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.