Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Diversity

Hi all,

    In terms of birding, winter is characterized by the low number of species. The empty woods ring in silence. Birds scour the land for any decent sized puddle of open water or reliably filled bird feeder. They flock around it, as it is their only sustenance to get them through this trying time. Well, that is usually true. The past two winters have been fairly warm and snowless. Open water is everywhere. Birds don't need feeders. This has allowed many birds to attempt to stay throughout the winter. The winter diversity is higher than usual. This is to my benefit, as it lets me get birds now so I don't have to worry about them later. A warm spell has recently come through and much of the little ice formed earlier has melted. Birds that I needed for the year were being reported everywhere.
    My dad, brother, and I decided to start the weekend off right with some owling. When we left our house, it was fairly windless. It seemed to be a good night. When we got to our first location, we realized traffic noise would be a problem. We didn't get any owls there. Throughout the night, as traffic got less, wind got more. We left the area after 2 hours of owling. We came up empty. As a last ditch effort, we went to a location closer to our house. We got one owl, even though we only heard it.

61. Eastern Screech-Owl

On Saturday, my dad got off of his job at 12:30 so we left about 1:00. Our first Illinois stop was Calumet Park, which had some gulls, but nothing interesting. We then went to Wolf Lake for the Tundra Swans that have been hanging around. We quickly found the 4 and got a bonus Swamp Sparrow. My favorite part of seeing the swans was hearing one call. It was one of the first times I have heard this call in real life, so it was pretty cool.

62. Tundra Swan

63. Swamp Sparrow

Next, we went to Egger's Woods for a Northern Shrike found earlier in the day by Sam Burckhardt. While looking for it, we heard a couple sparrows chipping. Ethan started pishing and a Field Sparrow popped up! It quickly flew away. I wanted to document it so I chased after it. I eventually flushed it into a little tree. Another sparrow flew in and it was also a Field! I got quick documentation shots and then they flew off. No shrike, but the sparrows sure are nice.

64. Field Sparrow

Sam also had multiple good birds at O'Brien Lock & Dam. What I really wanted was the Merlin he found. When we got there, it was almost dark. We drove through to the other side of the landfill that is right next to the dam. We doubled back after that. About half way back, Ethan spotted a falcon low to the ground perched on a little metal pipe sticking out of the ground. It was obviously the Merlin. It quickly flew and we couldn't relocate it.

65. Merlin

We headed back home excited for Sunday, as we had the whole day to bird.

Sunday started off at the reliable Douglas Park. One of the first birds I saw was a Canada Goose with a small bill. Notice how the lower mandible sticks out from the upper:
About 10 minutes later, I got to the sanctuary. Almost immediately, the adult Red-shouldered Hawk flushed. I continued on as it flew to places unknown. My dad then called me saying he had a Cackling Goose south of Ogden  When he was on the phone with me, part of the group of geese it was with flew. I joined up with him and looked for the goose to no avail. We went back to look for the goose where the part of the flock landed and eventually found it. It was sleeping for about 15 minutes but then put its head up for photos. We left soon after.

66. Cackling Goose

We went back to pick up my brother from our house. We then went to Binny's Beverage Depot for the long staying Northern Mockingbird. The second we drove up, we found it on a light fixture off of the side of a building with vines on it. The mocker eventually flew to the top of the store and sat there.

67. Northern Mockingbird

From there we went to the South Pond/Lincoln Park Zoo area. We started at the Black-crowned Night-Heron breeding colony at South Pond. We quickly found 1 adult and 3 young. We then moved over to the duck pond in the zoo where Mallards and a few Wood Ducks winter as it will never freeze and they will always have food. I quickly found Wood Ducks and confirmed one as wild (no band/not pinioned). The best area for passerines in the zoo is the Bear exhibit. We eventually found the flock that is always around there. The highlights were 4 White-throated Sparrows and a nice Fox Sparrow. After not finding anything new for a while, we left.

68. Black-crowned Night-Heron
69. Wood Duck
70. Fox Sparrow

We then went to Monroe Harbor for the loon that has been hanging out there and to see if we could pick out any gulls. We first went to the yacht club where the loon was seen the day before. Ethan spotted it in the middle of the harbor. I then scanned the gulls on the breakwall with my bins and pulled out a third-cycle Lesser Black-backed. The loon came closer to the shore so Ethan walked towards it. While he was with the loon, I managed to spot an adult Thayer's Gull being chased by a merganser. I then went to meet up with Ethan. Along the way, I encountered Shawn Pfautsch and his mom who were also looking for the loon. I was quickly able to get them on it and the Lesser Black-backed Gull. The loon disappeared around the yacht club building towards the docks. When we got to the docks, the loon was ridiculously close. It was amazing!

We then went to the other end of the harbor where we met up with the Williamsons. We walked closer to the gulls and we started chumming. A different, this time adult, Lesser Black-backed Gull came in. Ethan briefly saw a Thayer's too. There was at least two Thayer's on the breakwall. Also there was this interesting bird Ethan posted about:
We then left Monroe extremely satisfied.

71. Lesser Black-backed Gull

We then went back to the Calumet area. We started off at the Bend of the Calumet River. Compared to the 1st, it was bad day here. I did manage to pull out a Great Blue Heron wading into the river. Even on its bad days, the bend is still one of the best places in the county for duck diversity.

72. Great Blue Heron

We went back to O'Brien Lock & Dam to see if we could see the Merlin again or if we could pick out one of the wintering White-crowned Sparrow. While we failed on relocating the Merlin, but we got 3 young and 1 adult White-crowned Sparrows. Also we got a bonus pair of Hooded Mergansers and a Fox Sparrow.

73. White-crowned Sparrow

I wanted to then drive around the Lake Calumet area for shrike and Bald Eagle. We succeeded on the eagle as we had an adult soaring over Big Marsh. There wasn't much else around there.

74. Bald Eagle

Our last stop for this successful day was Bartel Grasslands for Short-eared Owls. One of my first birding memories is watching 20+ of these majestic creatures bounce over the grasslands at Bartel as the sun slowly set. Today, there was a repeat of this event because there was at least 6 going around. There was also 4 Northern Harriers as a bonus. The owls seriously seem like oversized bats to me. I loved watching them flop around in the frigid air. Any owl experience is amazing.

75. Short-eared Owl
76. Northern Harrier

This weekend was extremely successful. 76 is an amazing number for January. It will be cold for the upcoming week which will usher in ice at Monroe, making it even better for gulls. Good birding!


  1. Matthew Hejna mhejna@gmail.comJanuary 14, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    Hi Aaron, nice write up. Are the SEOWs pretty reliable out at Bartel? Id like to go out there and see them this weekend if you think they'd still be around. Thanks, Matt

    1. I honestly don't know. It is late for a migrant so they are almost definitively wintering. They will most likely be out at a bit before sunset. I would arrive earlier than that to be safe. Try on a night with light wind. Good luck!

    2. Thanks, aaron. Well try monday, Ill let you know whats out there.

  2. Sorry about the owls; the traffic can be a problem in that area! Glad you got some other great birds!

    Randy S.

    1. We will probably try early in the morning some time next weekend. I think that might work better.