Snowy owl (John Cassady),

Snowy owl (John Cassady),

 

The three Christmas Bird Counts I participated in this year were marked by extraordinarily varying weather. On December 25, the day of the Chicago Lakefront CBC,  my party gathered at the Museum of Science and Industry around seven. Some of our regulars were missing but Kelly McKay was here as was Danny Akers. Kelly is a veteran of CBC marathons but this was Danny’s first crack at it. The marathon is an exercise whereby Kelly goes on a different count every day of the 20 or so day count period. they had a whole lot more counts to attend before it was over, and towards the very end they faced a grueling night drive from the Illinois-Kentucky border (Lake Mermet CBC) to southwestern Michigan. Danny and Kelly were in the parking lot waiting for me  when I drove up at 6:45. Eric, Ethan, and Aaron Gyllenhaal;, Amar Ayyash;, Tim Wallace; Stephanie Altneu, and Margo Milde filled out our ranks.

It was bitterly cold and I knew that the harbors would be mostly or completely frozen so it promised to be quick going with few results. Our first stop, La Rabida Children’s hospital, which often yields surprises, was extremely productive. There was a little open water which yielded hooded merganser, coot, and thousands of Canada geese. More exciting, gulls were moving along the shore and in their midst we, mostly Ethan and Amar, picked out glaucous, great-black backed, and lesser black-backed.

The bird I had really hoped would make the count stand out was snowy owl. Just a few days before, the Gyllenhaals reported eight individual snowies, at a single place: 31st Street harbor which is in our territory. And four of the owls had been hanging out at Montrose, so that meant at very least something 10 individuals were within the count territory. The state high for a CBC is eight in 1981, so we had a chance. At 31st Street we had but one owl and not another until we met our northerly group by Shedd Aquarium. While scanning the icy expanse to the north and east, Aaron spotted a snowy hunkered down way out on the ice. And we learned from our comrades (Geoff and Chris Williamson, Arie and Rebecca Rice, Dave Johnson, and Josh Engel) that they had two at Montrose first thing in the mourning. Not a record but four snowies aint bad.

Jan early 2014 005

Three days later, I met Lizzie Condon at 7am for the Evanston North Shore CBC. The day dawned clear, still, and reached the 40s before it was all over. An absolutely lovely winter day. Lizzie, working on shorebird research in California, was in town for the holidays, but ever so briefly. Fortunately, she did find time to be my companion on the CBC.

Our most productive birding was at the beginning too, but this time the operative word was ducks. Lizzie and I start by a stream fed by a water filtration plant:  even when all other water is solid, here it is open and flowing. Second stop was the plant itself, which we have been able to access for a few years now. Our mallards totaled 1247, and in with them were four blacks, four gadwall, and one pintail. The latter two would not be seen by any other party. We also had a great-blue heron and belted kingfisher.

Des Plaines River opposite Ryerson Woods in Lake County.

Des Plaines River opposite Ryerson Woods in Lake County.

We hit our usual spots, including the subdivision where two years in a row we had roused a barred owl. No such luck, and so by about 1 we headed to Ryerson Woods to meet the other half of our crew, Eric Lundquist and the Gyllenhaals,  and to meet Sophie Twichell , who was going to join us for our last major hike. The other folks were running late so Sophie, Lizzie, and I went off to finish. This area over the years has produced sharp-shinned hawk, swamp sparrows, and northern shrikes but, alas not much this year. Maybe the highlight was meeting up with Eric and his team: Eric had gone owling to the same spot we tried for the barred but he actually found one. And Aaron showed us the photo of the adult northern goshawk they had all seen. The countdown dinner, always fun, had us at 76 species.

Lizzie, Blogger, and Sophie.

Lizzie, Blogger, and Sophie.

On New Years Eve, Cindy and I cook all day for the countdown dinner the next evening. We had a whole ham, enough chili and macaroni to feed an army. I left a little before 4 am on January 1 to meet Tim Wallace for owling at Old School Forest Preserve. The snow was already falling hard: the woods were ghostly as they were rimmed with white. At least it was not very windy, and we did hear one screech owl. The we headed to meet the rest of the group, who were Eric and Ethan Gyllenhaal. (I am so pleased with the help they provided this year). The challenge was entering parking lots that had not yet been plowed.

We left two cars at Independence Grove, on the north, and dropped off the other car at the south end of our hike. We then set out for our five hour march along the Des Plaines River. At times my binos developed a thin layer of ice that precluded me from identifying anything smaller than a Canada goose, but the hike was very pleasant. We stopped frequently to play screech owl calls and, surprisingly, on two occasions screech owls replied. Variety was sparse but we did see 25 yellow-rumped warblers. Upon reaching the cars, we drove to a conifer grove and had a flicker and red-breasted nuthatch.

Tin, Eric, and Ethan on the long march.

Tin, Eric, and Ethan on the long march.

But the supply of falling snow seemed endless so we began questioning the wisdom of continuing or even whether to cancel the dinner. I called a few others and it was clear that few people were planning on attending the countdown. When I reached Cindy, she had already packed the car with food and juat about to embark on the drive north to Deerfield where we have the count. We decided to pull the plug on the dinner, and that proved to be wise. I left Tim around 3 from Independence Grove in Libertyville. As I proceeded to the tollway, I slid right through an intersection (going 20 mph). The when I reached 294, I found all lanes covered with snow. As I proceeded south towards home, one lane became clear enough to see patches of road. I never exceeded 40 mph so it took me two hours to  reach my destination. And I did not leave the house for three days.

 

The Evanston North Shore CBC featured am exaltation of  flock of young birders: Aaron, Codger, Amanda Zeigler, Kathleen Soler, Ari RIce, Josh Engel, and Ethan.

The Evanston North Shore CBC count down featured am exaltation of young birders: Aaron, Codger, Amanda Zeigler, Kathleen Soler, Ari RIce, Josh Engel, and Ethan.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>