Saturday, March 1, 2014

Strike Two

I spent the first 27 days of February birding no further south than Will County. So, on the final day of the month, I thought I'd head down to the central part of the state to bird Coles County and try for the Prairie Falcons again.

I arrived at the Magic Stump at 8 am to find a familiar sight - nothing on or around the stump. Andrew and I had put in about five hours of searching for this bird in mid-January and came up with nothing. Beginning my second search with an empty stump did not seem like a good sign. Indeed, it was not.

After a couple hours of searching far and wide for these birds, I needed a break. The lifeless, drab brown corn fields, harsh sunlight, heat waves, and bitter wind made conditions unfavorable in every way. It would have been worth it if the darn falcon had just shown up, but it didn't. So, I wandered the backroads down to Charleston, on the way picking up some Red-winged Blackbirds.

Ron and Tyler's reports of Long-tailed Ducks drew me to the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Charleston, which was definitely the highlight of my day. The Long-tails were easy to pick up, and though the drake was sleeping, it was still a sight for sore eyes at that point in the day. A nearby Hooded Merganser was looking pretty nice, too, and Lesser Scaup, Canvasback, and Redhead were other welcome additions to my paltry Coles County list. This is my fourth county to have Long-tails in less than a two week period. Not bad.

Long-tailed Ducks
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

Long-tailed Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Hooded Merganser
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

Redhead
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

I then experienced a first as the worlds of Winter and Spring collided - a Killdeer flew over while I was looking at the Long-tailed Ducks. My first year bird of the day, and funny timing to say the least!

The other highlight of this stop was the number of geese present. Many Canada, Greater White-front, and a single Snow were visible from the main road. I ran into Tyler there, and he suggested checking on the other side of the berm, because there were more Snow and potentially a Ross's over there. He was right! I peeked just over the berm to see significant numbers of Snows and White-fronts among the Canadas. I was very happy to find a couple Cackling, and eventually a single Ross's, another year bird. And, miracle of all miracles, I captured all five in one picture! The Ross's is on the left, and the Cacklers are on the bottom right. I think you can spot the other three. :)

Ross's, Snow, Greater White-fronted, Canada, and Cackling Geese
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

This group of White-fronts was super impressive. I estimated there were about 350 present, with over 200 in this picture alone (click on it to make it bigger):

Bunches of Gooses
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

Greater White-fronted Geese
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014


Greater White-fronted Geese
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

And then, they unfortunately got sick of me and took to flight, another impressive sight. I had the additional perk of not getting pooped on as they circled overhead.

Snow, Canada, and Greater White-fronted Geese
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

Snow Geese
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

Snow Geese
Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Coles Co, IL
February 28, 2014

I added Common Goldeneye, Ring-necked Duck, Trumpeter Swan, and Tufted Titmouse at Lake Charleston after that. Then back to the Magic Stump for a couple more hours of fruitless searching. I did turn up a Snow Bunting among the many flocks of Horned Lark and Lapland Longspur, giving me Coles County bird #42.

It was definitely frustrating to make the long trip for the falcons and come up empty again. But, like the miss in January, it was still a solid day with highlights that made it quite enjoyable. I'll likely have another chance to go for the falcons this year, though at this point I'm wondering if it won't be until November.

I will do a February recap soon with more numbers, but here's the basic rundown after yesterday:

ABA: 138

Illinois: 110

Coles, IL: 42