Thursday, February 6, 2014

One By One By One

In these opening days of February, I've tried to get a good start on the journey to triple digits. I have spent a little bit of time in DuPage, Will, and Kane counties, each of which has produced a single year bird. I've also begun reading Kenn Kaufmann's Kingbird Highway - what a refreshing read as a break from the academy! I wish there were more books like this in the world.

February 1: DuPage. Andrew and I spent the morning tromping through the arb, trying to come up with some sign of an owl. The snow fell quiet and sat quaint among the frozen foliage. It was a beautiful morning, and we both agreed that 20 degrees felt like spring! However, knee-deep snow quickly reminded us that winter grasp is still firm on the region.

We didn't turn up any owls, or much of anything for that matter. But a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker skwaked at us as we left, then another greeted us at Willowbrook. Year bird #93! There have been a good number of them wintering here for whatever reason - of all years!? They all seem drawn to Andrew too; he thinks he was a Maple Tree in a past life.

White-throated Sparrow was DuPage year bird #41. No open water makes for slow going on the birding front in my home county. The benefit is the way it has forced me to start learning the surrounding counties better, which has been a lot of fun.

The only picture I got this morning:

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Morton Arboretum, DuPage Co, IL
February 1, 2014

February 2: The beginning of a long season of celebrating the Seahawks absolutely smashing the Broncos in the Super Bowl. What happens when the best defense meets the best offense? The best defense makes everyone forget about the best offense. Seriously, what a dominating performance, beautiful from start to finish. Oh, and it is quite sweet being part of the 12th Man while living among NFC North fans.

K, enough of that. Back to the birds.

February 3: Will. I spent a little time checking out some more new spots in Will County on Monday morning. My plan got thwarted by some sort of accident on I-55, so I ended up only hitting half of the locations I had wanted to see. My other difficulty was the fog along the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers, making it hard to detect the waterfowl. But, I still managed 40 species as this region provided yet another really refreshing morning to kick off the week.

I birded part of the Des Plaines Conservation Area for the first time this morning - wow. What an impressive area, rich with diverse habitat. I can't wait to watch it come alive this Spring. But, I quickly discovered that there are plenty of birds hanging around right now. Quite a few juncos and tree sparrows were around, and the chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches sounded off consistently. I got some really nice looks at two different Carolina Wrens, and came across several White-throated Sparrows.

White-throated Sparrow
Des Plaines Conservation Area, Will Co, IL
February 3, 2014

Probably the least expected part of the morning was capturing this Brown Creeper in flight! I'm not sure I've even seen a shot of a creeper in flight before. I doubt I could have told you that they have that wing stripe through the middle of the primaries and secondaries. So cool!

Brown Creeper
Des Plaines Conservation Area, Will Co, IL
February 3, 2014

I kept trying different pull offs, and seemed to add a species or two each time. As I meandered through one, I spotted a small bird sitting still on a low branch of a bush. I put my binoculars up and was quite pleased to find my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the year. Year bird #94. What a cutie.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Des Plaines Conservation Area, Will Co, IL
February 3, 2014

This little fluffball is pretty impressive to me. Nearly all of his friends and relatives (other warblers) will show up in April and May. They're called neotropical migrants, a reminder that they're wintering in places where flip flops and tank tops are the norm right now. But not this guy. He's toughing it out right here in Illinois through the Polar Vortex and all. If he can make it, I can make it. Yellow-rumps will be commonplace before we know it, but this one gave me quite the spark of energy on this crisp, cool February morning.

I worked my way to the Des Plaines River, which was still foggy, and lacking in the waterfowl I had hoped for. A Double-crested Cormorant on the bank was a bit of a surprise, and a nice flock of Ring-necked Ducks is always an enjoyable spectacle. Yet again, I had all three merganser species along this river. There were eight Bald Eagles hanging around too, six of which found their way into a single tree.

"You should go to Starved Rock and take pictures of eagles."

"Hmm, and stand among hundreds of people more interested in eagles and photography than birding?"

"Yeah. There's bunches of eagles there."

"Mmm, no thanks."

(just to be clear - I'm glad people love eagles and can see them so well at popular locations around the state - much better than people not being interested in eagles. It's just not my cup of tea. Especially when I can encounter a tree of six without another person in sight. It's a function of my personality, and a classic example of the difference between birdwatching and birding.)

Bald Eagles
Des Plaines River, Will Co, IL
February 3, 2014

I had other plans, but like I said, the traffic rerouted me. Still a successful morning though.

February 4: Kane. I normally don't get out Tuesdays because it's a busy work day for me. Yesterday was probably my busiest yet, but aside from meetings, my work didn't demand that I stay on campus. So, after my first meeting I strategically made the quick trip out to Geneva, picking up White-winged Scoters along the Fox River.

White-winged Scoters
Island Park, Kane Co, IL
February 4, 2014

White-winged Scoters with Common Merganser and Common Goldeneyes
Island Park, Kane Co, IL
February 4, 2014

I then hunkered down in a Starbucks for a few hours and pounded out my work for the day. Brendon Lake was then kind enough to help me get on #95 for the year, an Eastern Screech Owl! We watched an empty hole for about 30 minutes, and I assumed I had missed it. Oh well, I'll get plenty this year. But when I drove back by on my way out, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was back, just barely peaking out! I love this shot.

Eastern Screech Owl
Kane Co, IL
February 4, 2014

This was special for me because I now have nine species of owls for the ABA area this year, and I have seen every single one of them, in daylight no less!

Thus begins the final ascent to 100. It could happen in one really productive day, or it could take a couple weeks. We shall see.

ABA: 127

Illinois: 95

Will, IL: 60
Cook, IL: 57
Kane, IL: 52
DuPage, IL: 41