My brother Ron and I have decided to do what what we are referring to as an “Average Year”. This is essentially a scaled down version of what birders commonly refer to as a “Big Year” where the objective is to find as many unique bird species in a calendar year. The “Big” adjective is a bit daunting as neither of us have the extra funds or spare time to chase birds anywhere close to the 650+ low water mark of the upper echelons in the birding community – not to mention my own life list just made it to only the 300 mark last December. I am not sure yet what kind of numbers we will be able to put up, but I think we would be very happy if we could hit around the 250 range (update – with a hard fought effort came with a final of 298 barring any additions when going back through the images). I can tell you we got off to a great start each putting up over 130 in the first week in January alone. The problem is the effort over time looks like an exponential graph – easier to rack up numbers at the beginning of the year, but as the species count goes up, the harder it becomes to find ones that will ding the new bird bell. This should be a lot of fun and siblings pitted against each other usually generates some great stories along the way. To be honest, when we are together in the field the competition part drops away and our efforts become joined – on our own though… well that is a different story hehehe.
We have tried to set up some rules for our friendly competition. First off all, almost all the rules from our previously established “Field Guide for Competitive Birder Rules of Engagement” (link here) still hold. For Ron’s sake, we did suspend rule 6 requiring a featured blog post to get the bird added to the count. After some initial debate, a photograph of the bird sufficient to confirm the ID is still required (rule 4), although now a web gallery is not required (rule 20). Note, if we are both at the same place, see the same bird, but only one of us accomplishes a photograph, then the other person can use that other individual’s shot for the count. This gets rid of the caveats of one getting penalized for being at a bad angle or missed the shot due to pointing out the location to the other person etc. etc.. Unlike politics, we still strive to be civilized.
Thanks to Ron’s Sliver program (link here), we are now able to provide a Google Earth based video of the places we bird throughout the year – super cool! I’ll update this periodically when he is able to generate a new video for us. This video covers my Texas outings and several places we caught on our return trip. – Note, Ron is working on an update to cover the full year – stay tuned!
To help chronicle the journey and allow my readers to watch our progress, I’ll be putting up monthly totals along with graphs and details throughout the year. We’ve created quite the elaborate spreadsheet so we can monitor the competition – figure I’ll just grab screen shots of those counts and graphs and put them here for convenience. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out. What I can say is it has added a lot more stress when we are out in the field, especially when traveling to various birding venues – we cannot afford to miss the target birds if we are going to get anywhere near the 250 range (per our early on estimate) – based on the current number we definitely need to up this goal!
Now how about some current metrics!
For as far off as we were going into September, we certainly gave it everything we had, both coming in just shy of 300.
Our cumulative species count.
As expected, the opportunities started to get pretty thin during the middle of the year and then picked up as the wintering birds arrived here along with the benefit of having a few days in Texas at the end of the year as we were heading down for our annual January stay there.
I actually like the daily graph the best as it adds that spirit of competition ha! As you can tell, we both benefitted well from the Texas birds in January.
Here is a recap of the various outings I’ve been on so far.
Update 12/31/2022: It is the last day of the year – and by definition, the last day of Ron and I’s first ever average year. I’m now at 297, 3 away from what once was thought an unattainable elevation even with my wildest guesses. Problem is, there wasn’t that many targets available. Technically there were three longshots – the Brewer’s Blackbird, a prayer of a Common Raven passing and the American Pipit. If you recall, I had already tried several times for what the locals in Austin were telling me was a very common bird sigh. Sitting on my ass waiting for a Raven to pass over seemed a waste, so Linda and I headed over to the nearby Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. We were holding off on this one as it cost 10 bucks to get in (per day) and all they had was the Pipit – expected to find it at the other Austin places we went to so I wouldn’t have to waste the money. Decided we could consider it scouting effort to see what we could get once the new year turned. Paid the fee and started the hunt. Pretty soon Merlin got a hit on both our phones – problem is, we couldn’t find it. I was under the impression it was closer to Robin size and everything we could see was a Butter-Butt. Continued walking around.. more Merlin hits, more misses, now this was getting frustrating. Eventually found ourselves in a section to the left of the boat docks that was pretty much isolated from the rest of the New Year’s Eve crowd that had come to fish and party. Spotted a bunch of Sparrows and started tinning a few … wait, there it is again, another hit on Merlin. Started looking around and found a few different looking birds, somewhat bigger than the Yellow Rumps, but definitely smaller than a Robin. Merlin hit, this time I saw the bird that was doing the calling – that’s it! Apparently been hiding under our noses this entire time. A final +1 for the year. Closing the books on a long fought year of birding with 298 unique birds for the year.
Update 12/30/2022: Now at 295, but running out of days. We had moved to Austin now and there were some options showing up on eBird. One of these was at a local water reservoir and mulch waste facility. There were American Pipits seen there along with a high number of waterbirds. An interesting place as there was a guard gate at the entrance. Linda asked the guard lady if this was really a popular place to bird. The guard confirmed, she just needed to see our IDs before letting us in – guess who forgot their wallet? Ugh – drove back to the campground so I could get my ID and returned. I can see why this was such a hotspot for birds. Three large retention ponds with a levees you could drive around. One car lanes though, so you had to be make sure the coast was clear before turning down one. Problem was, they decided to do a lot of tree trimming that day right along the backside of the ponds – right where the Pipits were supposed to be. Although we did get a lot of birds there, no check for the Pipit. There was a Spotted Towhee found at the Commons Ford Rance Metropolitan Park located on the other side of Austin. Took the long drive over there and was initially less than impressed. There was supposedly a river nearby – eventually figured out you had to take a walking trail to get there. Leashed up the dogs and headed out. I note the leashing part as NO ONE ELSE had their dogs on leash. A later look at the comments online noted this behavior. Annoyed by the lack of attention by the other Dog owners, Linda took the boys back to the car while continued exploring. Came upon another individual with a large glass and struck up a conversation. Mentioned I was looking for the Spotted Towhee, but was coming up empty so far on my search. He immediately responded that he knew right where they were yesterday and could take me there – very appreciative. Sure enough, he took me back to an area on the trail which cut through a large section of trees. Pointed to a specific area and commented they were digging in the leaves on the ground when he found them. Five minutes later I was desperately trying to get my autofocus to cut through the brush to get a decent shot. Thankfully it flew to a higher branch to survey the situation – click, click +1. From there we stopped by Emma Long Metropolitan Park and paid the 10 dollars to tin their wild flock of Egyptian Geese. They were supposed to have a Common Raven as well, but no luck there. Happy to at least get the Egyptian we headed back to the campsite.
Update 12/28/2022: The plan was to start heading down to Texas the day after Christmas. That would give me around 6 days of possible birding opportunities before the new year came. Thanks to a snow an ice storm, our plans were delayed a day..curses, not left with only 5 days and a few of those were long hard travel sessions. Spend a lot of time on eBird trying to find options at our main stopovers – Waco and Austin – our Caddo State Park in Caddo TX, option had to be nixed due to the delay in getting out. One of the often reported birds near Waco was a Harris’s Sparrow. This would be a nice add for the year as it would be the first I’ve ever encountered one. Locals were all stunned I had not seen one before as they are apparently everywhere down there. Once situated at the COE, we headed over to Lake Waco – specifically the Lacy Point area. Sun was dropping fast so fingers crossed it would be as easy to find as they said it was. Started hunting the woods with Merlin looking for some hits. Linda was doing the same around the parking lot. After about 15 minutes, spotted a small group of brown birds – found a likely deer trail that got me close – sure enough a Harris’s popped up with a variety of other Sparrows. Snapped everyone I could, but they were rather jumpy and I wasn’t sure which was which. Eventually they all disappeared so I kept going along the thin trail until I made it back up to a service road which I didn’t initially see when I got to the parking lot. Started walking along that until I was stopped dead in my tracks. Way too close for comfort, an intense rattle was heard in the tall grass on the right side of the path had to be less than 15 feet away. Locked into where I thought the sound was coming from to see a shockingly large Rattle Snake raise up and cock into a striking position right at me. Holy shit, heart skipped several beats. Checked the distance, at least the first strike would miss, so brought the camera up to see what I could capture. By now, pretty sure it was a Cottonmouth based on the striping. Got a few shots while it continued to try and scare me off with its rattles. This was the first time I’ve ever heard their tails – much louder than I assumed and incredibly jarring. It wasn’t backing down and remained in the attack position. The heart was finally calmed down and I continued to try to get some shots – the tall grass was preventing anything of quality, but I at least got the general shape and the coloration to confirm it. Going further was not a smart thing to do, so said my goodbyes and headed back to the parking lot. About then, Linda appears at the gate placed at the entrance to the road. She was excited as she had found the Harris’s for me – immediately told her to NOT come any further. Although she just had her heart checkup, no need to stress it!!! At an appropriate time later I did let her know about the encounter – she wasn’t pleased. The good news is I did get an ID’able shot of the target Sparrow. We ended up having a little bit of time the next day. I wanted to get a better shot of this lifer, so we went back there again where I was able to get much better tins. Note, forgot to mention I saw a large black Cat as I was heading back to Linda the night before. I have expected to see that Cat dead on the service road the next day as it was headed in the direction of the Snake. No dead Cat – probably lost one of its nine lives ha. Did meet a guy that next day who had been walking his unleashed Dog by the Snake location – decided to let him know just in case. Not sure he believed me at first, told him I had pictures…then he looked pretty shocked and put his Dog back on leash.
Update 12/15/2022: It was time for Linda’s annual checkup at Mayo in Rochester, MN. Noting the opportunity to get some additional birds, brought along the camera – might as well try to make the most of the long cold drive. Weather conditions were not very good. Beyond the expected cold, they were expecting a pretty heavy snowstorm right after we got there. Our first target was a Ring-Necked Pheasant that had been spotted a day or two before at a large preserve south of Rochester. Even though we had a pretty good description of where it was located, we came up empty. Not too surprising based on the number of times we stuck out close to home. We did have a moment of excitement when I spotted a flock of large white Swans in a field adjacent to the highway. Kudos to Linda who graciously pulled to the shoulder so I could get a shot. Immediately regretted only bringing the the older camera with the 70-200 glass. The distance and the annoying cut cornstalks made it very difficult to get a clear shot. Looked closely at what I was able to get – just not able to see any of the bill details. Ended up with the assumption they were Trumpeter and not Tundra – this may need closer attention seeing how close we were to 300. 0 for 2 at that point. Between Linda’s appointments we took a quick trip over to a local park that was reporting a Cackling Goose. One to be exact versus the 300 Canada Geese also hanging out there. It had been snowing all night and now the snow was once again coming down hard. Must say, Minnesota cold is COLD. Linda elected to stay in the car while I trudged out to where there was a large amount of ducks – mostly Canada Geese. Brought up Merlin and started scanning the flock. Merlin detected the Cackling. To be sure I saved and started it again.. detected again…again, saved and started it again.. yep, there it is again. Basically took a picture of every goose in that pond. It was there, it would just take a while to find the one with the smaller build and dainty bill. Discussed with Ron and we agreed, that was good enough for the +1. That would be the last opportunity to get any birds before we heading down to Texas.
Update 12/13/2022: Coming off the success at Downs a few days earlier, decided to once again try for the American Tree Sparrow. A previous trip to Detweiller Park on the Illinois River didn’t go so well, not really finding any birds, much less the ATS. Needless to say for a December birding trip in Illinois, it was very cold out and the wind was doing a good job of making sure your appendages were tingling. Luck was on my side – took the main path out from the parking lot and turned to the right at the first fairway (former golf course). Fifty feet later I was staring at a cluster of birds busy hunting the open grass. Among all the Juncos was sever Tree Sparrows. Surely to thank me for coming out in the cold, a few of them flew up into some nearby trees giving me some great shots as trophies for braving the weather.
Update 12/11/2022: The end of the year is coming fast and now that we were within range of 300, we were watching eBird for any opportunities that might show up. Unfortunately, also came down with Covid – figured I had it as well but was showing very minimal symptoms. We were doing the best we could to keep ourselves scarce from other contact which meant we would missed our family Christmas gathering at my oldest brother’s (Dan’s) house. There was a report that a Long-Tailed Duck and a Surf Scoter were spotted just outside Bloomington, IL. This happened to be in a direct route Ron was taking to get to Dan’s. He dropped by and did indeed confirm both ducks were there – along with a large flock of Greater White-Fronted Geese. Linda and decided to hop down there and see if we could get those additional checks. I had the White-Winged Scoter earlier in the year, the Surf Scoter would be a lifer. Adding to the excitement was the Long-Tailed Duck would also be a lifer – hard to pass up an opportunity like that. the location ended up being a small pond (likely a former surface mine) in Downs, IL. There was one other car there – other than that pretty desolate. Walked up and down the lake and finally found a duck in the middle of the pond..large bodied, funky bill…we have found the Surf Scoter!! The Long-Tailed took a lot of work. They were hanging at the far side of the pond. The overcast day and the dark cast of the trees made it very difficult to see these small ducks. Eventually the two floated out of the shadows out closer to the Surf. Nothing to be proud of, but finally got enough in the tin to validate it for the +1.
Update 10/22/2022: Linda had a CPE show in Plainsville, so I tagged along so I could meet up with Ron and do a little Chicago area birding. First place we went to was Sanganashkee Slough in Palos Township, IL. There were sightings of a Red-Necked Grebe hanging out there and we still needed that check. I have never been there before, pretty sure Ron had (who knew exactly how to get there). Or first look at the large lake came up empty for the Grebe. Eventually moved up to the parking area more in the middle of the slough. Still didn’t spot the target nor did any of the other individuals we met there. As a complete surprise, I spotted a Rusty Blackbird hunting a nearby tree. Was able to get Ron on pretty quick giving us a surprise +1 to start the day. Sometime later, we noticed a lady with a scope closer to the water. Decided to see if she was successful in locating the Grebe. She wasn’t confident yet, but thought it might be at the far side of the slough. Definitely at the extend of The Beast’s reach, I could just make out a larger bird. Took a few snaps, confirmed with the lady that was the same bird she was looking at. After a lot of deliberation and referencing the relative size and shape, concluded that was the Red-Necked Grebe giving us another +1. From there, we with to another of Ron’s birding locations, Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserver in Naperville, IL (right close to were he used to live, so he was very familiar with the trails and best places to bird). Thinking we likely missed a Fox Sparrow that dived into the thicket on us, we still scored with a Purple Finch that was hanging out in the trees across the path. Not a bad day with 3 new additions to our list.
Update 09/24/2022: Although it was only a week before our big party, we needed to make a trip to Wichita, Kansas for a family wedding. We arranged to stay at the Chenney State Park campground along with other family members that were attending. Having arrived the night before, we had several hours before the wedding that Linda promised I could use doing some birding. Being in another state, thought there might be an opportunity to get some of their local birds to add to my list. Didn’t find much in my jaunt around the park, so Linda suggested we drive over to the other side of the park to see what was hanging out there. Chenney has a huge lake in the middle of it, so we it took about 10 minutes to get to that other section. Again, nothing I didn’t already have. Bummed we decided it was time to head back to get ready for the wedding. As we were driving back, I looked over and swore I saw a silhouette of a bird sitting in a low branch of a tree some distance off the side of the road. The part that intrigued me was it appeared to have a rather long tail – that profile immediately triggered Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. Didn’t even know if they were common in that area, but too good of a bird to pass up. Had Linda double back and drop my on the side of the road. Navigated the ditch and proceeded to make my way to the lone tree in empty lot. I could see a house to my right, but it looked empty…or at least there wasn’t anybody there that I could see. I was a long ways from their house, there were no fences or anything so I didn’t think I was on their property. Turned back to the tree and there it was – sure enough two Scissor-Taileds were playing in the tree branches. Think my heart may have skipped a beat. Got a few weak pictures and then continued forward hoping for some better opportunities. Eventually they saw me and flew to a further tree, but not before I got some decent flight shots. Turns out there were 3 others Scissors still in the first tree. They were less skittish and let me get some better shots before joining their friends. Amazing. Aware of the time, so called it there and headed back to the car. Although it cost me 4 days of trail work, at least I came back with a quality bird.
Update 09/15/2022: Ron has really been picking up steam on me getting check after check on the list while my birding was a bit hampered due to getting ready for our annual haunted trail event scheduled for the end of the month. We did take a break from all the prep to take Ruger to another dock diving lesson in Rock Falls, IL. He is slowly getting used to the water and we wanted to give him some more practice before the cold weather set in. Linda noticed there was a lot of ebird activity in the adjacent city of Sterling at a park called Sinnissippi. Never heard of it before and decided to head up to the training session a little early to check it out. I must say, that is a VERY nice park. At first it looked like every other urban park, but then we noticed a path leading under the road towards the Rock River that borders the park. They had a very nice paved bike path that followed the river. There were birds everywhere – in particular a very pissed of group of Blue Jays that were having it out with a couple of local Squirrels. Spotted several Warblers, but nothing new. It was getting close to the lesson time, so Linda headed back to get the dogs ready to go while I walked a bit further. A few minutes later a Black-Throated Green Warbler popped out and said hello. That +1 for the year topped off a very nice experience at that park – will definitely head back there when we have more time.
Update 08/31/2022: Linda noticed on ebird they were reporting a bird I needed at Dickson Mounds. Apologies, but the life of me I can’t remember exactly which bird it was – my guess either the Nashville or Tennessee Warbler as I remember getting very frustrated I couldn’t find those Warblers that were being reported all over the place (update – it is mid October now and STILL do not have those birds tinned yet ugh). Regardless, I failed to get either one of them – once again. As we were figuring out what to do next, Linda noticed someone had just reported a Bell’s Vireo at Banner Marsh. That perked me up. Ron always holds that lifer over me – “who has two thumbs and a Bell’s Vireo in the tin …this guy”. The report was only about an hour old and from the president of the local Audubon Society so not question it was a valid sighting. We immediately headed drove the 20 minutes or so to the location. On the way over I familiarized myself with their look and song – having never heard/seen one before I wanted to be able to recognize it if we heard or saw it. Started walking by the water’s edge finally coming to large clump of trees and under-brush. That is when I heard it – very distinct, chattering away in the smaller trees about 100 feet into the thicket. Although I could hear it, actually seeing it was a different story. Was getting extremely frustrated – no picture, no sighting per our competition rules. Left and right, back and forth from one bushy tree to another, always making sure there were plenty of leaves between it and my camera. I was about to turn back ask Linda for some spotting help (she was back in the car taking care of Benji) when it burst out and landed on a nearby limb. Holy cow, what a relief. Snapped several shots before it tore back into the brush never to be visually seen again. Linda had made her way out to me by then and I pointed out the call …and gave her the good news I had just got a few snaps in the tin. It never really showed itself again and I was starting to get hot. Said our goodbyes and headed home. Missed the original target for the day, but now I can finally say I have the Bell’s as well.
Update 08/27/2022: Ron had alerted me to an event the Illinois Ornithological Society (IOS) was having this month – their annual Shorebirding Weekend. For $85 a person (member cost was $50) you could join their guided tours to Emiquon and Chautauqua Refuges. Ron and I jumped at the chance to have an expert help add to our bird list! We had Colin Dobson who is a well known birder in these parts. To say this even was outstanding is probably and understatement – more like spectacular spectacular. We started at the beer can spot (long story) at Chautauqua. Immediately, we were adding new birds to our list, many of them lifers. To put it bluntly, correctly identifying shorebirds is an absolute pain in the ass. Having Colin there (as well as other very good birders in the group) to help ID the species was a godsend. Everyone was super nice, helping us distinguish the different birds, letting us use their scopes for the very distant birds, giving us backgrounds on their year so far – incredible. During the course of the day, we managed to hit Eagle Bluff Crossdike, Emiquon North/South Globe, Dicksen Mounds and the Emiquon Visitor Center and then the Chautauqua visitor Center. How is this for a day’s haul – 14 new birds for the list of which 9 were lifers for me. Best money we have ever spent birding. Had some extra time on the way back and Elmwood was right on the way. Decided to give Ron another chance to get the Sedge Wren on Foster Road. No luck (again), but we did manage to add a new lifer for us – the Acadian Flycatcher making for 15 checks for the day. I should also point out that I am such a great brother I found Ron a Barred Owl the night before. Took a night drive through Jubilee without success, but one managed to fly right in front of us and land in the road probably 50 feet from the car. There it just sat and posed while Ron did the best he could to get a picture of it with very little light to work with – thankfully it was slightly illuminated by the headlights of the car. Definitely count us in for next year (and we’ll take the members route which is the better deal).
Update 08/13/2022: A few weeks back, Linda took me to a new birding place in Elmwood, IL. Essentially a very large pasture on Foster Road that had been getting a lot of ebird reports lately. A few of those caught my eye – hearing of a Grasshopper Sparrow so close to home was a shock. If you recall, I managed to find one in Minnesota the previous month. They also had Blue Grosbeaks which I’ve been hunting for several months now. As advertised, Foster is simply a road that cuts through large pastures and prairie. Sure enough, we found several Grasshopper Sparrows and an bunch of Sedge Wrens. Ron was still lacking those two, so I let him know there was an opportunity to get those checked off. I think he was down here before I hung up the phone ha! We headed out there on the 13th. My promise turned out to be half right. After walking around for probably an hour, one showed up just long enough for him to tin it. I missed it, but fortunately already had it checked off. The Sedge was a no-show. Felt bad as I basically guaranteed it – that will teach me. Finally giving up on the Sedge, we had two options. Check out Havana for shorebirds or head up to Galesburg where there were reports of a Swallow-Tailed Kite. They were in opposite direction, so we had to pick on. Since there was a upcoming shorebird event later in the month, we opted to try for the Kite. This turned out to be right move. Ron navigated us to the ebird sighting. At almost the exact same time we hit the location pin, I looked to my left at some distant trees and noticed several birds patrolling the skies. Ron handed me his camera and I took a few shots – one was definitely more erratic in flight than the others, so focused on that one. Checked the LCD in the back and was quite shocked – the subject had a long forked tail – ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a Swallow-Tailed Kite for this year’s list. We were both pretty shocked. We took a few shots and then tried to find a road that would put us closer. Ended up circling the area – nothing got us any closer so we ended right back where we started – this time there was a lady on the side of the road. Ron went over to talk to her (because that is what he does ha). She informed him the Kite had just been hovering over a clump of nearby trees. Grabbed our cameras to see if it would come back. Sure enough, it reappears giving us a lot better shots than we initially got. Snapped a bunch of shots before it crossed the road and headed away for good. The lady was getting frustrated she couldn’t get a picture of it – Ron ended up helping to point it out to her before it took off. She managed to tin it – think it was around 296 for her Illinois count this year – wow. She alerted us to another field it had been hanging out at about 10 minutes away. No luck there, but had what we came for. A real nice add for us.
Update 07/20/2022: On our way back from the Petit Prix Agility Nationals, we stopped at the International Crane Foundation. We are members there and enjoy seeing all the progress they have made with the Crane Re-introduction. They have a very nice visitor center there with a large number of Cranes from across the world for you to see. Amazing place. They also happen to have a very nice set of trails we have had good luck birding at in the past. Heard and saw most of the usuals that hang out there. Although they would not add to this year’s list, it was still fun to photograph them. As we rounded their marsh area Merlin picked up a Willow Flycatcher. Admittedly, I did not hear it calling. All focus was directed to confirming if that was a real catch or not – it would be a new addition if it was. Continued around, but it never picked it up again. Finally got back to Linda and told her about the Willow and how much I would really like to have that. She agreed to help me find it – she could watch Merlin while I tried to spot any members of the Flycatcher family hanging out in their fields beyond the pond. At first nothing, then Linda started picking it up – almost the exact same place Merlin picked it up for me. Minutes would pass before it would pick it up again. Eventually, go my ears tuned right and sure enough, was able to hear it just before Merlin confirmed. Seemed like it was coming from a nearby tree so headed in that direction. Too dense to spot anything easily, but at least the call was coming from the middle somewhere. After a bit of walking around, a bird popped out on a low branch – looked like a Flycatcher, acted like a Flycatcher and then Merlin confirmed as it belted out a tune -yes, another add for the trip.
Update 07/14/2022: Had to head up to Minnesota for Teacup Nationals. While up there we drove to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. On a visit a few years back we found some Black Terns hunting their waters and managed to get a Grasshopper Sparrow and Marsh Wren on that previous trip. Was hoping to pick up the Grasshopper and Terns for this year’s count. Using Merlin we were able to track down a Grasshopper along the autoloop road. Got out of the car and went to work trying to get a visual on one. They hang out in the brush and for the longest time I’d hear the sound, determine the general area and get frustrated when it couldn’t be located. This went on for quite a while. FINALLY one popped up and allowed me to get some shots. Whew, glad that was finally dealt with. The water was pretty low there and the pond where we located the Black Terns on the prior visit was essentially dry – no Terns there. We continued our drive along the loop and came to a much larger pond with a good amount of water in it. There were a number of Trumpeters hanging out there and was busy taking shots of those when I saw a dark flash across the sky – pointy tipped wings, erratic flight – yes, a Black Tern. Took a bit of work to get it targeted and got a few distant shots before it turned and came very near before across the road and off into the distance. Managed to make the most of it and got some pretty good shots. It eventually came back and brought another one with it. This time they stayed a lot farther out into the water so no reason to bother with additional shots. Then Linda completely surprised me. She had Merlin up and mentioned there was a Sedge Wren detected. I needed that and had her help me pinpoint it – across the road hanging out in some reeds. Like the Grasshopper, it preferred to keep hidden. Eventually it popped up for a second – guessing hoping the humans had left – nope, standing right there, but thank you for the latest addition to this year’s list. Plus 3, a bountiful trip. Not, Ron already had the Tern so that allowed me to claw back one and the other two was still a no show on his list.
Update 07/08/2022: This one was a bit of a cheap one, but did manage to improve on it at a later outing. We were camping at the Illinois State Fairgrounds for a dog show when we got back to the RV around dusk. Heard the now familiar peents of Common Nighthawk. Looked up and finally located the source – two Goatsuckers hunting the skies overhead. Brought up Merlin as confirmation of the call and took several less than stellar pictures of the birds. Even had Linda be a witness. Ron agreed that was sufficient and took the tick. Note, later we saw them in Princeville so we took Ron there when he was down for the August Shorebird event and he was able to get that one ticked off as well – I managed to get some pretty good shots as well – far better than those awful cellphone shots from the fair.
Update 07/06/2022: The next day after heading over to Tawny, Ron decided to see what Jubilee College was hosting in terms of bird opportunities. I had heard and thought I saw a Scarlet Tanager while running there a few days earlier and was hoping to get a tick back from Ron who tinned it earlier in the year. We ended up hearing one on the horse trail at the back of the big meadow. So frustrating, I was unable to get a clear shot of it as it hung out in the tree canopy, eventually flying off over Ron – no images to be had, aaarrrggghhh. The following day I decided to give it another go. Ron had returned home, so I was going solo. Went back to the same place we heard it the previous day. On the way down to the spot, a Great Crested Flycatcher popped up and gave me a great look – well, thank you very much. When I arrived at the spot, I didn’t hear any Scarlets calling out. Stood there and battled the giant horseflies for awhile hoping one would call out. About 20 minutes later I heard it – it was still there. Like the previous encounter, it was again hanging out in the canopy and refused to show itself. Amazing that it could conceal itself with that bright red body. Plowed through tall grass, swampy mud, briars… still couldn’t get an angle on it. Was getting totally frustrated when a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo flew up in a tree right next to me. Forgot about the Scarlet and made sure I got some good tins of that previously missing Cuckoo – hadn’t tinned the one I came for yet, but already had two additional checks. Refocused back to the Scarlet and attempted to triangulate where it was..well, as much as possible at it kept moving up and and down the hill giving me quite the workout. Just about fed up with the flies, started up the hill for one last time to where I thought it calling out from. Looked up and saw a red streak fly past and land on a tree almost straight above me. Got a few snaps just to make sure there was some evidence (along with Merlin confirmation) and then shuffled down the hill backwards to get a decent angle which showed a better overall view of the bird. Success! What a relief not to have to fight those flies again, they were atrocious.
Update 07/04/2022: Ron came down for a small 4th of July celebration, so we headed over to the Tawny Oaks Field Station in Edelstein to see what was hanging around. Very hot day and then we got hit by two heavy storm fronts that left us soaking. Fortunately we were able to get some new ticks for the year. First one was pretty easy as there were a number of Chimney Swifts flying over the parking lot when we go there. The other two took a good hike into the woods. After a couple of tries we finally managed to tin a Kentucky Warbler. We had heard it several times the first time we made the loop, but unable to find it among all the trees and brush. On our second pass after the rain, we managed to get some really good shots of it. Heard at least one more as we continued our trek. As we were heading back into the woods after the first rain passed, we heard a Thrush singing away in the valley below us. Luckily had Merlin to help us identify it as a Wood Thrush – the one we’ve been missing! It didn’t stay long, but we got the shots we needed.
Update 05/26/2022: Ron managed to pick up like three birds on me this week. Since our dogs were being groomed in Pekin, asked Linda if she would drive me over to Havana, IL after we picked them up. Ron had mentioned there was a report the Western Kingbirds were back at the substation. Figured while I was there I’d pick up the Eurasian Tree Sparrow that hangs out there as well. Took me about 5 minutes to locate both those targets. The Kingbirds were busy flying between their nest on the substation beams some large trees by the road. The Eurasian flew up and sat on the fencing less than 50 feet from the car. That was an easy +2 and ones Ron didn’t have. Since Emiquon was on the way home, popped into their visitor center. Not much happening there, but did get some shots of the Swallows that nest in the pavilions. These happen to be Cliff’s and again an easy pick up for the year .. and on Ron again. As we turned onto our Road we were surprised with a young Barred Owl just sitting on a street sign several car lengths from the intersection. FINALLY can check that species off – I’ve hear it several times and even seen it fly past the car at least 4 times prior, but never could get a shot of one. Nothing like going +4 for the year simply taking a detour on our way from running an errand.
Update 05/20/2022: After the previous day’s great birding haul, Ron and I were not overly optimistic we would be able to add a lot of new checks to our counts, especially since it was suppose to rain all day. That was nixed with the first 10 minutes of hanging out at Chain O’ Lakes SP. There we added the Eastern Wood-Pewee and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. The Rubies had recently shown up at our house, but I had not officially taken the +1 yet. We had to make a decision on rather to brave the Mosquito gauntlet at Goose Lake, Hebron, IL. There were reports the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were back there. Decided to do and we were extremely glad we did. Thanks to the Red-Winged Blackbirds harassing them, we did tin the Yellow-Heads and I picked up the House Wren and Song Sparrow. More shocking was Ron tinned a Prothonotary Warbler – that was a great catch up on me. From there we went to Glacial Park Conservation Area in Ringwood, IL. We really like that place and have always had success in getting target birds. Today was no exception. As soon as I stepped out of the car we got the Bobolink (not, we didn’t see another one the entire time we were there). Plenty of Sandhill Cranes around, but we were more surprised with the Orchard Oriole and the Henslow’s Sparrow we found there. Before heading out, we decided to see if we could find a House Sparrow (for the day’s overall count). Ron noted the barn they had there and drove down the lane to check it out. Once there I saw a pair of Mute Swans in a distant pond – clawed that +1 back from Ron ha. On our way out I was keeping an eye on the powerlines hoping for a Dickcissel – sure enough we found one singing away on the wire. The exciting element of the day is Ron and I broke our single day bird count record. Thanks to some late adds at the state park we came in a 62 beating our previous record of 60… which ironically was a previous birding trip to the same sites. I must say, we still left a lot of common birds on the table like a Titmouse and if I remember correctly a Belted Kingfisher. I think there is plenty of meat left on the bone for us to top it next year!
Update 05/19/2022: Today was a massive birding day for Ron and I. Ron met me down at Chain ‘O Lakes SP (early!) and we drove to Montrose Beach to hopefully get some migration checks. Before that we did do some quick birding in the park as we drove out. Managed to finally see an European Starling and capped it of with an Eastern Kingbird and a Tree Swallow. Nothing great, but just good checks to get out of the way. Being a great brother, I also got Ron the Black-Billed Cuckoo spotted the previous night. From there Ron drove us up to the beach – for the record, I hate Chicago traffic! Although slightly late on the true migration, Montrose served up some nice additions to this year’s count and some lifers as well! Right off the bat we got the Barn Swallow and Baltimore Oriole out of the way followed by the fantastic Blackburnian Warbler. That bird is a beauty. It was absolutely shocking how many American Redstarts were hanging around there. I managed to go +11 there for the year and 4 lifers (Blackburnian, Golden-Winged Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo and finally took credit for the Warbling Vireo although that has been in the tin for a while. Rounded out the beach with a Caspian Tern, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Gray-Cheeked Thrush (no idea they were up there), Magnolia Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, a White-Crowned Sparrow and surprise to me it wasn’t already checked, the Yellow Warbler. The Bay-Breasted Warbler was another good find along with the Adler Flycatcher and resident Bank Swallows. Met a lot of nice people there including Jane who I had run into at Quinta Mazaltan back in January (Grey Hawk) and Kenneth. the big miss for that place was the Connecticut Warbler. We tried hard, but never found it. From there we went to a new place called Labagh Woods. About 30 minutes west of Montrose. Ron had went to get the Broad-Tailed Hummer there last year. I must say, for a rather “interesting” take on how to groom trails and odd decisions regarding what trees they left across the trails, the woods produced some nice birding. At first it was rather weak, but picked up nicely as we made our way to the other side of the river and then our return which took us by the slough again. Found a Canada Warbler there – Ron got it in the tin quick – me not so quick. Luckily we found two of them again and I finally got a decent shot. Got the Hairy Woodpecker officially checked and then added a Sharp-Shinned Hawk in the trees above the slough. The Canada and the Sharp-Shinned were lifers for me. We also met a nice lady there that was birding the area for the Canada and then another young lady as we were returning from the other side of the river – she pointed out an extremely cute Racoon hanging out in a tree and a Doe and Fawn walking through the woods – she had really good eyes and told us about a Heron rookery not to far away. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go there. All in all a great day for the bird count – +23 for the year and +9 for lifers.
Update 05/18/2022: Mother passed away peacefully on Mother’s Day. Between my two brothers and I we were able to be with her every day and night for the 6 week duration since we learned about her cancer returning. We miss her, but take comfort knowing she has been reunited with Dad and no rid of her earthly sufferings. Decided to take a quick birding break to help relieve the stress and sadness of the ordeal. Made arrangements with Ron to meet us up at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Spring Grove, IL. From there we planned to travel up to Montrose Beach to see if there were any Warblers still hanging around and then do some birding at some spots around the state park. As we were heading out of the park to pick up some dinner the night before I looked in the trees to the right of the exist and spotted a Black-Billed Cuckoo. Now that was surprise. Only had my cell phone camera with me, but managed to get good enough shots to get the check. We come upon the Yellow-Billed variety from time to time, but this was a treat. A good check for the day!
Update 05/09/2022: Chalk another one up on the bird feeder surprise list. The Roe-Breasted Grosbeaks are annual visitors to the lot. Linda and I were outside on our porch checking out the various birds when something caught my eye. Immediately told Linda that I thought that was a Red-Breasted Nuthatch!! This is the first time I have every seen one on my lot .. in fact in Illinois. I’ve heard reports of people seeing them up further north, but never expected one to be 15 feet away from me. Told Linda to keep an eye on it while I dashed into the house to get the camera (have to get that check ha). When I came out Linda informed me it had flown away over the house. Drats! Decided to hang out a while and see if it would come back. The White-Breasted regulars will stop by, grab a sunflower seed and scamper off to wedge it in some tree bark for later before repeating the process. Sure enough, 30 minutes later the Red-Breasted showed up and I was able to tin it. Had a bit of a scare a later in the week as my digital card with the images went bad. Downloaded an SD Card recovery program and managed to recover the files… and more importantly the check. That was a close call.
Update 04/29/22: Home from the St. Louis trip now, I was busy getting ready to head down to Forsyth to spend a couple of nights with Mom. Looked out the window and to my complete noticed several Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks on my feeder. Those are such beautiful birds. Grabbed my camera and managed to get a few shots in the tin. An easy +1 one. The Grosbeaks do not tend to hang around long and glad I didn’t miss them on their journey…guessing north.
Update 04/25/22: After Raven’s run at Purina Farms, Linda suggested we go to the Shaw Nature Reserve nearby (Gray Summit, MO). They have a really nice auto-loop with opportunities to park and walk their many trails. Managed to photograph a lot of birds – only one addition to the list and that was a Palm Warbler. Was hoping to get a few more ducks and such at their marsh/pond, but that ended up being a bust. Still enjoyed birding that place and would definitely put that on the list for the next time we are down there. There was a small fee that I can’t remember at the moment. Not as productive as Robertsville State Park, but Shaw is a lot bigger and Linda enjoyed the Wildflower trail walk.
Update 04/24/2022: As we were already down in St. Louis for a memorial service and Raven was running the Poodle Nationals event at Purina Farms, Linda took me over to a new place called Robertsville State Park in Robertsville, MO. It was raining that day, but managed to get some birding in between soakings. Stopped first at a picnic pavilion and photographed the usual field fare – Sparrows, Cowbirds and Common Yellowthroats. All birds I already had. From there we went to their boat launch. Wow, that stop was extremely productive netting me the Indigo Bunting, Red-Eyed Vireo and a Yellow-Throated Vireo. The big surprise of the day was Prothonotary Warbler flew right up onto a branch about 5 feet away from me. I was stunned assuming this was going to be a missed check thanks to the Dauphin trip being canceled. Not sure I would purposely visit this place beyond getting these specific birds. Had some Parulas and it did have a Fish Crow which was already in the tin thanks to the earlier MS trip. Pretty happy getting these checks – Ron would probably pick up the Indigo Bunting and Vireo, but the Prothonotary will likely be pretty hard as I’ve never seen them outside of the April 2021 Dauphin trip.
Update 04/23/2022: Before heading out to St. Louis, did one more pass in an attempt to get the Purple Martin checked off at Weldon Springs. Ron had found them there a few days earlier along with a Solitary Sandpiper. Lucked out and was able to photograph the Purple Martins, but the Sandpiper was nowhere to be found. He went one up on me, but at least the Purples were still there.
Update 04/16/2022: Was staying at Weldon Springs to be closer to Mom. Decided to take the opportunity to see if I could get any birds checked off and let Ron know if there was anything hanging out there that he needed as well. Birded a short part of the trail that wraps around the northern part of the lake there (just off the campground area). Highlight was getting the Northern Rough-Winged Swallow checked off. Ron met me later that day and we headed back out to get him some of the checks he needed – turned out beneficial for both of us. Ron found us a couple of Brown Creepers and although I already had it, ended up being the first recorded sighting of a Spotted Sandpiper there. Following the lake path I also added a Northern Parula, Field Sparrow (in meadow by cemetery) and a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker – +5 for me. Ron went +6 thanks to the addition of the Yellow-Throated Warbler I already had. A bit bummed there were no Purple Martins in their houses.
Update 03/08/2022: Noticed a local birding organization was having an American Woodcock outing at the Tawny Oaks Field Station. Had a lot of fun doing this last year, so headed over there to see if I could get the Timberdoodle checked off for this year. Sure enough, as the sun was going down we started hearing the “peents” of the males trying to impress their prospective mates. Managed to get a couple of silhouette shots in the near darkness – good enough for the check as it showed the identifying profile and had the confirmations of the rest of the group there that night. Realized how similar the setting was to the big meadow at Jubilee State Park. Decided to check that out on the 16th and sure enough heard them calling and got some really awful shots. Linda came out with me the second night and helped me spot a couple more that allowed me to get a few shots with the help of a flash. Think this is first time I’ve actually ever seen what these Doodles really look like.
Update 02/28/22: Headed down to Springfield to see Mom and thought it would be worth a shot to get the Wood Duck at Washington Park. Failed the last time we dropped by there, but I have seen them there before and one was reported several weeks back. Linda parked in the lot next to the ponds and I jumped out in search of the brightly colored duck. Tons of Mallards, an American Widgeon pair that didn’t mind me getting close to them and the expected invasion of Canada Geese – no Woods to be found. Frustrated, headed back to the SUV to share the disappointment. A quick discussion on where else we could try was quickly cut short when I made a final glance at the pond as we came up to the parking lot entrance – THERE IT WAS! more technically there they were as a drake and its mate were cruising by right where I had been standing not 10 minutes ago. Leaped out and got plenty of shots for the days target – sometimes life gives you a wonderful surprise.
Update 02/2/822: Headed down to Springfield to see Mom and thought it would be worth a shot to get the Wood Duck at Washington Park. Failed the last time we dropped by there, but I have seen them there before and one was reported several weeks back. Linda parked in the lot next to the ponds and I jumped out in search of the brightly colored duck. Tons of Mallards, an American Widgeon pair that didn’t mind me getting close to them and the expected invasion of Canada Geese – no Woods to be found. Frustrated, headed back to the SUV to share the disappointment. A quick discussion on where else we could try was quickly cut short when I made a final glance at the pond as we came up to the parking lot entrance – THERE IT WAS! more technically there they were as a drake and its mate were cruising by right where I had been standing not 10 minutes ago. Leaped out and got plenty of shots for the days target – sometimes life gives you a wonderful surprise.
Update 02/25/22: While getting ready to take a quick trip up to the Quad Cities (time to play a belated Santa), I looked out the kitchen window and spotted a Northern Flicker on the side of nearby tree. Took me a couple of blinks to convince myself it was not a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and then immediately grabbed my camera – nothing like starting the day off with an easy +1. Not one to waste an opportunity, grabbed the camera as we headed out – never know what you are going to find along the Mighty Mississippi. Headed down to our standard eagle hunting grounds on Concord St to see what the Eagle population looked like. Last year was relatively light, however, there was a definitely a rebound with a rough guess around 30 specimens. Put a significant drain on a digital card watching an Eagle devour a fresh catch. Note 4 White Pelicans, an surprising number of Hooded Mergansers and the usual fair of Goldeneyes, Gulls and Canada Geese. From there we headed over to Credit Island. Was not as many Eagles over there. Spotted around 10 Tundra Swans in the waters to the east of the entrance road and then moved to the back part where the feeders are (and the very nice foot bridge). Scored a Brown-Headed Cowbird there – surprised it had taken me that long to find one of those. Spotted a few Common Mergansers pretty far into the water on our way out. Very happy with the +3 for the day!
Update 02/10/22: There has been some random adds and removals as Ron and I begin to process the pictures from our birding adventures in January. We had some IDs off causing us to remove some previous field IDs that were incorrect when we took a deeper look into them at home. Had some surprises as well when we determined we had tinned something we mistakenly took for a bird we already had – love it when that happens! This week a sighting showed up on e-Bird that caught my attention. Linda and I had a number of appointments in Peoria/East Peoria so took the camera in hopes of finding a White-Winged Scoter that was hanging out on the Illinois River near the Bob Michel Bridge. Found a bunch of Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers and even Hooded Mergansers, but no Scoter. Others continued seeing it at different places along the river. Went down there for the 5th time this morning and I am glad to report SUCCESS. A new lifer for me! It was an immature or possibly adult female, but I’ll take it.
Update 02/05/22: Definitely seeing the expected slowdown of overall combined progress as we are both back at our homes in the tundra so pickens are definitely slimmer. I’ve been able to tin some of the easy winter fare around our house including the Dark-Eyed Junco which finally decided to show up a few days after we arrived. Was surprised they were not around when I first went out to look after returning home as they are always hanging out in our woods and under the feeders during the cold months, especially when there is snow on the ground. The White-Breasted Nuthatch and House Finch just required me to hop out on the porch for a quick snap before the fingers got cold. We will be gearing up to hunt down the Snowy Owl soon, Linda is already reviewing the nearby sightings. Ron managed to get some really nice adds as of late. The Common Redpoll he found at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL. He also ticked off both the Tundra and the Trumpeter Swans – usually I only come upon the Trumpeters, so will have to work a bit to catch up on that.
Update 01/28/22: Decided to start the day with better shots of the Bonaparte’s Gull. I took a look at the ones from the day before and many of them were blown out thanks to the constant changing lighting conditions. Since this was a +`1 it was worth investing a small amount of time to improve if I could. Once done with that, snapped a few Double-Crested Cormorants just to get that checked off the list for the year. A refreshing change from the Neotropic variety that dominated the Texas coast. From there we headed up to Marion, AR as the last stop before making the push for home. Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge sits just beyond the KOA there giving us a quick chance to catch some additional checks for the month. I have threatened numerous times to remove this site from my birding list. Prior to this stop it had rained every single time and their roads become a mucky mess when that happens. It is also a bit eerie as we are usually the only visitors there when we stop by. Good news, no rain, but they are also in a cold streak causing a lot of the shallow swamp water to freeze – translated no ducks or waders in any of the roadside waterways. In one last ditch effort Linda drove out to their levee area. More wildlife there including the largest flock of Mallards I’ve ever witnesses. No Wood Ducks which was a disappointment. Linda spotted a Pileated Woodpecker hanging out in trees which was a nice add. Snagged a Downy and then noticed a large number of Crows passing overhead. Took a bunch of shots and on a hunch, pulled out the Bird Net app and recorded their vocals as they passed. Surprise, Surprise, it identified it as a Fish Crow – score. Not much else there and called it a day. Time to go winterize the RV for the cold trip back home.
Update 01/27/22: As we head home, decided to stop back at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, MS. I found several Hooded Mergansers there on our first visit, but that was technically December and didn’t count towards our Average Year. They have been there every time we’ve come and sure enough, they were enjoying the ponds/lakes in the park once again. Managed to get a new lifer with a Bonapart’s Gull that was hanging out with a small flock of the Hoods. Linda wasn’t feeling the greatest, so we opted to stay overnight giving me a chance to walk their very nice nature trail. Racked up several birds (over 20) along with a confirmed 9 for the Average Year list. May be able to add a couple of more once the Wren pictures are checked against the reference (Winter, House or both!). They have a ton of Red-Headed Woodpeckers here and a surprising number of Palm Warblers. White-Throated Sparrows were a nice add along with a brief visit from a Hermit Thrush. A small group of Cedar Waxwings decided to show themselves as well. Highly recommend this place to any birders. Nice campground and the trails are nicely cut and rocked with several boardwalks.
Update 01/25/22: Did some birding around Galveston Island. First stop was Galveston Island State Park. The rain had subsided finally. A lot of the park is shut down as they rebuild the camp grounds. Once again found a Clapper Rail on the Clapper Rail Trail at the first boardwalk. Little Blue Heron was hanging out at the end of that road. Managed to get two White Tailed Kites in a tree as we were exiting the park. So far, been able to get that species on every visit there. From there went down 8 Mile Road. Nice area to bird from the car with multiple ponds and the bay to hunt. Linda spotted a Falcon perched on a field across a field. Had to put the tele on to even have a chance of figuring it out. From the looks of it and some flight shots, guessing it was a Peregrine. Further down that road spotted a Merlin in a nearby tree. That was a lifer for me. That road provides a good chance of getting Sandhills if you need them.
From there went on to the Texas City Dike. Large amount of Gulls and Terns there. Will need to get the reference books out to figure out what they are. Saw three Loons while we were driving the dike, but the real find was the flock of Eared Grebes. Also found Turnstones, Willets and a Sparrow that still needs to be identified.
Busy day as we then headed to Anahuac NWR in hopes of getting better pictures of the Short-Eared Owl. Road to back part of refuge where we fond the Owls hunting previously was too mushy to take the RV and turned back for a quick run through the auto-tour. The usuals were there along with loads of Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks. While shooting a small flock by the boardwalk, noticed two of them were slightly different than the others. Remembered they had seen Fulvous Whistlers there – sure enough I was staring right at them which added another +1 to my lifer giving me 2 for the day! Shot a few Raptors, Hawks or Harriers as we made our way down the last loop of the tour. A busy day, but worth it for sure
Update 01/19/22: Today I managed to tin a new lifer (a Lesser Goldfinch) thanks to a new State Park we visited called Guadalupe River State Park – considered the second prettiest river in Texas! Can’t wait to get back and start posting on all the new finds … wait.. scratch that.. I can wait a bit longer to go back into the Illinois ice box ha!