Thursday, May 1, 2014

Montrose Marbled Godwits, Barely

Many times, birding comes down to a matter of moments - sometimes minutes, sometimes seconds. Will that rarity hang on just a little longer? Did you catch enough of that wing pattern to solidify the ID? Why did the kittiwake choose to fly by the lake watch while you were in the restroom? Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don't. Today came down to a matter of seconds for me, and in keeping with the pattern established so far this year, things inexplicably went my way yet again.

I wasn't planning on doing any birding on this first day of May. My schedule was packed and I already had a nice trip in the works for tomorrow. Then godwits got involved. I didn't have a godwit for the state, and it was one I my most desired Tier 2 birds for this year, so when Michelle Devlin's report came in of a group of 4 Marbled Godwits at Montrose, the wheels started turning. I initially wrote these birds off, figuring they would take off before I had a chance to go for them. But they stayed. Alex Bloss, who originally found the birds, posted pictures mid-morning. Scott texted me that he had them at 11 am. Then an IBET report at noon confirmed they were still there.

The godwits began tantalizing me. From over 30 miles away, I could faintly hear them whispering "Come on Joshua, you know you want us. You've been in school for 22 years, what would it hurt to miss part of a class or two? We might fly off, but then again, we may just stick around! You can't afford to miss us! Are you doing a Big Year or what? You just going to sit on the sidelines for this one?" They marauded me with these irrefutable arguments. I pushed back, telling them about my to-do list. They laughed defiantly, arguing "Just this morning you were telling your colleagues about the priority of migration and how you could 'sleep in June.'" And at that final blow, I caved. I packed up my things and left my class a few minutes early.

The drive downtown was as smooth as it could have been, which I appreciated at the time, but not nearly enough. I ended up getting to Montrose at 1:15. Usually I park by the hedge and work on passerines on the way to the dunes and beach, but state lifer urgency led me to bypass my typical M.O. I parked a little further west and made my way directly to the beach. I ran into a couple others en route to the shorebird flock that was still out of sight. I could see Fran Morel and Jerry Goldner standing on the shore, and figured they had the birds, though I couldn't see them yet. I kept moving quickly. Then, when I was still over a hundred yards away from them, a large flock of shorebirds took to flight. I quickly got on them and was relieved to see 4 large brown birds among the many black and white winged Willets - I had my Marbled Godwits! And now that they were in flight, perhaps they were going to come back my way towards the protected beach where I could get a nice view of them.

But then the situation gained some clarity as not 1, but 2 Peregrine Falcons appeared in the air. They had caused the shorebirds to take flight and were now harassing the gulls and terns. I got back on the large flock to snap a couple pictures, realizing that my time with them may be slipping away. Indeed, they kept climbing and climbing, then took off to the north. I had watched them for maybe a minute, and just like that they were gone. Wow. If I had hit one more stop light, or lingered one more minute in my class, I would have missed these birds. Whew. Here's a couple shots of them. In the first picture, the four godwits are along the bottom. You can tell they're larger and their plain wings really stand out. Check out the picture on Flickr for a better sense of the brown coloration.

Willets and Marbled Godwits
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 1, 2014

This is a highly cropped shot of a two of them.

Marbled Godwits
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 1, 2014

The find was exhilarating; the near miss was a little too close for comfort. I walked around Montrose for another 30 minutes, a little dazed by the whole thing. The rest of the area was pretty slow, except for the high numbers Brown Thrashers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and White-throated Sparrows. I came upon a Cooper's Hawk near the hedge, and then my county lifer Sharp-shinned Hawk back in the dunes. This White-crowned was content to sit still as I walked back to the car.

White-crowned Sparrow
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 1, 2014

Many times, birding comes down to a matter of moments. Today was one of those days. I can't think of a better way to have started the month of May.

ABA 2014: 238

Illinois 2014: 216

Illinois Life List: 301

Cook, IL: 125 (204 life)