Sunday, February 16, 2014

Triple Digits

This has been quite the momentous weekend for me. Saturday was one of the more incredible birding days I've ever had. But before I get to that, I must go back a day further to my entrance into the world of triple digits. I'll catalog the weekend in two posts.

Friday, February 14. Nachusa Grasslands had been a target location for me this winter, but it's just far enough that I hadn't found the time to get out there yet. So, Friday morning I headed out there, hoping to find something interesting, maybe a rare raptor. I found another random White-crowned Sparrow at a feeder in Ashton, and had a nice assortment of birds at Franklin Creek State Park.

White-crowned Sparrow
Ashton, Lee Co, IL
February 14, 2014

Fox Sparrows
Franklin Creek State Park, Lee Co, IL
February 14, 2014

This junco caught my eye. The picture is terrible unfortunately. Distinct dark hood, rufous back, and brown wash on the sides seem to add up to Oregon to me.

Dark-eyed Junco
Franklin Creek State Park, Lee Co, IL
February 14, 2014

Rough-legged Hawk (Dark Morph)
Franklin Creek State Park, Lee Co, IL
February 14, 2014

I crossed the county line into Ogle and wandered around Nachusa Grasslands for a while. It's an impressive area, and I wish I could have had more time to explore it. The bird activity was less than impressive, however. Crows and Horned Larks were the most abundant birds.

Horned Lark
Nachusa Grasslands, Ogle Co, IL
February 14, 2014

I thought I had a decent chance of picking up a pheasant along the way, but that didn't pan out. As I was about to start heading north, the pace of the day quickly changed. A group of cows had cleared out a sizable portion of ground where they were feeding. It was the only piece of land not covered in snow for miles, and it was attracting a lot of birds. I got my scope out, only to find that crows, starlings, and pigeons were feeding there. On my last scan through the area though, an unexpected thing happened. Up from the amidst the starlings popped a stark black and white patterned woodpecker. I took a second look and was relieved to see a Red-headed Woodpecker. What a great bird to be #100! I wasn't too surprised that #100 was a rather random, unexpected bird, for one of the growing themes early on this year has been searching for one good bird and finding another instead. I managed a pathetic photo, but I just had to document to bird that got me to the century mark (I'm also incapable of seeing a Red-headed Woodpecker without instinctively reaching for my camera).

Red-headed Woodpecker
Nachusa Grasslands, Ogle Co, IL
February 14, 2014

 The celebration was short lived, though, as moments later I received word from Andrew about Amar's Slaty-back at the Lake County Fairgrounds. I quickly typed in the location and discovered that I was two hours away. I was so far west, and so close to getting to see Lowden-Miller. I figured the bird would still be there the following day when we would be up in that neck of the woods anyway, so I turned and headed toward Lowden. About ten seconds down the road, my reasoning caught up with me. I turned to car back around and began the journey to Lake County. You just can't take a chance with things like this.

For the first hour I made great time, as the driving consisted mostly of highways with relatively few cars, and even better - no cops. The second hour was not so great. Two lane roads clogged by semis and snow plows, slowed by construction zones. When chasing a rarity, every minute counts, and this weight was quite palpable as I crept along going 35 in a 45 much of the way. The latest report of the bird was that it was still being seen at 1:15. I got there just after 1:20. No bird. Every minute counts.

A Red-tailed Hawk had flushed a large portion of the flock, which was now feeding at the dump. From the Lake County Fairgrounds, we could see a large flock of gulls get up and fly around the dump occasionally. A few of us got on a dark-mantled gull briefly, but nowhere near well enough to make a definitive call on it. Not wanting the long trip to be completely in vain, I started focusing on the remainder of the gull flock in the parking lot. I only had one winter gull missing for the year, which I quickly found while picking through the Herrings and Ring-bills: Thayer's Gull, #101.

Thayer's Gull
Lake County Fairgrounds, Lake Co, IL
February 14, 2014

I then got on this bulky second cycle Iceland Gull. Looking at its size relative to the nearby Herrings, some thought it was a Glaucous, but the head shape and bill size/shape alone screamed Iceland to me. When it took to flight, the primaries were also consistent with the standard "Kumlien's" Iceland pattern. Geoff Williamson was also in the Iceland camp, which sealed the deal for me. Oh the joys of gulls!



"Kumlien's" Iceland Gull
Lake County Fairgrounds, Lake Co, IL
February 14, 2014

Then this bird showed up right before I headed home. This picture doesn't show the shade of gray too accurately, because it was quite a bit lighter in the field. I think this would be called a Thayer's in many places, but the likelihood of it having some sort of Iceland influence is just too high for me to assign it to a species, especially without a chance to see the spread wing. Is it an Iceland? Who knows? Open to opinions.

Thayer's/Iceland Gull
Lake County Fairgrounds, Lake Co, IL
February 14, 2014

I had been there for over an hour, but the Slaty-back had refused to show. And, I had a Valentine's date to get back for, so I left the fairgrounds without the lifer. For whatever reason, I was still pretty confident that the bird would be back the next day and that I would get another shot at it, though missing it by a matter of minutes definitely stung in that moment. I made the right choice in leaving then though, because it was not relocated for the rest of the day. And with that, I had made it to the land of triple digits, and enjoyed a wonderful evening out with Jen.

(See next post for up to date numbers.)