Long-eared Owls and White-winged Scoters

Nathan GoldbergBird Sightings, Birding, General News and InfoLeave a Comment

Yesterday, I had a half day of school, and couldn’t find a better use of my time than to go birding! I called up my friend Andy Sigler to see if he had any interest in heading out to Kane County for some birding, and he agreed to pick me up at about 12:45ish. We met at my school and headed out to Geneva, which is along the Fox River. It’s about an hours drive west of Chicago, but traffic can be so bad it can easily double in time.

Arriving in Geneva, we headed to Island Park on the river for the previously reported White-winged Scoters. After searching the river, we could only turn up hundreds of Common Goldeneye, some Mallards, and lots of Common Mergansers.

Female Common Goldeneye (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Female Common Goldeneye (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Male Mallard (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Male Mallard (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Female Common Merganser (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Female Common Merganser (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

We didn’t want to give up yet, and kept walking the banks. Soon enough, we found three dark birds alone near the ice which didn’t look like Common Goldeneyes or Mergansers. After we walked past them so the sun would be in a better place, it was obvious that these were the Scoters! But there were only three, not the previously reported 5-6 birds (though who’s complaining). One of the Scoters began to swim closer and proceeded to dive in front of me. It’s always a treat to get so close to these neat ducks.

Three White-winged Scoters (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Three White-winged Scoters (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

White-winged Scoter (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

White-winged Scoter (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

White-winged Scoter flapping (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

White-winged Scoter flapping (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

White-winged Scoter diving (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

White-winged Scoter diving (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

On the walk back to the car, I heard what I thought was a Golden-crowned Kinglet calling. After searching the tree I heard it in for movement, I came up empty handed. I knew I needed the Kinglet for Kane County, so I didn’t want to just walk off. After a few very cold minutes, I noticed some movement near the trunk, and to my surprise, a Brown Creeper peaked its head out! Kane County bird 48 for me, not super impressive but I had nearly 0 species at the start of the winter here.

Brown Creeper (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Brown Creeper (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

A few days earlier, I got some private information from some friends about Long-eared Owls in Kane county. Due to the sensitivity of the species, I can’t reveal the location we went to. Andy and I headed there after the Scoters and after walking around a bit, Andy mumbled to me, “I’ve got them, don’t look just yet. Walk over here and then take a look.” I couldn’t contain my excitement, but did my best. Andy always is telling me to never look straight at an owl until you are far enough away, as they love to flush. He walked away after getting me on the tree they were in, as he thought two people looking straight at them wouldn’t be a great idea. While photographing them, I saw two birds right away, and was shocked after looking closer at the tree that there was a third bird right in front of me! It is amazing how easily these birds can camouflage in dense pines. They offered killer views, and I was very happy we didn’t flush them.

The first Long-eared Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The first Long-eared Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The first and third Long-eared Owls (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The first and third Long-eared Owls (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The second Long-eared Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The second Long-eared Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The third Long-eared Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The third Long-eared Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

All three Long-eared Owls (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

All three Long-eared Owls (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Leaving these owls, we had enough light to try for more Long-eareds in McHenry County, directly north of Kane. Once again, I can’t reveal the place we went to. We got to the specific location Andy has seen the Owls a week or two before, but accidentally flushed two (due to our rush to beat the light as the park closed at sunset). Though I couldn’t ID them, we knew they were Long-eareds, and though they didn’t flush far, but it was impossible to see them in the thick brush. While we looked for them, we could hear at least three Great Horned Owls calling in the distance. I’ll have to come back another time for these owls, but will be more careful and thorough in searching.

It was a fantastic couple of hours, even though it took over two hours to get home through traffic. Thanks again to Andy for taking me out on such short notice, I had a fantastic time even with the 5º temperatures!