Friday, May 2, 2014

White-faced Ibis and Much More!

At 3:30 this morning I was on the road. I had two major destinations for the day - Emiquon and Hennepin-Hopper - and would see how the rest fell into place. I'm a little weary from the short night and long day of birding, but it's a very rewarding weary.

I got a couple productive hours of birding in before even getting to Emiquon. On the way down I realized that I'd be going by Funks Grove, so I stopped by there. I slowly pulled down the road with my window down. It was still before dawn so I was hoping for an owl of sorts. Instead I got there just in time to hear the woods beginning to come alive with sound. House Wrens were plentiful, as were Yellow-rumped Warblers. A Brown Thrasher sounded off, then a Gray Catbird. A distant Pileated Woodpecker echoed through the trees. Wild Turkeys and Ring-necked Pheasants called from nearby as well. Nothing too crazy, but a nice start. As I pulled up to the Sugar Grove feeders, I was a little surprised to see no activity, though it was overcast and the sky was quite dark even at 6 am. In a matter of minutes things began to change. I turned around and drove past the feeders again, but this time there was some movement. The first thing I saw was a brilliant Baltimore Oriole, shortly after joined by a Rose-breasted Grosbeak! Stunning birds, and both my first of the year. Great start.

Baltimore Oriole
Sugar Grove, McLean Co, IL
May 2, 2014


The drive west to Havana would have been more enjoyable with an extra lane or fewer semi-trucks, but I at last arrived at the electric substation. I thought I'd check to see if either of the fancy flycatchers from last year had returned. They hadn't, but the side trip turned out to be a great choice as this road - like always - was quite birdy. This Grasshopper Sparrow popped up and sang away just outside my car window for a while. I watched, took it in, and snapped a few shots. They're subtle birds; I'm a big fan.

Grasshopper Sparrow
Havana, Mason Co, IL
May 2, 2014

 This looked nice in this setting:

Savannah Sparrow
Havana, Mason Co, IL
May 2, 2014

Towards the western end of the road, a large riparian patch flanks both sides. I initially didn't find much as the cool temperatures seemed to keep things still and quiet. But when I got back in the car to drive off, I could see little passerines moving back in the woods. I got back out and was met my a flurry of 4 year birds: Blue-headed Vireo, Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles, and this Great-crested Flycatcher.

Great-crested Flycatcher
Havana, Mason Co, IL
May 2, 2014

Among the expected species I also spotted this gorgeous little Blue-winged Warbler. My encounters with these guys always seem to be so fleeting, so it was a privilege to get to just watch this guy do his thing and hear him sing that buzzy little song for a while. What an awesome bird.

Blue-winged Warbler
Havana, Mason Co, IL
May 2, 2014

And that easily, I had 61 species and 6 year birds before even getting to Emiquon at 8. And that's when things really started getting good. I pulled down to the marshy area by the observation deck and slowly drove along, hoping it would produce yet again. All of a sudden, two dark birds in flight caught my eye. My initial impression was cormorants, but when they banked and showed their profiles and long, down-turned bills, I realized I had two ibis!! They ducked in behind some reeds so I parked and scrambled for the scope. In the process I did a quick celebration over the find, then refocused because I still had to figure out which species I had found. I set up the scope, waited for them to reappear, and after about a minute they did. I got outstanding looks, seeing the white border extending all the way around their red facial skin. One was in alternate plumage and was quite the sight to behold. I saw them way better than I photographed them because of the poor lighting, but I'm still happy with a few of the pics. I spent a solid 45 minutes with this pair, observing them foraging and flying frequently. Without a doubt one of my best finds of the year, and Illinois lifer #302!








White-faced Ibis
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

Amazing. 

But the ibis weren't the good birds around. These Forster's Terns sat near the road, looking sharp in that summer apparel. 



Forster's Tern
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

My first March Wren of the year popped up in the reeds, and shorebirds were flying all over the place. Both yellowlegs and a Solitary were in the marsh, then a sizable flock of pinkish birds flew by. I didn't get on them quickly enough to ID them, so I walked the path to where I thought they may be. Turned out to be a flock of 49 handsome Long-billed Dowitchers. This is the first time I've had them in Spring in Illinois, so I soaked in the rusty coloration and even got to see the subtle barring on the flanks of a few. They nearly all had textbook huge bills - quite refreshing compared to the distant intermediate birds I was used to picking through last Fall.

Long-billed Dowitchers
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

This guy was singing on territory, right where I found him last Summer:

Yellow-breasted Chat
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

And boy the catbirds have definitely arrived!

Gray Catbird
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

After a couple hours I finally got over to the South Glove area, where the great birds kept coming. Yet they were continually harassed by this pesky Peregrine.

Peregrine Falcon
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

These Willets were two of the first birds I got on upon arriving. My third county with them this week!

Willets
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

And the stilt show was pretty amazing!



Black-necked Stilts
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

One of the county ticks I was hoping for in Fulton today was a Snowy Egret. Well, that worked out.

Snowy Egret
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

Check out this sharp little duo:

Snowy Egret and Black-necked Stilt
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

During one of the many rearrangements of the huge shorebird flock, these three Marbled Godwits showed up. It was a much less dramatic encounter than yesterday. These birds carried the extra bonus that 1) I found them on my own and 2) that I got to watch them in the scope for a while. Two of my most desired birds for the state have been an ibis and a godwit, so getting both in such a short span of time was an excellent surprise. I guess the quality of year that I'm having could be summed up by the fact I had Willets, Marbled Godwits, and Black-necked Stilts in a single shorebird flock today and not a single one of them was a year bird, ha! There was also a nice female Wilson's Phalarope, good numbers of Dunlin, and my FOY Semipalmated Sandpipers - a tad early, but the birds don't really play by the rules at Emiquon. After getting home and consulting the books and the bar charts, I concluded that I had a alternate plumage Wester Sandpiper as well.


Marbled Godwits
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 2, 2014

I ended up spending more time than I anticipated at Emiquon, but it was well worth it! I ended up passing 150 for my life lists in both Mason and Fulton counties today, a nice byproduct of a productive day! I had to bypass a few of my other plans in order to get to Hennepin-Hopper, and arrived with only about 30 minutes to bird before needing to head home. That's not enough time to bird the area thoroughly, but I made the most of what I had and picked up almost 60 species in a half hour. The trip up there was made worth it when scanning the middle spit produced this beauty - an American Avocet!

American Avocet
Hennepin-Hopper, Putnam Co, IL
May 2, 2014

Talk about icing on the cake! I wrapped things up there, and the total came to 127 species for the day, not bad! And 12 of them were new for the year.

It was a day of big time finds, birds of a high caliber. Birds that make 300 seem like a more and more of a possibility all the time! Can't believe the way things continue to fall into place.

ABA 2014: 251 (halfway to 500!)

Illinois 2014: 229
Illinois Life List: 302