Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Back in Illinois - Productive Last Week of May

I'm quite behind on the blogging these days, and I couldn't be happier about it. My dad and I met up for a trip to southeast Arizona May 18-25. I just finished processing the pics from the trip, so I still have plenty of work to do to blog my way back through the experience. But before I get to that, I thought I would go ahead and recap my last few days of May in Illinois.

I was nervous about whether the Arizona trip would keep me from getting some migrants back here. I had taken care of most of it before leaving, but still had some gaps to fill. In 5 days I managed to fill those gaps and get some other really nice birds along the way that I was not expecting this year.

Monday, May 26: Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. One of my first days in Arizona, a group of 9 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks showed up in a little development in Kendall County. I figured they would be gone in a day or two and that I would miss my best chance at the species for the year. I assumed something like this would happen while I was away for an entire week of May, so it didn't bother me too much - Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and Elegant Trogons have a way of taking your mind off of these kinds of things anyway.

And then a funny thing happened. They stayed. Till Friday. Then Saturday. And before I knew it they were being reported on the day I was flying back home. If they hung on for just one more day, I could miraculously get them! So, on Memorial Day, Jen was itching to get this lifer and I kindly obliged by taking her to see them. Well, maybe that's not exactly how it went. She and I had plans to putz around Geneva on our day off together, and she was kind enough to permit a detour down to pick up these wonderful little waterfowl. A state lifer for me, and an incredible bird to have on the year list. Jen liked them too.



Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Yorkville, Kendall Co, IL
May 26, 2014

Tuesday, May 27: Lake County Goodies. One bird that I wanted to get off my back soon was the Common Tern. I knew Waukegan was the most reliable place for them, so I squeezed a trip up there in between meetings. As I approached the beach area, I noticed some movement in a little roadside pond. I got the scope out to see a good number of shorebirds. As I picked through the Semipalmated Sandpipers, I found one, then two birds that were considerable larger, athletic and elongated in profile, with extensive streaking on the flanks: White-rumped Sandpipers! This was totally unexpected and huge bonus bird to get off my back. I was also happy that the birds had stood out to me so obviously. Al Stokie pulled up moments later and enjoyed the sight with me. This is the best and closest I've ever seen this species, though the photos don't indicate it very well.

White-rumped Sandpiper
Waukegan, Lake Co, IL
May 27, 2014

Below, you can see the two in flight with two Dunlin in between.

White-rumped Sandpipers and Dunlin
Waukegan, Lake Co, IL
May 27, 2014

Another nice surprise at this same spot was a late Willet:

Willet
Waukegan, Lake Co, IL
May 27, 2014

Then it was on to the beach, where my target was quite easy to pick up amidst a decent sized flock of sterna. I really enjoy these birds, and find photographing them to be a much more rewarding version of attempting to capture swallows. In the top photo, the Forster's Tern just above center provides a helpful comparison with the surrounding Common Terns. Though very similar in many respects, it's amazing how distinct the posture and coloring become when they're right next to each other. The black in the primaries visible in the flight photos is another key field mark for the Common Tern.






Common Terns
Waukegan, Lake Co, IL
May 27, 2014

Further north at IBSP I finally found my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the year.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
IBSP, Lake Co, IL
May 27, 2014

Wednesday, May 28: Will and DuPage. My plans to go downtown the next morning were thwarted when I forgot to set my alarm the night before. Quite frustrated with myself, I chose to stay local and see what I could scrounge up, rather than sit through hours of traffic into and out of the city. After seeing absolutely nothing of interest at the Greene Valley fluddle, I headed south to a couple locations in Will County that I hadn't birded before: Knoch Knolls and Hidden Lakes. Here I found little more than the common breeding birds and, in the process of checking every exposed snag, grew in my proficiency at identifying non-Olive-sided Flycatchers - those exciting birds like grackle, cowbirds, blackbirds, and robins. Momentum was failing, and I was losing what little steam I had left.

On the way back north, I decided to stop by Springbrook Prairie. For whatever reason, I haven't really ever gotten along well with this preserve. It's a place that has good birds, but in my experience they're pretty spotty. Part of the problem is that I don't go there all that often, so I don't really have a good feel for the place. Anyway, it was a convenient stop on this day, and turned out to be a very productive one.

Shortly after crossing to the east side of the park, I began hearing my first Alder Flycatcher of the year giving its textbook "reBEEeer" call consistently. I watched it for a little while, and you can listen to my recording of it here. The bird starts 18 seconds in.

As I continued, I found many Willow Flycatchers throughout the preserve, and a couple non-vocal ones that I had to leave as "Trail's." Much to my delight, my long awaited DuPage Clay-colored Sparrow was buzzing further down the path. They breed here, but I had always managed to miss them before.

And then something caught my eye. A flycatcher flitting out over some distant trees. It was large, and threw me off for a moment. Then it landed on an exposed perch and things started to come together. I watched it for a little while, and saw what I had been looking for all morning - the dark vest of an Olive-sided Flycatcher! I snapped a few photos and tried to get closer for a better look, but by the time I did that, the bird had disappeared, so this is the only documentation I have of what will most likely be the only Olive-sided I see in Illinois this year. This was a huge relief to me, as I was running out of time to find this bird in the Spring, and they are much more difficult to come by in the Fall. Whew.

Olive-sided Flycatcher
Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, DuPage Co, IL
May 28, 2014

Other birds included a Grasshopper Sparrow and a Henslow's Sparrow "hiccuping." And I can never get enough of the sight and sound of a Bobolink.

Bobolink
Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, DuPage Co, IL
May 28, 2014

Orchard Oriole
Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, DuPage Co, IL
May 28, 2014

Thursday, May 29: Killer Morning in Cook. At this point I was feeling pretty good. May was drawing to a close, and I just had one warbler (Kentucky) and two flycatchers (Acadian and Yellow-bellied) left to essentially complete the sweep of expected migrant passerines, which is a must for anyone trying to see 300 in the state in a year. It just so happened that the ones I still needed were being seen in Cook regularly, so I headed there for the morning and wound up getting much more!

I started at Swallow Cliff, where again I ran into Al Stokie. He warned me of the mosquitos, then kindly walked me back to where the two specialty warblers had been hanging out. Just a couple minutes of walking got us within earshot of the calling Kentucky. He showed me the little path that lead back down to where it was singing, then reinforced his warning about the mosquitos. Another minute down the main trail and we could already hear the Cerulean beginning to sing its ascending trill of a song. Al had already seen both that morning, so he headed back to the car and I spent a little more time with these guys.

You can here the Cerulean singing here, with the standard woodland chorus of Wood Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, and Baltimore Oriole in the background. This was a county lifer for me.

Cerulean Warbler
Swallow Cliff Woods, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

While watching the Cerulean, I had an Acadian Flycatcher fly around deep in the woods a little further down the path, a great year bird and county lifer. Next I tracked down the Kentucky, which fortunately was sitting right out in the open and quite easy to find. I wish I could have spent more time with it, but the mosquitos prevented me from doing so. In the time it took me to snap just a couple shots, my arms got covered in the little pests. I managed a recording of the Kentucky, which is primarily dominated by a Gray Catbird and also includes an Eastern Wood-Pewee. The Kentucky was a year bird and a county lifer, and my 400th bird in the ABA this year - the first time I've ever achieved this!

Kentucky Warbler
Swallow Cliff Woods, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

On the trail back to the parking lot, I picked up a long overdue Cook County lifer: a Blue-winged Warbler. Then when I got back to my car, just before a I closed my door, I heard a very pleasant song coming from just east of the lot: Connecticut Warbler! I managed to track it down, get a nice look at it, and even obtain a recording of it singing a slightly abbreviated version of the usual tune I'm used to. It calls at 12 and 38 seconds.

So in one stop, I had added two year birds and four county lifers, not bad! Many, many mosquito bites occurred in the process, and only birders will understand what I mean when I say that it was completely worth it.

I decided to head to 126th St. Marsh, where a Snowy Egret had recently been hanging around. There's something about this random little stretch of marsh that attracts great birds, regardless of its less-than-appealing industrialized surroundings. At the end of April, this is where I had the Little Blue Heron. And on this trip, the Snowy Egret was quite cooperative for me as well, as it sat right out in the open the entire time I was there. A sweet county lifer, and my best photo op with one yet.





Snowy Egret
126th St. Marsh, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

Then it was on to Montrose, where my morning continued to improve. Upon arriving, a nice little flock of passerines was showing well. I picked up my Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, but decided to leave the group and head to the beach because I could count on this flock staying put for the most part, and there was a bird I really wanted to get that could fly from the beach at any moment (my experience with the Marbled Godwits at Montrose earlier in the month taught me to never assume anything with shorebirds).

I made it down there, and sure enough, my state lifer Ruddy Turnstone was there! I'm not quite sure how I saw 304 birds in the state before getting a Ruddy. I was happy to finally get this monkey off my back, and to get to enjoy the beauty of such an incredible bird. I meandered along the beach at a comfortable distance, and watched it scamper back and forth for quite a while.



Ruddy Turnstone
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

I enjoyed these Sanderling too!




Sandlering
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

Back up near the hedge, I came across a couple Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and actually got a couple decent shots of them. And with that, all the flycatchers and warblers were in the bag - I guess my Arizona trip didn't do me in after all!



Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

And then a photo op I've been wanting for a really long time finally presented itself: a gorgeous, friendly, adult male Mourning Warbler. My heart was pounding as I took these shots. What a fantastic way to end an amazing morning of birding!



Mourning Warbler
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
May 29, 2014

Friday, May 30: Two More State Lifers. I had Friday free to make a little bit longer trip, so I decided to head down to old faithful Emiquon. On the way I stopped at Hennepin Hopper, which was as dead as I've ever seen it - not even a peep from a Sora! A lingering Common Loon was a nice county bird, but it was clear that I should keep moving.

At Emiquon, I first stopped along Clark Road just north of the preserve. There's a little stretch of road here which has Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Bell's Vireos. I got to hear and see all three, the last of which was actually a year bird for me. Things were fairly quiet at the boardwalk - again not even a Sora. But instead I got a bird I would gladly take in its place any day - my first Least Bittern of the year! I knew I would come across one at some point, but it's definitely another one of those I was happy to get sooner rather than later. I also photographed a Cliff Swallow for the first time, I think.

Cliff Swallow
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 30, 2014

Further south, at one of the pull outs along the main road, I scanned Lake Thompson for a while. It was hot, muggy, and the heat waves were terrible. And even worse, the bird I was hoping for wasn't showing. I scanned from left to right. Then right to left. Then back. Then back again. Each scan was pretty slow, as I was trying to give myself a chance if the bird was diving frequently. I was about to throw in the towel, but decided to give it one more whirl. This was the right call, because on my last swipe I spotted the Western Grebe I had been hoping for! Sure enough, it was only up a few moments before diving. I spent about 10 minutes, watching it for only a few seconds at a time. The lighting conditions were terrible, but I did manage an IDable photo of this awesome state lifer and year bird! Somewhat ironically, as my 306th bird for Illinois, this western species tied my Illinois life list with my list from my home state of Washington.

Western Grebe
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
May 30, 2014

After that, I popped down to Havana, where the Western Kingbirds have come back to nest at their usual spot at the electric substation. I spotted this one right away.

Western Kingbird
Havana, Mason Co, IL
May 30, 2014

I had to keep moving so that I could get back home on time, and I wanted to have a chance to stop in Bloomington on the way back. I made the quick detour to the M&M Turf Farms. After scanning the fields for a while, I came up with nothing but Killdeer, grackles and blackbirds. Then I looked up in front of me, and there was my state lifer Upland Sandpiper standing right in the middle of the road! It slowly wandered down into the field on my side of the road and offered some fantastic views. What an awesome way to take in this state bird and year bird. I've officially seen more birds in Illinois than I have in Washington, which is really something because I've only been birding here seriously for less than two years.

Upland Sandpiper
M&M Turf Farms, McLeanCo, IL
May 30, 2014

And with that, I had managed 4 state lifers and a surge of 16 year birds in my first 5 days back from Arizona. This brought my Illinois year list up to 281, and my Illinois life list up to 307.

Now, for some posts on Arizona...