Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Odds and Ends

After an amazing, rather intense President's Day weekend full of birding, I've taken it a little bit easier for the past week. I have still been out a decent number of times, but for shorter spans. In the process, I have filled in a few county gaps and tacked on a couple more year birds.

Last week, it seemed that Spring was upon us. And by "Spring," I simply mean that temperatures rose above freezing for the first time in what felt like aeons. As evidence of the deep freeze we've been under in these parts, temperatures up into the 40s actually registered at something more like 60 with me. Naturally, I found several opportunities to soak up the beauty and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.

One local area I've been hitting is Blackwell Forest Preserve, which has some of the only open water in DuPage. A pair of Great-horned Owls calling back and forth there in the middle of the day last Wednesday was a clear sign that the birds had welcomed the shift in weather as much as I had. My first Belted Kingfisher for DuPage this year rattled away and landed in a nearby tree.

Belted Kingfisher
Blackwell Forest Preserve, DuPage Co, IL
February 19, 2014

Then this little guy posed nicely for me, rich blue sky as a background.

White-breasted Nuthatch
Blackwell Forest Preserve, DuPage Co, IL
February 19, 2014

The Lockport Canal drew a lot of attention last week as a revolving door of inland rarities. On one trip there I had 58 White-winged Scoters! Greater Scaup was a nice county year bird, the Red-throated Loon stuck around for a few days, and I finally managed to get my first Canvasback of the year.

Canvasback
Lockport Canal, Will Co, IL
February 21, 2014

Gadwall
Lockport Canal, Will Co, IL
February 21, 2014

Red-throated Loon
Lockport Canal, Will Co, IL
February 21, 2014

Other than that, the only thing of note last week was my DuPage County lifer Peregrine Falcon at FermiLab on Friday. It was a quick fly by, and a rather unexpected bird on this blustery day. And, a long overdo county bird, #226!

I laid low over the weekend as Saturday brought a day-long meeting for me and a doctor's appointment for Jen, and we both felt on the verge of getting sick. Good times. Then yesterday morning rolled around, and I realized it would likely be my last chance to get out for the next few days. Work and school are ramping up; thankfully Spring Break is less than two weeks away now.

So, I headed back down to the Des Plaines River with the hopes of picking up a couple year birds, and I did just that! The conditions were sunny, but the firm breeze was a stern reminder that Winter is not about to let go. Let's be real, people. It's the end of February. A 10-day forecast full of lows in the single digits and below zero temps is not out of the ordinary. If your expectations include blooming flowers and comfortable temps at this time of year, Chicago isn't the place for you. It's going to be OK, I promise Spring will indeed come.

Back to the birds. Waterfowl numbers were impressive, a clear sign that things are on the move. All three swans were present again at the widewaters area, including the two Trumpeters pictured below. A male White-winged Scoter was near the bridge, along with a nice assortment of Common and Hooded Mergansers and a Pied-billed Grebe.

Trumpeter Swans
Des Plaines Widewaters, Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

White-winged Scoter
Des Plaines Widewaters, Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

Common Mergansers
Des Plaines Widewaters, Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

Hooded Mergansers
Des Plaines Widewaters, Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

Here's a good reminder of the notable size difference between the two:

Common and Hooded Merganser
Des Plaines Widewaters, Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

Many Canvasback were present, along with a good contingent of Redhead, both scaup, American Black Duck, Gadwall, and the other usual suspects. As for passerines, the "Peter! Peter! Peter!" of a Tufted Titmouse rang out as I scoped, several Brown Creepers scurried along tree trunks, and I had my first Red-winged Blackbird in well over a month.

On the south side of the river, I scoped from the Harborside Marina where I found more of the same in the waterfowl department, with the exception that all five aythya species were present in two rafts: Canvasback were by far the most numerous, followed by Ring-necked Ducks, then Lesser Scaup, then Redheads, and I eventually picked out a couple Greater Scaup. Two Double-crested Cormorants sat among 15 Great-blue Herons roosting on the bank; nine Bald Eagles circled overhead. But, no pelicans, as had been reported over the weekend. After checking my Delorme, I realized that from my vantage point, I could easily see a significant portion of the river on the Grundy County side, so I added a handful of county ticks. This brought my Grundy life list up to 101, not bad considering I've only stepped foot in the county three times. It's my ninth Illinois county to break the century mark.

I headed south on the county line road, Grundy on my right, Will on my left. A large permanent yellow roadside stating "FOG AHEAD" struck me as a little odd. How do they know? I discovered the validity of the sign shortly thereafter as I came upon the Dresden Cooling Lake. Fog swept across the road, greatly diminishing visibility, but as I peered to my left a pocket of it peeled back to reveal a lone bird resting on a rocky shore: American White Pelican! Obviously not a bird I was concerned about getting for the year, but I figured I had missed them for the day by that point, so this was a fun surprise. I lingered for a little while, and as the fog hesitantly permitted, I found a couple groups of Gadwall, a few Greater Scaup in with Lessers, a Pied-billed Grebe, and a Double-crested Cormorant.

American White Pelican
Dresden Cooling Lake, Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

I wondered what else was sitting out on that huge body of water, concealed under the highly localized mirky sky. While I didn't receive a full answer to that query, I did get a partial reply as thousands of geese flew back and forth over the road when I headed back east. A train crossing slowed me down enough to help me realize that a flock landing right next to the road had a decent number of Greater-white Fronted Geese mixed in. I turned around to investigate.

Large mixed flocks of geese provide some of my favorite birding moments. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but as I sat there and watched the flock grow as more and more groups of geese were landing, I felt like the outing had been worth it. I had a really hard time pulling myself away - I could have been content to just sit there all day, but alas, with a meeting to get back for, twenty minutes was all I could afford. I did manage some fun shots though:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

Greater White-fronted Geese
Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

I captured three species in flight together, too!

 Canada, Cackling, and Greater White-fronted Goose
Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

I only observed the flock from the road for a short while because traffic was surprisingly busy, which was unfortunate because it gave me a better, elevated vantage point. While there, I snapped this picture, only to get home that my first Northern Pintail of the year had snuck into the far right corner, ha!

Canada and Greater White-fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail
Will Co, IL
February 24, 2014

 And with that, I sit at 108 as the final days of February slip away. I'm happy with the start I've had, but I definitely feel the pressure to get another winter rarity on the list before Spring hits. Prairie Falcon, anybody? Here are the numbers:

ABA: 136

Illinois: 108
Illinois County Ticks: 2,618 (all time)

Will, IL: 67
Cook, IL:62
Kane, IL: 56
DuPage, IL: 49