I went out birding last Saturday, and it was an amazing day that I will always remember. I haven't updated my blog in a while, but I am making a new resolution to update it more often. I will be posting later this month about my trip this summer to the Cascades in Washington State. Anyways, last weekend looked really good for rarities to show up, mainly because the weather patterns developing over the week were prime material to push western vagrants to the east. I love chasing rarities, so I was really hoping for something like a Rock Wren or a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. But one bird that did not cross my mind was a Burrowing Owl. The last one seen in the Chicago area was on October 28th of 2008. I started birding in May of 2009, so none have been seen in northern Illinois since I became a birder. Before the 2008 record, the last one found up north was in the 1980s. The Burrowing Owl in 2008 was seen at Montrose Point, but was flushed so many times by birders that the local Cooper's Hawk got it. Many people were quite angry with that, since it was such a rare bird and they couldn't see it. But now many people up in northern Illinois got another chance:
Josh Engel and Onesmus Kioko picked me up Saturday morning at 6:40 AM. Kioko is from Kenya, and is currently working at the Field Museum with Josh learning how to prep bird specimens. Josh was leading a trip on Saturday for the Illinois Ornithological Society (IOS), and we were planning to meet at Montrose. We arrived at around 7 AM and began walking towards the beach. Already down there were Jerry Goldner, Rob Curtis, and some other local birders (Jerry had actually found the owl before us but we had no idea, and until he told us, we thought we had found it). Our group made it down to the beach and began walking towards the large Cottonwoods, walking towards the lakeshore. As we got up near the top of the hill, Josh turned to his right, saw a bird in flight, and called out, "OWL!" I frantically scanned to see where he was looking and saw a smaller owl that appeared to be a small Short-eared Owl. I only was able to see it for about 2-3 seconds before it landed on the ground. Josh and I exchanged glances, and he stated, "I think that was a Burrowing Owl." That sure got the adrenaline pumping...
The group began to formulate a plan on how to find this bird, but did not want to flush it, as it was sitting down in the dune grass. I saw Fran Morel walking towards the beach, and got his attention, asking him to come over quickly. I told him we had a "possible" Burrowing Owl and Josh called Bob Hughes to round up all the birders down by the water. Fran began to walk with our group of seven to see if we could view the bird from a different angle. Not even two seconds had gone by before Fran stated to us, "I'm looking right at the bird."I ran over to his side, and right in front of me, about 30-40 yards away, was a Burrowing Owl.
We eventually found a place a bit farther back in the dune to view this bird, ensuring that it was not stressed. We then saw Bob and his assembled group approaching us to look at it, and we directed them around the bird so the bird was safe. This bird was a lifer -- a bird one has never seen in their lifetime -- for some, and a state bird for the rest of the group. We begin to pass around the idea of posting to IBET (the listserv for Illinois), but decided to hold off for a bit. We were worried that if too many people came, the bird might get harassed and perhaps find its way into the talons of another Raptor again. On Saturday, the raptors at Montrose were amazing as well. Including the Burrowing Owl, we had 9 species of raptor:
Merlin (I missed it)
Osprey (I missed it)
Eventually, we figured out that we were able to see the Owl from the Fishook Pier, which made the situation for the owl much better, and made it so we could tell the bird world. The Dune at Montrose is a fragile ecosystem, and the more people walking in it, the worse off it will be. We figured out that we could, indeed, see the bird very well from the pier, and make sure that nobody would walk through the dune at all while the bird was there. We then posted to IBET, and people began streaming in. I estimated that over two hours, over a hundred people came to see this bird, and people continued to visit throughout the day. This was one famous owl to say the least. Personally, it was my 304 bird in Illinois and my 9th species of owl in the state. This was even a county bird for Andy Siegler, one of the most notorious county listers in the state, and who has seen over 395 species of bird in Illinois. Below are some pictures of it, as well as some of the raptors present at Montrose. Also, there are a few photos of the birders watching the owl:
|Birders looking at the owl|
|Birders looking at the owl|
Thanks for reading, and I will have another post soon!