Lake County

Waukegan Beach

Nestled amongst an archaic industrial backdrop, Waukegan Beach is one of the premier lakefront birding sites in Lake County.  Historically, this site has hosted quite a few state rarities, including Tricolored Heron, Arctic Tern, and Mountain Bluebird.  In the fall and winter months, the northernmost pier has been the most reliable spot in the state to find a Purple Sandpiper.  It almost strictly a migratory bird stopover site, with very few notable breeders.  The summer months are dominated by beach goers, and unless you get there early, a fee to enter the beach.  Birding Waukegan can be broken into several categories: beach, dunes, park, harbor.

The beach proper is best birded by heading north on the shoreline from the northern pier.  The half mile stretch of beach to Greenwood Ave is a great place in the spring and summer to pick up migrating shorebirds.  In April, it is a great spot for Piping Plovers.  Other notable shorebirds seen in fall/spring migration include Baird’s Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Willet, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, American Golden-Plover, and Red Knot.  In spring, terns are easily seen flying over the lake with both Common and Forster’s being numerous.  Also, Bonaparte’s Gulls are readily seen in season while walking the beach, though not in their previous numbers.

As mentioned earlier, the piers are, with luck, a great spot to find Purple Sandpiper.  In migration, Ruddy Turnstones are seen almost annually on the piers, too.  In winter, this has been a historical site to find Harlequin Duck.  Off the piers (northern or “Government” Pier) on a fall day with stiff NE winds, is a great place for lake watching.  All three scoter species have been found alongside Long-tailed Ducks and the other common divers.

The dunes adjacent to the beach are a great place to hike during migration.  Any part of the dunes near water can kick up Nelson’s and Le Conte’s Sparrows.  An early morning hike can include hunting Northern Harriers and flushed Short-eared Owls.  Swarms of swallows course over the marshland, with all the regular occurring species seen in good numbers.  The fall of 2012 included a November sighting of Cave Swallow.  Scrubbier habitat near the beach parking lot can hold large quantities of migrating passerines on any spring/fall day.  Always worth checking this area.

The park just west of the swimming beach, locally known as the “Magic Pines,” can be migrant trap.  Notable species seen during migration include Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Canada Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Clay-colored Sparrow.  Almost any migratory passerine can be found here on the right day.  Like most lakefront sites, this can also be a great place to see high counts for a species.

The harbor is the place to look for ducks that enjoy sheltered waters.  During migration and winter, look for Horned Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye.  To bird the harbor, it is best to walk along Government Pier, parking in the marina parking lot.  It’s always worth scanning from the end of government pier.  Most recently, a Western/Clark’s Grebe was spotted there.  Snowy Owls have been found on the harbor docks in winter, as well as on the end of the piers in good years.  As the harbor freezes over, gulls congregate in small/medium numbers.  Despite not having the highest individual counts, the seven “regular” species have been seen.

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  • Eric Walters

    Other vagrants found at Waukegan Beach include Gull-billed, Sandwich and Least Tern, Ivory, Common Black-headed and Mew Gull, Boreal Chickadee, Cave Swallow, Black Rail, Curlew Sandpiper, Reddish Egret, Brant, Brown Pelican, Pine Grosbeak and Flamingo (!). A Great Lakes record Spring count of 17 Hudsonian Godwits were seen here an it was also the last regular nesting place for Piping Plover. Also, at least six of the last 15 Springs, there’s been a flock of 40+ Willets (inc. 100+ once, target dates are Apr 25th-May 5th). Great place for swallow migration, especially reverse migration phenomena on north winds in mid-May. Also, a pair of Minks wintered in the harbor a few years ago.