Christmas Bird Count 2010

by Carl Strang

Saturday was the DuPage Birding Club’s Christmas Bird Count, which centers on Fermilab, the famous physics research facility that straddles western DuPage and eastern Kane Counties. Here my group pauses attentively as yet-to-be identified birds call and flutter in the brush.

Group leader Urs Geiser, far right, is very good at pishing, a method for calling in small birds.

For a group portrait go here to the account of the 2008 outing. The weather has been very cold, most bodies of water are frozen, and for the most part the count was unremarkable. One exception for our group was this purple finch that Linda Padera spotted just before our lunch break.

The heavy facial stripes distinguish the female-plumage purple finch.

In the afternoon we stopped at West Branch Forest Preserve, home to one of the county’s major Canada goose roosts until it freezes over. Some birds had kept a hole open in the ice.

Most of the birds around the hole are Canada geese.

While we watched, the main swimming activity keeping the hole open was provided by 14 common goldeneye ducks and a coot.

Here, 8 of the goldeneyes rest on the surface between foraging dives.

On the ice fringing the nearby West Branch of the DuPage River, we noticed these remarkable traces in the snow.

What do you think would make marks like this?

A close look revealed distinctive footprints of a great horned owl close to the bank. It looks like the bird came in for a landing at speed, with most of the lines drawn by the bird’s tail feathers as it put on the brakes. Undulations suggest the owl made two strong backsweeps with its wings as its tail feathers dragged. It stood for a moment before springing back into the air.

CBC 2009

by Carl Strang

One annual highlight as the end of the year approaches is the Christmas Bird Count. Last year I introduced the group to which I belong. Here our party proceeds along the Prairie Path in the 4-mile hike that filled Saturday morning.

Urs Geiser, our leader, is on the left. Behind him, Frank Padera converses with Marcia Nye (who walks behind a smiling Linda Padera). Lee Nye’s clipboard reveals that as recorder he had the challenge of keeping the data sheet dry. A very light snowfall was a constant through the day. Judy Morgan was with us, too, but doesn’t show in this photo. Chuck Drake couldn’t make it this year.

As you can see, the accumulated snow made the landscape beautiful.

The beauty had to compensate for a relative absence of birds. Nearly every species was down in numbers compared to last year, and to the area’s average. One species that was present in typical numbers was the American tree sparrow.

Among the 29 species we found were a few robins.

On the other hand, there were a few highlights. We saw our area’s first tufted titmouse in years (but no photo). Also, the area’s first-ever hooded merganser and coot (the latter shown below) cheered us in the afternoon.

I should clarify that when I refer to “area” I mean the bit of geography assigned to our little group. Our area was part of a much larger circle centering on Fermilab and covering significant parts of DuPage and Kane Counties. Ours was one of eight groups collectively covering that circle. Circles like this are one part of the continent-wide standard that allows CBC data to have some merit in long-term monitoring of birds across North America.

CBC Part 2

By Carl Strang

 

Yesterday I outlined the story of a shared day with other birders in the Christmas Bird Count. Today I am finishing with some of the birds we were especially happy to find, species we certainly don’t see every winter day.

 

One of these species was the purple finch. We saw both males

 

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and female-plumaged individuals, some of which may have been first-year males.

 

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The single most unusual bird of the day was this rusty blackbird.

 

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Its head showed the sharply contrasting rusty tones of winter plumage that give the species its name, but this male appeared to be delayed in its body feather molt.

 

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A final species of special interest was the eastern bluebird. We saw two small groups of them, one along the Prairie Path containing this female.

 

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The second group was at Kline Creek Farm, and included this hackberry-loving male.

 

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CBC Part 1

by Carl Strang

 

Yesterday was the Fermilab Christmas Bird Count, in which I have participated for several years now. It’s an opportunity for birders to join in a continent-wide effort to compile an annual snapshot of bird numbers and geography. Other groups cover other areas at other times, generally in the second half of December or early in January.

 

Each count circle is divided into areas, 8 in the circle centered on the Fermilab grounds. Here are the other members of our Area 4 group from yesterday, left to right in the photo: Judy Morgan, Linda and Frank Padera, Chuck Drake, Marcia and Lee Nye, and group leader Urs Geiser.

 

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Our day began very early, with most of the morning devoted to covering a 4-mile stretch of Prairie Path northwest from the intersection of County Farm and Geneva Roads. If the birds were competing to be counted, on this day the starlings jumped to an early lead with this tightly packed mob on the wire, and never looked back.

 

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As you might expect, most of the birds we see are of the more common or familiar species, like this white-breasted nuthatch.

 

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The icy snowfall of a couple days ago made walking more of an effort than in many years, but did add to the beauty of the scenery.

 

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While birds that were moving and calling were easy to find, others held still and required a little more effort, like this mourning dove.

 

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We encountered great horned owl tracks in the snow.

 

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The night before, the owl had killed a cottontail rabbit.

 

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Tracks don’t count, however, so we could not include the owl on the day’s list. We also saw a coyote, and passed where it or another had caught a mouse or vole beside the trail.

 

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The day’s tally included several red-bellied woodpeckers,

 

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as well as downy woodpeckers.

 

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In the afternoon we explored additional sites, such as Kline Creek Farm (cattle also don’t make the list, nor did we find any cowbirds).

 

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Tomorrow I’ll share some of the birds that were unusual enough to get us especially excited.

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