Tuesday, May 5, 2015

April Weekend Trip - Part 4

The discomfort of the previous evening at the dredging ponds made the sleep that night a true treat. So, when the alarm went off at 4 am on Sunday, we didn't actually take too long to get up. We were on the road before 4:30, grateful this was last morning in the foreseeable future that we would be substituting Via for the real deal. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the Iced Via, but I would never choose it over my normal morning cup of coffee. Nevertheless, it always does the job, and we were sufficiently caffeinated for a great morning in Brown and Adams Counties.

5:15 found us pulling into the parking lot at the Buckhorn Unit of Siloam Springs State Park. The place is know for Chucks, but no Chuck for us this morning. This was a bummer of a miss, but was quickly offset by another fun round of pre-dawn birding. Our first American Woodcocks of the trip were peenting here, and before long we were surrounded by Whip-poor-wills singing away! One flew into a bush right next to us and began calling; you can hear my recording here. We chased it around for a bit, and Andrew got on it. I got a new flashlight for Christmas, and this was my first chance to actually use it - I'm happy to announce that the first bird it ever illuminated was this beauty. Andrew snapped this pic while I kept the light on it.

Eastern Whip-poor-will
Siloam Springs State Park, Buckhorn Unit, Brown Co, IL
April 26, 2015

A couple Barred Owls called here, then I spotted another on our way to the other part of Siloam. The first Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the year/trip sang atop a tree near here. Ovenbird, Blue-winged, and Black-and-white Warbler were all nice pick ups along this stretch, especially for our Brown County lists. I like how this shot turned out.

Barred Owl
Brown Co, IL
April 26, 2015

Then came one of the highlights of the whole trip. It wasn't a new bird for the year or buddy list or even for the trip. We'd had fun with Wormies the day before, but this time we got simply outstanding views. It flew up to a thicket just a little ways below us and proceeded to sing its little heart out. Our 13th of the trip, and definitely the best looks yet.

Worm-eating Warbler
Siloam Springs State Park, Brown Co, IL
April 26, 2015

The Adams portion of Siloam was solid, the usual warblers and a couple Broad-winged Hawks being the highlight. As we headed back out through Brown County, this beast sat near the road long enough for us to snag a pic.

Turkey Vulture
Brown Co, IL
April 26, 2015

The rest of the day consisted of county listing from the car, and some concerted efforts at both Emiquon and Hennepin Hopper. We were just a little early for the next wave of good stuff, but we did have a couple specialties along the way, including Common Gallinule and Black-necked Stilts.

Common Gallinule with American Coot
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
April 26, 2015

Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
April 26, 2015

Black-necked Stilts
Emiquon, Fulton Co, IL
April 26, 2015

We wound up with our highest day total of the trip on Sunday - 126 - mostly because of the waterfowl still lingering at Hennepin. This place is quite unique in that respect, making it a must for any Big Day effort in the northern region of the state - not that we have one in the plans or anything (wink wink). The biggest surprise was a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese. A single Yellow-headed Blackbird was already back, too.

Greater White-fronted Geese
Hennepin Hopper, Putnam Co, IL
April 26, 2015

Purple Martin
Hennepin Hopper, Putnam Co, IL
April 26, 2015

Standing in stark contrast to our drive down the state just a few days prior, it seemed as though every next northward mile grew a little browner. We were nearing home, the birds we dissipating, and another week's worth of a cold front stood before us. But we had no room to complain. The highlights from our trip were remarkable. We had missed some things, but found even better replacements. And we had a handful of unanticipated adventures that only add to the memory of a trip like this. And the additions to the buddy list brought us up to 293. Just a normal birding trip, really.

I'll leave you with the trip list, 170 on the nose:

  1. Greater White-fronted Goose
  2. Snow Goose
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Mute Swan
  5. Wood Duck
  6. Gadwall
  7. American Wigeon
  8. Mallard
  9. Blue-winged Teal
  10. Northern Shoveler
  11. Green-winged Teal
  12. Canvasback
  13. Redhead
  14. Ring-necked Duck
  15. Lesser Scaup
  16. Surf Scoter
  17. Bufflehead
  18. Hooded Merganser
  19. Red-breasted Merganser--
  20. Ruddy Duck
  21. Northern Bobwhite
  22. Ring-necked Pheasant
  23. Greater Prairie-Chicken
  24. Wild Turkey
  25. Common Loon
  26. Pied-billed Grebe
  27. Double-crested Cormorant
  28. American White Pelican
  29. American Bittern
  30. Great Blue Heron
  31. Great Egret
  32. Cattle Egret
  33. Green Heron
  34. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  35. Black Vulture
  36. Turkey Vulture
  37. Osprey
  38. Northern Harrier
  39. Cooper's Hawk
  40. Bald Eagle
  41. Red-shouldered Hawk
  42. Broad-winged Hawk
  43. Red-tailed Hawk
  44. Sora
  45. Common Gallinule
  46. American Coot
  47. Whooping Crane
  48. Black-necked Stilt
  49. American Golden-Plover
  50. Semipalmated Plover
  51. Killdeer
  52. Spotted Sandpiper
  53. Solitary Sandpiper
  54. Greater Yellowlegs
  55. Lesser Yellowlegs
  56. Upland Sandpiper
  57. Pectoral Sandpiper
  58. Wilson's Snipe
  59. American Woodcock
  60. Wilson's Phalarope
  61. Bonaparte's Gull
  62. Ring-billed Gull
  63. Herring Gull
  64. Caspian Tern
  65. Forster's Tern
  66. Rock Pigeon
  67. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  68. Mourning Dove
  69. Great Horned Owl
  70. Barred Owl
  71. Barn Owl
  72. Eastern Whip-poor-will
  73. Chimney Swift
  74. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  75. Belted Kingfisher
  76. Red-headed Woodpecker
  77. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  78. Downy Woodpecker
  79. Hairy Woodpecker
  80. Northern Flicker
  81. Pileated Woodpecker
  82. American Kestrel
  83. Peregrine Falcon
  84. Eastern Phoebe
  85. Great Crested Flycatcher
  86. Eastern Kingbird
  87. Loggerhead Shrike
  88. White-eyed Vireo
  89. Yellow-throated Vireo
  90. Blue-headed Vireo
  91. Warbling Vireo
  92. Red-eyed Vireo
  93. Blue Jay
  94. American Crow
  95. Fish Crow
  96. Horned Lark
  97. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  98. Purple Martin
  99. Tree Swallow
  100. Bank Swallow
  101. Barn Swallow
  102. Cliff Swallow
  103. Carolina Chickadee
  104. Black-capped Chickadee
  105. Tufted Titmouse
  106. White-breasted Nuthatch
  107. House Wren
  108. Carolina Wren
  109. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  110. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  111. Eastern Bluebird
  112. Swainson's Thrush
  113. Wood Thrush
  114. American Robin
  115. Gray Catbird
  116. Brown Thrasher
  117. Northern Mockingbird
  118. European Starling
  119. American Pipit
  120. Ovenbird
  121. Worm-eating Warbler
  122. Louisiana Waterthrush
  123. Blue-winged Warbler
  124. Black-and-white Warbler
  125. Prothonotary Warbler
  126. Tennessee Warbler
  127. Nashville Warbler
  128. Kentucky Warbler
  129. Common Yellowthroat
  130. Hooded Warbler
  131. American Redstart
  132. Cerulean Warbler
  133. Northern Parula
  134. Yellow Warbler
  135. Palm Warbler
  136. Pine Warbler
  137. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  138. Yellow-throated Warbler
  139. Prairie Warbler
  140. Black-throated Green Warbler
  141. Yellow-breasted Chat
  142. Eastern Towhee
  143. Chipping Sparrow
  144. Field Sparrow
  145. Vesper Sparrow
  146. Savannah Sparrow
  147. Grasshopper Sparrow
  148. Song Sparrow
  149. Swamp Sparrow
  150. White-throated Sparrow
  151. White-crowned Sparrow
  152. Summer Tanager
  153. Scarlet Tanager
  154. Northern Cardinal
  155. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  156. Blue Grosbeak
  157. Indigo Bunting
  158. Red-winged Blackbird
  159. Eastern Meadowlark
  160. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  161. Rusty Blackbird
  162. Common Grackle
  163. Brown-headed Cowbird
  164. Orchard Oriole
  165. Baltimore Oriole
  166. House Finch
  167. Purple Finch
  168. American Goldfinch
  169. House Sparrow
  170. Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Sunday, May 3, 2015

April Weekend Trip - Part 3

After a day like Friday, it was tough anticipating where Saturday's journey would take us. The plan was to spend the bulk of the morning in Jackson County, then head north. The plan worked nicely. The luxuries of a shower and sleeping indoors were all we needed to have us up and ready for another high octane morning of birding, though of a different quality.

The predicted southerly winds over Friday night seemed to indicate we would see a new influx of migrants, but as was the case for pretty much the entire trip, our lists were filled with residents and breeders rather than migrants. Some stuff was still just hitting the Texas coast as we were exploring the far reaches of Illinois. Even though our migrant numbers were generally low, the quantity and quality of birds already singing up a storm on territory was the most staggering aspect of Saturday morning. We had three buddy list targets, and we came away with all of them.

Giant City Park was our first destination, and like the previous day, we were racking up the birds before dawn. There's something about a Prairie Warbler being your first warbler of the morning that gives you a little boost of energy. We had a nice little list of 11 species of warblers here, including double digit Kentucky Warblers. But we had another bird on the mind, and as we pulled up to our first steep hillside covered in dense vegetation, our eyes lit up when that milky smooth trill came ringing through the dreary forest. In a couple minutes we were looking at this beauty:

A little further down the road we had another. And another. Before long we had a total of seven Worm-eating Warblers! This guy was particularly interested in us:

Worm-eating Warbler
Giant City State Park, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

I know, these pictures are not going to be winning any contests, but I was still thrilled to get them. All of my views of Wormies in Illinois have been brief and resulted in pics like this, and even worse, this (trust me, it's there). Watching these little guys do their thing and sing away was remarkable. I was absolutely won over and throughly endeared. And this was buddy list #291.

One of the more surprising birds of the morning came in the form of this pair of Purple Finches. These are the little things that build trip lists.

Purple Finches
Giant City State Park, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

While the migrants were scarce, we did get our one and only Black-throated Green Warbler of the trip here. And our first Wood Thrush was singing here, too.

Our next target location was the Pomona area. Andrew had been before, I hadn't. It was simply outstanding. The place was ridiculous with breeding warblers. A Prairie sang as we turned onto Natural Bridge Road; it was our first of 16 species of warblers we'd get along this road and part of Godwin Road in the next hour and a half.

We came next to a concrete bridge extending over a little creek. An ascending call with a little squeak at the end rang out. "That's it! That's Cerulean!" I exclaimed. With it being a dirt road, Andrew was driving much slower than he had been at the previous day's similar incident with the Prairie; he safely stopped on the side of the road. Within seconds of getting out of the car we were on it. Incredible bird, and always a relief when the ears recall that song with accuracy.

Cerulean Warbler
Natural Bridge Road, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

Continuing down the road, the birds kept adding up: Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary, Nashville, Tennessee, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and Yellow-throated Warbler. Past the intersection with Godwin Road, things really started heating up. Kentucky Warblers had been calling incessantly pretty much everywhere we had been so far, but it took a while to finally get a good visual on one:

Kentucky Warbler
Natural Bridge Road, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

At the same stop we had a Pine Warbler and two Hooded Warblers calling, the latter actually being a buddy list bird, too, #293. I was determined to get a good look of the Hooded. It took some work, but I finally tracked it down:

Hooded Warbler
Natural Bridge Road, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

 In the process, this White-eyed Vireo kept me company:

White-eyed Vireo
Natural Bridge Road, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

And while all of this was going on, a buzzy "zeeeee-zooooo" sounded forth. "Blue-winged" Andrew called. "Heard it!" I replied. After my fun with the Hooded I got some nice views of this beauty:

Blue-winged Warbler
Natural Bridge Road, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

Hickory Ridge Road was more of the same. We picked up Broad-winged and got nice looks at a Red-shouldered Hawk. And the impressive warbler show continued. At one point we came around a bend and heard another Cerulean, so we stopped and got out of the car. As we looked for it, a Hooded and Worm-eating began singing in the same location! I got an audio recording of the glorious melodies, and you can listen to the track here! It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. Just a little further down the road there were two more Ceruleans!

Cerulean Warbler
Hickory Ridge Road, Jackson Co, IL
April 25, 2015

The birds had not come in the same density as the previous morning, but the high quality in general and sheer number of Worm-eating Warblers (12 in one morning!!) in particular made for yet another overwhelming morning of birding southern Illinois. We were at 21 warblers for the day and 22 for the trip as we took off north.

Route 3 took us up toward East St. Louis. At one spot along the Mississippi, Andrew picked out a surprise group of Snow Geese and our only Peregrine Falcon of the weekend, our trip list growing little by little.

Snow Geese
Randolph Co, IL
April 25, 2015

Western Kingbird was a long shot this early in the year, but we thought we'd give it a try anyway since we were already down there. Came up empty, but the next couple stops added a little flare to the day.

Horseshoe Lake State Park always seems to have something interesting hanging around, so we decided to go there first. We picked up all the swallows here, the resident Eurasian Tree Sparrows, and a couple Black-crown Night-Herons.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Horseshoe Lake State Park, Madison Co, IL
April 25, 2015

There were a few nice Bonaparte's Gulls out over the lake, and the waterfowl makeup was pretty solid. As I scoped the various flocks, a bird stuck out in a group of Lesser Scaup. The bird was black, large, and had a brownish face with a couple light markings on it. Everything pointed towards a female Surf Scoter, but it was rainy and distant. Surely I was seeing something wrong.

Then I realized it wasn't alone - and a fine looking adult male with the bright white patch on the back of the head and fancy orange bill sealed the deal; a flock of six Surf Scoters! This was a year bird for me actually after they had been so scarce on the lakefront this winter. First Sora, Bank Swallow, and Surf Scoter of the year in the same place, that's a new one for me!

Surf Scoters
Horseshoe Lake State Park, Madison Co, IL
April 25, 2015

From there it's just a quick drive to Cahokia Mounds, which is traditionally a good spot for waders. We couldn't pick up a Snowy or Little Blue or Yellow-crown, but we did have a very nice surprise.

As a birder, you spend most of your life getting your hopes up over white blobs out in fields. In the winter it may be a Snowy Owl. Any other time of year it could be a wader (or a freaking Whooping Crane!). And almost every single time, it turns out to be a piece of trash. Or a sign. Or a sign made of trash. Or another glob of snow. It's easy to become bitter and calloused and to stop caring about these white blobs. But, if you take heart, it does eventually pay off. Needless to say, we were real excited to find some white blobs turn into a group of three Cattle Egrets right near the entrance to Cahokia! They provided amazing looks. Such sharp birds with great personality.

This one looks like it got in a fight with this dandelion. I don't think they're on speaking terms.

Cattle Egrets
Cahokia Mounds, St. Clair Co, IL
April 25, 2015

From there, it was just a normal rest of the birding day. Which of course meant a couple hours in the mechanic shop for a quick fix. The guys at Auto Tire Care Center in Edwardsville took great care of us, and we wound up finding a great little cafe called Sacred Grounds just down the street. Two thumbs up to the town of Edwardsville.

We were leaving there with exactly an hour and a half till sundown, and exactly an hour and a half between us and the dredging ponds at Jacksonville. Andrew drove like mad and we got there just in time to snag Colin's Wilson's Phalaropes from earlier in the day. It was a crazy half hour of birding in the dying daylight, and we bemoaned not being able to see all the shorebirds well enough to identify them. But we bemoaned much more the ungodly, blisteringly cold winds that accosted us as we hauled our scopes across the fields between the ponds. It was utterly miserable, not unlike the last time I had been to this same spot. The phalaropes were a nice payoff, but our freezing selves had had enough of the cold. So, for the second night in a row, we caved and got a hotel. The Knights Inn couldn't have been a better bang for our buck, being both nicer and cheaper than our Carbondale find the night before.

Cold and exhausted, and another 120 species in the bag for the day, we contemplated our plan for the morning. Getting up early again did not sound appealing. But not getting birds sounded even less appealing. Sunday didn't end up being the best birding day overall, but we were quite pleased with our decision to wake up and be to Siloam before daybreak.