Thursday, April 2, 2015

Final Score - Say's Phoebe: 1, Little Birder: 1

I should've known better. The whole thing was too perfect. At lunch on Tuesday, my phone started blowing up with news of a Say's Phoebe at Miller Meadows. This would be a state lifer, and an all around awesome bird out in these parts.

My natural reflex when getting this kind of news is to check the distance/time on Google Maps. 30 minutes. Not bad. But due to class and meetings for the rest of the afternoon, I didn't have enough margin in the schedule for the rest of the day to make a stab at it. Then a wonderful little thing happened - my class got cancelled.

Surely it was a sign.


I dropped everything and was pulling up to Miller Meadows in the middle of the afternoon. Of course the first bird I saw upon arriving was an Eastern Phoebe. After a few minutes, I ran into a group of birders who had been looking for an hour and a half with no luck. This was not comforting news. As I searched for my own hour and half, I reasoned with myself - yes, it could already be gone, but surely it's still here.

As I walked through the south side of the prairie, a couple impressive wingspans attached to disproportionately small bodies took to the air - Short-eared Owls! Short-ears have been extremely scarce in the state this year, and I hadn't even seen a single one yet. All of a sudden my otherwise fruitless search seemed a little more worth it!

Check out how the one got a branch stuck on its wing as it took off.

Short-eared Owls
Miller Meadows, Cook Co, IL
March 31, 2015

That bit of excitement was fun, but eventually the time ran out. I had walked through the middle and worked the perimeter of both sides of the meadow, the right phoebe wasn't showing, and I needed to get back for a meeting. I posted to IBET about the unsuccessful search.

Twenty minutes later I cringed as my phone began to ring and I looked down to see it was Matthew Cvetas. Yep, the bird - which I had just declared to the entire birding community that I had missed - had reappeared and was showing nicely. Which it did for the rest of the day.

Say's Phoebe: 1, Little Birder: 0

I texted with Andrew that evening and we determined to be looking for the bird at dawn. I set the alarm clock, went to bed, and hoped the bird would deny its inner flycatcher and hang around another day.

The drive to Miller Meadows Wednesday morning was stunning as the Chicago skyline stood out stark against the backdrop of vibrant pre-dawn pinks and oranges. There was a good feeling to the whole scene. As I stepped out of the car, the crisp air hinted more Spring than Winter, and with sincerity.

I ran into Ted Wolff at the parking lot, who had suffered the same fate as me the day before. We were determined not to be skunked again. We exchanged numbers and split up.

I headed straight for the south portion of the meadow while Ted worked the north side. There was a brushy area on the far south side that was rather birdy the day before, so I decided to make a beeline directly through the meadow on my way there. I arrived to find more activity. Song Sparrow. Song Sparrow. Song Sparrow.

All of a sudden, a bird emerged out of the foliage and banked, showing a peachy underside and black tail - there it was! After flitting about for a second, the thing took off to the northwest, and I experience one of those classic birder moments. The elation of relocating the bird evaporated in a single second and was replaced with the terror that I was about to lose the bird as quickly as I had found it. So I began sprinting across the meadow, while reaching for my phone to call Ted. By the end of our quick phone conversation, I had caught back up with the bird and it was flying right at me - that's more like it (and should not be considered a normal part of the aforementioned "classic birder moment")!

And there it sat atop a snag, glowing in the soft rays of the recently risen sun. State lifer #319. Andrew arrived shortly after, and we had buddy bird #284 in the bag!

Say's Phoebe
Miller Meadows, Cook Co, IL
April 1, 2015

So as it turned out, the whole situation couldn't have worked out much better. Though I dipped the day before, I got my Short-eared Owls for the year out of the trip. Then I got to have the joy of relocating the bird myself, getting the state lifer, and a nice addition to the buddy list.

Say's Phoebe: 1, Little Birder: 1

That's more like it.

ABA 2015: 162
Illinois 2015: 135