Saturday, February 25, 2012

Frolicing with Prairie Falcons and Hooded Cranes

Hi all,

Well, this blog has been inactive for some time. I have been trying to post, but each time I tried, my photos would never show up, causing me to get fed up and move on. Turns out I was in HTML format and was corrected by my friend Sam Fason in Texas... Oops...

Anyways, here is a little redux of my recent birding adventures:

On February 12th, I traveled about 4 hours round trip with Ethan, Aaron, and Eric Gyllenhaal to see if we could find a Prairie Falcon in the state of Illinois. They have spent over 20 hours of their lives looking for a Prairie Falcon on 5-6 separate occasions.

This year, there had been a bird frequenting some hay bales in Champaign County. We decided to try for it that Sunday (the 12th) as it was seen the day before, and with some frequency during the past week.

The drive was 2 hours from Chicago, and we got there at about 8:00 in the morning. As we pulled up to the hay bales, Aaron immediately called out that he saw a raptor perched on one. We got out and looked at it with our binoculars at it. Even in the horrible lighting, we were able to figure out it was indeed the falcon, but we really wanted to get it in better light and perhaps in the scope. As we pull forward to attempt seeing it in better light, it decided to fly. We stopped the car as fast as possible, and I attempted a few photos. Here was my best:

From here, we moved on, and decided to chase the Hooded Crane near Linton, Indiana. For those of you that do not know, this is the first Hooded crane in the USA that has a very good chance of being accepted by the ABA, and is causing much debate on its origin in the birding community. We arrived at Goose Pond FWA, where the Hooded Crane was being seen, after a two hour drive from the Prairie Falcon. Along the way, we found a few nice birds perched or flying along the roads, for example two Turkey Vultures and a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk:

When we arrived at Goose Pond FWA, we pulled onto a small country road to get to the viewing area for the Crane and where it was last seen. We knew we were in the right area purely by the amount of people there:

Here there were also a ton of Sandhill Cranes, but this is only a small portion of the birds that were present in the area:

We got out of the car and asked around if the Hooded Crane was there. Many people replied that it had been seen about 15 minutes ago but it had walked behind a ridge. It might be viewable from the county road on the other side of the field, although people were not sure. After about 10 minutes, we decided to give it a shot. After about 20-30 minutes of waiting, Michael David of Pennsylvania called out that he had the bird. We all got distant looks through the many scopes present, but it was a really far away look, and the bird was behind trees and bushes. We stayed and watched it for over 30 minutes, when it decided to start walking back up the ridge, and we scooted back around to see it in the open and in better light at the original location. Here was where I attempted to get a photo of this awesome bird:

While at Goose Pond, we heard about the 19-20 Whooping Cranes that had stopped there on their Migration up to Wisconsin. We made an effort after watching the Hooded Crane for a bit to go and find these birds. The first one we found was sitting in a huge group of Sandhill Cranes:

We kept moving to a spot where there were supposedly 16 Whooping Cranes, and we were not disappointed. Here is one picture I took of one Whooping Crane:

We moved on to our last stop of the day and got to see a ton of Greater White-fronted Geese:

There were also a few of Bald Eagles fishing in the area, but not much else of note. Before we left, I felt obligated to take a picture of the entrance sign for Goose Pond FWA, for we had seen some amazing birds there:

I must thank the Gyllenhaal's immensely for the amazing day, and hope that we have more of these great adventures and birding days soon to come.

On Feb. 18th, I attended the yearly IOS Gull Frolic. Only this year, there were barely any gulls. The day was actually spent lakewatching. Before the Frolic, I went with Josh Engel, Chris and Geoff Williamson, and my mom to an undisclosed location in Cook County to go find a Northern Saw-whet Owl that Josh had found with his friend Jason Weckstein (who will be employing me this summer at the Field Museum). This would be my first wild Saw-whet (my mom and I went to the Indiana Dunes State Park to band them earlier in the year), and Josh was nice enough to share this one with us. We arrived at the spot and found it immediately teed up in a tree. It was sleeping, but I was able to get some nice shots of the face:

From this location, we moved on to Winthrop Harbor, the location of the Frolic and immediately were told there was a Surf Scoter in the harbor and Snowy Owl on the breakwall. I rushed over, and made sure to see them before the 9:30 AM talk on gulls by Amar Ayyash, one of our resident larophiles. Here is a picture of the Scoter:

And here is the Snowy Owl:

Overall, there were not a lot of Gulls to look at at the Frolic, but we had a great lakewatching day. 250 Long-tailed Ducks, 10 White-winged Scoters, an Iceland Gull, and a Lesser Black-backed Gull were a few of the highlights of the day.

From the Frolic, I traveled home with Josh, Chris, and Geoff, and we stopped at Waukegan Harbor. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we set up the scopes and found 4 Red-throated Loons and this Thayer's Gull:

Overall a very enjoyable day, and some great birding. One Lifer (Northern Saw-whet Owl) and a state bird (Red-throated Loon). My goal for the year is to hit 300 birds for the state of Illinois. I'm at 290 as of right now, and am missing a few really easy birds that I hope to get this year. I had a great day at the Frolic, and got to see many great birders from all around Illinois.

Thanks for reading, and hope to get this blog up and running again!

Until next time,