Yesterday, I was able to get out for a day of birding with my friend and one of my mentors, Geoff Williamson. In 2013, the ABA bestowed Geoff with the ABA Ludlow Griscom Award, which is for those, “who have dramatically advanced the state of ornithological knowledge for a particular region” (http://www.aba.org/about/awards.html). Geoff helped me when I first found birding, and him and his wife Chris have really helped shape the birder I have become.
Yesterday, we left Chicago at about 6:00, and headed to Will and Grundy counties. Our first stop was near Bolingbrook to look for the Snowy Owl’s that have been hanging out in the fields. We got here at about 6:45, and began searching. Not long after, I located the Snowy far out in the field. I took a few pictures, but the bird was really far away with bad light.
Besides the Snowy, we also had a howling Coyote with a great suburban backdrop.
After the Snowy, we headed to the town of Channahon, specifically to the river. This location is known as the Widewaters, which is just upriver from the confluence of the Des Plaines and Kankakee Rivers (to become the Illinois). This is a fantastic location for waterfowl in Will County, and at this time of year, one can usually find all three swans (Trumpeter, Tundra, and Mute). For the past couple of years, an injured American White Pelican has been hanging around, and seems to be doing well still.
Since it was still early in the day, we had to deal with lots of steam coming off of the river, hindering our abilities to ID much of the waterfowl. We decided to come back later in the day to try again. We headed to the Des Plaines Conservation Area, now hoping for some raptors. We only were able to come up with 1 Cooper’s Hawk and 4 Red-tails, frustrating considering the habitat here. We did have an American Tree Sparrow cooperate nicely for some photos along the way though, as well as a Yellow-rumped Warbler (our only one of the day).
The next location we checked was along the Morris I and M Canal, which runs through both Grundy and Will counties. We birded right from the county line, making sure to note which side each species was on. We had at least 15 Bald Eagles here, always a welcome sight.
Another good bird was a male Canvasback as well as a high count of 33 Ring-necked Ducks, both in Will County. The best bird here was a White-winged Scoter, seen only by Geoff as it flew away from us into Will.
Driving side roads can turn up something neat, and while exploring, we found a very cooperative male Ring-necked Pheasant. The feather pattern of these birds is just astounding.
Before heading back to Widewaters, we decided to check Goose Lake Prairie State Park for more raptors (hoping for a Rough-legged Hawk). The area was devoid of any birds (and raptors), but we made up for that with a decent bird, a White-throated Sparrow.
Heading back to Widewaters before heading north to Chicago, Geoff was able to pick out a female Red-breasted Merganser from the Commons, a good bird for the time of year at this location.
We were able to find all three species of Merganser at the harbor, here a male Hooded is with a female Common.
The Widewaters did have some swans, but we could only confirm 7 Trumpeter and 4 Mute. There had to be some Tundras out there, but since the ice pushed the birds out, the distance was very hard to work with.
After Geoff dropped me off, I read that my friend Steve Huggins had some great waterfowl at North Ave. Beach, a 10 minute drive from my house. I asked my dad if he could take me out there, and he agreed. White-winged Scoters have been everywhere lately in Illinois, with counts of over 100 birds south of the Loop up to the state line. Not surprisingly, Steve had some White-winged Scoters, and I was able to find them in the open ice next to the breakwall, allowing great photo opps.
Walking the snow and ice covered pier (carefully), I found the bird I really came for, a female Long-tailed Duck. She was relaxing with about 20 other ducks (16 Common Goldeneye, 1 Greater Scaup, and 3 White-winged Scoters). She would dive right next to the pier on occasion, and I calmly approached for some photos. I don’t think I have ever been able to get so close to a Long-tailed Duck.
The Common Goldeneyes she was swimming with also offered a great chance to study age and sex related differences.
It was great to get outside yesterday, and I had a fantastic day of birding with lots of new county and year birds. I added 12 birds to Will County for a total of 109, 17 to Grundy County for a total of 42, and got my Illinois year list up to 53 species. Thanks again to Geoff as well as my dad for taking me out!