Friday, March 28, 2014

Little Gull!

This is turning out to be a heck of a month for me. I figured my hot streak would have to simmer at some point, but apparently this was not the week for such simmering. I wound up with a free morning on Wednesday, so I planned to wander around Will and maybe Kendall Counties and try to pick up a few easy things that were starting to filter in. It actually wound up being a chilly and rather unproductive morning. At first.

I began east of Midewin, hoping to come across a Western Meadowlark amidst the many singing Easterns. I had no such luck. As I drove along the backroads, I was thinking how it seemed that in about a two week stretch the American Tree Sparrows had been almost completely replaced by singing Song Sparrows. I finally ran into a little flock of Tree Sparrows, and followed them to this beauty, a nice Will County lifer for me:

Ring-necked Pheasant
Will Co, IL
March 26, 2014

While standing at this spot, my phone began ringing. I pulled it out to see that Nathan Goldberg was calling. I knew he and Andy were also out, and I started getting the sense that something good was about to happen.

Me: "Hello."

Nathan: "Come to the mouth of the Kankakee, I have an adult Little Gull."

I'm sure there was more of a conversation after that, but it took place while I scrambled into the car and started hauling down Will County's backroads. I tried to keep my head on straight and not drive in such a manner that would get me pulled over. Grateful that I was already in that neck of the woods, I pulled into the McKinley Woods parking lot about 35 minutes later. With the scope over one shoulder and camera over the other, I jogged down the hill from the parking lot, then made my way to the I and M Canal Trail, which runs for 96 miles along the Illinois River, part of which runs west from McKinley Woods into Grundy County. I then proceeded to run off and on for about half of the remaining distance, 1.3 miles in all. In the process, I was quickly reminded just how long it's been since I actually worked out. The below freezing temps and clunky hiking boots didn't help the situation at all. I was quite winded by the time I finally saw Andy and Nathan along the trail. Two days after the fact, my back is sore and my legs are cranky. But who cares?

I was happy to see Nathan with his camera up, because I figured that meant the bird was still there. Sure enough, I walked up, and for the second time this year, I looked through Andy Sigler's scope to see a lifer larid on the other end. I watched the bird for a few moments then set up my scope. Nathan had White-winged Scoter counties to add, so they took off after a little while; I'm so grateful they hung around long enough to get me on the bird!

I stayed for over an hour, observing this beautiful Little Gull (some of my friends have asked - no, there is no personal relation). It was everything I ever expected to see in a Little Gull and more. I couldn't believe just how distinctive those dark underwings were. It's energetic, fast-paced flight resembled a Bonaparte's. And that size, wow. The thing was dwarfed by the nearby Ring-bills! Its size actually made it rather difficult to photograph decently, so I only managed a few poor record shots. But man am I happy to have poor record shots of my lifer Little Gull!

Little Gull
Dresden Pool, Grundy Co, IL
March 26, 2014

Size comparison shots:

Little Gull (right) with Ring-billed Gull
Dresden Pool, Grundy Co, IL
March 26, 2014

A gull that's no larger than a Bufflehead - crazy:

Little Gull (left) with Bufflehead
Dresden Pool, Grundy Co, IL
March 26, 2014

This was my second ABA lifer in five days, and my fifth state lifer just this month!

Since Spring migrants are taking their precious time in getting up to the northern portion of the state, I figure I'll try to go to them. Jen takes off for Hawaii today and doesn't get back till next Sunday, so I'll be taking parts of each of the next two weekends to head south. I probably won't get much that won't end up in northeast Illinois eventually, but who knows? And, my increasing obsession with county listing has me wanting to fill in some of these gaps (highlighted counties are the ones where I have at least one bird already):

I'll likely be working my way from Macon and Sangamon down to Clinton tomorrow, looking forward to the adventure of covering new territory!

World Life: 651
ABA Life: 531
ABA Year: 151

Illinois Life: 299 (eek!)
Illinois Year: 127