 and follow the signs, first turning south onto the LeRoy-Lexington Rd.

(4-5 mi. W of Lexington, or 1-2 mi. E of Lake Bloomington)

The ParkLands Foundation owns a series of preserves concentrated along the Mackinaw River in McLean, Woodford, and Ford counties.  Its largest, the Merwin Preserve, is open in all seasons to naturalists. It is good for warblers in migration and seems to be the best spot in the county for Black-throated Blues. Walks through and burns of the prairie in the southwest corner of the preserve have yielded Yellow Rail in the appropriate seasons.  Sedge Wrens, Dickcissels, and Henslow's Sparrows breed in the grasslands along the southern edge of the preserve in the summer. Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, and Acadian Flycatcher are occasional breeders.  The woods along the river support breeding populations of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Towhee, and (not least!) House Wren.  To get to the Merwin Preserve, go W from the Lexington exit on I-55 about 5 mi.  The preserve is on the N side of the road after you cross the Mackinaw River; it is 2 mi. wide (E-W) and one mile "tall."  Just look for the wooden signs.  You may want to check ParkLands' website for more locations to bird in the area.

LAKE EVERGREEN  (5 mi. NNW of Normal)

Located on the McLean-Woodford County line, Lake Evergreen and associative COMLARA Park may be in contention with Moraine View and Ewing for the title of McLean County’s best birding spot. The lake itself seems to attract a high number of loons for its size. Up to thirty loons were on the Lake on one day in March 1999.  Evergreen is also known for American White Pelicans (on rare occasions) and cormorants (regularly).  The bridge on the S end of the lake has breeding Cliff Swallows and phoebes.  Prothonotary and Kentucky Warblers are suspected of breeding in the area, as is Yellow-breasted Chat.  On the east side of the Lake is the Old Nature Trail, which is good for landbirds during migration.  Interesting records from Lake Evergreen include Black Tern, Trumpeter Swan, Golden Eagle, Western Willet, Hudsonian Godwit, Sanderling, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Long-eared Owl, and Clay-colored Sparrow.  At 57 feet, the lake is exceptionally deep for it size.  This exceptional depth (deeper than Clinton Lake) could have been a factor in detaining McLean County’s most famous avian visitor, a first-year Yellow-billed Loon.  Discovered on the B-N Christmas Bird Count, it was present 19-29 December,1998.  Lake Evergreen is located 2 mi. W of Exit 8 on I-39.


This new nature area is fed with wastewater from the City of Bloomington's newest treatment center.  It features a small lake ringed by marsh.  It should be a good place for dabbling ducks, especially in the winter as the running water will keep it free of ice.  A pair of Trumpeter Swans wintered here in 2006-2007, and Pied-billed Grebe and Spotted Sandpiper are suspected of having bred here in 2006.  From Bloomington-Normal, head south on US-51 ~5 mi. to County Road 36 near Randolph.  Go east on CR-36 ~1 mi.  The nature area is on the south (right) side of the road after the wastewater treatment center.

LAKE BLOOMINGTON (5 mi. NNE of Normal)

. . . is known for waterbirds including gulls and terns. The spillway at the northern end can be good for shorebirds. The large marsh at the southern end of the lake (just upstream from the mudflats described below) is worth a look. Least Bitterns and Virginia Rails have been suspected of breeding here.  In dry years, mudflats form at the southern end of the lake along the Money Creek branch.  They have the potential to be very productive.  At least 19 shorebird species were recorded here in fall 1999, as were two first county records:  a juv. Red-necked Phalarope and a family group of three Least Terns. Just a few miles to the south, near Towanda, is where a Burrowing Owl wintered from January to late March in 1988.  To get to Lake Bloomington, take the Lake Evergreen exit on I-39 and go 4 mi. E.

SAYBROOK AREA   (~4 mi. WNW of Saybrook)

This area contains many privately owned fields that are readily utilized by grassland birds. Henslow’s, Savannah, and Grasshopper Sparrows, Sedge Wren, Bobolink, Short-eared Owl, and Upland Sandpiper have all bred in the fields around the small town of 800 people, and all but the last are suspected of breeding there within the last four years.  Look for harriers and Short-eared Owls in the winter.  Most of these fields are between Saybrook and Arrowsmith, especially on the ridge and the south slope of the Bloomington Moraine.

HENLINE CREEK PRESERVE  (3-4 mi. NW of Colfax)

The ParkLands Foundation recently purchased the land on the west side of Henline Creek just upstream from its confluence with the Mackinaw. The other side of the creek is privately owned but maintained as part of The Mackinaw River Project by The Nature Conservancy. The landowner enjoys seeing others enjoying nature at this location. It is best in spring and fall for migrant warblers and vireos. A small parking area is located on the S side of the road just E of the bridge.  The area is just E of the intersection of 2150 N and 2975 E., between Colfax and Lexington.

HENLINE PIT   (3-4 mi. NNW of Colfax)

This old gravel pit surrounded by 10-ft. willows is just north of Colfax and east of Lexington. Although privately owned, families have used it for fishing and recreation for decades. I’ve been told that everyone (if behaving properly) is welcome here. It offers interesting birding year round. Look for sparrows in the willows during fall, winter, and spring. The pit has also been good for bittern, snipe, rails, and ducks. Flooded fields along County Route 8 (2450 N) east of Lexington (in spring) are wonderful for shorebirds, ducks,and migrating raptors. Ducks start to come through in March and continue until late May. Teal shoveler, Mallards, Gadwall, and pintail, and Red-breasted Mergansers are the most common ducks in the area.  Yellowlegs, snipe, golden-plover, and Pectoral Sandpipers arrive the first week of April and are present through May. The more interesting shorebirds are present in mid May. In spring ‘98, high counts were 37 Short-billed Dowitchers, 14 Dunlin, 8 Semipalmated Plovers, 30 Least Sandpipers, and 30 Semipalmated Sandpipers.  A late day search of the area in early may will usually turn up a staging area for golden-plover.  One day at sunset in 1997, flocks numbering well into the hundreds were seen wheeling around to land in a particular field to join the five to ten thousand that had already congregated there for the night.  Hawks will sometimes dive at the immense flocks golden-plover. Rarer species observed in the area the last couple years include Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Prairie Merlin, and Swainson’s Hawk.  The fields adjacent to and across the road have been great for sparrows (incl. Henslow’s) and both longspurs.  In particular, Smith’s Longspurs favor the no-till cornfields full of foxtail grass.  The pit is just S of the intersection of 2450 N and 3200 E.

FUNK'S GROVE  (2 mi. N of McLean)

A remote prairie grove in the southwest corner of the county. Originally, it was an unusually moist oak-hickory forest with an understory predominated by stinging nettle, but the closing of the canopy has led to the predomination of maples in the grove. It is best in spring migration, most notably for the number of thrushes. The trees overhanging the roads can be spectacular for spring warblers if conditions are right. The DNR tract on the south end of the area was once one of the best spots in the county for Yellow-breasted Chat and Bell’s Vireo, but recent excursions have not yielded them.  Funk's Grove is the location of the only confirmed sighting (in the 1970s) of Pileated Woodpecker in the county. From Bloomington, so S on I-55 to the Shirley exit.  Follow Old Route 66 south to Funk's Grove.  You may also reach the grove by going N about 5 mi. on Old 66 from the McLean exit on I-55.

RAAB RD. SOD FARMS (~4 mi. W of Normal)

Located between Normal and Carlock, just south of I-74.  Goals at this site include  American Golden Plover and Baird's, Buff-breasted, and Upland Sandpipers.  The county's only record of Lesser Black-backed Gull (oddly) occurred here in summer 2005.  Sod fields are ephemeral and move year-to-year, but they are centered around the intersection of 800E and 1800N.  From Normal, head west on Raab Road ~4 mi.

URBAN SITES  (in Bloomington-Normal)

EWING PARK (East-Central part of the City)

Key species:  Migrating passerines (warblers, vireos, flycatchers, etc.), Broad-winged
Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Green Heron, Carolina Wren, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great
Horned Owl.

General:  A large park including both second-growth woods, thickets, and
parkland functioning as a migrant trap.

During spring migration, Ewing Park offers perhaps the best landbirding in the entire county, although Moraine View State Park is quite good this time of year, too.  During fall migration, no location in the county can compare to Ewing in either diversity of species or ease of viewing. 

Park in the lot and walk to the W away from Towanda Ave. along the trees to your N for about 100 yds. You'll come to Hedge Apple Woods. There are trails in the woods.  On the other side (west end) of the woods is a meadow-like area.  Although the whole park is fair game for birding, the woods, and the parkland areas on the east and (especially) west sides of the woods, and the service road along the N edge of the woods are best for passerines in general.

Ewing is best in migration.  For some reason Ewing seems to be the only spot in the county where Black-throated Blue and Hooded Warblers are annual.  During late May and late August to early September, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is easy here.  There is usually an Olive-sided Flycatcher or two present at this time as well.  Broad-winged Hawks may be found roosting early in the morning and coming in to roost in the evening during April and May.  On one exceptional day in May 1999, Painted Bunting, Mississippi Kite, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Mourning, Connecticut, and Black-throated Blue Warblers were all observed!

The park also has its share of resident and breeding birds.  A pair of Carolina Wrens usually has a nest along the S edge of the park along the mulched path that runs W out of the woods.  A Belted Kingfisher or Green Heron can often be found along Sugar Creek, which traverses the northern section of the park. Eastern Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl both nest in either the park itself or adjacent residential property.  

Directions:  From the corner of Veterans Pkwy. (Business I-55) and Vernon Ave. (Steak & Shake here). . . Proceed W on Vernon.  Then turn left (S) on Towanda Ave.  The parking lot to Ewing Park is on the right (W) side of Towanda at the bottom of the hill; you’ll see a crosswalk at the bottom of the hill.


NOTE--You may be hassled by State Farm security if you visit this site.  Birders continually get mixed responses from security when birding here.

Key species:  Migrating/wintering waterfowl.

General:  A good-sized man-made lake.  Great views of a nice diversity of waterfowl may be had at this location.

Directions:  From the corner of Empire St. (IL-9) and Veterans Pkwy . . . proceed S on
Veterans to Ireland Grove Rd.  Turn left to go E on Ireland Grove.  Proceed through the
first stoplight (Loop Rd.), and take your first right (to go S).  You will see the lake on
your left.  There is parking on your right. 

ANGLERS' POND (Southeast)

Key species:  Migrating passerines, Carolina Wren, Green Heron.

General:  Swampy woodland and thickets.  Whether you call it Angler’s Club, Angler’s Lake, or Angler’s Park, this location offers great views of warblers in migration, and is undoubtedly the best spot in the county for Prothonotary Warbler in migration.  The odd Black-crowned Night-Heron or Little Blue Heron may be found here from time to time.  Carolina Wrens nested near the gate in the Osage Orange hedgerow in 2000.  Green Herons are common here in migration.

Directions:  From the corner of Veterans Pkwy. and Morrisey Dr. (US-150) . . . take
Morrisey N a couple blocks to Lafayette St.  Turn right (E) on Lafayette and proceed
until Lafayette dead-ends at a fence; this fence is the W edge of the park.  Park on the
road here and go through the gate, but remember to close it behind you.

MILLER PARK (Southwest)

Key species:  Waterfowl, grebes, Red-headed Woodpecker.

General:  A large park including a good-sized lake and parkland.  Check the
S basin carefully for diving ducks and grebes.  Black Scoter has occurred in the past, and Horned Grebe is a regular migrant here.  You may also want to check the flock of
Mallards for the resident Mallard x Wood Duck hybrid.  Ring-billed Gulls are often
found here from fall to spring.  This is probably the only spot to easily see Red-headed
Woodpeckers within the city limits: they are common in the tall oaks.  The cemetery to
the W (just across Morris) should be checked for warblers in spring and fall, and for
finches in winter.  Evening Grosbeak and both crossbills have been found here in the

Directions:  From the corner of Veterans Pkwy and Main St. . . . take Veterans W to
Morris Ave. and turn right (N) on Morris. Go N on Morris until you see a grassy hillside
on the right and a cemetery on the left. The entrance to Miller Park is on the right. If you
get to a 4-way stop, you've gone too far.

MITSUBISHI POND  (West-Central Edge)

Key species:  waterfowl, Rough-legged Hawk

General:  A small pond.  White-fronted Goose and Black Duck appear to be
somewhat regular here.  Ross’ Goose has been seen flying over here, and Rough-legged Hawks can often be found in the area during winter.

Directions:  From the intersection of Market St. (IL-9) and Interstate 55-74 . . . Drive W
on Market to Mitsubishi Motorway (a stoplight here).  Take Mitsubishi N (right).  After a
mile or two, you will see the Mitsubishi Motors plant and a pond on the right (E) side of
the road.  You may carefully park on the shoulder to view the pond.

WHITE OAK LAKE (West-Central)

Key species:  Waterbirds (ducks, grebes, loons, geese, gulls, terns).

General:  A large (1 mi. circumference) lake.  There is almost always a nice variety of waterfowl here in migration; it is also a good spot to see numbers of Horned Grebes. From time to time you might even find a few loons, gulls, or terns.  Every year or so, it even offers a surprise: Oldsquaw and Black Scoter have both occurred here.

Directions:  From the corner of Main St. and Hovey Ave. in Normal . . . take Hovey W a few blocks to a 4-way stop w/ Cottage Ave.  There's a Jewel-Osco and a Mennonite
Church here.  Turn left (S) on Cottage and get in the left lane.  Follow the curve to the
right (you will then be headed W), and you'll see the lake on the left (S) side of the road. There is a parking lot here.


Key species:  Waterfowl, sparrows.

General:  A medium-sized lake surrounded by old field habitat.  Often, birds
flushed off of White Oak Lake can be relocated here.  Even though the signs say 'No
trespassing except for fishing,' it's ok to bird here.

1.  From White Oak Lake . . . continue W (as if you weren't going to stop at White Oak
Lake). There is a stop sign and a set of RR tracks soon. Go straight and cross the
intersection w/ Old US-150, and the road curves back left (S). Get in the left lane. As you get around the curve, there's a strip mall-type complex on the left (E) side of the road. After that, you'll see an entrance to the gravel pit.

2.  From the intersection of Market St. (IL-9) and Interstate 55-74 . . . go E on Market
into town and turn left (N) on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive (there's a Culvers here).
Go N on King for a little while and the pit's on your right.


Key species:  Migrating passerines, Broad-winged Hawk, Carolina Wren, Eastern

General:  A small park including a brushy woods.  Good for landbirds in general, especially thrushes and vireos during migration.  Broad-winged Hawks roost here in spring.  There is currently an occupied Eastern Screech-Owl nestbox.

Directions:  From the corner of Main St. and College Ave. in Normal . . . take Main St. N to Willow Street (just N of Redbird Arena). Turn right (E) on Willow. Turn left (N) on
Fell St. Turn right (E) on Sycamore St.  After one block, the park is a grove of trees on
the left (N) side of Sycamore where the road dead ends at Constitution Trail.

NORMAL AVENUE (North-Central)

Key species:  White-winged Crossbill, miscellaneous winter birds

General:  Along this street and the surrounding neighborhood, you will find numerous spruce and hemlock trees, which have produced White-winged Crossbills in invasion years.  The area has also produced locally good Christmas Count birds like White-throated Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Yellow-bellied
Sapsucker, and Brown Creeper.  It is also in this area that a Mississippi Kite took up
residence in summer 1996.  This is a residential neighborhood, so use common sense when birding here:  stay on the public sidewalks.

Directions:  From the corner of Main St. and College Ave. . . . Take College E to Normal Ave.  Take Normal N (left).

IRONWOOD PONDS (Northeast Edge)

Key species:  Waterfowl, especially geese

General:  2 small lakes offering a surprisingly good diversity of waterfowl.
Richardson’s Canada Goose and White-fronted Goose are regular here in numbers
(especially the latter) between October and April.

Directions:  From the intersection of Main St. (Business US-51) and Interstate 55 . . .
Drive N on Main St. to NorthTown Rd.  Turn right (E).  After a mile or so, there will be
nothing but fields on the left (N) side of the road. The first pond is on the south side of
the road.  To get to the second pond, proceed E across Towanda Ave.  You'll notice an embankment (or "hill") on the right  (S) side of the road.  Walk up this slope to get a view of the pond. You must park on the side of the road as the ponds are private property.


Key species:  Sora, Virginia Rail, snipe, Marsh Wren, Blue-winged Teal,
Swamp, LeConte's, and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows, King Rail, Least
and American Bitterns, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron

Unfortunately, this site has been destroyed by development.

Additional notes:

Between Minok (pronounced mih-NUNK) and northern McLean County along IL-251,
Western Meadowlarks far outnumber Easterns.

Smith's Longspurs may be found anywhere in the county in March and April provided there is suitable habitat. Look for cornstubble fields with foxtail grass. They may also be found in short grass and alfalfa.  Note the overall buffy coloration, white "headlights" in the wings, more extensive white in the tail, and the dryer, less musical, cowbird-like call to tell a flushed bird from the similar Lapland Longspur.

Look for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings on the roadsides between late October and March, especially when snow-covered fields force the birds up to the roads.

Vesper Sparrows are one of McLean County’s commonest breeding birds. Their success has been achieved because they have adapted to nest in corn and bean fields, like Horned Larks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Indigo Buntings. Watch and listen for these birds on wires and on the road when you’re in the “agricultural desert.” Ring-necked Pheasants and Dickcissels are common in all grassy habitats.

Eurasian Collared-Doves are now present in the towns of Heyworth, LeRoy, Ellsworth, Danvers, and Saybrook.

Site administered by Michael Retter.  Last updated 14 August 2007.