The Long, Cold Expanse Ahead

As I sit here, the day before December 1st, the prospect of 4 months of misidentifying gulls stares down at me.

Before that begins, though, it’s worth looking back at what was a pretty nice fall.  In my last post, I professed my love for Ammodramous sparrows and the love was reciprocated.  While Le Conte’s Sparrows didn’t show up in the same numbers as Nelson’s (they never do), they were equally as obliging.

LCSP_161029 - 001

Le Conte’s Sparrow, Park No. 566

October also presented me the opportunity to travel to New York City and chase a couple of lifers, because that’s what birders do.  I decided to wake up before my family and take a cab out to Plumb Beach, a small intertidal marsh on the south side of Brooklyn where the habitat was fantastic but the upkeep was not.  Litter was everywhere and off-leash dogs were bouncing through the grassy dunes.  Amid this, I was able to find 3 Clapper Rails.  However, with the high tide, none chose to grace me with views; so that lifer must wait.  After plodding around the edges of the marsh and getting slight glimpses of sparrow-like birds, one Saltmarsh Sparrow jumped up just long enough to fire off a couple of shots.

SALS_161016 - 001

Worth a $60 cab fair to Brooklyn, my lifer Saltmarsh Sparrow

Returning to my Midwest metropolis, the rest of the fall played out as expected; late migrants and a few choice November rarities.  The main highlights for the Chicagoland birding community were the Brant at Northerly Island and the Purple Sandpiper at Waukegan Beach.  My self-designated patch for this year of birding was a south side forest preserve, a 25 minute drive without traffic.  So it was particularly enjoyable when I could ride my bike five minutes, find the small goose, and be in vagrant happiness.

BRAN_161108 - 001

Small only in stature, this Brant has been quite the attraction

SNBU_161028 - 002

One of the classic late fall & winter migrants, the stocky Snow Bunting

The Purple Sandpiper took a little more effort.  Heading in to the weekend, the hawkwatchers were ready for a big movement.  The forecast showed huge northwest winds coming down from the tundras of Canada.  Birding Buddy Steve and I decided to set up on the roof of his apartment building on the northside of Chicago.  Within 10 minutes of starting our watch, a migrating Red-tailed Hawk passed on by.  In the next 180 minutes, not a single migrating raptor was seen.  When you’re not seeing birds, the wind bites and the cold stings.  Calling a quick audible, we drove the hour up to Waukegan and walked out on the pier for the hearty shorebird.  Not more than 30 yards in, a wave hit the pier and doused us.  Undeterred but, grumbling about our soaked optics, we hurriedly walked on and, only by accident, walked within 5 feet on the bird.  Most birds would panic and flush but, this bird simply did not give a crap and views were subsequently crushed.  After a solid 10 minutes with the bird satisfying our wildest photographic dreams, we headed back to the beach.  Fraternizing with other arriving birders, Steve noticed a bird flying with great haste along the shoreline.  When it got closer, it clearly had the shape of a swallow.  At this time of year, Cave Swallows are the “expected rarity” along the lakefront and an Illinois review list species.  While Steve confirmed the identity, I frantically tried to take a few pictures.  Steve got conclusive looks; my pictures?  Not so much.

PUSA_161119 - 003

Yeah, this bird was close.

PUSA_161119 - 004

Purple Sandpiper, striking a pose

40431421

It’s a Cave Swallow, just trust me

So that was an exciting fall.  It ended with one last dramatic flourish.  Just south of McCormick place, I got wind of a Long-eared Owl hanging around the small but, productive nature sanctuary there.  Within minutes of arriving, the owl was sitting on a fence post 30 feet away.  Clearly hungry and hunting, I snapped off a few pictures and left to give the silent predator some room but, WOW!!  My wife, being an owl freak, asked to go look for the bird the following day, Thanksgiving morning.  We had 15 minutes to look for the bird until we had to return home to take a pecan pie out of the oven.  In that 15 minutes, we couldn’t find the owl, nor could we find the rear window to our car.  Despite not being more than 100 yards away from our car, someone managed to smash a window and grab my tripod and a couple other items out of the back of my car; not a great way to start my favorite holiday.  A week later, our window has been replace and insurance is covering the stolen items, so now I’m just disappointed we missed the owl the second time around.  Anyways, stolen goods shouldn’t be a problem for the next few months as the temperature plummets and the only people outside are birders, clutching their scopes with frozen fingers, searching for that pale looking gull.

LEOW_161123 - 001

Thinking about it afterwards, I think the owl was in on the job

Ammodramus, Shmammodramus – Late Summer Wrap-up

I really dig Ammodramus sparrows. These smartly dressed birds are the sparrows’ answer to every person who gushes about the bright colors of warblers.  The elegance of these birds is compounded by the fact that they make you work for it.  Even when compared to the skulking warblers, these birds make you wander shorelines (Ammodramus is Latin for “sand runner”) hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse as they dart into thickets of grass and low shrubs.  When they decide to bestow outstanding looks, that becomes the day’s headline.  They must have decided to be charitable because Nelson’s Sparrows (Ammodramus nelsoni) were absolutely everywhere on the Chicago lakefront the past few weeks.  Birds that often number 4-5 seen during migration were spotted in groups of 15-20, setting Cook county record high counts in the process.  Le Conte’s Sparrows (Ammodramus leconteii) have just started to show up; hopefully they’ll be as generous as their sharp-tailed brethren.

NESP_160917 - 001

Views like this simply don’t happen, except when they do, and then it is awesome.

The other story this fall has been the irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches across the Great Lakes & Northeast.  Having chased and missed about 9-10 times last winter, this bird has been as much of a state nemesis as I’ve had.  These birds started to show up in buckets when I was still in Washington which led to the odd situation of being on vacation and having birder FOMO for birds back home.  So it was with much relief that I found my state Red-breasted Nuthatch within 10 minutes of arriving at Chicago’s Park #566.  That I found the bird in barren, overgrown piece of grassland gives a pretty good indication as to how common these gregarious little guys are this year.

RBNU_160917 - 001

Nemesis slayed.

Besides those notable occurrences, the remainder of late summer-early fall wrapped up according to plan.  Warblers and shorebirds showed up on schedule, stuck around for a couple of days, and then jumped on the next weather system with winds pointed south.  I’ve now started to carry a light coat when I go birding which means that the warm temperatures and humid air of summer are gone for awhile.  It’s time to embrace autumn’s shorter days, arctic winds, and cheer the migrants on their southward journey.

PESA_160922 - 002

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (Big Marsh)

160922_Snapping Turtle - 001

Lowering water at Big Marsh (Calumet area) brought this Snapping Turtle out.

BBWA_160917 - 001

Bay-breasted Warbler (Park No. 566)

BLWA_160917 - 001

Blackpoll Warbler (Park No. 566)

AMRE_160917 - 001

American Redstart (Park No. 566)

COYE_160917 - 001

Common Yellowthroat (Park No. 566)

Specks in the mud, Chautauqua NWR

Bird buddy Steve and I missed out on a spring trip to southern Illinois so we settled on a late summer trip to Chautauqua NWR.  Chautauqua is one of the shining examples of restored wet prairie that has been cropping up around Illinois over the past couple of decades.  It’s big, the habitat is outstanding, and unfortunately, it’s difficult to bird.  The downside of being such a magnet for birds is that, in order to have the uninterrupted habitat they love, the trails and observation points are kept to a minimum; bring your scope.

As per usual, we left well before sunrise and hit the road.  Nearing the end of our drive, we got stuck behind a stopped train.  Luckily, the detour took us by some extraordinary flooded fields that were dotted with Killdeer as far as the eye could see.  On our way around this field 25 American-Golden Plovers were spotted, year bird for both of us!

Finally arriving at Chautauqua, we donned our rubber boots and slogged it across the dike at Goofy Ridge.  Stupidly, I left my scope in the car but, was compensated with point-blank views of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a pair of Prothonotary Warblers (state bird!).  Beyond that, I satisfied myself with watching the masses of pelicans and shorebirds shuffling about a hundred or so yards away.  Meanwhile, Steve would remain glued to his scope looking for the rare but, expected shorebirds.  Chautauqua is also one of the places in Illinois where you can get Eurasian Tree Sparrow and they are there in numbers.

PRWA_160827 - 001

My Illinois Prothonotary Warbler, also the best views I’ve ever gotten of this bird.

YBCU_160827 - 001

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, sitting 5 feet above the Prothonotary

Slogging back to the car, we made a quick stop down the road for better views the distant birds but, found we couldn’t get any closer.  We did run in to some central-Illinois regulars who told us about the Red-necked Phalaropes hanging around another location.  They also had Buff-breasted Sandpipers, the only “expected” lifer for me on this trip.  Packing up, we went to the Eagle Bluff/Cross dike area.  Here the birds were much closer and I remembered to bring my scope.  Decent views of Black Tern, Marbled Godwit, and Black-necked stilts were nice but, off in the distance, the phalaropes were located.  We dutifully noted our year tick and continued to walk across the dike.

RNPH_160827 - 001

Red-necked Phalaropes, stilts, & shovelers

About halfway, I went to set my tripod down and one of the legs half-collapsed inward sending my scope hurtling towards the ground, eyepiece first.  The eyepiece assembly cleanly snapped off and I was back to looking at distant specs in my binoculars.  Needing a walk to vent my anger at the fallen scope, I headed back to the car while Steve stayed at his post, looking for year-birds.  Even though I lost my scope at probably the worst spot to do so, I walked back out on the dike and tried to enjoy the peculiar mix of birds only a place like Chautauqua can offer.

RBGU_160827 - 001

Only in Chautauqua… godwits, terns, sanderlings, stilts, teals, and gulls

Stomachs starting to grumble a bit, we made quick work of year-bird Ruddy Turnstone and found a few fall migrants near the park headquarters.  Still missing my lifer Buffy, we head to a local bar and grill for a burger, beer, and an escape from the sun.  We decided we’d stop by the flooded field that yielded the Golden plovers and then, if time allowed, an occasionally birded wastewater treatment plant that we may or may not have access to.

Returning to the flooded fields, the waters had subsided from the overnight rain but, the birds were still there.  After numerous scan, Steve was able to pick out 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers about 75 yards away.  Scope-less he found the birds for me in his scope so I could get a rather unsatisfying lifer.  Lifers are great but, I will take drop-dead gorgeous views of a common bird over blurry, distant speck lifers most any day.  But, there it was, and after a Peregrine stirred up a bunch of commotion, we decided to make a run for the El Paso Wastewater Treatment Facility.

A place only a birder would think to visit, we were shocked to find the gates wide open.  In the ridiculous over-reaction to 9/11 many places of regional infrastructure that were regular stops on the birding circuit were closed.  I’m not really sure what a terrorist would do with a place that is, literally, shit sitting in a pool but, the fact that we were able to drive up onto the berms along the wastewater treatment pools took us by surprise.  We found one small, mostly dry pool that was absolutely loaded with shorebirds.  Even better, two Buff-breasted Sandpipers were quite brazenly hanging out about 25 feet from the edge.  So after all, I got my killer views even if it wasn’t my lifer.  We didn’t find any new birds for the day here but, we definitely took our time to appreciate looking through our binoculars or naked eye instead of squinting into our scopes.

BBSA_160828 - 002

Sorta-lifer, Buff-breasted Sandpiper

WIPH_160827 - 001

Considering how tame shorebirds can be, getting close views are possible and always satisfying.  Wilson’s Phalarope & Least Sandpiper

Tallying our checklists on the way home we pretty much got everything we came for except a Red Phalarope that had been spotted for several days leading up to our visit and Western Sandpiper, the rarest of the “regular” peeps that visit Illinois in the fall.  Our buddy list was added to quite nicely and our year lists for shorebirds were mostly rounded out.  Next effort will be tracking down those fall sparrows.

Walking the Walk

As part of the Cook County Forest Preserve #birdthepreseves Big Year, I decided to sponsor one of my favorite regular spots, the Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve.  As part of this effort I promised to lead a few bird walks throughout the year.  The forest preserve did a nice job holding a training session and getting the word out.  However, I was still a little nervous that no one would show.  Luckily, I was able to entice some of my friends with a post-birding 3 Floyds brewery trip to guarantee that we’d get a few people there, new birders to boot.  So I was quite surprised than when 8:00 rolled around, we had 16 people there.

Normally, if I’m not birding alone, I’m with birders who are better than me and whose relationship is most accurately described as “beer buddy.”  Having to lead a larger group of beginners and experienced birds who I just met was a little terrifying.  If I’m with one of my normal birding partners and misidentify a bird, I only risk a little ridicule.  Misidentifying a bird to someone who is counting on you to know what the hell you’re talking about definitely got the nerves going.

I definitely do not shy away from public speaking but, I probably would have liked a more manageable group size for my first bird walk.  “Either way,” I thought, “once people get a load of 30+ Great Egrets, that’ll make everyone happy.”  So, of course, when we approached the pond, we found that the south winds and taken away all the egrets I spotted earlier in the week.  Shorebirds were missing, passerines were silent.  There were birds there but, they were far away and not conducive to great observation.  After using my go-to tale about Thismia Americana, I started to push the group forward to where we could, at least, get great views of the prairie.  In the end, a Field Sparrow, a distant kingfisher, and a calling Sora gave plenty of interest during the first half of the trip.  First timers were excited at finally knowing the name of the Red-winged Blackbird which reminded me that my job is not to simply find the rarest bird but, to help give glimpses into the awesome world of even the most common species.

SOSA_160424 - 001

Solitary Sandpiper

 

Eventually, we were able to locate a few of those migrants we were hoping for.  A mixed group of yellowlegs flew in and walking into the woodland gave us Solitary Sandpiper.   However, the best parts came at the end.  One of the rookie’s spotted the Downy Woodpecker that had been drumming away and her joy in finding a bird on her own was infectious.  Then someone called out, “kestrel! Kiting behind the trees!”  Yes!!  Kestrels are not rare but, being one of the handsomest birds of prey, are always a pleasure, even for birders who’ve seen it all.  One problem, the bird was too big.  Eventually, it glided over and, succumbing to groupthink, I uttered, “That’s a slightly larger falcon, a Merlin.”

It was not a Merlin.

When realizing my error, reviewing pictures later, I came to appreciate veteran walk leaders who are so confident and disciplined, that they can analyze a bird without prejudice to “delivering” a particular ID.  In this case, I had “falcon” in my mind so it wasn’t until afterwards, that I realized it was actually a Cooper’s Hawk; a bird more than twice the size and of completely different shape.  Oh well.  That is the nice thing about birding though, a botched ID, as embarrassing as it may be, matters very little.  The misidentification may be more valuable than a correct one because a valuable lesson was learned.  In the end, a good time was had by a great group of people and the beer at 3 Floyds was excellent… that’s a successful day.

 

 

Here’s our checklist.

Chicago area Birding (Oct 21-Nov 1)

My birding has been pretty spotty the past couple of weeks.  I’m sure I’m not the first to discover that full-time employment can be somewhat of a hinderance to your hobbies.  Regardless, I’ve been able to visit Park No. 566 a couple of times before work.  I will be quite happy when daylight savings time ends as the current clock is robbing me of pre-work morning sunlight.  Regardless, the past week and a half has definitely seen a large outward movement of passerines.  The gaudy numbers of late warblers and sparrows found early in October have given way to isolated patches of land birds and growing numbers of winter waterfowl.  While the species counts have declined, the opportunities to enjoy natural beauty have not.

Park No. 566 Sunrise

Satisfying consolation as fall migration winds down. Sunrise at Park No. 566

However, there were still some highlights the past couple of weeks. Short-eared Owls have begun to take up winter residency in the area and this one has now been spotted twice. I went to the Bartel Grassland in Orland Park last year to find my lifer Short-eared Owl and struck out so accidentally getting this bird at Park No. 566 was a thrill!

SEOW_151024 - 001

Best shot I could get of the flushed Short-eared Owl

The songbirds that are arriving now are a mix of late migrants just passing through and those that will set up here for the winter.  I hope this little Winter Wren decides to make the south lakefront its home for the next few months.

WIWR_151027 - 001

Winter Wren, Park No. 566

Finally, my schedule eased up where I could spend a large part of Saturday, November 1st exploring the south side. I had heard that access to the Big Marsh in the Lake Calumet area had been improved with the cutting down of some tall cattails.  When I got there, I was able to easily find the newly exposed dike. Just from the small portion I could observe, I could see why the more-tenured birders speak highly of this area. The whole area is surrounded by mudflats and marshy ponds. Walking in, I flushed several Great Blue Heron as well as a state-endangered Black-crowned Night-Heron.  Any November shorebirds are especially pleasing and I was happy to find that the mudflats were occupied by Killdeer and Dunlin.  Gulls and a small sampling of ducks rounded out the birds that were hanging around here. Occasionally, a raptor would come circling overhead, usually a Red-tailed Hawk.  I had forgotten how great of a place the Lake Calumet area can be for birds of prey and I would definitely be reminded of it at my next stop, the Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve.

151101_NOHA - 001

Northern Harrier, showing its telltale white rump. Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve

As with other locations, the songbird density was down significantly but, hawks, eagles, and falcons have arrived in their stead.  An adult Bald Eagle was observed north of the entrance drive, several Red-tailed Hawks and a Cooper’s/Sharp-shinned passed by overhead.  Seen most closely, though, was a Northern Harrier that was skimming the tops of the grass for the 2.5 hours I was there.  When it would crisscross the marsh, it’d cause quite a bit of commotion among the 6 Greater Yellowlegs that were feeding.  As I was lurking in the perimeter grasses, I notice a lengthy animal swimming around one end of the marsh.  I was in perfect position to watch an American Mink swim around a submerged truck.  I’m hoping the fence around the entire wetland is enough to keep people from harassing the animal, as this sneaky weasel can be a tough find.  The harrier however, had no problem finding it as it flew about 15 feet over the mink’s head.  I watched for a little while until both I and the harrier lost interest.  On my way out, a screaming American Kestrel zipped by bringing my raptor species count to 5.

My day ended with a quick stop at the MWRD plant at the bend of the Little Calumet River. This will be a frequent destination for me as the temperature drops and ducks look for the artificially warmed waters in this area. For now, I was entertained by the hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls that followed a passing barge.

My eBird Checklists:
10/21 Park No. 566

10/24 Park No. 566

10/27 Park No. 566

11/1 Big Marsh

11/1 Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve

11/1 Bend of Little Calumet River

Chicago area Birding (Oct 17-18)

I didn’t have much time to get out and bird during the week so I tried to make the most of the weekend.  Saturday we headed to the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve to join the ongoing hawkwatch.  While the epic weekend didn’t materialize as anticipated (sustained west-northwest winds for several days) there were some highlights.  Any time a Merlin went wizzing by was thrilling to watch but, the best spotting of the day was our last raptor; my lifer Rough-legged Hawk!  I’ve been improving too slowly at raptor identification at a distance but I was surprised at how visible the carpal patches were on the bird’s wings.  After the hawkwatch ended, we enjoyed the mirth and merriment of our fellow birders at the monthly Birds & Beers gathering.

Sunday morning, I drove down to the Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve in (fittingly) Burnham, a tiny suburb right on the city boundary.  I was hoping to find some “good” sparrows but it was not meant to be.  However, the numbers of the more common sparrows were quite strong.  I spotted several first-of-season Fox Sparrows and, in the non-songbird category, a Black-bellied Plover.  Overall, the birding was quite pleasant and I got some great looks at many common birds which is always a good opportunity for learning.  This also gave me the excuse to break out the new Nikon 200-500 F5.6 lens and take some pictures and video.  Enjoy!

SWSP_151018 - 001

Swamp Sparrow

BBPL_151018 - 001

Black-bellied Plover

BEKI_151018 - 001

Belted Kingfisher (Female)

LISP_151018 - 001

Lincoln Sparrow

Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve from Carl Giometti on Vimeo.

My eBird Checklists:
Fort Sheridan Hawkwatch
Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve

Chicago area Birding (Oct 4-10)

The week started out rough with the 18-25 mph winds out of the north continuing their unrelenting push.  An outing at the end of the previous week supported the notion that most migrants were skipping the Chicago area as the winds whisked them southward.  Tuesday night, finally, gave the area some reprieve and it sure showed.

I’ve been exploring other parts of the south lakefront since the Wooded Island in Jackson Park was closed.  One of my favorites is the romantically named Park No. 566.  Land acquired when the old US Steel plant shutdown, this little patch has been fallow for years.  A single,  deteriorated paved path can be walked from west to east, ending at the lake.  The unruly plant life provides perfect habitat for sparrows and ground-dwelling warblers.

Visiting this park Wednesday before work and with the air growing still, the birds were very active.  Palm Warblers were a constant as they crossed the path.  Other birds that were present in good numbers were Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dark-eyed Junco, and Chimney Swift.  At this time of year, though, the prize is Ammodramus sparrows, specifically Nelson’s & Le Conte’s.  I got brief looks of 6 Ammod. sparrows but, only time to take photos of one.  Later proving I’m still very much a beginning birder, I identified 4 of the birds as Nelson’s.  Upon posting pictures of said bird, it was pointed out to me that the photograph was in fact a Le Conte’s Sparrow, a lifer!  (Although, my hardcore listing buddies would point out that they’d never count that bird as a lifer since they didn’t personally ID it in the field.  I’m not bound by such quibbles. 😉 )  The mistake threw into jeopardy my ID of the other 3 “Nelson’s” so I embarrassingly removed those ID’s from my checklist.  But, that’s how birding goes!

LCSP_151007 - 001

Le Conte’s Sparrow

DEJU_151007 - 001

Dark-eyed Junco

I would revisit Park No. 566 again on Thursday (10/8).  Radar showed a massive outward flow of migrants and once again, my experience supported that conclusion.  The numbers of birds, while still strong, was greatly reduced from the previous day.  The highlights would be a single, late Barn Swallow that shot across the top of the field as well as a Sharp-shinned Hawk that glided about 20 feet overhead.

The big event for the week though, was Saturday’s (10/10) Big Sit.  A “Big Sit” is a friendly competition where teams choose a location to draw a 17 foot diameter circle and then spend 24 hours counting the number of bird species seen.  Throughout North America, teams assembled early in the morning on the 10th and settled in for an intense day of camaraderie and birding.  Our team of scruffy veterans (the backbone of the Big Day team, “The Mighty Mighty Jizz Masters”) and myself, the newcomer, decided to set up at the boat launch at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes.  A Nature Conservancy property right on the Illinois River, this area is some of the best wetlands in the state.  With the team and location set, we scheduled our start at 6:00 a.m.  With a 2 hour drive west of Chicago required, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to make sure we could get there before sunrise.  Upon arriving, the cool fog hung heavy around us.  However, this was not an obstacle as the first hour was dedicated to birding by ear.  Jeff and Larry had heard a Barred Owl before we arrived, which was a good thing as this was the only owl we would get.  Some playback would also bring us Sora and Common Gallinule.  Once we abandoned playback, we stood in our circle, surrounding in the low clouds listening for any chirp or peep.  As the sun started to cook off the top of the fog we added a host of ducks to our list as well as Greater Yellowlegs.   The clearing skies also prompted thousands of blackbirds to take flight towards their feeding grounds for the day.  The massive movement of wings would create a quiet whirring sound as the black clouds of birds took off over the treetops.

Finally, the fog lifted and the full expanse of the refuge was before us.  Thousands of ducks (and similar) filled our view f0r 180 degrees.  We’d have time to inspect the ducks more carefully but early in the morning, we were looking for those long-distance migrants, shorebirds, before they took flight to continue their journey.  We spotted a group of Dunlin in the distance joined by a few unidentifiable peeps.  A larger group of White-rumped Sandpipers flew by, continuing the major influx seen in the past week in northern Illinois.  The last group of shorebirds seen that morning were larger, chunkier birds missing black “armpit” patches, American Golden Plover.

NOHA_101015 - 001

Northern Harrier

Once shorebird activity began winding down, so did our birding intensity.  We had been standing for 4-5 hours and it became time to begin the birding version of the tailgate.  I cooked up breakfast on a little stove as the rest of the team settled in and started to pick out duck species and start scanning for birds in flight as well as passerines in the trees behind us.  Until the early afternoon, we were able to pick up a species every 10 minutes and quickly increased our count to the low 70’s.  Then the tough part of the day starts.  Once the songbird activity waned the list watching increased.  Every team member new exactly what number we were on and wanted to be person to find the next tick.  While our focus was on identifying new species, there were sights that display the incredible productivity of the refuge.  A chaotic cloud of 10,000 or more swallows was crawling along the tops of the cattails.  When birding, we often find a bird, identify it and move on.  It was great to sit with three experienced birders and be able to watch and discuss bird biology from vocalizations, range, feeding habits,…  Larry, Jeff, and Greg are also highly skilled hawkwatchers, an area of birding where I desparately need improvement.  One particular episode was when a very light-colored hawk flew over and presented possible signs of being a mega-rare (for Illinois) Ferruginous Hawk.  Others snapped pictures while Greg explained his ID to the team.  Or at least, the team without me, as I was in the Porta-potty for one of the most dramatic parts of the day.  Late, once the pictures were processed, the hawk was determined to be a Red-tailed Hawk (Krider’s) not Ferruginous.  Upon hearing this afterwards, while bummed about not adding a tick to the team’s list, I took some quiet pleasure in knowing I didn’t miss the sighting while in the bathroom.

GBHE_151010 - 001

Great Blue Heron with lunch

As the day went on, the frequency of new ticks slowed but, the celebration intensified when a new species was found.  The best find of the latter half of the day was Long-billed Dowitcher.  Around 4:00 p.m., after 10 hours of birding, Greg and I head for home as Jeff and Larry stayed behind to pick up one or two more birds.  We missed some pretty common birds (mindbogglingly, not a single cormorant or Cooper’s Hawk) but we had finished satisfyingly with 81 species.  At the time of writing this, with many teams still to report, the Mighty Mighty Jizz Masters is holding on to 7th place.  Regardless of our finish, it was a beautiful day or birding with excellent companionship.

My eBird checklists for the week:

10/7 Rainbow Beach

10/7 Park No. 566

10/7 Grant Park

10/8 Park No. 566

10/10 Hennepin & Hopper (Big Sit)

Shorebirds at 63rd Street Beach

A quick evening stop was rewarded with two Willets.  I was able to lay down in the sand behind a dune and get views from about 15 feet away of these two birds.  A nearby American Coot also said hello.  I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how odd coots look when walking on land. My full eBird checklist is here.

Willets

AMCO_150429 - 001

American Coot

CATE_150429 - 001

Caspian Tern