Friday, December 6, 2013

Two Great Late Additions!

Rough-legged Hawk.

Trumpeter Swan.

Birds that have evaded me thus far in Illinois, much to my chagrin. Two of my most inexcusable misses, really. I didn't do much birding in the opening months of 2013, which is part of why I missed both of them, but still. I've spent a decent amount of time targeting each, and have come up empty every time.

Before a weekend of paper writing, I decided to get out for a little while to bird some local areas on this chilly morning, neither of these birds really being on my mind. I began at Elsen's Hill to try to locate the Pileated that's been seen there on and off this fall. The preserve was pretty quiet overall, though I had 4 species of woodpeckers. But no Pileated. The mini highlights were a hardy little Yellow-rumped Warbler flitting atop a tree, and the reliable pair of Great-horned Owls, one of which is pictured here:

Great-horned Owl
Elsen's Hill, DuPage Co, IL
December 6, 2013

Pella was pretty empty, and Fermi Lab was rather slow too. Mallards were exceptionally high in number, but the only other ducks were three American Black Ducks and two Common Goldeneyes. The large flocks of Canada Geese yielded a few Cacklings, but nothing else. I'm still waiting for my DuPage Snow Goose for the year - it didn't take nearly this much effort last year!

At this point the temperature seemed to be dropping every time I got out of the car, and a little breeze was shooting right through me. Not my favorite. But I decided to keep moving west and check a few Kane County locations. The Kaneville Sod Farms had a nice flock of Horned Larks. I scoped through and picked out four Lapland Longspurs, but no Snow Buntings. The scope looks at longspurs were a welcome alternative to all the flyovers I've had recently. Even in their winter plumage, they're sharp looking birds.

I then checked a few nearby ponds loaded with waterfowl. After Mallards and Coots, Ring-necked Ducks dominated the flock. Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and a lone Canvasback rounded out the small waterfowl. I had my highest numbers of Cackling Geese this season amongst the many Canadas. I could make out some swans in the distance, so I decided to drive around to get a better view of them. That's when it got fun.

On my way to the next scoping location, a buteo crossed the road in front of me then paused to hover just outside my passenger window. As it did so, it flashed the black belly and dark wristbands of a light morph Rough-legged Hawk! I snapped off a couple quick pics and began the celebration. A long awaited bird, now conquered! Kane County life bird #172, year bird #171; Illinois life bird #288, year bird #286. The lighting was poor, but it's still worthy of a post just because of its significance for me:

Rough-legged Hawk
Kane Co, IL
December 6, 2013

But the fun was just beginning. It turned out that the couple swans I had originally seen were part of a flock of 53 birds altogether! I began picking through them - Tundra, Tundra, Tundra, Tundra... Then, 2 larger, all white birds with bright orange/pink bills - Mute Swans! Kane County life bird #173, year bird 172. And then, the most unexpected bird of the day. A large swan caught my attention next to a couple Tundras. As I compared the bill shape, and the thickness of lores between the birds, I realized I was looking at a Trumpeter Swan! Kane County life bird #174, year bird #173; Illinois life bird #289, year bird #287. I wound up with a really helpful comparison shot:

A helpful reminder that angle and positioning can have a drastic impact on our perceptions of a bird's size. The size difference between these birds was noticeable at certain points while observing them in the field, but is negligible in this photo.
Tundra Swan (left) and Trumpeter Swan (right)
Kane Co, IL
December 6, 2013

In a matter of minutes, a slow winter day transformed into an incredibly productive outing! I couldn't believe that the two birds I had specifically wanted for so long showed up at the same pond within a five minute stretch. That's really the essence of birding, and part of why I love this hobby so much. Also, the gratification of finding both of these birds on my own far outweighs any satisfaction that would have come from just tracking down someone else's find.

To add to the craziness, I wound up getting another fly by Rough-legged Hawk at Pella on my way home. DuPage life bird #224, year bird #217. I figured that once I saw my first Rough-leg I wouldn't have any difficulty seeing them again; sure enough!

Between final papers and job responsibilities at the end of the semester, I'm not sure how much I'll get out in the next couple weeks. Then we'll be heading back to Washington for two weeks with family over Christmas and New Years. All that to say, I may have found my last Illinois year birds for 2013. Having nabbed these two species, I cannot complain about ending with #287! Don't get me wrong though, I'm not hanging it up just yet.