Category: Big Year

Winter 2019 Sort of Recapped

Right, I’m a wee bit behind here.

Last actual post I did on here was of the Carlyle Lake Trip.   I’m going to pass over Fall 2018- a lot happened but it’ll take too long to recap. Let’s move into January and February 2019.

I stayed up in central Illinois and spent early January 2019 with my parents, with very few plans of what I would do this year besides studying for the GRE, graduating college, finding a job, etc.  On January 7 I decided to get out and about on a warmer day and go looking around a nearby marsh in the Lick Creek Wildlife Area.  This resulted in my finding two unusual records.

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First up was a turtle- in particular, one of Illinois’ more common turtles, the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)  I’ve never had a reptile before an amphibian in January.  This turtle, however, can be winter-active when it wants, and as this day exceeded 50 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature the turtle, one of a few, was out basking in the sun.

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The second and far more ridiculous of my two finds was a wintering Common Yellowthroat (Geoythypis trichas).  This warbler species is supposed to be down on the Gulf Coast at this time of year- not hanging out by the side of a creek in central Illinois!  This was one of TWO I found in January, the second down at Larue-Pine Hills Research Natural Area in Union co. Illinois, both in marshy grasslands with open water.

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After a couple of weeks, I went south for my last semester of college, to the Shawnee Hills.  I’ve earned a reputation in certain corners of the internet for praising Southern Illinois a lot, and this isn’t unearned.  As the landscape above shows (taken from Grand Tower Island) the Snow Geese wander around this area in January, and in great numbers, and with great scenery as a backdrop, and everything is “great” and I’m overusing that word now and this is a run-on sentence and I don’t know how to end it.  Ope, there we go.

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Here’s those Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens), along with a few Greater White-fronted Geese (foreground, orange bills and brown bodies, Anser albifrons), hanging out in a nearby shallow wetland just off Route 3 in Jackson co Illinois.  They’ve all mostly migrated out of here by now, but for two months the air was thick with Snow Geese down here.

Snow Geese aren’t the only large, mostly white birds to pass through this area…

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WHOOPING CRANES!  A pair of these incredibly rare, endangered birds (Grus americana) overwinter in a secret location in Southern Illinois.  This pair will fly back to Wisconsin in the summertime, where they’ve been reintroduced. Note that they were photographed from inside a car and we used a decent amount of zoom.  Don’t approach Whooping Cranes too closely, as there are less than a thousand of them in the world and scaring them could potentially do considerable harm.

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Another quite rare bird I found (this one personally) in January was a pair of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) , one of which is photographed.  I found a third one at Larue-Pine Hills a month later, in late February. These birds are uncommon migrants through southern Illinois.  Back in the 1970s, Golden Eagles were recorded annually in parts of southern Illinois, following massive flocks of Canada Geese as they made their way south to forage here.  However, more recently farmers have started plowing their fields in the spring, leaving some corn remaining in their fields overwinter, and geese distributions shifted.  Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, and Greater White-fronted Geese came in and now feed upon the remains of corn in the area, while Canada Geese remain much further north. (This is potentially oversimplifying the shift in geese, to see some more causes read this article linked here) The Golden Eagles shifted their range also, although some still come down this far south after ducks and geese.

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In addition to the rarer birds, I found this Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) occupying a nest somewhere in the Mississippi River Valley.  Unlike many bird species, Great Horned Owls nest during the winter and typically take over other bird’s former nests.

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While driving around looking for salamanders the other night, some friends and I came across this Barred Owl (Strix varia) sitting on a road side and quite willing to pose for photos.

Little Gull

One of the rarest birds I’ve gotten to see of late, and the only new one (lifer!) for me was this Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus), the bird with the black underwing in the blurry photo above.  A predominately Eurasian species that rarely nests in the US and Canada, Little Gulls sometimes tag along with large flocks of other gull species and migrate through Illinois.  I’ve tried and failed to find several over the years, and I finally found this one at Carlyle Lake with a friend last week.

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Alright, after spamming all those rarer birds, let’s cool off with some ice formations from Trillium Trail at Giant City State Park, before moving on to small and cute birds.

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Over this winter, an unprecedented irruption (winter movement) of Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) occurred in the Eastern United States.  This species of bird lives in the boreal forests of Canada and feeds upon pine and spruce seeds.  In years of a poor seed crop (like this year) they move south in numbers to feed on pine seeds.  As the Shawnee Hills have many pine plantations and naturalized pines, Red-breasted Nuthatches thrive here during the winter.  Coming from the Canadian wilderness, Red-breasted Nuthatches have limited fear of people.

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Unlike the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Warblers (Setophaga pinus) are found predominantly in the Southern US and up until the last few years they did not winter in Illinois regularly.  However as the climate warms just a bit and the pine plantations grow up and age, Pine Warblers become more and more frequent in Southern Illinois over the winter.

Birds are not my sole interest in life, however, and while they’re one of the few things to look at in January that will look back at you and show signs of life, I have looked for

On iNaturalist, I’ve joined the Illinois Botanists Big Year.  This is a competition to see who can observe the most plant species in Illinois over the course of this year.   I have a decent start going, mostly due to the fact that in residing near the Shawnee Hills I have access to a wide swath of biodiversity and far less snow cover than Northern Illinois.  Actually,  I might be downplaying my lead a little too much.  As of 3/4/19, I have 299 plant observations of 143 species.  The second highest observer in the competition is at 95 observations of 87 species.  I don’t expect to win overall- there’s a lot of time left and far more experienced botanists participating- but it definitely feels great to be #1 for now.  For more information visit this link here to go to the project’s homepage.

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Arguably the best plant I’ve seen this year was the Appalachian Filmy Fern above (Vandenboschia boschiana).  This bizarre fern with fronts one cell layer thick only grows in fully shaded, south-facing sandstone or other acidic rocks, with constant high humidity. It’s a VERY specific microhabitat, and as a result this fern is state-endangered in Illinois and only found in a few locations. I took a walk back to one of the locations in February and found it hiding there.

Cypressknee Sedge

Another rare plant in Illinois is Cypressknee Sedge (Carex decomposita) which grows on stumps, fallen logs, cypress “knees”, the sides of dead trees, and other dead masses of wood in slow-moving waters.   Plants can grow in some bizarre locations.

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This Asplenium pinnatifidum was a wonderful find, an uncommon fern growing in sandstone in Giant City State Park.  Half the leaves in that photo belong to an unrelated plant.

Harbinger-of-Spring

While many people semi-seriously use the prognostications of “Punxsutawney Phil” the groundhog to predict the end of winter, a far better sign of spring is the so-called Harbinger-of-Spring (Eregenia bulbosa), an early-flowering woodland plant shown above.  That being said, I went out and found this plant in late February.  It’s early March and there’s currently snow on the ground.   Plants and groundhogs say what they will, winter doesn’t end until it wants to.

In all seriousness, I was quite glad to find this plant, and while it might be cold now winter does come to an end soon and it will be spring.  The woods along Hutchins Creek (below) will be green before long, and I look forwards to it!

Hutchins Creek

Many people are not aware of the number of salamanders that can move on warm, rainy nights in the late winter.   This causes mass deaths of salamanders when they reach a road and have to cross it on a rainy night.  Thus, friends and I go out and move the salamanders across the road in the direction they’re trying to go, in order that they may survive to reproduce.

Spotted Sal

One of the first salamanders of the year is the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), found in high-quality woods locally.  A friend and I spent a night moving a half-dozen of these from a busy state highway, including the gorgeous individual shown above.  Salamanders require fishless wetlands, typically large vernal (springtime-only) pools in woodlands, in order to reproduce.  Many die each year during their trek to the pools, and I’m glad we helped a few.

Crawfish Frog

Another specialist of fishless wetlands is the Crawfish Frog (Lithobates areolatus).  This species gets its name from its residence inside crayfish burrows, from which hundreds emerge every February-March in order to spend a week reproducing out in flooded fields.  Crawfish Frogs are extremely light sensitive and will retreat underwater or underground at the approach of light.  Thus, the only way to see one is to drive along a road slowly in an area where the Crawfish Frogs breed and hope for a “dumb” one to remain on the road for a minute when it sees lights.  Thankfully the lights it saw were ours and we got it off the road before it was run over.

Marbled Sal

In lowland swamps, another salamander that moves on warm rainy nights is the Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum), perhaps the most beautiful of Illinois salamanders.

PSA, if you can’t tell by now, don’t go driving on warm (40s-50s), rainy nights in wooded or lowland areas, or if you do, keep an eye out for salamanders and other amphibians crossing the road.  If you encounter a salamander on the road, wear plastic gloves (preferentially) and move it across the road in the direction it was initially facing when you first encountered it.

Northern Dusky Salamander

To switch up, here’s a couple individuals of the Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus).  These salamanders originated in Tennessee, but they are used as fishing bait and as a result were transported to Illinois.  They have since taken over a couple hundred feet of a spring-fed stream and now live there in an isolated colony, the only Northern Dusky Salamander population in the state.  An older one below shows how good they are at hiding on the creekbed.

Hidden N. Dusky Sal

While looking for other salamanders in another spot, a friend accidentally flipped this Blackspotted Topminnow (Fundulus olivaceus) out from under a rock.  I grabbed it and after a quick photo released it straight back into the creek.  This is, so far, the most interesting fish I’ve seen this year, and a first state record on iNaturalist.  It’s nice to get that database in agreement with official data, and it’s nice to get a new fish species I’ve not encountered before.

Blackspotted Topminnow

Is this shorter? Probably not. It’s recap of two months worth of observations, however.  Considering that I’ve left out much of what I’ve seen (which y’all can view on my iNaturalist page at this link here) I feel it’s a good length.  That being said, I will try to keep it shorter from now on. Until then, have a good week!

January of The Big Year!

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As I talked about last year, I’m doing a county Big Year this year…. While I run a Facebook page on the topic, I figured a recap where I can tell more long-winded adventures might be nice!  I also figured I’d save a few stories back for this blog.  Trust me, when you commit to looking for as many bird species as possible, you see strange sights and wander mysterious paths. Roads you thought were impassible as an ordinary human being become almost driveable.  Then reality nearly drives you off a cliff… more on that later.  Also, some of these I didn’t want to mention at the time, and I’ve decided to give them two week’s grace period before revealing what happened.

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My main competition is the setter of the record last year, Jim Tudor, who from what little I know appears to be a retiree with a backyard that draws all the birds I have trouble finding.  As a busy college student with no backyard and far less experience in Jackson County, I’m the underdog.  I also missed the first 13 days of January, which means that I was playing catch-up for the first two weeks.  This left very little time for blogging and other extra activities, which is why this is out in February.  I can be complacent for a week or so, but once the next big thaw happens I need to be out and after Wilson’s Snipes and other early migrants.

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Sunday, January 14- The Big Year began with half an inch of ice covering most of the backroads and ground… it wasn’t a great start. I drove down Route 127 and found 20 species. The best were probably the 8 Trumpeter Swans just off Route 127 behind a silo on the west side, south of Vergennes.  The Trumpeter Swans in this area, according to their neckbands, are banded during the summer in Wisconsin.  Another find of interest was a Barred Owl sitting by the side of the road.

That night, in a supremely idiotic move, a friend and I decided to go owling (listening for owls) at Giant City, despite the ice.  It was fine until we decided to leave…. and drove up a sheet of ice.  On one side was a slight bank and then a hill, and on the other side was a 15-foot drop off into a creek.  We slid down and hit the bank.  I tried to go forwards, and nothing happened.  I had my friend get out of the car, while I backed it down. I’d back down into the main road, go a bit, and then slide back into the ditch. This happened eight times before we  were off the slickest part of the ice.  From there I reversed down a gradual slope for 200 feet before the road was wide enough to turn around safely and drive back to the cleared highway.

All we had to show for this misadventure was one Barred Owl, and only I heard it.

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Monday, January 15- So, I was going to do a Big Day and find a ton of bird species on Martin Luther King Jr. Day… that didn’t happen, because after the previous night’s escapades that would have been very dumb.  You can see a photo of the ice above.  I went to the Carbondale Reservoir and Campus Lake instead, and added 31 species for a total of 51 for the year… I don’t think that’s too bad. The best was probably a lone Red-breasted Merganser in a small hole in the ice on the Carbondale Reservoir, though the 147 Northern Shovelers on Campus Lake in another hole in the ice were also a good find! The half-inch of ice on the ground made the passerines flock close to the roads, paths, and fruiting holly trees- which made it a lot easier for me to find them!

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Tuesday, January 16-  Today I found eight new bird species, the best of which was an American Black Duck at the Carbondale Reservoir, and two Brown Thrashers at Marberry Arboretum. The Red-shouldered Hawk at Marberry was very patient, as was the Pileated Woodpecker, so I took pictures of both. There were dozens of robins and waxwings at the holly bushes near the entrance to Evergreen Park.   While I was exploring those parks, Don Mullison found a number of duck species and a Merlin (falcon, not the second/third most famous wizard in the world) at Cedar Lake Dam.  I’d never been there, but I apparently needed to go!


So, after class, that’s where I went on Jan 17.  I hiked in about a mile to view the open water with binoculars.  This got me 13  new species, the highlight of which were two Mute Swan (rare in this county) and six duck species (Common and Hooded Merganser, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Canvasback, and Common Goldeneye).  A Great Horned Owl seen in flight at Campus Lake was also new for the year.

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On January 18 I had things to do, and I only found two new species- American Goldfinch, and Northern Pintail- on a quick stop at Campus Lake. Still, every bird counts!  Campus Lake’s Northern Shoveler bonanza continued:

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January 19-  I had one very productive hour walking around Campus Lake.  I found three new birds: Purple Finch, Fox Sparrow, and Red-headed Woodpecker (I’d now found all seven expected species of woodpecker in this county).


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January 20 was busy. I meant to spend the day entirely in Jackson County and solo, but ended up roaming through Williamson and Union Counties for extended periods with a few different friends. That being said, I did get quite a few good birds (Rusty and Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbird in a giant blackbird flock near Fountain Bluff, Killdeer by the side of the highway between Murphysboro and Carbondale, Field Sparrows along the northern part of the Big Muddy Levee, a Cooper’s Hawk at Campus Lake, and a random female Wood Duck at the reservoir)… and an even better find.

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I haven’t seen River Otters since May 2016. Finding a pair in the same spot as a pair of continuing rare Mute Swans (the Country Club pond, birded only from the road) was a great end to the day! (Actually it wasn’t the end, but the pathetic results of an owling attempt afterwards make it the end of the day.) Including what I saw in Williamson and Union counties, I saw 72 species in that one day- not bad for January in southern IL!


January 21- After church I went over to the reservoir to hunt down Bonaparte’s Gulls. None were forthcoming, but I did find an American Coot. I then decided to investigate Kinkaid Lake, which proved to be very foggy. I did find an Eastern Phoebe while driving over, and three Ross’s Geese flew overhead while driving away… clearly I just need to spend more time driving.  I decided to stop by the Carbondale Reservoir again, and ran into  Don Mullison there who pointed out an uncommon first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull, alongside a large number of ducks and gulls.

Unlike many other counties in Illinois, winter gull species are only rarely found in Jackson County. On my list of rare birds I’m trying to find, Lesser Black-backed Gull is a Code 6- the rarest category. It’s never been recorded on Ebird before in this county!  I then realized I had something important to do that I’d forgotten about, so though Don found an American Wigeon I wasn’t able to find it. Still, that’s a pretty common duck and I found a few later.

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January 22 I didn’t expect to see anything, but I was wrong! I had a Pine Siskin in with a large flock of American Goldfinches feeding on sweet gum balls near my residence. I also drove north of town during a gap in my time, and I found two Eurasian Collared-doves and two Tundra Swans. (I about blew off the road getting back to town, the gusts were highly unpleasant!) The swans are quite rare, and made for my third and final swan species in this county. I’ve now seen 15 species of ducks, 3 swan species of swans, and 5 species of goose in Jackson County.  Jim Tudor caught up with an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (not the same as the one from the night before).


January 23 was a struggle, for the most part, to find anything new. I went out most of the afternoon looking for Rough-legged Hawks, and I didn’t find any. I did find at least one of the abeticola subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, many Northern Harriers, many Trumpeter (and the continuing Tundra) Swans, and even four Short-eared Owls, which are new for the county big year. Those were flying over Knight Hawk strip mine, at the very last spot I checked as I was leaving northern Jackson County. I repeat- the very last spot. I was in that area for an HOUR before I found them, but the quantity sufficiently made up for the time spent!

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After this, I had a cold for three days (January 24, 25, and 26).  Jim Tudor passed me.


January 27-  I recovered on the 26th and went out with friends on the 27th, which was definitely pushing it.  Despite the remnants of my cold,  I found three new year species (Green-winged Teal, Merlin, and  Wild Turkey) and a LOT of other birds- 185 Black Vultures, two Black Ducks, all resident woodpeckers, and out of Jackson County seven Trumpeter Swans, two Winter Wrens (both seen) one Loggerhead Shrike, a pair of Merlin (county line birds are the best!) 150,000 + blackbirds, 10 Northern Harriers, and 12 Short-eared Owls (a new personal high count).

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Basically I’m a tour guide on Saturdays. I take people around Southern Illinois, show them all the pretty spots (Kinkaid Lake Spillway, Inspiration Point, etc.) point out all the wildlife, and in exchange I get paid in gas.  On this day we decided to drive down Snake Road and look for herps.  On the herp list, we found  3 Zigzag Salamanders, 7 Cave Salamanders, two Eastern Newts (pictured), 2 Spring Peepers, one Cricket Frog, three Green Frogs, one Western Ribbon Snake, and one Cottonmouth (pictured). (That’s a LOT for January in IL).

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I then went up to Pyramid State Park to show the Short-eared Owl population off.  As I drove  in, some gigantic Vermont-plated dark green Humvee slowly creeps down the middle of the road.  I moved to the right of it, and the guy rolls down his window.

“You guys got a lighter?”

Yeah, just by saying “you guys”-  he’s definitely not from Southern Illinois, and between the smell and the green end of the rolled-up blunt in his mouth, it was quite clear what he was smoking.

“No.” -from me.

It would have been “No, sorry” but I wasn’t sorry to get out of there.

“That’s BS, you all smoking back there and none of youse got a lighter.”

Just to be clear, none of us were smoking and this guy should NOT have been operating a bicycle, let alone what is very nearly a road-legal tank.  We left him alone to go see the Short-eared Owls.  I point out one at a distance, and then mentioned that “Sometimes you’ll see the harriers and the owls fight, keep your eyes out.”  Less than ten seconds later, out the left windows- Northern Harrier fighting a Short-eared Owl!

As we watch the brief fight, I look behind us, and the Humvee is rolling up.  I move over to the side to let the guy pass us, and he moves right behind me, not slowing down much.  So, I stepped on the gas and drove down the dead-end road in this section, with the Humvee driving all over the road, but never slowing down and never passing even when I gave it opportunites to do so.   I told the other guys in the car to arm themselves with whatever I could find in case this guy tries to do something, and then noticed that I was on E on the gas tank.

WONDERFUL!

We reached the dead end, and turned head on to confront the Humvee driver.  Suddenly, he just turned around and drove back down the road.  I don’t know why, but we were free to look at what became a high count of 12 Short-eared Owls and then race to the nearest gas station.


On January 28 I found a Rough-legged Hawk and 5 American Wigeon in northern Jackson County, adding two for the yearlist. I also ventured over into Perry County (like I did yesterday) to get better photos of Short-eared Owls. I succeeded.  There were no Humvees.

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January 29 I did not try for anything- the wind was howling and I was exhausted. I’d pushed myself too hard the previous two days and received my consequences.  Jim Tudor caught up.


On January 30 I had a swing and a miss on Whooping Cranes out-of-county… but I got to 100!  #98 was a surprise Pied-billed Grebe at the dam by the Carbondale Reservoir, #99 was four Bonaparte’s Gulls by the dam at Kinkaid Lake, and #100 was an Eastern Screech-owl at Cedar Lake.


January 31 I didn’t go birding.  For every bigger day of birding there’s the following catch-up days that allow me to go out again.  Jim Tudor caught up in birds, meanwhile.

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On February 1 I did a brief trip over to some piney woods to find the elusive Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch. I also got to watch someone be pulled out of the mud there. Hint- if there’s a gate across a road, there’s probably a reason for it.

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I was then gone for a family event over the next three days.  Jim Tudor passed me.


Cut to February 5- I came back and explored Campus Lake and Carbondale Reservoir.  I found one new bird- Bufflehead- and with that all the easy ducks except Blue-winged Teal had been found. I tied Jim Tudor at 103 sp and got to see some very cute Hooded Mergansers:

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On February 6  Jim Tudor, finding a Pine Warbler in his backyard, passed me again, with 104 species to my 103.   I found no new birds for the county- and I didn’t really intend to.  I went off and got my Illinois state lifer #275, Red-necked Grebe, at Baldwin Lake in St. Clair County. I’d like to get to 300 lifers in Illinois in the next couple of years, and get better looks at about 50 of the birds I’ve already seen.  I also more than doubled my Snow Goose and Ross’ Goose high counts (34600 and 57, respectively).

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Furthermore, I also found the pair of Whooping Cranes that had eluded me previously.  I’ve seen 3 Whooping Cranes in the last year, and zero Sandhill Cranes, despite there being roughly 1083 Sandhill Cranes for every living Whooping Crane in existence.  Birds are strange.  I’ll leave you with that thought.

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List of Birds I Need (Birds bolded have been seen already) linked here.

The Jackson County Big Year- Planning

Jackson County Big Year Map

So, for those not familiar with the “The Big Year”, a comedy starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson about three birders competing to see as many bird species as possible in the United States and Canada as possible, I’ll be doing that next year… to a significantly lesser extent.  A continental Big Year costs tens of thousands of dollars at minimum.  A county Big Year?  Well, it’ll probably won’t cost me much besides time, at least in terms of money I would already be spending.  I like getting outside anyway, and it’d be fun to get to know Jackson County, Illinois a bit better.

Jackson County consists of a wide variety of habitats, delineated by blue lines.

The northern and northeastern 1/3 of the county is a mix of plains forest, cropfields, and strip mines, as well as reclaimed strip mines.  Strip mines are perfect grassland habitat for rarer birds like Short-eared Owls and Loggerhead Shrikes, and in the summertime Dickcissels and grassland sparrows. The mysterious shrub-swamp Campbell Lake takes up the northeastern corner of Jackson County. The reclaimed strip mine territory up here is EXTREMELY underbirded, considering the species that could live in such an area.  Almost all birding in Jackson County is restricted to the central and western areas.

Target Species- Swans, Cackling Goose, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl,  Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, Sedge Wren,  Bell’s Vireo, Dickcissel, Henslow’s Sparrow

The plains give way to mostly-forested hills with lots of ravines in the southeastern and central part of Jackson County, including some of the best woodlands in the state.  These areas should be good for a wide variety of breeding and migrating warblers, as well as for thrushes.  Several reservoirs also exist in this area.

Target Species- Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser (and other ducks),  Chuck-wills-widow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill

Below the plains is the bottomlands along the Mississippi River, along with some forested areas,.  A small marshy patch in Oakwood Bottoms, and  the large fluddle areas throughout this region, should provide plenty of shorebird and heron habitat.  This is some of the best shorebird habitat in the region.

Target Species:  American Bittern, Sora, shorebirds, herons, Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant,  Black Tern, Least Tern, Merlin, Lark Sparrow, LeConte’s Sparrow

January- I’ll try to get all the wintering birds, especially owls.  Riverwatching for Trumpeter/Tundra Swans is also on the books.  This also seems the most likely month for Ring-necked Pheasant, if one was to ever show up here. This will also be the time to finalize plans for the year and get advice from other birders on what to see where.  Also, this is when I plan to ask permission of the fish farm owners to visit their establishments.  Red Crossbills and Snowy Owls are in an irruption year- this will be the month to get either if I do.  Hoping to end the month with 80 species.  Side goal- find Red Crossbills in Jackson County (again).

February- Ducks migrate.  Late February is the time to search for loons and scoters on some of the more isolated lakes, particularly Kinkaid Lake and Cedar Lake.  Hoping to end the month with 100 species.  Side goal- get an unexpected gull and/or Snow Bunting

March- Between Snoring Thunder (frog trip), emerging snakes at Snake Road, and Greater Prairie-chicken lek-watching a few counties away, this month is going to be busy.  I plan to search for Woodcocks and early migrants with the little time I have remaining.  Checking backroads for the last winter species and stray Smith’s Longspur should help.  Hoping to end the month with 125 species.  Side goal- Swan species

April- Migration continues, and I get busier.  Check for American Bittern and Sora in Oakwood Bottoms- if I miss them in April, I’m out of luck for the year.  Hopefully get to 150 species.  Side goal- find a member of Rallidae that isn’t a Coot or a Sora.

May- MIGRATION! Also BUSIEST!  I have a lot of tests and work to do in this month, so I suspect there will be a lot of misses. Most of the birds to look for will be warblers, but also White-rumped Sandpipers and Godwits (if any) should be easier at this time. The goal will be 165 species by the end of the month. Side goal- get a Chestnut-sided Warbler (my warbler nemesis).

June- Clean up all the resident warblers and passerines. If no Least Terns by now, get Least Terns.   Hopefully be at 170 by the end of the month.  Side goal- see and not just hear a Cerulean Warbler.

July- Early fall shorebirds, waders -perhaps I’ll get lucky with a White Ibis or some other  Southern wader.  Hoping to break 175 this month.  Side goal- get a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

August- Target waders and shorebirds, then switch to warblers and flycatchers towards the end of the month.  Hopefully I’ll be over 180 by the end of the month.  Side goal- find 15 shorebird species

September-  Find whatever I missed in the spring warbler-wise and get as many shorebirds as possible.  Break the record of 186.  Side goal- observe five passerines I missed in the spring.

October- Hawkwatching near the bluffs for whatever comes along.  Ducks return- check them over.   Finish up warblers if I’m missing any (hopefully not- anything I get in October should be stuff I’ve seen already, insofar as warblers go).  Check for LeConte’s Sparrows at fish farms.  Side goal-if not seen by now, find a Peregrine Falcon.

November- Weird stuff shows up in November.   Find it.  Also- owls I missed.  Find them.  It’ll be a worse winter for finches and Snowy Owls than the previous winter, at least I’d expect so.  Side goal -get all three Merganser species.

December- Get whatever wintering birds I missed, and see about swans if I missed any.  Busy month, probably 1 species added at the most.  Side goal- if not done by now, find a Barn Owl.

Click on this sentence to see the list of birds I hope to find in Jackson County.