Good afternoon everyone! What happened to the 12+ inches of snow we were supposed to get?
This post will be explaining forecasts for the upcoming few days but first I will start off with why we are not receiving a massive amount of snow from this system that was thought as possible earlier this week!
As of early this week, most of Illinois was in the threat of 10+ inches of snow, even some models were showing regions with 20+ inches of snow. Now, I would be surprised if location in Illinois received more than seven inches throughout this whole system. Very high winds (near or at Tropical Storm force) and extreme, polar like cold are still to be expected Thursday Night to Christmas Day. This system was originally supposed to be a much slower system, most of the snow arriving late Thursday and into the night Thursday as the system moved into the upper Ohio River Valley. The system was supposed to occlude, which in short means the system gets wrapped completely by cold air, and usually slows down. Because of this, the system was supposed to slow down over in Indiana and into Michigan, which meant a lot of snow for our region.
Over the last two days, the system has continued to pick up in speed and, although around the same time frame, slows down and occludes across the northern/eastern Great Lakes. Because of this, the main axis of snow will now be around the Great Lakes instead of the Midwest. I have provided a map below showing the main areas affected.
Now onto the actual forecast totals and maps:
Nonetheless, snow is still expected across the Midwest, but generally totals will be 2-6 inches, and 6+ inches to regions north of Illinois. Most of the snow from the 6+ area will fall from tonight to Thursday morning. The lake effect snow will start to occur during Thursday Night and Friday. Below I have a map showing my current forecast with expected totals. This is subject to change:
The heaviest snowfall will occur during Thursday afternoon. The snow will start at around 5/6am in Western IL and will move east throughout the day.
Below are the timings of when the heaviest snow will fall as of now.
Even though we are expected to see minimal amounts, any snow more than a couple inches will be significant. There is a very sharp temperature gradient that will move through Thursday morning across Central Illinois and the winds will pick up through the night Thursday and will peak during Friday. Because of the quick following temps (into single digits by Thursday afternoon, I will have a picture of this gradient below), the snow itself will be light and soft, as opposed to heavier more compact snow with higher temperatures. Because of winds, gusting 45-50mph from Thursday Night (due to very strong pressure gradients) to Saturday Morning, nearly blizzard conditions ARE LIKELY. It is suggested to stay in if possible at least on Friday. No new accumulating will occur with the winds but with the light snow, the snow will be blowing very rapidly throughout this period.
HRRR at 11am Thursday, showing the 30-35 degree temperature gradient which will move east throughout the day on Thursday and strong, 20-25 kt northwest winds.
Along with the wind, significant cold will spread throughout the Midwest Thursday and into Thursday Night. Below 0 temperatures are expected as lows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Nights throughout most of Illinois, with the coldest Wind Chills on Friday morning, then Saturday, then Sunday. The winds should gradually become lower and by Christmas Day the winds will be minimal, but wind chills WILL STILL BE below freezing on Christmas Morning.
I did not want to make a map but for each region here is a general wind chill forecast for each region of the state:
Friday Morning: -25 to -40
Saturday Morning: -15 to -30
Sunday Morning: -10 to -25
Friday Morning: -20 to -35
Saturday Morning: -10 to -25
Sunday Morning: -5 to -20
Friday Morning: -15 to -30
Saturday Morning: -5 to -15
Sunday Morning: 0 to -10
NAM Wind Chills at 6am on Friday
HRRR Wind Chills at 6am on Friday
Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays to everyone and stay safe. I will post if there are any major updates!
This blog post will be featuring and discussing one of my current research projects, bird collisions on a large college campus in the Midwest, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. According to Loss et al. in 2014, up to a billion birds die each year from window strikes, one of the top three leading causes of bird mortality around the world. In this post, I will give some quick introductory information about the project, discuss some preliminary results from this year, then compare some results to the past few falls. This is an initial post and likely will post one or two more times in the future discussing the project and our finding smore in-depth, trends that we are seeing, along with updates on the project as a whole. This is just sharing the data alone at the current time. During our season this year, we found over 130 fatal strikes across 18 buildings during the season, over 250 for the fall as a whole, and over 300 across the campus (I continuously checked some other buildings).
The UIUC Bird Strike Survey was started in the Fall of 2019 by graduate students within the GEEB RSO here on campus, most notably by Alec Luro and Sarai Stuart. GEEB ran this project during the Falls of 2019 and 2020 and had three routes on campus. During 2020, they discontinued the Main Quad Route due to the fear of lack of participants because of covid before the season with making sure the most problematic areas on campus were continued to be covered thoroughly (North and South Quads). Emmarie Alexander and myself took over this project in early 2021 and created a spring season to study birds that strike during the spring migration, although since I will only be talking about fall data in this post, I will talk about our spring season sometime at a later date.
The prior students designed the season to encompass the peak of migration in the fall, so the fall season is from the beginning of the second week of September to the end of the second week of October. This is a five week period, as it is long enough to find enough data but also is not too long in order to make sure the routes are covered efficiently. Fall migration (for passerines) spans from August to December but in order narrow down a time window to check, this was the time planned out and we continue to run the season during the time time every fall, although in the last couple years I've surveyed throughout most of the year.
The routes both cover nine of the "worst" appearing buildings for bird strikes on both sides of the campus, so the data represents FATAL strikes from 18 buildings on campus. We still gather data from birds that we find alive/stunned on campus, but for the time being we are only using fatal data for most of our analysis at the current time, but that could change in the future depending on what directions we take. Some of the routes include detrimental buildings such as the Beckman Institute, Electrical and Computing Engineering, the Business Instructional Facility, and Temple Hoyne Buell Hall. In the last couple years, we have added two new buildings, the Campus Instructional Facility and the Siebel Center for Design, two buildings that were completed in 2021 and since these buildings are basically solid glass, we figured to include these on our survey. I am very thankful we did as these buildings have proven to be very detrimental for birds. We survey both routes twice a day, once in the early morning to find birds that hit during the night or at first light, and once again in the evening to find birds that strike during the day time. In the morning mostly correlating to birds that strike due to light and evening mostly correlating to birds that strike due to reflectiveness of windows of nearby greenery.
North Quad Route
South Quad Route
Beckman Institute (North Quad)
Business Instructional Facility (South Quad)
Fall 2022 Data:
First I will present data about the birds we found, then compare some results with averages from the last few years. This post is mostly just showing the data we have so far, not necessarily explaining in-depth about the data we have, that maybe for another date. Also, most of this will be only from our main season but I will show some results from outside of the season. We found 77 during the preseason, 133 during our main season, and (so far) 41 during the postseason. Our season average was 3.8 birds found per day.
Tennessee Warbler was by far our most struck species representing 21% of strikes found during the season with 28 individuals. The next five most struck species were Nashville Warbler (10), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (10), Bay-breasted Warbler (8), Magnolia Warbler (7), and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (6). There were a few interesting birds such as Eastern Wood-Pewee (first ever), Wood Thrush (first ever for fall), Golden-crowned Kinglet (3, first ever IN season, usually found later on), and Blackpoll Warbler (second ever) most of this species does an elliptical migration and goes much more east in the fall.
A graph showing fatal strikes during the season this year. Sorry about the labeling with some bird names are cut off, these are "Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, White-throated Sparrow, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Golden-crowned Kinglet, some bird shave long names!
A Tennessee Warbler
We found 32 different species during the season and 47 species during the fall as a whole. 15 of our 32 species were warblers, 4 were sparrows, and so on. ALL of the species during during the season were migrants, with not a single resident bird found during the season. As a fall combined, 19 species of warblers were found and only two resident species of birds were found during the period (a House Finch and a Northern Cardinal).
Migrants during the season, as mentioned, represented 100% of strikes and represented 99.2% of strikes during the entire fall. More interestingly, most of these migrants were neotropical migrants. I quickly looked into birds that are non-neotropical and compared it to species that are more neotropical migrants. Some of these (non-neotropical) species include sapsucker, kinglets, wrens, and sparrows, species that mostly breed in the boreal forests and winter either here or areas just south, but mostly do not migrate over the Gulf of Mexico or down into Latin America. Neotropical migrants were found by an overwhelming majority, representing 78.5% of strikes (22 species) found during the season and non-neotropical migrants representing 21.5% (9 species). I also classified some species as "near-distance migrants," birds that breed around here, and migrate small distances. My thought is because of breeding around here, some of these species may be more aware of windows like resident birds are (as our data suggests). Only one of these were found during our season (Brown Thrasher) and only 2 others during the fall (Northern Flicker and American Robin).
When we compare what we find based on the families, we find that Parulidae (warblers) are found by far the most, representing 62% of the strikes found, followed by Passerellidae (sparrows). We found birds from 14 different families during the season, and 16 during the entire fall (Fringillidae with the House Finch and a Caprimulgidae with a COMMON NIGHTHAWK)!
This fall had the second lowest strike rate over the four falls, ranging from 110 to 180 strikes over the 18 buildings on campus (not encompassing any Main Quad buildings), with 133 this year, but that is also comparing to years that when CIF and SCD were not surveyed (representing 34 strikes this year). Between last year and this year, we found 44 less strikes. Some of this may be because of a two day mass casualty event last year on 9/22 and 9/23 with a combined 34 fatal strikes between those two days, whereas this year we found several days with 10-15 fatal strikes, but never more than 15. This was because of a mini-fallout coupled with a very thick fog that occured during one day, causing over 35 birds (fatal and non-fatal) found throughout 25 buildings on campus on this day alone.
When comparing to previous years, there were some significant differences with some species as well as some family groups. First, birds that we found much more than our 3 year average (2022:ave) were Ruby-throated Hummingbird (10:4), Tennessee Warbler (28:24), Chestnut-sided Warbler (5:1), Golden-crowned Kinglet (3:0), and White-throated Sparrow (5:3). There were also several species that were found at much lower rates than in the past three years with Swainson's Thrush being the frontrunner with (4:17), then Ovenbird (5:11), Red-eyed Vireo (0:4), Bay-breasted Warbler (8:11), and Black-and-white Warbler (0:3).
The birds that were not found as much as previous years are actually very interesting. This is because all of these species, even species that were not found during the survey, were found during the preseason in large numbers. For example, we found 15 Swainson's Thrushes during the three week preseason when compared to 4 during the whole five week fall season. We also found 7 Black-and-white Warblers, 2 Red-eyed Vireos, and 4 Ovenbirds. This fall, it seemed as if the strike rates were more gradual during the season, roughly having a 40-65 strike rate per week during all weeks during September, whereas last fall we had one very high struck week during the third week of September. Also, noting some species striking (and likely migrating) earlier than usual.
Because of some of these differences, there were also noticeable differences within the family groups. Parulidaes (warblers) were found more often than years prior with (81:73), followed by Trochillidae (Hummingbirds) (10:4) and Passerellidae (sparrows) (13:5). The problem is with sparrows is that our season ends as the sparrow migration starts to ramp up, so most of the birds are found during the postseason, for example Dark-eyed Junco with 12 found during our postseason this fall and none found during the actual season. As mentioned before, our Swainson's Thrush numbers were much lower this fall, which is reflected in the numbers of Turdidaes found with a (8:23) comparison, followed by Cardinalidae (1:4).
Since this post is mostly about the birds themselves, I will briefly show some building data but will not go too in-depth with this at the current time.
In General, we find more birds in the fall than we do in the spring (roughly a 3:1 comparison) and we typically find more birds on the North Quad (roughly a 2:1 comparison). Although, during our postseason, we find many more birds on the South Quad than we do the North (this fall is a 3:1 comparison). We have some ideas on why this could be occurring, but will wait until another time to explain this. One could be because some of the buildings on the south side are more single story orientated (in general all of the buildings on the NQ have window faces at least two stories or higher), whereas on the south quad we survey four buildings that are or nearly a single-story window (Siebel Center for Design, Krannert, Law, and Education Buildings and lower (later) birds may strike these buildings more often, but we are still looking into this.
The new Siebel Center for Design showing the "one-story" window face
The highest struck buildings during the season were Beckman (33), Campus Instructional Facility (23), Electrical & Computing Engineering (16), Business Instructional Facility (13), and Siebel Center for Design (8). Unlike prior years, Beckman was not as strong as an outlier as the past which is something to watch, as nothing of what I found from the building or the glass had changed over the years. Although there was loud construction from the west end of the nearby Coordinated Science Laboratory starting at 7am most mornings during at least half of the season so this definitely could be a constraint and a reason why we did not find as many here as the year prior (with 57 strikes) and also why we ended up behind in number of total strikes for the season when compared to last year. It is also important to note that the two newly constructed buildings (CIF and SCD) made it on the most struck list during the season.
The "new" Campus Instructional Facility
For now this will be all about the project. This was just to present our data for this current fall as I have never done so before, but not going too much into discussion about our findings. I will be doing plenty of things during the offseason so some progress will be coming soon! Thanks for reading and stay tuned!
On April 20th, 2022, Ben Lucking and I completed a birding big day across the Southern United States. We saw 272 species on this single day, representing the third-highest species total ever to be found in one day in this country! Below is the full story about this extremely adventurous day!
Before I go too far into the story, below is a link to the story I posted with information leading up to the day, our thought processes, all of the hard work before the day, etc that I posted back in May:
Summer Tanager from Smith Oaks Sanctuary during the scouting day
I intended to post this way back within a week or two of this occurring, but between school, bird counts, work, and the planning of my own Illinois AND our Michigan big days, I got wrapped up and never got this completed. So, here’s a story of one of the most fun, thrilling, and adventurous days of my life, a big day from Texas to Arizona, all in ONE day. This was a “pilot run” and see if it was doable and was ran all based on our curiosity. The “doable” part is referring to flying in the middle of the day to a completely different region in the United States to see as many different bird species in a day as possible (also see my initial post above explaining why we decided to do this).
1:30 AM: Houston, Texas
Because of the time change in Arizona (two hours behind CDT in April), we had to start at 2:00 AM to finish at midnight in Arizona. Ben and I were waking up from a mostly restless night of sleep. We arrived at our hotel just after 9:00 PM and both of us had a hard time sleeping that night. I stayed up late, going back and forth on ebird, our tiered species list, our schedule, and making last-minute changes as usual. This was my “first” big day of the year (first of many to come) and I had to be prepared to conquer this fight, as we had a CHALLENGING day ahead of us. Between all of this and being a very anxious person, let alone about what was to come, I hardly slept a minute, although on most big days this is usually what happens with my sleep schedule the night before.
We only had about a 20-minute drive to the first spot (Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary) to hopefully get some owls and nightjars
Our tentative plan along with the clock as we were leaving our hotel
We pulled into the Sanctuary RIGHT before 2:00 AM. We just heard some robins nearby singing their heads off but those were just before our actual start time. Right at 2:00, I started playing Eastern Screech-Owl, and brought in a Barred Owl instead, our first species of the day! We desperately played nightjar calls and other owls without luck but added Northern Mockingbird and a flyover Swainson’s Thrush. We made a quick stop to hear what turned out to be some of our only American Robins of the day in a nearby lot and shot off to the east.
Barred Owl (photo by Ben Lucking)
We pulled into Memorial Park to hopefully get some staked out grebes. The day prior we checked to see if Least Grebes were still at a location I found on eBird and they were. With prior knowledge that Pied-billed Grebes call at night, we figured it was worth a try to see if Least was the same way, and they were! Not just Least but Pied-billed did as well! Plus, we added our first Red-winged Blackbirds.
3:00 AM: Sheldon Lake, Texas
With the latest Limpkin invasion in the last few years, this species can now be found in Eastern Texas at a few locations. We also learned that Limpkins call at night. We figured to give it a try and luckily scored some LIMPKINS calling at night! We left the north end of Sheldon Lake on time with 8 species for the morning, a lot lower than what I was used to on spring big days at 3:30 AM, haha!
4:00 AM: Anahuac NWR, Texas
We made a quick pass throughout this area at night, spotlighting birds around the area. Before arriving, we made more attempts at owls and nightjars but failed with this attempt. We added some quality birds here, including our only Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and Solitary Sandpiper for the day. We also found a spot with many King Rails calling right next to the road so that was a success!
Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Mottled Duck, Common Gallinules, and American Coots (photo by Ben Lucking)
5:00 AM: Bolivar Peninsula, Texas
We reached the peninsula with still about an hour left until sunrise, and we needed some coastal marsh species. We made a quick stop at Tuna Road to add birds like Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow. Then we pulled into the Bolivar Shorebird Sanctuary and the first rays of light were hitting the horizon to the east. The marshes here were full of Clapper Rails, Common Yellowthroats, and others calling very loudly but added some species including Common Nighthawk and Virginia Rail. We parked the car and started RUNNING down the beach towards the tip, something we did several times throughout the day (run).
The shadows of Sanderlings and Dunlin dotted the beach as we ran the mile to the point. We got situated at the end and started scoping as there was finally enough light to identify birds. This was my first time in the region so the spectacle of all of the roosting shorebirds, especially the avocets was a sight to see for sure, as hundreds, if not thousands were at the tip. We started to pick out a few gull species, most of the tern species, key species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers and even some Red Knots! I picked out a flyby first-year Iceland Gull that had been continuing while Ben was up trying to get some sparrows or anything else out of the dunes, which he turned up birds like Horned Lark and Savannah Sparrows. We ran back to the car and moved back up the peninsula, adding some Sedge Wrens that were for some reason silent during our predawn pass through the marsh.
Molting Red Knot with other shorebirds (in the middle)
Black Tern with some Forster's Terns
Iceland Gull doc shot as it quickly flew by (photo by Ben Lucking)
We drove east towards High Island, slightly behind schedule, but still adding birds. We needed to catch back up on time in order to stay on schedule. We made a quick stop at Rollover Pass, with no luck with Red-breasted Mergansers and American Oystercatchers we saw the day prior and continued onto High Island. Right before the small town, Ben pointed out a beautiful White-tailed Kite!
8:00 AM: High Island, Texas (Boy Scout Woods)
We pulled into Boy Scout Woods at 8:00 am on the dot, 15 minutes behind schedule, so we had to get in and out of there, which we did. Again, we ran around the preserve and tried to see as much as we could, seeing plenty of new birds for the day. Some of the best birds here included a Philadelphia Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler, and Magnolia Warbler. We only spent 25 minutes here.
8:30 AM: High Island, Texas (Smith Oaks Sanctuary)
We pulled into Smith Oaks just before 8:30. Our flight was at 11:45, just to keep that time in everyone’s mind while reading these next few paragraphs, out of Houston, about an hour away.
We needed to do a quick swipe at the nesting wading birds, go as far in the preserve as anyone could to try and see the Wood Stork that was continuing that we saw the day prior, and along the way throughout the preserve, see all of the neotropical migrants. In just 45 minutes, we went 2 miles, crisscrossing the preserve, and saw over 60 species during our time here. The best bird wasn’t even a bird we needed to absolutely find, it was the continuing Dusky-capped Flycatcher that we would hope to find in Arizona later in the day. SURPRISINGLY this was the ONLY flycatcher we would see during our time at the sanctuary, it was just a tad early for the other eastern flycatchers to be around plus the migrant species composition was not great that day. Also, I somehow spotted the continuing WOOD STORK just chilling next to a branch in the swamp on the southeast side. Besides these two great birds, the birds, especially the migrants were just okay. We were lucky to stumble upon a couple of Purple Gallinule (thanks to Ben for yelling it out), but somehow missed Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, which we saw plenty of the day prior. We saw PLENTY of warblers such as Worm-eating, Bay-breasted, and Wilson’s, but missed some hopefuls such as Swainson’s and Cerulean. Overall, it was a great experience, especially seeing many tanagers, buntings, and grosbeaks, but still had plenty of misses.
Dusky-capped Flycatcher (photo by Ben Lucking)
Wood Stork (photo by Ben Lucking)
Ben walking through Smith Oaks Sanctuary
Least Bittern on the right and adult Purple Gallinule hiding on the left (photo by Ben Lucking)
9:25 AM: Rice Fields north of High Island
The day prior we had scouted out which rice fields to focus on and what not to focus on. There were still hundreds, if not thousands of shorebirds to look through in the fields, a lot to look through when we only had at max ten minutes to spare. We quickly picked up American Golden-Plovers, Hudsonian Godwit, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, BUT missed a few species such as STILT SANDPIPER and White-rumped Sandpiper, both of which were around but due to time, we couldn’t spend time looking for them. We also quickly picked up Glossy Ibis in a flock of White-faced Ibis. Then we were off towards Houston for a 50-minute drive at 9:45 with a couple more stops to go, keep in mind our flight was at 11:45!
We had to miss the Whooping Cranes we staked out the day prior. Although only a 10 minutes detour, we had to skip because we simply did not have enough time. We still had one park to stop at, plus plenty of birds to look for on the way to Houston. We did add Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks on the way to our last Texas stop!
Super distant breeding plumaged Hudsonian Godwit amongst other shorebirds
Distant Glossy Ibis (photo by Ben Lucking)
10:00 AM: White Memorial Park, Texas
We pulled in right after 10:00 am, only having time for AT MAX another 10-minute stop. We needed about 5-10 birds here alone but only added a few birds. Some key birds we added were common “eastern birds” that don’t quite reach High Island, such as Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, and Pine Warbler but missing some such as Belted Kingfisher and Black-capped Chickadee. We were blazing out of here by 10:15 with still a 40-ish minute drive to the airport.
11:00 AM: Houston Hobby Airport, Texas
We pulled into a parking garage right at 11:00, with our flight being only 45 MINUTES from departing. I thought with being an only Southwest dependent/only airport, it would be easy to get through quickly (with it being a smaller airport) and we wouldn’t have any problems, WRONG! We waited at least 25 MINUTES in security and RAN so fast to our gate. Thankfully (and somehow) they were just starting to board so we were good to go. We got on, departed a few minutes early, and were on our way to Tucson, Arizona!
Ben and I did not sit together due to the ordering of seats with southwest, I spent my time going through the list because although I’d been watching it throughout the morning, I still hadn’t highlighted everything yet and needed to still know what we needed and where we stood for the day. There was NO time for a nap, it was time to continue to plan on the 2.5 hour flight. I figured if we stood at 180+ leaving the airport we’d have a chance at breaking the record or seeing 300+, we only stood at 161 for the day. Granted, we still had plenty to see and do for the rest of the day but seeing 130+ NEW species for the rest of the day was almost impossible based off of the calculations, but that’s okay! It was still going to be such a FUN afternoon. Also, keep in mind we picked a RANDOM day based on our schedules, not the best day possible, so I was still very happy with where we were!
We were still missing plenty of “easy” species I figured we’d have before now, such as Mallard, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and Song Sparrow, plus some others like Canada Goose that I nearly see every day back at home and forgot how hard this species can be in the south! This was definitely out of my comfort zone in terms of big day birds so far but seeing 161 species with only 9 hours of birding, with driving and running all over the place, wasn’t terrible!
12:05 PM: Tucson, Arizona
Our flight landed a few minutes early and we were out, in the car before our flight was supposed to land. Thankfully we only used carry-ons, so we were running straight out to the car after we walked off the plane. Ben’s parents flew out a couple of days early and his dad picked us up from the airport for the next 12+ hours of birding. We were very thankful to his dad for doing this, it was such a benefit for our day.
Ben going down the escalator at the Tucson Airport
We shot straight down I19, south of Tucson, and made a quick stop for Gilded Flicker, with no luck, but we started seeing a few new southwest birds already. The best species was Rufous-winged Sparrow which was a crucial clinch for the day this early on in the afternoon.
Rufous-winged Sparrow (photo by Ben Lucking)
Ben and I running back to the car after the Rufous-winged Sparrow
We then made a quick stop at the Green Valley Sewage Ponds on the way out of Green Valley, which we only had 4 duck species for the DAY so far, both whistling ducks, Blue-winged Teal, and Mottled Duck. On the way in, my friend Leo Miller gave me a pin for nesting Harris’s Hawks, check! Thankfully, at these sewage ponds, we saw 9 duck species, almost ALL of which were new, including a couple of goodies such as Cinnamon Teal, Mexican Duck, Northern Pintail, and Ring-necked Duck. We also added a few other new species for the day including Northern Rough-winged Swallow, American Pipit, and Brewer’s Blackbird!
We made a quick stop at a nearby park, hoping for Lewis’s Woodpecker, with no luck, but added a few other new ones including Curve-billed Thrasher and Abert’s Towhee!
Green Valley Water Treatment Plant (one pond)
Cinnamon Teal pair (photo by Ben Lucking)
Northern Pintail (photo by Ben Lucking)
Brewer's Blackbirds (photo by Ben Lucking)
Harris's Hawk hiding at its' nest
1:30 PM: Canoa Ranch, Arizona
We made a very quick stop at this park. As always, there were a lot of sparrows right near the parking lot and I very quickly got on a continuing Clay-colored Sparrow amongst the DOZENS of Brewer’s Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows. Also, there were some Redhead on the pond, a Costa’s Hummingbird, and some Black-throated Sparrows, among others nearby for some additions for the day!
Black-throated Sparrow (photo by Ben Lucking)
Brewer's Sparrow (photo by Ben Lucking)
2:00 PM: De Anza Trail, Tubac, Arizona
We arrived here just after 2 PM and were ready to add a bunch of new birds for the day. Ben and I ran out of the car and ran about a half mile down the trail, trying to go straight to the becard spot. It was hard with me leading the pack because I kept spotting birds flying in front of us as we RAN. A MacGillivray’s Warbler flew right in front of me, and we stopped quick enough to get both of us on this bird, a lifer for Ben! We were seeing plenty of new birds, such as Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets, Hammond’s Flycatchers, Bridled Titmouse, Lesser Goldfinches, Lucy’s Warblers, and plenty of others. We ran by my friend, Nolan Walker, who was guiding a group for the becard on the way down. Then we quickly continued to the becard nest, about a mile down the trail, and about a few minutes later, the female becard made a quick stop at the nest! An amazing bird for the big day! After this, we RAN back to the car to make sure we wouldn’t fall much behind time, although we were 15 minutes behind time but just hoped it was enough time to see as much as we could for a “good” total.
We made a quick stop for a roosting Barn Owl (no luck) and continued toward Patagonia. We also made a quick stop at the rest stop to get a few “canyon” species, without much luck.
Female Rose-throated Becard (photo by Ben Lucking)
MacGillivray's Warbler (photo by Ben Lucking)
Bridled Titmouse (photo by Ben Lucking)
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (photo by Ben Lucking)
Hammond's Flycatcher (photo by Ben Lucking)
Lucy's Warbler (photo by Ben Lucking)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (photo by Ben Lucking)
Habitat at the De Anza Trail
3:40 PM: Patagonia, Arizona
We arrived at Patagonia just after 3:30 PM and went straight to Paton’s Center. Obviously, the primary goal was to see Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, but unlike most years, a couple of Ruddy Ground Doves were still lingering, as this species is usually just a winter vagrant. We very quickly saw a couple of ground doves near the parking lot. We then ran to the back to get great views of the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, among other hummingbirds such as Black-chinned, Anna’s, and one of my favorites, many Broad-billeds. Also, a few other new ones included Gambel’s Quail, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and many Lazuli Buntings.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird (photo by Ben Lucking)
Ruddy Ground Dove (photo by Ben Lucking)
Lazuli Buntings (photo by Ben Lucking)
4:15 PM: Sonoita, Arizona
We made a quick stop by the grasslands (Las Cienegas) just outside of town. On the way in, we saw some Chihuahuan Ravens and “Lillian’s” Eastern Meadowlarks. This previously was a subspecies of Eastern, “(Lillian’s) Eastern Meadowlark,” but is now Chihuahuan Meadowlark. We also added Grasshopper, Lark, and Vesper Sparrows for the day, and Ben found ANOTHER Clay-colored Sparrow, which is very good for this location!
Clay-colored Sparrow (photo by Ben Lucking)
5:00 PM: Ramsey Canyon Cabins, Arizona
Without thinking beforehand, I figured we could just pull into the brand-new Ramsey Canyon Cabins to look for the White-eared Hummingbirds later in the afternoon. I called just to make sure we could bird the property as we were going to arrive JUST after 5 PM. I called the property owners and one of the owners answered and said they are usually close to the public at five, but she was going to check with her partner. I explained we were in the middle of a US big day and were running slightly behind schedule. I got a call back not five minutes later saying we were MORE THAN WELCOME to stop by, amazing news! I was scared, stressed, and anxious about being able to stop here and to be given the go-ahead, I was so thankful for the opportunity to stop by so HUGE thanks to the property owners of this great location! It was a huge asset at the end of the day!
We pulled in just after 5 to the canyon with the property owners awaiting our arrival. We added a couple of birds on the way including AMERICAN KESTREL (yes we were STILL missing this).
We ran right to the feeders as Ben’s dad stayed behind to talk to the property owners about our efforts. We VERY quickly got on the White-eared Hummingbird, only the SECOND ever I’ve seen in the US and first-ever adult male, BEAUTIFUL!! We also added some more hummingbird species including Rivoli’s, Rufous, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. We had possible candidates for Calliope but didn’t have enough time to properly identify one and the photos were not conclusive. Ben and I made a quick walk around the property in hopes of a few other new birds, since this was our first time in the actual “mountains” for the day, we did add a couple including Mexican Jay, and Canyon Towhee.
Male White-eared Hummingbird (photo by Ben Lucking)
Ramsey Canyon Cabins, Arizona
5:25 PM: South of Sierra Vista, Arizona
We made a very quick pass before going up into Carr Canyon to some neighborhoods south of Sierra Vista. We did add a few on the way out of Ramsey Canyon, including Cactus Wren and even Eastern Bluebird (hard during our Texas portion, a small population is in the sky island mountains in Arizona). But the main purpose was to see Scaled Quail, which we saw in the first few seconds of arriving at our spot. We had other goals including Greater Roadrunner and Botteri’s Sparrow but did not want to waste precious time that should be spent higher up in Carr Canyon since sunset was approaching us VERY quickly.
6:00 PM: Carr Canyon, Arizona
Normally, I would have thought we were perfectly fine on time with sunset being 7:30 PM, putting aside the fact it took a long time to reach the Reef Campground (30+ minutes) and areas above the campground. Because this is on the east side of the Huachuca Mountains and the sunset sets to the west, this side of the mountains got darker much earlier than expected which I didn’t even think until we were there at 6:30 PM that day. Because of this, bird activity was VERY LOW. It was a STRUGGLE to get most of the Arizona specialties we had remaining, and we did miss MANY of our “needed” birds, but thankfully we were able to see plenty of birds we still needed for the day.
We pulled into the campground after making a few stops on the way up and added a few birds, including Canyon Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend’s, and Hermit Warblers.
Hermit Warbler (photo by Ben Lucking)
Ben and I birding in the lower parts of the canyon. I had just heard a Canyon Wren
Carr Canyon, Arizona
We very quickly heard some Buff-breasted Flycatchers, and Ben eventually found one for some pictures. We eventually found some other birds, but we spent more time than we needed to head and spent thirty minutes here just for 15 species. Some other new birds included Arizona Woodpecker, Hutton’s Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, and Yellow-eyed Junco, among a few others.
Buff-breasted Flycatcher (photo by Ben Lucking)
Beautiful view of the sunset from Reef Campground
We got the farthest we wanted to go on the trail, and it was nearly pitch dark. We wanted to start playing some owl calls to hopefully get a response from something. The first bird I tried was the Northern Pygmy-Owl. After a few seconds of playing the call, Ben silently says “look right below us”. I looked right below where we were standing, and not even 15 feet away, I saw this large silhouette just staring back at us. Similar to its cousin (the Barred Owl), sometimes Spotted Owls will pray smaller owl species, like in the morning when the Barred Owl came into the Screech-Owl call. This silhouette right below us was a STUNNING Spotted Owl staring right back at us and came into the Pygmy-Owl call. This was a species that was going to be tough and was on my “tier B” list, so seeing this was very exciting! I didn’t have enough time to get good pictures, but Ben luckily got good enough pictures despite the fading light! As we were walking back, Mexican Whip-poor-wills and Common Poorwill were starting to call, ringing echoes throughout the canyon.
Spotted Owl (photo by Ben Lucking)
We then worked our way down the canyon from the trail. We made a couple of stops for other species of owls. At the first stop, I picked out a distant Whiskered Screech-Owl calling, and after a few minutes, we both received the best looks we’d ever seen of this species. After this spot, we continued farther down the canyon and made one last stop, adding Western Screech-Owl and GREAT looks at Elf Owl, the smallest species of owl in North America.
We made a very quick stop in Sierra Vista for POSSIBLE Lesser Nighthawks, but it was just a tad bit earlier in the year and did not have luck.
Elf Owl (photo by Ben Lucking)
10:40 PM: Wilcox, Arizona
We still had a few “water bird species” to add for the day and our hope was to pull a trick that we tried in the morning, to spotlight some birds! Lake Cochise just outside of Wilcox is small enough that we can spotlight birds at night. We quickly positioned ourselves on the east side, and I gave Ben the flashlight, and I used my scope to scan around. I very quickly pointed out Green-winged Teal calling and flying around before we got set up.
After some scanning, I picked Eared Grebe and Bufflehead out very quickly amongst the hundreds of ducks on the lake. We did a quick stop on the west side and did the same thing, and I quickly pointed out some Wilson’s Phalaropes amongst the American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. We finally added Great Horned Owl as we were leaving, and off to Safford we went. It was just after 11:00 PM and we had a fifty-minute drive to our last spot.
11:55 PM: Graham County Regional Park, Arizona
We pulled into the County Park at exactly 11:55 PM. What were we looking for at 11:55 PM? Geese, yes GEESE! What kind of geese were we looking for? A single CANADA and Greater White-fronted Goose. Sure enough, within a minute, we were looking at both Canada and Greater White-fronted Geese at 11:56 PM at night!!! Now, what does that put us for the day???
Canada Goose (photo by Ben Lucking)
Greater White-fronted Goose (photo by Ben Lucking)
Throughout the afternoon, we did not count how many species we were at for the day. On ANY big day (besides our record-breaking IL big day, I did count how many we had seen throughout the day), I usually try not to count our species count for the day. I still highlight the lists/sheets to see what we are missing but try not to count how many species for the day for a “surprise” to see where we stand. It was past midnight, and both of us had stayed up for practically 24 hours of straight birding, the hardest I’ve probably birded in my life, but we all wanted to see where we stood for the day.
I knew between our misses in Texas, a few misses early in the early afternoon, and our problems with Arizona specialties at Carr Canyon, we were nowhere near a record-breaking finish, but no matter what, I was still extremely proud of our accomplishments for the day. Especially since we were just two birders from the Midwest running across the Southern US all in a day. SO much could have gone wrong but luckily SOMEHOW, we survived!
We just thought of this idea only a month prior AT MOST, only had a couple of references for scouting (BIG thanks to my friend Leo Miller for Arizona info among other friends of ours), and relied on the scouts, eBird reports, our past experiences with big days to plan for it, and intense studying which for 2 Midwest birders, still some Arizona birds were missed. This was still EXTREMELY impressive no matter where we stood and will be the most adventurous and one of the most fun days in my life.
I went through, finished highlighting our species, and started counting out the list. At the time, I finished with 271 (but now 272 with the addition of the meadowlark).
Although not record-breaking (294 species is the record), this is the THIRD highest EVER big day in the United States. This means this is the third-highest species total EVER seen in one day in the US by a group, our group! EXTREMELY EXCITING!
I am very thankful to Ben for presenting the idea and working so closely with one another to make this happen. I’m also EXTREMELY thankful to his parents to fly down and help us, especially his dad for driving us around from 12 PM at the Tucson Airport and getting back to our hotel at 2 AM. Below is list for the day!
Ben and I the next day as we were leaving Arizona
Here is our ebird map of the day of the locations we birded
Our birding locations in Texas in the morning
Our birding locations in Arizona in the afternoon
Below is our list for the day! Thanks everyone for reading and hope you enjoyed the story!
A new Illinois Big Day record and FIRST time ever at least 200 species were seen by a group in one day in Illinois; Friday the 13th was very good to us for once.
After last year’s run of seeing two species short of the record that was set in 2013 and tied in 2016 by the “Mighty Mighty Jizz Masters”, which started in Northwestern Illinois and finished in Central Illinois on both of their runs, we wanted another try. In 2021, a group of us (mostly from Champaign) set out to break that record, and came up two species short with 189, with many misses that were almost laughable. We wanted our chance at redemption, so time to make another run at it, right?
We have been in discussion since our run, mostly Mike Ward, a professor within NRES at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and myself throughout this year trying to come up with a better route in hoping to break the long standing record of 191 and POSSIBLY a 200+ number in a day in Illinois. Most of this planning came within the last couple of weeks, after waiting for the river levels, bird reports, and seeing where birds were lingering at. Just like the United States Big Day, I was looking at ebird nearly every day, making different itineraries to see which plan would work the best, and making a tiered list and making changes to it often.
Thankfully, two of our team members from last year were back, Mike Avara, also from the university as well as Mark Vukovich, from Southern Illinois, were ready to try and attempt this again! Months ahead of time, we planned on running this May 13th based on the timing of when to do this and our availabilities. I was a little skeptical about running this ON Friday the 13thh, but I was ready to try it out!
Throughout the week leading up to the day, and coming out of running two Spring Bird Counts, I was planning the whole week as information continued to flood in. Unlike last year, I only did one whole scouting day unlike going multiple days last year, but thankfully Mike Ward also went and scouted Havana on Tuesday, which helped planning and helped me along my scouting day. Our early thoughts on the itinerary were that last year we spent too much time driving which in return may have cost us some missed birds due to the lack of birding time. We were first thinking of starting in Jersey/Calhoun counties OR Monroe County, then to East St Louis, and up to Havana to finish the rest of the day. By doing this, we are much more north which equaled less driving time, but also south enough to see MOST of the southern species.
During the week I picked the Pere Marquette route to be done, based off Bill Atwood’s findings on the SBC in Calhoun. But, during the week, with how warm it was and so many birds migrating every night, I started to get worried about a south route and going north. Starting south may mean missing some earlier migrants and even warblers that will move on earlier than expected because of four unseasonably warm days around 90 degrees with ample winds for migration. I was also worried about lingering waterfowl with these factors but alas this all worked out. Because of this, I figured to start at Sand Ridge State Forest and work our way south for the day. Based off this route, and hopefully making it to far southern Illinois based on timing, I came up with 195 tier A species, 39 tied B, and 28 tier C species for the day, over 250 species possible!
The day leading up to my scouting day, I was going through and making changes to the route to try and scout the most spots before the day, to make sure we were doing the right and making sure that some spots on the route were worth going to. I went out all day, leaving at 12:30 am and getting back at 10:20 pm, seeing 180 just by myself on the route, a new individual big day record in Illinois (I saw 176 species by myself on a scouting day for last year’s route which was the record), and missed MANY birds, even Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, among others. But I even found plenty of great birds as well, most notably two out of season scoters at Chautauqua amongst the lingering diving ducks on the north pool, a female BLACK, and a female WHITE-WINGED SCOTER! I knew based on what I saw on the scouting day, I knew a record number was likely for the next day!
11:00 pm: Champaign County
We all met at the south side of Champaign at 11:00pm on Thursday Night to leave and start the day. I had just returned about thirty minutes prior from my scouting day, so I was hot on the heels of all of the information I figured out from the day before and so excited for the day to come knowing how well the day before went. We left at 11:00 on the dot, and not even a minute after leaving, we ran into a train that already led us to be five minutes behind leaving Champaign. In my mind, I hoped this was not a sign that the big day would be a flop.
12:10 am: Shelby County
We pulled into Guzy Pothole Prairie in Shelby County at 12:10, surprisingly on time after the train situation. As we pulled in, Killdeer in the parking lot was our first bird of the day, which Mike Ward was correct in guessing what our first bird of the day would be. Not even a minute after leaving the lot, the marsh was loud with King Rails and Marsh Wrens calling already! Throughout our time here, we added many species that were key at getting at night, like Great Horned Owl, Virginia Rail, and Henslow’s Sparrow, along with a couple that would require some time to see in the daytime, like the Ring-necked Pheasant. Besides American Bittern, we were able to get all our targets here including a couple of extras like a flyover Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling at night and left with 17 species by 12:50 am.
3:00 am: Brown County
We reached our first spot by 3:00 am in hopes of adding Barn Owls which Mike and Tony Ward found on the Spring Bird Count the weekend prior. Despite dipping on these, we heard our first flyover thrushes of the day, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked. We did some more owling along the bluffs here and added the two others expected owls for the day, Eastern Screech-Owl and Barred Owl.
3:50 am: Cass County
We reached our next night birding location at 3:50 am, Beardstown Marsh, and slightly ahead of schedule at 3:50! We cruised up and down the road, adding many new species for the day that I staked out the day prior. These included Common Gallinule, Least Bittern, Sedge Wren, Grasshopper Sparrow, and others. We also added some other birds including a Common Nighthawk and a surprisingly Willow Flycatcher that was singing most of our time here, a bird I missed the day prior!
We reached our last night birding spot at 4:40, to try for the remaining goatsuckers and American Woodcock. When we pulled up, many Whip-poor-wills were already calling. The day before, the Chuck’s did not start calling until 4:50 when I was there, so that is why we hit this spot so late. Sure enough, around 4:50 the Chuck-wills-widow did start to call! After this, we pulled up a little more and heard two woodcocks peenting, great! We were leaving for Havana with around 45 species!
5:45 am: Mason County
We made it to Mason County just before 5:30 after crossing the Sangamon River on Highway 78. Our first spot was on 2600E just south of the entrance of Sand Ridge State Forest. The day before I went to scout to see if Horned Larks and Vesper and Savannah Sparrows were easy to pick up here early, along with checking to see if a Western Meadowlark or two was around. I was successful with all and was surprised to find at least 4 singing Western Meadowlarks, a C bird on my tiered list, so this was a must-stop before going into the park! We did just this at 5:50 and were able to add all our targets, including MULTIPLE Western Meadowlarks!!! We left here to enter Sand Ridge State Forest by 6:00 am!
Sand Ridge was thankfully not lacking birds but was not great by any means and we had to try hard for some of the birds. Many species, we only saw one or two of, but that was good enough for the big day of course! We drove on the south road out of Bishop, around areas to the east and west of Pine Campground, then north to the pumphouse road, and lastly into the fish hatchery. Despite missing many birds like Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-winged Warbler, we were able to see most to find most of the expected migrants, which included some better ones such as Alder Flycatcher, Bay-breasted Warblers, and Mourning Warbler. We were leaving the park with around 120 species, ten more than I thought we would be at, and it was only 7:45, and had seen very little in terms of water birds, which was our next stop!
The day before I figured it was only worth covering Chautauqua from the Eagle Bluff parking lot, and not doing both Goofy Ridge and Eagle Bluff. We got there a few minutes late and were ready to pick out all the lingering ducks and shorebirds that have been there. Unfortunately, the Black Scoter from the day before did not appear to be around, but the White-winged Scoter WAS there, a great pick up for a May Big Day! We added other lingering ducks, such as Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, and Bufflehead, among others. Mike Ward pointed out two Ruddy Turnstones flying off of the close shore, which was also there the day prior, along with a stunning breeding plumaged, Black-bellied Plover on the far shore. Other goodies included Bonaparte’s Gull, Black Tern, and most of the swallows. Mike Avara was focused on the woods, and we picked up our first Northern Waterthrush, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warblers of the day. After an amazing stop, we were leaving Chautauqua at 8:40 with 149 species, and we hadn’t even been to Emiquon yet!
Before reaching Emiquon, we needed to cover areas just south of Havana, between a fluddle adding our first Solitary Sandpiper and peeps of the day, and the Western Kingbirds at the usual location, and Mike Avara pointed out our first Rock Pigeon of the day, we were leaving Mason County at 9:15 with 158 species!
Downed Tree at Sand Ridge that was frightening at first, luckily we could go around it!
Very distant gulls and terns at Chautauqua, with the Black Tern being middle right, two Ruddy Turnstones on the far left, and Black-necked Stilts behind.
9:30am: Fulton County
Emiquon was amazing, thankfully we had access (through both Mike’s) to the back levee at Emiquon, which is restricted to the public. We made a brief stop on the south side when Mark found a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW!!! A bird I was not expecting to see (tier C). Through Mike Ward’s scouting on Tuesday, he scouted out which parts to stop at. We were starting to see more ducks at the south end already, such as Gadwall and Redhead, and new shorebirds like Short-billed Dowitchers and Wilson’s Phalaropes, and Common Terns out on a stump. We continued north with seeing more and more shorebirds up ahead. Mike A. picked out our first Green Heron, Mike W. picked out our first Osprey and White-crowned Sparrow, among many others! Our next shorebird stop included our first White-rumped Sandpipers of the day in a flock of 300+ of mostly Dunlin!
The north side was even better for us, between a mud spit with many species of ducks and a shallow water pool with over 500 shorebirds, we were adding even more. We were adding around 5 species at every spot, and I began to lose the count of where we were for the day since we were adding so many, some unexpected! As Mike W. said, “I’d rather be stopping and adding five at every spot than running on time”, as we were starting to get behind schedule, but still adding many birds! At the first stop, we added our first Greater White-fronted Geese, Green-Winged Teal, Hooded Merganser for the day. At the second spot, I was hot on the shorebirds, picking out our first American Golden-Plover Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and another surprise, a stunning breeding plumaged AMERICAN AVOCET of the day! Mike W. quickly picked out a male American Wigeon flying in, and we were off to the Observation tower for a quick look.
Our quick look turned into a very excited spot, when I saw that long-necked bird in my scope and yelled “I HAVE A WESTERN GREBE” after only looking for a minute. We added our first Great Egret, Franklin’s Gull, and Caspian Tern of the day. On the way over I entered all the species in and saw we were at “173” for the day. I thought something was off as we were at 158 coming into Emiquon, but after Mike A said we were at 183 when we were leaving the observation tower, I realized I did not enter the birds south of Havana into ebird. WOW! 183 species, already??? We quickly went to Prairie Road and added White-eyed and Bell’s Vireo to the list. We were leaving Emiquon with 185 species, at 11:45am. Yes, we were only 6 species from the record BEFORE NOON. WOW! I was still in shock!
As I mentioned before, I was not sure about the timing and how far south we would go. Despite being a little behind, we were still determined to go to Southern Illinois based on how high our species total was, and there were many more birds to add down there.
Distant Clay-colored Sparrow, Mark has much better pictures than I do!
American Golden Plover
2:20 pm: Madison County
Horseshoe Lake was the next stop, upon arrival we added Snowy Egret in a nearby marsh for 186. After a quick drive around, I was able to pick out two continuing NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS for our 187 for the day, along with Carolina Chickadee for 188, and Bank Swallow for 189, only missing Black-crowned Night Heron.
Neotropic Cormorant on top!
2:50 pm St. Clair County:
Time to head south, straight to Oakwood Bottoms. On the way through Belleville, we added a Red-shouldered Hawk flying over for 190, one from the record and beating our total from last year. Then I saw a group of cattle near the road and joking about Cattle Egrets being with them, and sure enough FIVE Cattle Egrets were there for our tying bird.
We made a quick stop at Baldwin Lake, which I planned on possibly doing based off of Common Loon, Franklin’s Gull, and Glossy Ibis being found on the SBC. We pulled in and at 3:52 we did it, a flyover calling Fish Crow was our record-breaking bird for 192! Mike W. picked out a breeding plumaged Common Loon on the lake, and a Belted Kingfisher flew over, up to 194 with plenty of birds to be added over the next four hours! Was 200+ possible, what we have dreamed about this whole time?
Distant Cattle Egrets, we ended up seeing another one at Baldwin Lake!
Common Loon, Mike W also found a pair at the end of the day at Mermet as well!
Snow Geese, we saw around 50 during the day!
5:00 pm Jackson County
On the way into Oakwood Bottoms, just to the north we added our first Black Vultures of the day, 195. The day prior, I found dozens of Little Blue Herons in the lowering moist soil units, and sure enough they were still there, 196. On a past blitz, I remembered seeing a roosting, Black-crowned Night Heron at a nearby pond just south of the road, and sure enough I walked in and one was there, 197!
We then went to Grand Tower but DIPPED on the two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that were there the day prior. There is a much easier species in Union County but required more time.
Great and Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons
5:45pm: Union County
The day before I scouted out all of the summering warblers I thought we would need by this time since Sand Ridge does not have most of them. We made a quick stop for Hooded and Yellow-throated Warblers while entering, and we were at 199. The Cerulean Warbler spot was on up a ways, but someone was like, what if that was our 200th for the day, and I agreed, so we went right to that spot. It took a while, but eventually I saw that small white and blue bird with that neckless just above my head and yelled “I HAVE THE CERULEAN” for our 200th species of the day, HOLY COW! We then added Worm-eating Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush for 202!
We missed Mississippi Kite in the bottoms and Mark had a spot scouted out in Jonesboro from previous years and I quickly picked out a distant one on top of a tree while driving through the town for 203. We then and checked the BBWD spot near Cobden and sure enough saw the continuing few dozen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, mostly starting to roost in the trees above the house for 204! It was around 7:00pm now.
We then hit a staked-out spot for Prairie Warbler for 205, then charged to Mermet Lake in hopes of adding a duck or Yellow-crowned Night Heron for the day with no luck.
THE 200th, the Cerulean Warbler! What an special bird for our 200th!
Distant Mississippi Kite
The group (minus me) at one of our last stops of the day
So, 205 species it was, we were all very excited and extremely satisfied with our efforts. We did have some missed species, but luckily saw 96% of our tier A list. Our missed A birds include:
We saw 20 species of waterfowl, 21 shorebirds, 8 waders, 9 flycatchers, 13 sparrows, and 30 warbler species!
Our list from the day is below! Thanks for reading!
The route! Around 750 miles!
272 species of birds in a single day, in the United States, between two, college-aged birders from the Midwest, who would have thought?
How the Idea Started:
To be honest, this crazy, adventurous plan was crafted within the last couple of months, mostly in the last month. To introduce ourselves, I’m Colin Dobson, a 21-year-old birder from Central Illinois and my teammate is Ben Lucking, a 23-year-old birder from Southern Michigan. While I was gone on a birding vacation in Mexico in the middle of March, Ben and I were texting about birding and travel in general. We eventually go to the subjects on big days, knowing we’ve both done them and have birding big days within our states coming up this year.
Through this conversation, the subject of “big days” became much broader. I’ll admit, Ben first brought up the idea when he dropped the “have you ever thought about doing a United States Big Day” line the day after I flew back from Mexico as I was sitting in my 11 am Ornithology class on the 21st of March, basically a month exactly from when we did conquer this idea. At first, I thought it was a general idea, or perhaps a thought for next year since it WAS already mid-March, and typically country big days occur mid to late April and take months of networking and planning. Then the idea of this year was brought up, and after some quick thinking and a very quick look at the calendar, it seemed like this COULD be an option.
To be clear, to those who may not know, a birding big day is when a group of people (can be alone as well) set out to bird most of the day (or the whole day) to see as many species as they can. There are different levels for this and how specific a region is to do this as well. Anything as broad as a world big day to as specific as a county park or local National Wildlife Refuge big days are done annually throughout the globe. Most common are state or countywide big days, and sometimes there are even big day birding competitions (like the Birding Blitz here in Illinois) for big day groups!
After this idea was brought up, both of us then spent the rest of the day looking into eBird and into plans. We both have a million other things going on, but we still were focused on thinking if this was even plausible for this coming spring. After my Champaign County Audubon Board Meeting that night, Ben and myself hopped on Zoom and talked for several hours, until I realized it was passed 2 am and it was time to get some sleep, but ending the call we both agreed, that we are doing a big day this spring.
Initial Big Day Thoughts:
Our ideas came from that a United States birding big day had not occurred in quite some time. Looking at previous big day runs, most were done in Texas, a great start to thinking about a route. Texas has such a rich bird diversity between eastern and western bird species, so it is a great place to do a big day, although other states like Arizona and California were obviously on the table as well, as these two are also very rich in bird diversity.
The main big day technique we were trying to accomplish was the aspect of drive time. With doing plenty of big days in Illinois, the amount of time driving can be crucial in determining how much birding time one gets during a day, and in theory, less travel time and more birding time should equal more birds. But just because more time is available, doesn’t necessarily mean this either, one must go to completely different habitats, if not completely different regions during a big day to maximize the potential for the highest species totals possible at the end of the day. If you want a high number if not a record-breaking day, you must go to many different areas but also try to limit the amount of travel time as well, it goes both ways!
Most of the United States big days, or at least those with the higher species totals, typically had a route from Central Texas over to the Southeastern Coast of Texas to end the day. A great route but also required at least a four-hour drive during the middle of the day just to get from Central Texas to near Houston. Now, with that drive time, what if we took that amount of driving time and flew somewhere completely different, theoretically seeing a completely different bird group? Yes, therefore the past big day groups had this drive, but still the Hill Country of Texas and the Gulf Coast are not completely different as opposed to flying to somewhere out west, a truly different group of birds. Although I’m aware of one unsuccessful attempt in Illinois with flying during an instate big day, I am unaware of a United States attempt. The closest to this is when Team Sapsucker did a big day from Arizona to California back in 2014 with a species total of 275 in two completely different regions (found after the fact, I was not aware of this species total until I was typing this post-trip report).
Early on Route Ideas:
The first area we were targeting was SoCal, flying into San Diego and birding Southern California for the remaining parts of the day. We had our minds set on starting in the High Island area in the morning and flying elsewhere during the day. Thankfully, that area is not far from major airports (Houston) but also had a rather large bird diversity for being such a small area, between amazing coastal birding, migrants flocking to the small community every spring, and nearby rice fields and prairies make this ideal for a big day, especially one like ours. It was figuring out where to go the rest of the day.
After spending a whole day plotting out this whole route, Ben came up with the idea that an afternoon in Arizona or California would be better. Between less flight time, same time zone, much more in terms of passerine diversity, and potentially summering waterfowl, among other factors, made this route more appealing to us. So, the next day we decided to focus on seeing if this (Arizona) was a better route, which ended up being the case.
Since all of this was practically last minute, any changes had to be thoroughly discussed and plotted out quickly, so we had enough time to thoroughly plan the day itself. Thankfully our major changes occurred very early on, and we could focus on planning for the day itself for weeks before the day itself. After spending a whole day planning the south from Tucson shooting straight east towards the magical Chiricahua Mountains, I then noticed a reliable male White-eared Hummingbird at the newly opened Ramsey Cabins in the Huachucas near Sierra Vista, way off our route. I then jokingly sent a screenshot of the report with a picture to Ben saying, “this would be great to see during the trip,” and alas, I received a response not even an hour later saying, “I believe that route could even be better”. Since that day on March 23rd, we stuck to that route for the rest of the planning period and for the day itself.
Then it really was to the drawing board, which places do we cover or not cover along or near the route. I want to go ahead and thank all of the local intel we received from these areas because between our knowledge of birding these areas in the past and eBird alone, it was not enough to fulfill our planning needs, especially including Leo Miller in Arizona and Ian Davies in Texas, among others with smaller suggestions, we thank you very much to the help and guidance given to us for our big day!
The following weeks were spent texting back and forth with Ben, spending multiple nights a week on zoom with each other for several hours during the nighttime hours planning, scouting over eBird reports, and making changes to the itinerary and tiered lists, amongst other ideas.
The main question first was, what flight would we take and when from Houston and Tucson, as this very heavily relied on how we planned our itinerary. We were first leaning towards a 12:15 departure from Tucson but after noticing a Southwest flight that departed (daily during our time) out of the smaller airport, William P. Hobby Airport, at 11:45 am with even a shorter flight time, making it the ideal flight for our big day. Since we figured out the flight, now it was time to plan the route out, on top of making tiered lists and picking which day(s) to do this adventure!
A map with the locations we were planning on hitting on the day
Timing is always key for a big day, in terms of when it is conducted based on the time of year. For Illinois Big Days, they are best run around the middle of May. As mentioned before, most US Big Days have taken place in the latter half of April and into May. Ben brought up early on that the timeframe that we should think about running our route would be from April 19th to April 26th, but based on our schedules, the earlier timing would be the best. The main problem was that because of our schedules, there only ended up being one day that worked for us, April 20th.
Although this date was within our range, there were a lot of problems with only picking ONE date for a big day. To put it in perspective, the previous big day tallies revolved around 4-6 birders within a group, scouting for a span of nearly a week, with having about 4-7 days open for their big day, picking the day with the best weather and best chances in seeing the greatest number of birds. For us, with only picking one day, it really was luck if birds and the weather both cooperated with us, which thankfully both were fairly cooperative. Just more challenges to be brought up for us and still having an astronomical species total in one day in the United States, quite astonishing with all that was against us compared to previous big day runs.
Getting Around on the Day:
Now we have the general route set up with information flooding in about birds along the route, date marked, flights booked, and THE day was coming closer and closer. Now, some of y’all may have some questions about HOW we did this. Ben and I drove down on the 18th, throughout the night, scouted all day Tuesday, the 19th, and used his car for transportation on the Texas portion. But how did we get around Arizona? Through the gracious generosity of Ben’s parents, they flew down to Tucson before the day, Ben’s father offered to rent a car, and drive us around to all our spots during the afternoon. This was amazing and I am very thankful for this! Our idea was if we had someone, likely a non-birder, driving us at least in the Arizona section, we would not have to worry about driving, we both would be focused on birds as we went, and making quick planning decisions as we drove, which was key in spotting birds like Western Kingbird and Chihuahuan Raven that we didn’t have to spend extra time looking for off of the route.
One other MAJOR thing to key in on is the concept of time. More time birding should equal more birds as I have mentioned before. Thankfully with our route, there was fairly a low amount of driving attributed to it. Due to this, we had NO added time for gas stops or food stops. All the food was, and water was packed before had, and the filled-up vehicles before so no gas stops were needed throughout the day, we got gas right after the end of the day, at Safford Arizona at 12:10 am after our last two additions, with about 30 miles to E, so close and thankfully worked in our favor. This would give us at least 30 minutes of more birding times because we did not have to stop ONCE, which usually on big days one usually must make at least one gas stop, so this was also key.
Tiered Species Ideas:
Now we had all the driving and traveling during the day set up, what else needs to be done? Throughout the time we had been making itineraries repeatedly, along with an advanced A/B/C tiered bird list. Birds in group A would be birds we should see during the day but will miss some with how time-constrained we would be at each spot, plus there are always those few birds that always get away. Birds in group B are birds we would possibly see or may require more effort; we should see at least some of the birds in this group but not most of them. Finally, birds in group C are birds that we are unlikely to see, likely only see a few from this category on the day.
We had to revise this list many times, and there was probably not a day in the last few weeks we weren’t moving birds around from category to category, occasionally adding birds to the list. Of course, there was probably a bird or two we may not see on our list, but for the most part, everything is on this list. This list ended up having around 425 species that were “possible” throughout the route, with obviously a lot of birds in our B and C categories. Still, we ended up feeling fairly confident with 294 species in our “group A” list, the United States big day record number surprisingly. You may ask, are we expected to see all of these? The answer is simply no. As stated before, there will be plenty even in this category that will be missed, before the day I strategized we would see 90% of these (we ended up with 85% of group A). In group B, we ended up with 72 species, and with this list, I was expecting about 25% (ended with 24%) and in group C, we had 50 species and I was expecting 5% (ended up with 4%). The list is below, please note that these are not in order, as we were moving and changing this list throughout the time, and I ended up making a more spot-specific list to use during the day itself.
Spot-specific Bird List
So that’s what I did next, on the Monday, the day we left and since the tiered list was mostly finalized, I thought it was best to go spot by spot, creating an excel checklist sheet to see what we should see at each location as we went throughout the day instead of just making a general checklist for the day. By doing this, as we go along, we can see what we were missing for the day at each site and make it easier not just knowing what’s missing, but what we have in general. We tried hard not to count to see where we were standing for the day, but we obviously had to for the flight as we went through this list extensively to see what was still missing from our Texas portion, which included birds like Mallard, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Song Sparrow, and many others still birds we would likely see in Arizona.
I will also provide screenshots of this list below, but the general idea is to label each site with the time we were expected to leave with the tiered list of species listed below the location, so I can highlight them as we go throughout the day. This was also very helpful because this required more specific knowledge of where each possible species on the route we should or possibly have a chance to see the species, so to even know exactly where to get the common birds along the route, plus cleaning up some holes of information on where certain birds were. This list is below.
One more thing before we leave, with two birders from the upper Midwest, how would we know how to identify the birds along the route if we do not live in these areas? Thankfully both of us have been to most of the locations on the route, so the birds seen throughout the day are not completely foreign to us and because of this, we had a basic knowledge of what habitats each species should be seen in. For weeks leading up to the day, we spent learning bird calls and making sure we had our visual identification down. It was much easier with the Texas birds as most of these birds were birds seen in the Eastern United States, birds we’re more familiar with. We obviously had the challenge of learning about the birds of southwestern Arizona, which we still did fairly well with, although I am sure we missed a few birds calling throughout the afternoon which is something to look into for the future.
The Drive Down:
We have all our plans set in stone, have spent dozens of hours planning and making sure everything was cleaned up, and it was Monday the 18th, the day we left for Texas. Ben had to work most of the day Monday, and I of course had surveys and classes here, along with a board meeting. It worked perfectly as Ben had a 5ish hour drive to here, was leaving at around 3/4ET, and I would be done with my meeting by 8:30 pm, have all my stuff ready to go, and leave by 9:00 for the 13+ hour drive. Thankfully the day went very smoothly, Ben got to my place with no problems, and we were off by 9:15 pm!
I started out driving since Ben had just driven the last 5 hours to get to my place. Our whole drive down went very smoothly without any problems, we switched a few hours in once we got into the bootheel of Missouri, then switched again about an hour outside Little Rock, and then I continued to drive throughout the day after this point. As the sun came up, we found ourselves driving in far Southwestern Arkansas, just north of Shreveport with a stunning sunrise to our east. We kept chugging along and reached the rice fields just north of High Island t around 10:30 am. We then spent the afternoon between these fields, Anahuac, High Island, and spots closer to Houston. We figured not to do the Bolivar Peninsula because most of that stuff was either at night or like the Bolivar flats, the shorebirds and other water birds will either be there or not.
We scouted the fields nearby, finding plenty of goodies from our B like American Golden-Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Glossy Ibis, etc., and key birds within Anahuac like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, other ducks, and wading birds, as some are pictured below! High Island was fairly good. I’d never been there so all of this was new to me. We tried a faster pace of scouting to see how quickly we would have to be but also took enough time to make sure we had most of the birds scouted out for. It was still apparent that migration was slightly lacking and behind, which caused a little alarm, but still, a majority of the migrants were still around. Although it is important to note the lack of flycatchers that were there at the current time, something key for our big day. Seeing both cuckoo species were fun as well! I figured I would run into at least one person I knew, and I did! At Boy Scout Woods we ran into Pat Lueders and Yvonne Homeyer from Central Missouri! You never know who you will see at this birding mecca!
Rice Fields (hundreds of shorebirds somewhere in the pic)
Herd of cattle blocking the road at the rice fields, can not have this happen on the big day!
Deck at Boy Scout Woods
The Final Hours:
We then drove towards Houston, making two quick stops to look for more truly Eastern birds like Carolina Chickadee and Pine Warbler, birds that we can not see at High Island at White Park just off of the interstate, and a quick check for Limpkin at the north end of Sheldon Lake, which we planned to do at night since we learned that Limpkins are active and call often at night! We finished the evening by checking a couple of sites in Western Houston, most importantly scouting out Least Grebe that we last second found out about in a small park just west of downtown!
We sat down for dinner at around 8:00 pm, knowing this was our last actual meal for over 24 hours and THE day, that we have been prepping for weeks, was just a few hours ahead of us. We got to the hotel by 9:00 and had about 4.5 hours to make finalized plans and get SOME rest before our day as we were planning on leaving the hotel by 1:45am (due to Arizona being two hours behind, we had to start at 2am) and I was in bed by 10:30, full of both stress and excitement about what was to come the next day!
Bird list: Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, TUNDRA SWAN, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Pheasant, Pied-billed Grebe, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collard-Dove, Mourning Dove, American Coot, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, ICELAND GULL, COMMON LOON, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Northern HarrieR, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Horned Lark, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, European Starling, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, House Finch, Purple Finch, COMMON REDPOLL, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Lapland Longspur, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Northern Cardinal
Eurasian Tree-Sparrows and Northern Cardinal
Savannah Sparrow among other sparrows
"Dark-eyed" Herring Gull
Bird list: Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Pheasant, Pied-billed Grebe, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collard-Dove, Mourning Dove, American Coot, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Horned Lark, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, House Finch, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Northern Cardinal
Eurasian Tree Sparrows
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Common Grackle among other birds
Mixed flock at feeders
Mixed flock at another area with feeders
Bird list: Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Wild Turkey, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, American Coot, SANDHILL CRANE, WHOOPING CRANE, Killdeer, DUNLIN, Wilson's Snipe, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Loon, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, GOLDEN EAGLE, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, BARN OWL, Great Horned Owl, SNOWY OWL, Short-eared Owl, NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Horned Lark, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren,, European Starling, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, House Sparrow, EVENING GROSBEAK, House Sparrow, Purple Finch, RED CROSSBILL, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Lapland Longspur, Field Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, SPOTTED TOWHEE, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Rusty Blackbird, BREWER'S BLACKBIRD, Common Grackle, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal
Counties birded: Marion, Clinton, Jefferson, Franklin, Saline, Gallatin, Hardin, White, Wabash, Lawrence, Crawford, Clark, Edgar, Vermillion, and Champaign
Grandma, Tony, and myself decided to take a small adventures to Southern IL for a couple days to see all the goodies that are currently being seen. We started off leaving Champaign at around 7am Sunday and went straight to Carlyle. Although it did take awhile, both SPOTTED TOWHEES made an appearance and were being very cooperative!
Then we made some stopped at Rend Lake. The best spot by far was the north Sandusky area, where I pulled out an adult GOLDEN EAGLE flying across the lake to the south and ended up going into the Marcum Access area. Also 3 Common Loons and a Horned Grebe were new year birds for me.
We then finished the rest of the day in Saline and Gallatin counties. I ended up being able to spot at least a couple BARN OWLS in a box! Just before then we were delighted to see a large flock (55) of Black Vultures, some of the most I've ever seen in IL at one location. We then ended the evening around the ponds around Equality in Gallatin county. I was able to pick out a young male Greater Scaup just to the west of the town and it is the first ebird record for the county! Also, perhaps the best bird after the afternoon was a DUNLIN that I picked out flying around with the Killdeer. Also the 12+ Short-eared Owls were a sight to see!
The next morning we showed up at the DeNeal's around 7am. The first EVENING GROSBEAKS showed up at around 7:18 and we watched them for 40 minutes. The largest number I saw was 25 and about 18 at once were at the feeders. The 125+ Siskins and the Pine Warbler were other highlights at the property.
We then traveled south to Hardin county in search of Red Crossbills, in which we saw one and heard a few more!
We then worked our way back to Champaign from there. We ended up seeing a flock of tens of thousands of blackbirds, mostly Grackles, but a flock of mostly BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS in front of them was a pleasant surprise in Gallatin county! We made quick stops after this including views both WHOOPING and SANDILL CRANES in Lawrence county and looking at thousands of waterfowl at Universal Mines in Edgar county.
After a quick stop at Lake Vermillion, we preceded over to Champaign county to finish the day. The NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL was at the usual location and we we lucky to find the SNOWY OWL sitting on top of a telephone pole!
Overall a great trip and can't wait for the next adventure! Pictures are below!
Whooping and Sandhill Cranes, 1-11-2021, Lawrence county IL
Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinch (background), and Northern Cardinal (background), 1-11-2021, Saline county IL
Spotted Towhee, 1-10-2021, South Shore State Park, Clinton county IL
Spotted Towhee, 1-10-2021, South Shore State Park, Clinton county IL
Black Vultures, 1-10-2021, Saline county IL
Female Red Crossbill, 1-11-2021, Hardin county IL
Wilson's Snipe, 1-11-2021, Carmi, White county IL
Northern Saw-whet Owl, 1-11-2021, Champaign county IL
Snowy Owl, 1-11-21, Champaign county IL
Dunlin (on right) with a Killdeer, 1-10-2021, NE of Equality, Gallatin county IL
Male Brewer's Blackbird, 1-11-2021, Gallatin county IL
Male Greater Scaup, 1-10-2021, W of Equality, Gallatin county IL
4 Tundra and 1 (front left) Trumpeter Swan, 1-10-2021, Gallatin county IL
Bird list: Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, BRANT, Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mood Duck, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, LONG-TAILED DUCK, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Pheasant, Wild Turkey, Pied-billed Grebe, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collard-Dove, Mourning Dove, American Coot, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, CALIFORNIA GULL, Herring Gull, ICELAND GULL, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, GLAUCOUS GULL, GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Short-eared Owl, Long-eared Owl NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Monk Parakeet, EASTERN PHOEBE, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Horned Lark, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, European Starling, BROWN THRASHER, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, House Finch, Purple Finch, COMMON REDPOLL, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Lapland Longspur, SNOW BUNTING, CHIPPING SPARROW, Field Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Rusty Blackbird, BREWER'S BLACKBIRD, Common Grackle, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal Number of species: 121
Counties birded (in order of when birded): Christian, Moultrie, Shelby, Morgan, Sangamon, Cook, Iroquois, Champaign, De Witt, Vermillion, Coles
Brant, 1-4-21, Cook county IL
Snow Bunting, 1-3-21, Sangamon county IL
Long-tailed Duck, 1-3-21, Lake Springfield IL
Northern Saw-whet Owl, 1-5-21, Central IL
California Gull, 1-3-21, Lake Springfield IL
1st year Glaucous Gull and 1st year Lesser Black-backed Gull, Lake Shelbyville, 1-2-21
Eastern Phoebe, 1-2-21, Wolf Creek State Park IL
Brown Thrasher (1 of 5), 1-2-21, Wolf Creek State Park IL
Chipping Sparrow, 1-5-21, Woodlawn Cemetery Champaign county IL
Common Redpoll, 1-4-21, Montrose Point Cook county IL
American Black Duck, 1-4-21, Montrose Point Cook county Il
Eurasian Tree Sparrow, 1-3-21, Sangamon county IL
Sunset and gulls, 1-3-21, Lake Springfield IL
Although it was originally scheduled for Saturday, 9-12, I had to postpone the trip until Sunday due to thunderstorms that appear to pop near and over the lake Saturday afternoon. The only open time was Sunday 9-1 so I took it!
A few of us met at the Dam West boat ramp at 7:30. I had already picked out an adult winter LAUGHING GULL on the beach in the other gulls and a few terns. We didn't see too much else here so we decided to move on.
Our next stop was James Hawn Access just to the north. We quickly walked out to the small mudflats east of the lot and quickly picked out 2 Sanderlings and a couple other shorebirds. Aerin quickly spotted 4 flyover Wilson's Snipes as well! We stopped briefly on our way out and saw a couple warblers but not many (American Redstart and Northern Parula).
We still had enough time to go check out one more spot so we checked the west end of Eldon Hazlet, again we didn't see too much besides many more waders and heard a couple Rose-breasted Grosbeaks!
We arrived at the Marina by 8:30 and 8 of us were out on the lake by 8:45! It was rather cloudy, somewhat windy, and felt more like the second weekend of October than second weekend of September. It was rather slow for awhile, although I did pick out and adult winter LAUGHING GULL behind our boat in the first 10 minutes, likely the same bird from the beach earlier in the day, but eventually did pick out some Black Terns and our only two Herring Gulls of the day. There were a lot of gulls out but all were Ring bills :(
We finally started to have some luck as 7 Common Terns flew in towards our boat and were calling loudly as well, confirming the id. For awhile we just moved up and down the lake finding more Black Terns and another Common Tern.
Towards the end we decided to head to the west and chum near some gulls roosting one more time. In a short matter of time, we were viewing a FRANKLIN'S and a LAUGHING GULL within 5 feet of our boat giving us amazing views and photo opportunities as well as good comparisons. We ended up seeing the flock of Common Terns here again as well as Caspian and Forster's Terns. At least we saw some good birds
After this, Trevor, Aerin and I continued up to Whitetail. There were a few shorebirds along the lake, the best was a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER actually along the water. Also saw Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron!
We then "shot up" towards Lake Shelbyville, first stopping near the dam. I picked out a continuing COMMON LOON, and we stopped and looked for some woodland birds for a minute. We saw a nice flock of birds including an Alder Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo and many others!
Next we went towards Findlay Marina where I had found a couple Lesser Black-backed Gulls the week before, and we saw 3 (2 adults and a 3rd Fall)!
We then continued our way up stopping at other spots long the northwest arm of the lake. We saw 14 shorebirds species (best included 2 American Golden Plovers, 1 Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and 2 Red-necked Phalaropes), and many woodland birds including Least Flycatcher and Blackburnian Warblers!
All in all, it was a great day of birding, stay tuned for this coming weekend's birding!