Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Solid Day, Minus Rarities

It really was a great day. We just have to keep reminding ourselves of that.

4:30 am didn't even feel that early as Andrew and I hit the road, for the anticipation of good birds ahead was almost as effective a stimulant as our first Starbucks stop (which was at 4:35 am). The three hour drive that brought us to our first location was almost entirely in the dark, until a nice sunrise eventually lit up the sky. We were on our way to look for the Coles County Prairie Falcons. Someone should have let the falcons know.

For three solid hours we searched far and wide, not a sign of a Prairie Falcon. We had no shortage of scares along the way though. American Kestrels dotted fence posts and power lines throughout our search. A Merlin made a swipe past us twice and posed nicely once. Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks perched low on cutoff corn stalks. A distant male Northern Harrier was similar enough in size to give us pause for a moment. We were racking up the raptors, just not the one we had come for.

Merlin
Coles Co, IL
January 20, 2014

Rough-legged Hawk
Coles Co, IL
January 20, 2014

American Kestrel
Coles Co, IL
January 20, 2014

So we headed west to Wolf Creek, where the recent CBC had produced a Spotted Towhee. We worked the area for a while and year birds started falling into place. Carolina Chickadees were chattering away, a Fox Sparrow was present, and we quickly got on a group of Eastern Towhees. Other birds of note were Eastern Bluebird, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, and four species of woodpeckers. But no Spotted Towhee. Tyler Funk gave us great directions that led us to a nice flock of passerines, but after picking through it for over an hour we had still come up empty. Though bummed, we were finding joy in the little victories of year birds and county ticks. Ah, the lives of listers.

Eastern Bluebird
Wolf Creek, Shelby Co, IL
January 20, 2014

Fox Sparrow
Wolf Creek, Shelby Co, IL
January 20, 2014

The West Dam area of Lake Shelbyville helped fill out our day list with some nice waterfowl and a Pileated Woodpecker. There were many Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers, joined by American Black Ducks, Redhead, Pied-billed Grebes and a lone Horned Grebe. A few Cackling Geese were mixed in the huge Canada flock, along with a single Snow Goose and 150 Greater White-fronted Geese. We picked up Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, and Great-horned Owl in the area, bringing our raptor total to eight. Solid. But we had now missed both of our targets.

Still optimistic, though increasingly nervous, we made our way back towards the magic stump. We picked up Eurasian Collared Dove on the way, bird #50 for the day. As we pulled up and saw the stump, I spotted what looked like a bird sitting behind it on the ground. We got the scopes out to find a raptor sitting there, two actually! But, they were Rough-legged Hawks. A lovely sight to be sure, but not what we wanted in the moment. We continued scanning and Andrew spotted our ninth raptor and final bird of the day, a Short-eared Owl. Again, an excellent bird and really nice pick up for the year. We had racked up the raptors, just not the one we came for.

Short-eared Owl
Coles Co, IL
January 20, 2014

We both needed to get back, and with a three hour drive ahead, we couldn't afford to hang around till dusk. Dusk was when the Prairie Falcons were seen again. Bummer.

You can't hang your head on a day like that though. Year birds and county ticks abounded, and we learned that the Prairie Falcon may require a different strategy - one involving dusk instead of dawn. So, though we missed our targets, the day wasn't a loss in my books. It's still early in the year, and another trip down at some point is feasible. Meanwhile, my year list has taken a nice little bump.

ABA: 120

Illinois: 87

Shelby, IL: 43

Andrew and Joshua Buddy List: 239 (added Rough-legged Hawk)