Just between you, me and the lamp-post, I hate winter. And I know that my mother, "Sunwiggy," is not too fond of it either. So to inspire us both to give it our best and get out of the house on a chilly January first weekend, I challenged her to a "Bird Off."
You may be thinking, "I never heard of a Bird Off." That's OK, I never had either, although I think I may have been inspired by an episode of the TV show 30 Rock, where one of the characters has to redeem his honor by means of something called a "Page Off." In my mind, I heard a chorus of on-lookers chanting, "Bird Off! Bird Off!," although in reality, I just e-mailed Sunwiggy with the challenge.
A Bird Off: a competition in which you challenge another birder, who is not birding with you, to see who can get the most species in a given period of time--in our case, the New Year weekend. As Sunwiggy lives in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and I am here in central Illinois, I also thought it would be interesting to see what differences there might be in species seen. My mother, proving her general good temperament when it comes to bird related issues, agreed to engage me in the challenge.
As to what I saw: 20 species yesterday, 26 today. Since many are the same species, the total for both days is 29 species.
Yesterday I went to Sugar Grove Nature Center, a location I chose for two reasons: one, the weather report called for "blustery" conditions, with winds gusting up to 35 mph, and Sugar Grove has some trees in which to shelter; and two, I knew that I could get some Eurasian tree sparrows there, easy-peasy. They come to the feeders every winter, and I had already seen them just one week before.
So, I saw them, hooray!, along with a bunch of other usual suspects for this time of year: white-breasted nuthatches, house sparrow, starlings, brown-headed cowbirds, dark-eyed juncos, American tree sparrows, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, goldfinches, etc. Almost everything I saw was by the feeders. The wind was atrocious, as bad as I expected and then some...the birds were all doing the sensible thing and staying hunkered down, so I gave up early and went home.
This morning, the day was sunny and a bit warmer, and the wind was not quite as bad (although I spent a lot of the day pulling my knitted cowl over my face for warmth), so out I went again, this time to Comlara State Park.
It was a good trip. I was the only person on the trails---such wonderful solitude. It was quiet; it was peaceful, just me and the birds. Again, mostly the usual suspects -- I got the black-capped chickadee and the tufted titmouse pretty quick, two "easy peasies" that I'd missed out on yesterday.
Unfortunately, the lake was iced over again, precluding any nice gull or waterfowl sightings. The ice made such eerie noises, crackling, moaning, sighing, clacking--an unusual counterpoint to the day. I walked on and on, alternately enjoying the winter sunshine and shielding my face from the wind, finding two surprises: a small flock of Eastern bluebirds (bluebirds! in January! Also a lot of robins...I wonder why so many stayed behind this year?) and an American woodcock.
A woodcock? I know, ebird (the Cornell database...if you're not on it, and you're a birder, check it out!) thought it was weird, too. But this is how it went down: along the trail I walked, when I flushed a medium-sized bird from the grasses by the way, and off it went in a panic... It was a size and shape not dissimilar to the woodcocks I saw last year in the spring. So: what else could it be? It was not a snipe or a bobwhite, similar when flushed...and we don't have any grouse here...which leaves woodcock. If any skeptics have a better identification, please, leave me a comment! I'd love to know what else it might be.
On the way back to town, I took the 'back roads," (Ropp Road), and was dismayed to see more "wind farms" going up. Some windmills were already erected, some were parts lying on the fields. Central Illinois is being taken over by those things, and I really don't like them. I've tried to find neutral information about how much good is being eked from them, environmentally speaking, and I'm still not sure. Are mountaintops being spared from "removal"? Are we burning less coal? I don't think so... Meanwhile, the windmills are moderately bad for birds, VERY bad for bats, and, as far as I am concerned, an eyesore on the landscape! (Personally, I am in favor of nuclear energy---despite Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, I think it is the cleanest and most efficient energy source we currently have.)
This bummer did not stop my Birding, and in the afternoon I went to Parklands Merwin Preserve, a reliable place to see red-headed woodpeckers. The woods were very peaceful (all the snow melted, however, for those who saw the earlier photos), and I did see the woodpeckers--along with a flock of cedar waxwings flying overhead, and a great horned owl.
Total species for the Bird Off: 29! And Sunwiggy has promised a short post about what she saw Up North, plus some photos, so stay tuned!
ADDENDUM: I just found out from the ebird regional coordinator that seeing an American woodcock in Illinois in January would be a VERY unusual sighting. According to his e-mail, mine would be the first such sighting in their whole database. And then, very politely, he asked, How did I eliminate the Wilson's snipe from my ID, since they do occur in January? So I happily changed my ID to Wilson's snipe--still a cool year bird, and to be honest, I was a little iffy about the woodocock anyway. I basically logged it hoping to get it straightened out -- which I think I have now. Thanks, ebird regional coordinator!