A Travellerspoint blog

December Big Day

Cook County, IL

snow 36 °F

Sorry about the false alarm earlier — I accidentally clicked “post” before I was actually finished writing here so I deleted the post immediately after. But finally, here it is — last weekend’s big day report!

Sunday, Isoo O, Jake C & I set out to break the December single-county big day record in Illinois. Since we had the entire next evening for owling (and the conditions looked good for it), we decided a moderate start time of 6:30am would do the trick. So our day started off at Plum Creek Forest Preserve in Sauk Trail and as soon as we got out of our cars, I heard our first bird of the day hooting in the distance: a pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS duetting! Super cool. FYI — this big day was done with separate vehicles and masks all day so we were properly safe.


Then, the local pair of BARRED OWLS started hooting as well! Super awesome! We even tracked one down hooting right above the trail.

Due to the fast-paced nature of the big day, we could only admire for a short time, but I was able to get a short clip of its amazing call (from fifteen feet away!) at this youtube link:

Next stop were the Lynwood farm fields where our targets were Ring-necked Pheasant and Horned Lark, and although we dipped on both we did pick up AMERICAN KESTREL and this NORTHERN FLICKER:

After that, it was off to Cap Sauer Holding in Palos where it was snowing (off and on precipitation the whole day), but we thankfully snagged a really tough bird there — PILEATED WOODPECKER. The usual seed that is strewn about the trailhead was absent, probably due to weather, so we gave up hopes trying to find other birds there fairly soon after and continued on to Sagawau Nature Center. Here we picked up our only definitive RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD for the day, sitting here with AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES and HOUSE FINCHES:

PINE SISKINS were another addition to the day list here:

Next stop — Saganashkee Slough where we added a number of things including another passerine we were hoping not to miss today — CEDAR WAXWING:

Waterbirds added here included HERRING & RING-BILLED GULLS, my first Illinois COMMON GOLDENEYE of the year (lol), COMMON MERGANSERS, and these HOODED & RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS:

We dipped on the continuing Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center so then headed back east to the Calumet region, specifically Harborside Golfcourse...to find the gates CLOSED! Arghhhh! With the gates closed, we had an automatic miss on species like Canvasback, Ring-necked & Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, and possibly others. Isoo said at that point we should just call it a day and bird casually, but Jake and I convinced him that it would be worth continuing since there are just so few December big day records for the state.

So, we somewhat half-heartedly kept on birding at Big Marsh where we picked up NORTHERN PINTAIL with these MALLARDS:

As well as BALD EAGLE, pictured here with a RING-BILLED GULL:

And our only MUTE SWANS of the day:

Indian Ridge Marsh added NORTHERN SHOVELER & GADWALL to our count, our only location with Shoveler sunday. With these new additions, we picked up the pace again and were once again on a roll.

PEREGRINE FALCON on a tower — a fantastic scope job by Isoo!

At Lake Calumet we dipped on Canvasback & Trumpeter Swan since the gate was closed and we didn’t have time to walk all the way to the dike road, but we did pick up our other target there — our only COMMON REDPOLLS of the day:

And we picked up this GREATER SCAUP on the way out, which we thought was Lesser until we gave the photos a closer inspection. Lessers have a more blocky-looking head with the highest point of the crown appearing further back than Greaters.

After a surprising dip on Monk Parakeets at their nests under the Skyway Bridge (first time we’ve ever dipped there!), we continued on to Rainbow Beach Park. A COOPER’S HAWK sitting alongside Lake Shore Drive on the way there was our only one of the day and Isoo and I managed to get on it, but not Jake. Dirty bird!

SWAMP SPARROW was an addition at Rainbow:


REDHEAD, a new addition for the day, sticking out among LESSER & (predominantly) GREATER SCAUP:

HORNED GREBE, our only for the day:

We were running just 3-5 minutes behind schedule at this point, so keeping fairly good time, and hurried off to Washington Park to snag CACKLING GOOSE. Jake came in clutch and spotted 3 within 2 minutes of arriving so we were off again quickly. Look at that small bill!

Next was our most strenuous part of the day: Lincoln Park Zoo & North Pond. It would be nearly impossible to find street parking for three vehicles close to each other so we opted to park in the Zoo lot but this only gave us thirty minutes to bird both locations for free before we had to pay $25 per vehicle. So, we SPRINTED! And boy was I winded — running with boots is not the move, but I forgot/didn’t have time to change shoes. At least we got every last one of our targets at these locations — AMERICAN WIGEON & AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS with the MALLARDS at the zoo. Yes, these are confirmed wild birds.

Our only wild GREEN-WINGED TEAL of the day with more Mallards and a captive Barrow’s Goldeneye:

We dashed across Fullerton Ave to North Pond, scoped the pond and Isoo spotted this BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON on the far end of the pond.

And on the way out I found a long-lingering NASHVILLE WARBLER which we all got views of before running back to the cars! We started the engines, cruised out, and made it out in under 26 minutes. And with all our targets! Cool!

Montrose Point was tricky because we had to find street parking on Marine Drive (it is once again completely closed to cars), but we managed by sprinting in again (this time I changed into sneakers) and snagging the lone SNOW GOOSE that continues here with the Canadas:

I picked up another dirty bird for the day here, FIELD SPARROW, which unfortunately I couldn’t get my buddies on before it disappeared into the brush. At least we got enough species to count 3 dirty birds, our exact dirty bird count for the day! AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS were hanging out:

And a new addition for the day I spotted was this WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW:

Next, we hurried back to the cars and drove the 45 minutes down south to Killdeer Wetland in Tinley Park in search of Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier. Jake and I beat Isoo and we quickly found this SHORT-EARED OWL which was luckily still flying around when Isoo pulled up:

And a NORTHERN HARRIER soon joined a second owl that started flying around, as well. Super awesome! We made an unsuccessful stop at a pine stand for Red-breasted Nuthatch (a strange miss for the day), and the continued south to the Ridgeland Avenue farm fields where we picked up our last “daytime” bird for the day: calling HORNED LARKS just after sunset! That was quite a relief since we missed that species in the morning.

So, it was off to get a bite to eat and enjoy an absolutely wonderful day of big day birding. I ate delicious home-prepared food by Tian in order to stay safe from covid, FYI.

Now, we had the whole evening ahead of us to try for the rest of the owls we were missing: most likely Eastern Screech, but also possibly Northern Saw-whet, and even less likely, Long-eared or Barn. A stop back at Bartel Grassland was unproductive so we drove west again to try several locations in Palos. At our first location, we tried several times unsuccessfully for Screech, and finally tried a few times for Saw-whet since they had been detected at this location in the past, and after a few minutes, Isoo thought he heard a weird twitter.

So, we listened even more carefully and soon enough a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL gave its “comb” call much closer this time. We were ecstatic. It was Isoo’s first since the spring (this man has had a crazy big year this year), Jake’s first since 2013, and my first in a few years since the cooperative individuals in Central Park NY. This owl also gave an assortment of barks and whines which was super cool and I even managed to record one of them. Species #69 for the day, and a dang good one at that! Plus, this Saw-whet made sunday my first-ever 4-owl day! Super awesome.

We tried several locations after that, including Miller Meadow where we had another hooting Great Horned, and GAR & Thatcher Woods, but came up empty on Screech-Owl which is ironic since that is usually the “easiest” to get in the county.

So, we wrapped up an extremely successful — RECORD BREAKING — December big day! The previous county record was 65 from Lake County, so we set a new record! Super cool. And we could totally do better in the future since Harborside was closed making us miss several key waterfowl species, as well as some super obvious dips: White-throated Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Screech-Owl, and Monk Parakeet. List for the day is below.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1123 Species

Snow Goose
Cackling Goose IL YEAR BIRD
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye IL YEAR BIRD
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Horned Grebe
Mourning Dove
Feral Pigeon
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Short-eared Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl IL YEAR BIRD
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
House Sparrow
House Finch
Purple Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Nashville Warbler
Northern Cardinal

Posted by skwclar 04:41 Archived in USA

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Nice job to the three of you! Congrats!

by Poo

Wow! What a day! I especially loved the barred owl recording. Congrats to you all.

by katie

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by Ernest Tours tz

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