Friday, April 25, 2014

200 and Beyond

One of the things I'm learning over the course of my Illinois big year is that you have to celebrate great birding moments when they happen, then set them aside and refocus because the next good bird could be right around the corner. If you spend too much time dwelling on how good a certain bird was, you could miss something. So, after a fantastic weekend trip, I knew there wasn't time to sit back and think on it too much (during birding hours anyway), especially with new pulses of migrants really starting to hit northern Illinois.

So, Monday morning I was right back at it before going to work. Yellow-headed Blackbirds had been reported in Cook County, and though I had just seen my first ones for the year, I figured it would be a nice bird for my four county patch and a solid county tick. I headed to Paul Douglas Forest Preserve - a drive which accentuated everything I despise about suburb commuting (especially after a weekend of freely roaming about the state). But it was quite worth it.

A good number of lingering waterfowl filled the main pond at the preserve, the best of which were two dingy looking Canvasbacks - a bird I somehow still needed for Cook, so there was tick #1. I walked up to the top of a little knoll to get a better view of the marsh, and it didn't take too much looking to come across the first of three Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Nice! They each let out that familiar squawk, which is surely one of the more cacophonous sounds in the animal kingdom.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Paul Douglas FP, Cook Co, IL
April 21, 2014

As I walked around to get a better view, the "tick-tick tick-i-tick" of a Virginia Rail came from another nearby marsh. This bird did double duty as it was both a year bird and yet another county tick. It was a little difficult at first, but it eventually popped out and showed very well. For a skulky marsh bird, it really is a colorful little guy.


 
Virginia Rail
Paul Douglas FP, Cook Co, IL
April 21, 2014

I was not counting on a year bird this morning, so that was definitely a nice surprise. And, the Virginia made Cook County bird #199. So of course I had to find one more before going home. I made the trek down to 126th St. Marsh after the previous day's report. Much to my delight, it didn't take long at all to find this brilliant Little-blue Heron. County bird #200, another year bird, and the best looks I've had of this species in Illinois - an all around win.

Little-blue Heron
126th St. Marsh, Cook Co, IL
April 21, 2014

On the way home I stopped by McClaughery Springs where I added some more Cook year birds, and the loooong overdue Eastern Bluebird tick. I was also treated to three Louisiana Waterthrushes and a Pine Warbler. Look how that white supercilium pops on the final bird.



Louisiana Waterthrushes
McClaughery Springs, Cook Co, IL
April 21, 2014

So that outing left me at 199 for the year in Illinois, where I had to sit for another day. On Tuesday I made a quick trip out to Kane, where I picked up my first Yellow-headed Blackbird for the county at Pingree Grove Marsh. From there I headed out to Burlington to look for the Swainson's Hawk which had already been seen a couple days prior. As I arrived, a large raptor-like bird soared low across the road in front of me, but it just turned out to be a Turkey Vulture. I turned the corner to find another raptor gliding along, but it was a Cooper's Hawk. Even with all that, it only took 5 minutes of scanning from the road to spot a buteo high above the woodlot. As it banked, I noticed a white band at the base of its tail, then from the other angle I saw a stark, dark head and chest that stood out against the white underside of the bird. I had my Swainson's Hawk, #200 for the year! It took a couple minutes to get a satisfactory look at all the field marks, then just like last year, in the ensuing shuffle of grabbing my camera for a shot, the thing disappeared. I'll get a pic of it one of these days, but I was just relieved to have found it so quickly! I was able to manage a shot of a nearby Vesper Sparrow, though.

Vesper Sparrow
Burlington, Kane Co, IL
April 22, 2014

Wednesday was packed with work, but Thursday morning I had a chance to get out briefly. I hadn't been to Elsen's Hill in a long time, and as it's one of my favorite local spots, I was curious to see what was in. The place was mildly birdy, but a lone Palm Warbler was a nice year bird. I'm surprised it was my 11th warbler of year, as it's usually one of the first 3 or 4. The plentiful White-throats and Yellow-rumps were looking nice, too.

White-throated Sparrow
Elsen's Hill, DuPage Co, IL
April 24, 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Elsen's Hill, DuPage Co, IL
April 24, 2014

I decided to spend my Friday morning down at Montrose, which I hadn't seen in over a month. The WNW winds from the night before seemed to make it a good time to be on the lakefront, which indeed turned out to be the case. After a few hours at Montrose and North Pond, I picked up 6 new birds for the year and another nice Cook County lifer. In these few hours, I was struck by how different the birding felt here as compared to the long hours of scouring prairie backroads the weekend before. Everything was easy to see, within a contained area, and most of it even cooperated for a photo. It's definitely a different brand of birding, and I like having a balance of different styles to keep me from getting in a rut.

Swallows were moving in good numbers this morning, and among the Tree, Rough-wings, and Barns I picked out my first Bank of the year, completing that family already. This Eastern Kingbird wasn't a year bird for me, but it was a nice find nonetheless.

Eastern Kingbird
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

A little flock of warblers included Yellow-rumps, a couple Palms, and a Common Yellowthroat. Brown Thrashers and Hermit Thrushes were around in good numbers and quite conspicuous, as were the Swamp and White-throated Sparrows.

Hermit Thrush
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

White-throated Sparrow
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

I met David Antieau while there and we had a nice time talking a birding together. We came upon this active little Orange-crowned Warbler, which is one of the brighter individuals I can remember seeing in Illinois, and another year bird.


Orange-crowned Warbler
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

Around the corner we found a Gray Catbird skulking back in a bush, a FOY for both of us.

Gray Catbird
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

Al Stokie had mentioned seeing a Northern Waterthrush earlier, and Michelle Devlin managed to relocate it for us, yet another year bird! After this successful start, I headed to North Pond and was happy to see Al pointing at the Northern Mockingbird which was still hanging around. A nice county bird for Cook. With Chimney Swifts flying over and a Green Heron along the shore, the place seemed fairly birdy, so I walked the trail around the pond to see what I could find and ended up getting great looks at a bunch of nice looking birds.

Northern Mockingbird
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

Red-breasted Merganser
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

This little guy popped around quickly, but I managed a couple nice shots. I don't think I've photographed one out in the open in the sun like this before, so that was a nice little treat.


Winter Wren
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

Always hard to go wrong with one of these beauties:

Hooded Merganser
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

I don't think I've seen many young male Wood Ducks before, and I've definitely never caught one at this light before. The iridescent colors shining off its wings and the splotch of green on top of its head both stuck out to me. What a cool looking duck.

Wood Duck
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

And here's what he'll look like before too long:

Wood Duck
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014


This Black-and-white put on quite the little show for me too!


Black-and-white Warbler
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

A familiar flutter went out across the pond and I immediately recognized its flight as belonging to my FOY Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

Right as I was about to leave, some movement in a brush pile caught my attention. I got the binoculars on it to see the bright red-brown and prominent black spots of a Wood Thrush. I always love a good look at this brilliantly marked thrush.

Wood Thrush
North Pond, Cook Co, IL
April 25, 2014

In the afternoon, I picked up my Kane County Pine Warbler at Fabyan Forest Preserve after a tip from Scott Cohrs. And with that, I had picked up 10 year birds and a handful of really nice county ticks in a matter of 5 days. The floodgates of migration haven't opened up yet, but the hints of the coming onslaught are still enjoyable!

ABA 2014: 229

Illinois 2014: 207

Cook, IL: 117
Kane, IL: 103