Wednesday, February 5, 2014

January Recap

Well, it was a rather interesting beginning to my Illinois big year endeavor. Several factors threatened to slow me down, but I managed my most productive January of birding nevertheless. I also can't think of a January I've enjoyed more than the one that belongs to 2014. Here's the rundown.

Challenge #1: Beginning the year outside Illinois. While this initially set me back on my Illinois efforts, I really can't complain after the incredible birding I got to do with my dad back home in the Pacific Northwest, which included 82 species in just a few days. The highlight was the Northern Hawk Owl on January 1. We got to Chicago on the night of January 5, which brings me to the next challenge.

Challenge #2: Polar Vortex. So, it's been kinda cold here. Across much of the eastern portion of the country, January oscillated between spans of snow falling and spurts of temperatures falling well below zero. Along with these conditions came potholes large enough to host a small village. The sense of living in some sort of Sci-Fi world has only been increased by the "Polar Vortex" label. I grew up with a lot of snow and regular below zero temperatures, but this is by far the most winter I've ever experienced.

As it turns out, birders are more averse to these kinds of conditions than birds are. Sure, it was a little chilly on a couple of my outings. But, in today's day and age, if you can't find the right type/amount of clothing to stay warm in these kinds of extreme conditions, you're just not trying hard enough. Or you just don't want it bad enough. That's fine, but not wanting it enough isn't an option for the big year aspirer. So, with a layer of Underarmour, flannel-lined pants, a wind breaking layer under my heavy winter coat, earmuffs, skull cap, and tech gloves (gotta be able to still work BirdLog, of course) inside those cutoff mitten-glove things, I made my way outside time and again. (I'm working on a post about why I think getting outside despite the cold contributed to my overall wellbeing for the month.) Did some birds take off because of the cold? Yes. Is most of the water in northern Illinois frozen? Yes. But the birds are still out there.

Challenge #3: Finchless in Chicago. Like much of the nation, we are experiencing an extreme finch drought this year. It's ridiculous. No crossbills and redpolls is one thing, but no siskins? Really? That's just ridiculous.

Highlights: so many. More than I had expected, I think:
Low point: No doubt, missing the Coles County Prairie Falcon by 20 minutes. No prob, it was a good learning experience, and I'll be back.

Adjusting along the way: I broke my plan up into six, two-month chunks, which you can see by the color coding system. Given the conditions this winter, I'm moving birds like Winter Wren and Sandhill Crane up to the March-April time frame. I may have to do that with some waterfowl too, we'll see. I'm not concerned about those moves, especially because I already have several things I didn't think I'd find till March-April. What does worry me a little bit is birds like Northern Saw-whet Owl and Common Redpoll (again, along with all the other finches), which I'm moving to the November-December slot. I have a feeling I'll be sitting at 298 half way through December, frantically chasing finches around the state. Surely I'll run into a siskin at some point this winter, right?

February goals: When I originally created my plan, I arbitrarily picked 105 as my high end goal for the end of February. My new goal, which is pretty feasible I think, is 110. It'll really come down to how I do on the lakefront (which is hopping right now!), and if I can nail down rarities like Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon. They're out there, just gotta get on them.

Final reflections: I'm really loving the process of building a year list with a new intensity and intentionality. For me, setting a mark and trying to hit it is much more enjoyable than competing against others. I've also managed to keep both my jobs, keep up with grad school, and spend a good amount of time hibernating with Jen. The Illinois birding community continues to amaze me. Everyone I've emailed and pestered with questions has been more than willing to help out. Thanks to you all!

I'll leave you with my favorite picture of January, 2014:

January by the numbers:

ABA: 124

Illinois: 92
Washington: 79
Idaho: 30
Wisconsin: 6

Cook, IL: 57
Will, IL: 55
Spokane, WA: 52
Kane, IL: 49
Shelby, IL: 42
DuPage, IL: 39 (I don't want to talk about it)

4 County (Will, Cook, DuPage, Kane) Patch Challenge (with dad in WA and uncle in TX): 83. They're both ahead of me, but not by as much as I would expect.