Sunday, May 18, 2014

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER and a Week Full of Good Birds

This post will be too short to do justice to the awesome birds I got to see this week; I'm just squeezing it in so that I have stuff wrapped up before heading out to Arizona today (eek!).

These past couple of weeks have been some of the busiest of the work year as we've come to the end of the school year, closed out a building of 600 underclassmen who were more or less able and willing to clean up after themselves. Squeezing birding in has taken some early mornings, but of course it's been worth it!

Monday, May 12. There are some birds that have the power to summon a birder from nearly anywhere, at nearly anytime. Slaty-backed Gull was the first this year. Little Gull was the second. And on Monday, in the middle of closing walk-throughs, Fork-tailed Flycatcher became the third. Don't get me wrong, I've dropped everything to chase plenty of other stuff already this year, but some birds are of an entirely different caliber.

So, with the slightest open window in the afternoon, I booked it out to Kane County, where this outstanding rarity was just sitting in a tree right next to the trail at Gunar Anderson. I watched it hawk out over the river a few times, taking in that gaudy tail and those elegant gestures. I was only able to spend a short, unsatisfactory amount of time with it, but it's an experience I'll never forget! Talk about a bird I wasn't expecting on the state year list! This is a truly remarkable bird, and one of those that I wasn't sure I would ever see in the ABA area. World list #652, and ABA list #532 for me.

Wednesday, May 14. On one of the best mornings at Elsen's Hill I've ever had, I bagged 22 species of warblers and 72 species in all. The place was silly with Magnolias and Golden-winged Warblers - I had three Golden-wings just in the parking lot when I got out. Year birds included Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Philadelphia Vireo and a stunning Mourning Warbler. I was pumped that I first identified the Mourning by its pulsing trill of a call. I took some time, tracked it down, and was rewarded with brief but close looks. Gotta love it. I also picked out a Canada Warbler by its call and got some decent looks at it as well. I love it when tirelessly studying bird calls pays off in these kinds of moments. It was another gray morning, and most birds didn't show all that well, so I only managed a few photos.

Friday, May 17: Nathan Goldberg and I had the morning free, so I picked him up early and we did some Cook County birding. I had four target birds. We got zero of them, but found success in other areas. Most notable, we froze our butts off and got rather wet. This little Wood Duck family was too cute to pass up.

Montrose and the Lincoln Park area were pretty dead, though Nathan did get me my first Ruby-throated Himmingbird of the year. Bob Hughes suggested we get away from the lakefront and maybe try LaBagh. Good call. We got there and scouted the area where the wormie had been earlier in the week, but it hadn't been reported for a couple days so we weren't surprised to not find it. Then we checked another part of the preserve where one of the first birds to pop up was a little brown warbler. I got on it and said "Worm-eating!" It flew back across the path and we both got awesome looks at it. Unfortunately we soaked it in a moment too long, so our pictures are of a greenish brown lump. You can barely make put the black crown stripes on this one. I've had three wormie encounters in Illinois, and every time my photo documentation is deplorable. But it's such a good bird that I don't even care.

And then we continued to the river, which was still a little flooded, wouldn't you say? Best warbler was Canada, and Mags continued to be everywhere.

Rosehill cemetery had a singing Veery, and a little group of passerines, but not much else. So, we headed back to South Pond to bird there before Nathan had to get to class. It was fairly birdy, and our first Cape Mays of the day were conspicuous.

That afternoon I checked Fermi for the first time in a while. As I pulled off Eola onto Swenson Rd, I saw a small white bird wading by the edge of the fluddle. I started getting excited and said to myself, "Please be a Cattle Egret. Please be a Cattle Egret." Indeed, it was a Cattle Egret. Sweet year bird and an even sweeter county lifer! So awesome. 

Also had this goofy looking Least Sandpiper throw me for a loop. 

Saturday, May 17. I checked St James Farm and came up with 19 warblers, including my main target: Hooded Warbler back on territory. No year birds though. 

That evening, Jen and I went for a walk at Elsens Hill, where she got to see Golden-wings and a few other warblers. I had a Mourning again, and Black-billed Cuckoo was a nice county year bird. The best highlight by far though was my long awaited Black-throated Blue Warbler - and a stunning male at that!

Sunday, May 18. I thought the birding was done for the week, but I was wrong! Jen and I always drive by Churchill Woods Forest Preserve on the way to church Sunday mornings, and we usually see a Great Egret and Great Blue. But this morning, one of the egrets seemed a little small, so I decided to turn around and check it out real quick. I fortunately had my scope in the trunk, and quickly got on the bird to find that it was a Snowy Egret! An outstanding county lifer, and a sweet bird for my 4 county patch too! Here's my crappy iphonescoped shot.

And with that, I'm heading to Arizona now. Here's where the numbers stand:

ABA 2014: 287

Illinois 2014: 265

Kane, IL: 185
DuPage, IL: 163
Cook, IL: 150