#102. Northern Saw Whet Owl
#103. Ross's Goose
#104. Horned Grebe
With the sun setting, Tom Lally and I decided to head to Air Station Prairie to watch for displaying Woodcocks. Just as we were about to give up, an American Woodcock gave its classic "peent!" call from across the prairie. It's always a treat to watch Woodcocks display in early spring.
#105. American Woodcock
(3/7) Despite the fact that there wasn't much around, I felt the urge to be out birding. I went to Park 566 where I added:
#106. Eastern Meadowlark
(3/8) On Sunday the 8th, Chicago experienced its first real influx of spring migrants. I had about 40 species at Montrose, significantly more than the rather weak totals of 15-20 species we were seeing all winter. Between the hordes of red wings and grackles I picked out my first Rusty Blackbirds of the year, a sure sign that Spring migration is underway!
#107. Rusty Blackbird
Similarly to Montrose, McGinnis Slough was extremely productive. The highlight among my 18 species of waterfowl were a group of 21 Tundra Swans, a fairly uncommon find in Cook County. Here's a digiscope of one of the swans.
#108. Turkey Vulture
#109. Wilson's Snipe
(3/12) After school I chased a continuing Black Scoter off the end of fishhook pier at Montrose. I had already tried twice for it with no luck, making this my 3rd attempt. Shortly after I arrived, Josh Engel did the same and eventually picked out the Black Scoter with the scaup far out on the lake. Scoters are tough to come by in the Spring so cleaning up all 3 species by March was unexpected. Thanks Josh!
#110. Fox Sparrow
#111. Black Scoter
If there's one bird that should represent the month of March, it's without a doubt the Greater White Fronted Goose. Typically, us Chicago birders consider ourselves lucky when a bird or two drops into a local park with a group of Canada Geese. You may not remember, but I actually drove an hour to get my year bird in early January; believe it or not, it was one of the highlights of the month. For whatever reason, I saw a truly unprecedented number of this species throughout the county in March. I stumbled across this bird on 7 different occasions within the first two weeks of the month, my numbers soaring past 1,000. Ironically, despite multiple hardcore searches, I failed to find a Snow Goose this season, a hole that will likely remain on my list until next winter. I even managed to find a leucistic Greater White Fronted Goose this month- pretty awesome, but at the same time a huge letdown considering it wasn't the much needed Snow Goose I was expecting it to be. That's my nemesis for now. The photos here are just a tiny fraction of the Greater White Fronted Geese I found withing this 2 week period. It was quite a spectacle!
#112. Blue Winged Teal
#113. Common Loon
(3/20) On March 20th, we got another large push of migrants, so of course that meant Montrose in the morning. I only added 1 year bird, but I had no complains as I witnessed what was arguably one of the strongest waterfowl movements I'd ever seen. While being soaked by waves and struggling to hold my scope still, I counted thousands of ducks making their way north past the end of Fishhook Pier. The unfortunate reality of lakewatching is that it's almost always associated with bad weather, but at the same time almost always worth it. Here's a few of the photos I took that morning of the waterfowl:
#114. Eastern Phoebe
Green Winged Teal:
#115. Eastern Screech Owl
#116. Tree Swallow
#117. Brown Thrasher
Little did I know at the time, this would be my last trip to Montrose for awhile. The entire Chicago lakefront, Montrose included, were promptly shut down later in the day due to COVID-19. More on that later...
After Montrose, I headed all the way up to the north western most corner of the county to Bakers Lake. It was extremely active, and within my first 10 minutes of scanning from the overlook I already ticked over 30 species. My year bird Great Egrets were back in numbers on the rookery and a pair of Ospreys had returned to their regular nesting platform!
#118. Great Egret
(3/28) After not gaining any uncommon or rare year birds after the start of March, things began to turn around at the end of the month. On the 28th, my friend Vlad found a Red Throated Loon at Northwestern. Another tough bird in the spring, and it was in my patch! I headed over and quickly got the loon. It was easily the best look I've ever had at the species.
#120. Red Throated Loon
At that moment, I reached the high point of my big year- I was overcome with a huge sense of happiness and relief. From day 1, the thought of tracking down a turkey this year was associated with stress, uncertainty, and doubt to be honest. I had to sit in my car and wait 10 minutes for my adrenaline rush to calm down. The turkeys stayed 2 days for many other lucky birders to see.
#121. Wild Turkey
To add onto my luck, I was greeted by a Field Sparrow in my backard when I got home to top of a good day!
#122. Field Sparrow
And there we have it. March is over, and spring is here. The best time for birding in Chicago is slowly creeping upon us. But before I conclude this post, there is something very important that I need to address.
As I had stated above, the entire Chicago lakefront, Montrose included, have been shut down completely to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. With peak birding just around the corner, this is extremely unfortunate for the Chicago birding community. The main migrant traps will more than likely not be accessible for the peak of spring migration in May. As a result, many people have been asking me how this will effect my big year and whether I plan on continuing. In short, my answer is yes, I will continue my big year. No matter the setbacks I face, I will absolutely not back down. This is a dream of mine, and I won't be able to do it again anytime soon since this is my last full year here before college. This disadvantage has already motivated me to push myself even harder.
So how will this effect the year? I am going to miss some birds, and I've accepted that. Missing regular spring migrants aren't my main concern, it's missing rarities. As you all know, the lakefront tends to host an impressive amount of rare birds each spring. There is a lot of potential for annually occurring rarities in the spring that may not show up in other places this year. To name a few possible examples, birds like Laughing Gull, Lark Sparrow, and Prairie Warbler that I would hope to show up this year may not happen at all. Because of this, I am expecting some pretty big holes in my list until the fall. My shorebird list will probably remain short until August. I probably won't see easy birds like Ruddy Turnstone, Short Billed Dowitcher, or Willet until then. However, looking on the bright side of things, school is likely cancelled for the entire year. This gives me the opportunity to bird every day in April and May, and I hope to turn up some extra birds with my extra time. So far I've already done that in the first week of April. This is also a great excuse to explore some under birded areas that have the potential to harbor any rarities or other interesting finds.
So overall, I have been put at a disadvantage for this year. I'll continue to bird as hard as possible as long as I'm not putting myself and others at risk. I am still hoping to break 270 species which would put me on the top 5 for Cook County big years. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how this months plays out. My April goal will be 170. For now, fingers crossed that the lakefront opens for at least some of May. April has already gotten off to a killer start, and I hope my good luck continues throughout the rest of the month. Until next time, please stay safe and healthy!