Watch now: Group shares love of nature during ‘Unplug Normal’ bird tour | Local News

NORMAL — Saturday was the day to ditch your electronic devices and tune in to the great outdoors.

The Town of Normal Department of Parks and Recreation encouraged folks 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 of July, to push people to plug into outside play, activity and creativity.

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Around 20 people perked up and showed up for a birdwatching tour at 7:30 am Saturday through Normal’s Maxwell Park. Other Unplugged Normal events that day included a yoga class at the Community Activity Center and “superhero day” at Fairview Aquatic Center.

Illinois Wesleyan University Biology Professor Given Harper said he was asked to host the guided “birding” tour. He added that Unplugged Normal is “a marvelous endeavor,” and noted that we live in an electronic world.

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

Brendan Denison

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


A group of 20 or so approaching birdwatchers didn’t scare off this robin that just 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 birdwatching site because one section hosts a lot of 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 nice, Harper said. He guided the group to areas of the park that held native gray dogwoods, viburnums and milkweed plants.

Harper also hopes that through the Parks and Recreation Department’s efforts, people will get out and experience nature by looking at the entirety of the natural world, including all bugs and flowers.


An indigo bunting perches upon a branch in Maxwell Park in Normal on Saturday.

Brendan Denison

Matthew Winks was one attendee, but he wasn’t just looking at birds. Dusty wing butterflies, dragonflies and other insects were all catching the Bloomington man’s attention.

Winks said he normally prefers to go out by himself or with just one or two other people. But on Saturday, he said he figured he’d join up with a group and share the “love of nature with other nature lovers.”

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Another avid birdwatcher there was Ann Anderson, of Clinton. She said the most interesting thing she learned was that blue jays are among intelligent bird species like crows.

Harper had explained to the group that crows have used sticks to dig up worms out of mud.

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


From right, Matthew Winks and Jim Bertolet look out for birds while on a guided birdwatching tour Saturday in Normal, as Daniel Goldberg takes notes.


Normal’s Daniel Goldberg got up for the birdwatching, too. He said he appreciated finding where blue grosbeaks have repeatedly nested through the years at 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, finished his Ph.D. in December at Illinois State University’s School of Biological Sciences. He said he’s gone on birding walks 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 leader can usually identify birds before anyone else, “so then you can just look for them.”

The ISU graduate is also excited for bird studies that his former ISU professor, Angelo Capparella, and Harper have collaborated on.

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

Brendan Denison

One study that included Maxwell Park and other parts of the Twin Cities surveyed urban breeding, Harper said. Conducted from 2019-20, the professor said they found Bell’s vireos were repopulating in the park, adding they’re an uncommon species.

Although there weren’t any of those observed to have nested this year, Harper said, he was able to point Saturday to some gray catbirds, which are named for their “mewing” calls.

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

In total, Harper said they’ve documented 79 species that breed in Bloomington-Normal, plus another five found outside of town.


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