Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Final March Push

Coming into this past weekend, I had been building up a reservoir of easy-to-get birds which I just hadn't had the time to go after yet. 15 year birds later, I'd say the Spring flood gates have begun to burst open.

Friday afternoon, I took Jen to the airport to send her off to a vacation with her brother to Hawaii. She gets back this coming Sunday night, and I'm of course coping by getting as much birding in as possible. So, after getting her safely to Midway, I headed south to bird Will and Grundy Counties until dusk.

My first year bird of the trip came from the Lake Renwick rookery, where a group of 13 Great Egrets sat among the many Great-blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants. I then made it to Goose Lake Prairie a little before sundown. This location, in conjunction with the Des Plaines Conservation Area, is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots to bird. Highlights here included a couple blackbird flocks dominated by Rusties, along with the twilight treat of my first of the year American Woodcocks peenting and displaying.

From there, I made the drive down to Springfield and found the cheapest place to stay, which happened to be a Motel 6 on the south part of town. In the days prior, I was trying to decide which city I should stay in Friday night. Springfield made the most sense, but I had a mental block about staying there. The last time I was in Springfield was in college when I went there with some friends for a conference. As we wandered around looking for out hotel, we found a kind woman in a bad part of town who informed us that the hotel we were heading to was a crackhead hotel, and that if we stayed there we "wouldn't be coming out." That's not the kind of thing you make up to tell strangers, and while it was probably a bit of an exaggeration, she seemed serious enough for us to heed her words. We made out way safely to another hotel in the downtown area, and everything turned out fine. But, it's the kind of thing that sticks with you. Anyway, I eventually got over this mental block, and made my way safely into Springfield in time to catch the end of a couple Sweet 16 match-ups. The birds have kept me from getting real into March Madness this year, but it's still nice whenever I get the chance to watch a game.

I may or may not have chosen Springfield because it's one of the few towns down that way that actually has a Starbucks. So, I was rather disappointed to find the next morning that it didn't open until 6:30 (what disregard for birders!), so for the first time this year I headed out birding without my morning coffee coursing through my system. When I put it that way, it makes it sound like a bigger issue than I'm willing to admit. Hmm.

Thankfully my senses weren't too dulled by the lack of coffee, and I was able to quickly pick up three new birds for the year. The morning was cool and gloomy, conditions that didn't really improve for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, I trolled around Lake Springfield before dawn with my window down. Before I even pulled into my first stop I had an Eastern Phoebe squeaking in the mildly melodious woodland. The lake waterfowl consisted of a nice diversity, with pelicans and Ruddy Ducks by far being the most plentiful. From the beach house area, I had my first Common Loons of the year looking sharp in their intricate patterns of black and white. After a little further scanning, I picked out six Bonaparte's Gulls among the endless numbers of Ring-bills.

American White Pelicans
Lake Springfield, Sangamon Co, IL
March 29, 2014


Common Loon
Lake Springfield, Sangamon Co, IL
March 29, 2014

After finishing up at the lake, I stopped by the then open Starbucks, providing a certain security for the rest of my day. On the way out of town, a little puddle full of Blue-winged Teal slowed me down enough to see a stunning Ring-necked Pheasant in the nearby field. I've realized I have the same compulsive photo-taking reaction with these birds as a I do with Red-headed Woodpeckers. Just can't help but snap a few shots of pretty much everyone I see. A group of Rusty Blackbirds was along this stretch, too, rounding out a nice little list for my first birding trip to Sangamon County.

Ring-necked Pheasant
Sangamon Co, IL
March 29, 2014

Then, on to Christian County, another new one for me. Taylorville Lake was my primary stop there. In addition to some Snow Geese, the main bird of note was a singing Field Sparrow which caught me off guard; my fourth year bird on the day. I assumed I would get a handful of year birds by the end of the day, so I was happy to be doing so well by mid-morning on this breezy, dreary day.

Snow Geese
Taylorville Lake, Christian Co, IL
March 29, 2014

From there I headed southwest into Montgomery County for some ticks on the way to Carlyle. This random Bonaparte's Gull was just chilling along the side of 127, miles away from any body of water. Love the primary pattern:

Bonaparte's Gull
Montgomery Co, IL
March 29, 2014

A little further south into Bond County, I picked out both Rusty and my first of the year Brewer's Blackbirds out of a huge roadside flock. The traffic was too busy and the pull off area too narrow for me to stick around long unfortunately. Getting Brewer's off my back was a nice feeling and definitely a bird I wasn't expecting on this particular trip. A flyby Purple Martin over a small pond on a farm just added to the mix of random year birds, making six on the day at the point.

Six. Not bad at all; I began the day anticipating no more than that. I had debated whether I wanted to make it all the way down to Lake Carlyle or if I should just keep working new counties, but there's just something birdy about Carlyle that I wouldn't encounter anywhere else down there, so I decided to carve out a few hours to bird that area and man am I glad I did!

I pulled up to Eldon Hazlet State Park and found extensive mud flats - an exciting sight as I considered the shorebird and wader potential in the coming months. Before even getting out of the car, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I saw a Greater Yellowlegs foraging in a nearby pond - an actual shorebird! I got out of the car and quickly added Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson's Snipe, American Pipit, and Chipping Sparrow. On the way out I stopped back by this spot to find a large flock of Pectoral Sandpipers. My number of six year birds on the day had just doubled in one location!

Greater Yellowlegs
Eldon Hazlet State Park, Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

Wilson's Snipe
Eldon Hazlet State Park, Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

American Pipit
Eldon Hazlet State Park, Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

Pectoral Sandpipers
Eldon Hazlet State Park, Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

As I drove through the park I encountered an interesting blend of Winter lingering and Spring emerging, with birds like American Tree Sparrows and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull not far from Purple Martins, shorebirds, and a singing Field Sparrow and  Eastern Phoebe. And just like that I was over 140 for the year.

James Hawn Access was my next stop, which had more of the same with a couple other treats. The first was getting to see and hear a Purple Finch - probably my least expected bird of the day, and definitely my favorite Clinton County tick for the afternoon. Then, out on a nesting platform sat my first two Osprey of the year. Thirteen!

Osprey
James Hawn Access, Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

In a matter of a couple hours, I picked up 71 species around Lake Carlyle in Clinton County. Mind you, at the time, my DuPage County year list was at 58. Crazy. I had made one trip to Carlyle in the summer, and one trip there in September, which established a pretty substantial list to work from. In those few hours on Saturday I added 18 species to that county list, making it my fifth Illinois county with more than 150 birds.

Blue-winged Teal
Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

Turkey Vulture
Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

The gray tone to all of my pictures is indicative of the weather conditions the entirety of the day. This kept me from getting many noteworthy photos, though I was happy with this one:

Eurasian Collared-Doves
Lake Carlyle, Clinton Co, IL
March 29, 2014

I then made it to the Fayette County portion of Carlyle for the first time, where I again had both yellowlegs and an even larger flock of Pectorals than before. There were also substantial numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls at the Pakota Access, one in particular showing a partial hood already coming in.

I wanted to get back at a reasonable hour, so I started making my way home after this. Timing worked out well for me to pick up American Woodcocks in McLean County at the Kenneth Schroeder Wildlife Sanctuary, a nice county tick at my 82nd bird for the day! When all was said and done, I had picked up 15 year birds in under 24 hours. I'll take it! I didn't get anything really out of the ordinary, but it was so nice to actually see birds in numbers and not feel like I had to scrounge for every last one of them. It was a long day and some hard work definintely went into it, but the birds were more cooperative than they had been so far this year, even on a cool and uncomfortable day.

I'll do a March recap post with more numbers soon:

ABA: 165

Illinois: 142