The skies above the White Hen Pantry wehre I was meeting Lizzie Condon for the Evanston North Shore were clear and calm in lovely contrast to last year when we had trouble finding a parking place without getting stuck. Our first stop is a water treatment facility that usually hosts hordes of ducks when no other water is open. Given the mild temperatures, the ducks opted not to concentrate as they had many other places offering unfrozen water. The yellow-rumped warblers I had a few days earlier were no where to be found but we did get a kingfisher and as we drove by a little later in the day Lizzie identified what would prove to be the count’s only rough-legged hawk.
Most of the spots that usually produce good birds for us failed to come through. Mid-afternoon we came to the wood residential areas south of Ryerson Woods. These can be very productive but I don’t really like birding there, because you have deal with curious or at times even hostile residents. But this is where we had our barred owl last year so it was imperative that we try for it. We played the call repeatedly to no avail- at least with respect to the owl. But robins, chickadees, w-b nuthatches, and a couple of species of woodpeckers flew in. And then two purple finches appeared, the only ones to be seen on the count. I was pleased of course but disappointed we had struck out on the owl. Both Lizzie and I were ready to call it quits when the familiar hoots started up and then the bird itself flew in. This kept us covering some other territories in the same area, and we found another barred owl- which flushed silently when I played a screech owl- and three redpolls, also the only ones on the count.
The post count tabulation revealed that our efforts resulted in a total of about 71 species- on the low side of average. But Geoff Williamson, Ari Rice, and Sulli Gibson had two tremendous birds at Fort Sheridan. Actually, the objects of my awe are pretty diminutive: a Le Conte’s sparrow and, a first for northern Illinois CBCs, a Henslow’s sparrow. The latter would not provide any kind of a view while on the ground or perched. But fortunately Ari snapped a shot of it in flight, and it was on the basis of that photo that the bird was identified.
New Year’s Day, and the Waukegan CBC, provided an opportunity to experience every kind of liquid that could fall from the sky in this region at this time of year. Along with wind gusts of 40 mph, discharges included rain, sleet, snow pellets, snow flakes, and snow globs. Fortunately, although varied in its manifestations, the precipitation was not heavy so we could still bird.
After two hours of owling, Tim Wallace and I located one lone screech owl- probably the only one on the count. Tim had to work that day so I was joined by two birders I had not met before. Nick Minor (Josh Engel put us together) and his friend Patrick Palmer, both high school freshmen. We worked our way along the Des Plaines River in the longest walk of the day. Our bird highlights were probably a kingfisher, multiple brown creepers and yellow-rumped warblers: no winter wrens or hermit thrushes that we often find.
In the afternoon, we were joined by Tim and we had some good birds. Four sandhill cranes flew our us as we birded at the North Shore Sanitary District’s Gurnee water works. This is the first time I had ever seen cranes in this region in January- I now have encountered them in every month. At a lake that had some open water we added three northern shovelers, also not seen elsewhere.
What I will remember most from that day though was listening to Nick and Patrick talking among them selves as we hiked in the morning. They were discussing the need to learn bird geography- the proper names of the various feathers- and gull identification. The word clade was used on occasion. At one point I asked them if there was a particular sport they played or watches. Nick answered without hesitation: “Birding is my sport.” And an old guy’s heart was buoyed.