Watch Now: Group Shares Love of Nature on ‘Unplug Normal’ Birding Tour | Local News


NORMAL — Saturday was the day to ditch your electronics and get outdoors.

The City of Normal’s Department of Parks and Recreation encouraged people to do just that with several “Unplug Normal” events on Saturday. They were planned as part of a statewide effort, held annually on the second Saturday in July, to inspire people to connect to play, activity and creativity at the outside.

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About 20 people perked up and showed up for a birding tour at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in Normal’s Maxwell Park. Other Unplugged Normal events that day included a yoga class at the Community Activity Center and a “Superhero Day” at the Fairview Aquatic Center.

Illinois Wesleyan University biology professor Given Harper said he was asked to organize the “birding” tour. He added that Unplugged Normal is “a wonderful company” and noted that we live in an electronic world.

Given Harper, front left with the red backpack, scans Maxwell Park in Normal while leading a group of 20 on a Saturday bird tour. Second from the right is Ann Anderson.

Brendan Denison

“Most of us are quite removed from the natural world,” Harper said. “Getting out into nature, especially bird watching, is a wonderful way to reconnect and recharge.”


A group of around 20 birdwatchers didn’t scare off this robin who stood a few yards away for a few moments at Maxwell Park in Normal on Saturday.

Brendan Denison

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Harper said Maxwell Park is an amazing birding site, as one section is home to many native shrubs. The professor alluded to how birds feed on young insects, which have evolved to feed on native plants.

And that makes Maxwell Park quite enjoyable, Harper said. He guided the group to areas of the park that were home to native gray dogwood, viburnum and milkweed.

Harper also hopes that through the efforts of the Department of Parks and Recreation, people will get out and experience nature by viewing the entirety of the natural world, including all of the insects and flowers.


On Saturday, an indigo bunting perches on a branch in Maxwell Park in Normal.

Brendan Denison

Matthew Winks was one of the attendees, but he wasn’t just watching the birds. Dusty-winged butterflies, dragonflies and other insects all caught the attention of the Bloomington man.

Winks said he normally prefers to go out alone or with just one or two other people. But on Saturday he said he thought about joining a group and sharing “the love of nature with other nature lovers”.

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Another keen birder was Ann Anderson of Clinton. She said the most interesting thing she learned was that blue jays are one of the intelligent bird species like crows.

Harper had explained to the group that the crows used sticks to dig up worms in the mud.

After all, Anderson said the reason she came to the event was to learn something new.


From right, Matthew Winks and Jim Bertolet watch for birds during a Saturday birding tour in Normal, while Daniel Goldberg takes notes.


Normal’s Daniel Goldberg also stood up for the birdwatching. He said he enjoyed finding where blue grosbeaks have repeatedly nested over the years in the park, and how armadillos have been spotted there as well.

Goldberg, who is part of Normal’s John Wesley Powell Audubon Society with Harper, has completed her doctorate. in December at the School of Biological Sciences at Illinois State University. He said he had been birding with the Audubon Society for several years.

Goldberg enjoys these group walks because there are “many different eyes,” he said. And that means more birds can be spotted.

Plus, he said the chef can usually identify the birds before anyone else, “so you can just look for them.”

The ISU graduate is also enthusiastic about the bird studies that his former ISU professor, Angelo Capparella, and Harper collaborated on.

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A gray catbird takes refuge among planted native shrubs in Maxwell Park in Normal on Saturday.

Brendan Denison

A study that included Maxwell Park and other parts of the Twin Cities investigated urban reproduction, Harper said. Conducted from 2019 to 2020, the professor said he found Bell’s vireos repopulating in the park, adding that it was an uncommon species.

While none of those seen have nested this year, Harper said he was able to point to some gray catbirds on Saturday, named for their “meowing” calls.

Harper said male catbirds also sing a bubbly, “water-like” call and show off to females.

In total, Harper said he has documented 79 species that breed in Bloomington-Normal, plus five more found outside of town.

Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison


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