Saturday, February 8, 2014

... By One

In keeping with my previously established theme for the first week of February, yesterday morning I hit one more county and gained one more bird. I had several targets, but time, traffic, and yet more below zero temps thwarted those plans. It was probably my least birdy trip to Cook County so far this year. Though I missed some of the easier things I still need, I did manage to add one that was really nice to tick off the list this early in the year.

These were the conditions I contemplated as I considered how early I wanted to get on the road. Throughout the day, I found myself daydreaming about Spring - the coming migrants, planned trips, days when a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans are sufficient to keep one warm. An alignment-altering pothole or rush of cool breeze off the frozen lakefront quickly brought me back to reality - we're one week into February, kid.

My first stop was the Bend of the Little Calumet, where I was met with the unwelcome combo of fog coming off the river, backlit by sun. The best birds were - surprise surprise - two White-winged Scoters. I decided to keep moving, and on my way to 126th St I had an adult Great Black-backed Gull fly past near the bridge on 130th. Again not much to speak of at 126th, and the breeze seemed to be picking up. There were still a few Trumpeter Swans in the open water at Wolf Lake, but nothing else worthy of note.

The slow morning picked up when a pair of Monk Parakeets zoomed in front of my car along Ewing Ave on my way to Calumet Park. Though not a year bird, this was a long overdo county lifer. I assumed I would pick up the Jackson Park birds at some point this year, but it was nice to have these ones come to me so easily.

Calumet Park was, as expected, completely frozen over. I drove along, trying to find any open patches, until finally a little hole no more than 15 feet in diameter caught my attention. It had just a handful of birds: a single Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser, with six White-winged Scoters. Crazy how they're everywhere right now! 

I then hopped up to 87th Street, only to find that there was absolutely no open water. I didn't even see a single bird for the first few minutes. Then something flying from the north came into my scanning binoculars. Clearly a loon by profile, but initially too far out to ID, and I wasn't interested in a bird that wanted to stay on the Indiana side of the water. But as I watched, it kept getting closer. And closer, and closer. Before I knew it the bird was circling around and heading back north not too far from shore, providing a great look at the sleek build and white face of this Red-throated Loon! The bird was clearly on the Illinois side by this point, and as it continued north it leaned west, putting me at ease for checking this bird of the Illinois list for the year. Another loon and a small flock of ducks flew by way out on the Indiana side. These were my only birds at this location.

As I made my way north along Lake Shore Drive, I was amazed to see just how far the ice extended out onto the lake. I've never seen anything quite like that before on a body of water as huge as Lake Michigan. I poked around North and South Ponds, and then hit a couple spots along the Chicago River, finding little of note at any of these stops. Traffic had slowed me down by that point, and I needed to get back, so I had to head home content with just one year bird for the day.

The reason I had to get back was that we had an overnight retreat with our church up in Lake Geneva, WI last night. It was nice to get away from campus for a night. And, on the way back, we saw a beautiful dark morph Rough-legged Hawk in McHenry County, a nice county lifer and Illinois state tick #2,570.

ABA: 128

Illinois: 96

Cook, IL: 59