Monday, March 2, 2015

Another Wintery Weekend

By the time Friday morning rolled around, I was ready for some time spent off campus and breathing in some fresh air. That's basically the case at the end of every week, but it was particularly true this week for various reasons. And, after temps had been generally warmer in the preceding days, I was hoping for a pleasant day out birding.

As luck would have it, the temps fell again and I woke up to wind chills in the -20s, which understandably gave me a little slower start to the day. I eventually made it to the Calumet River, where the best birds were the 17 White-winged Scoters. I was hoping for a couple other winter waterfowl for my year list, but instead my day quickly turned into a White-winged Scoter survey. Here's 13 of them flying off.

White-winged Scoters
Bend of the Calumet River, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

I continued my solid streak of striking out on decent gulls at 126th St. Marsh, and only had a couple Herrings at the Deadstick Pond overlook. The river was completely iced over and no barges had come through recently to break things up. The most interesting bird in the area was this Red-tailed Hawk with a dark breast band, sharp looking bird.

Red-tailed Hawk
Calumet Area, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

I made it to Calumet Park, the plan being to work my way north and scour the lakefront for some decent waterfowl. That's harder to do when most of the lake looks like this:

Calumet Park, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

Most of the day from that point on consisted of diving ducks in little pockets of water here and ther, Greater Scaup and White-winged Scoters being most prominent.

Greater Scaup and White-winged Scoters
Park #523, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

My only year bird of the day came from Park #523. While picking through White-crowned and American Tree Sparrows, I heard the sweet call notes of Snow Buntings, then looked up to see two birds with white bellies and bright white wing patches dive behind one of the large cement walls at the park. Snow Buntings are less regular along the lakefront at this time of year, so that was a nice surprise!

The situation at Jackson Park was similar, with the only open water still at scoping distance. This White-winged Scoter was sitting on the ice in the harbor. An adult Thayer's Gull was present out on the ice. Singing cardinals and chickadees made for the slightest glimmer of hope, a mild hint of warmer days still to come.

White-winged Scoter
Jackson Park Harbor, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

I made the precarious walk out the iced over pier (falling only once), where scoping yielded more of the same, plus a first cycle Great Black-backed Gull. You know you're a birder when these conditions, with a biting wind off the lake, don't slow you down. If nothing else, winter birding in Chicago has toughened me up a bit, and I'm the better for it!

63rd St. Beach, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

My biggest mistake of the day came when I scoped from 39th St., then chose not to try again from 31st, where a Red-throated Loon was later reported. Oops.

Belmont Harbor was completely iced over as well, with yet another White-winged Scoter resting nearby on the ice, this time a nice adult male.

White-winged Scoter
Belmont Harbor, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

It was more of the same as I rounded out my day at Montrose. I wound up with 42 species on the day, which wasn't too shabby. My White-winged Scoter tally rose to 72, and this third cycle Great Black-backed was a nice sight too.

Great Black-backed Gull
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

Greater Scaup
Montrose, Cook Co, IL
February 27, 2015

Saturday rounded out the coldest February that Chicago had seen in 140 years, which is really wild to me especially after last year! I had a quick window for birding after I dropped Jen off in Geneva to do some shopping. I was hoping for Snow Buntings along Seavey Road, but came up empty. The nice looks at Lapland Longspurs along the road provided a nice consolation though.

Lapland Longspur
Seavey Rd, Kane Co, IL
February 28, 2015

Sunday afternoon it was back to the buddy list. Andrew and I had a couple targets. Unfortunately the Barrow's Goldeneye didn't cooperate, even though it had been seen consistently for a while, including the previous day. That was a bummer, but the second part of our search was successful:

Long-eared Owl
March 1, 2015

This makes nine buddy list birds for us already this year and puts us in good shape to make a run at 300 in the next couple of months.

And now we're on to March. I'm trying to steel myself for the long, slow arrival of Spring.

ABA 2015: 143
Illinois 2015: 103
Andrew + Joshua Buddy List: 283