A Chicago Birder’s Guide to Transit-accessible Birding Hotspots

Chicago’s transit system makes it easy to get around the city without a car. This is especially true if your destination is the loop or the airport. But if your destination is to find birds at one of the Chicago region’s natural areas, it can feel a bit more like you’re stuck without many options. Luckily, hundreds of bird species and several natural areas are within reach of city transit, from city parks, to county forest preserves and a National Park.

Indiana Dunes National Park

— Nearest train stop: Take the South Shore Line from Millennium Station to Beverly Shores. Approximately 1.5 hour ride.

— From there: Just a short walk northwest on Broadway to the Great Marsh trailhead, or walk south and cross the Dunes Highway to explore the wooded Dunewood Campground.

Officially America’s newest National Park, Indiana Dunes is a popular birding destination because of its diversity of habitats and its unique geography. Its placement along the southern end of Lake Michigan mean that many migrating birds stop here to forage before crossing over the lake. The dunes are also home to an annual birding festival in mid-May to celebrate spring migration.

If you’re in for a longer stay, the train stop at Beverly Shores is a short walk away from the Dunewood Campground. This wooded campground is great for spotting migrating warblers or nesting Red-shouldered Hawks. Or head straight to Great Marsh Trail. The observation deck is a tranquil spot to stop and listen for marsh birds like Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail and Sora in the spring. Also be sure to look for plentiful Wood Ducks, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons. If you’re lucky, you might also hear the call of a Barred Owl.

Barred Owl; Edward Warden

Barred Owl; Edward Warden

For a longer hike, walk along Beverly Drive going west to Kemil Beach for even more views of the wetlands and hike to the top of Kemil Beach and Dune Ridge Trail for a spectacular vista. You can also exit the South Shore Line at Dune Park to explore the trail system at Indiana Dunes State Park. The Longshore Birding Platform (accessible from the beach parking lot at the state park) is always a go-to spot for birders looking to catch glimpses of migrant songbirds, gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl flying over the lake. Even on a slow migration day, you can watch sparrows, orioles and hummingbirds at the various feeders set up by the platform.

Birding by Transit is a series by COS board member Stephanie Beilke highlighting birding hotspots that are within walking distance or a short bus ride from the CTA “L”, Metra or South Shore Line. No matter your choice of transportation, these birding destinations are ones that every Chicago birder needs to check off their list.