A Travellerspoint blog

January Big Day: the quest for 75!

Cook County, IL

rain 34 °F

One day. Four young birders. One county. Would we break the record set two years ago (by Steve H and Nathan G) of 74 species? Read on to find out!

At 3:45am, the Tolzmanns and I drove over to a where we met Henry M and started our epic big day adventure at a preserve close to home. We dipped on our hoped-for Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls, but did have a surprise flyover calling HORNED LARK in the pitch black, our first bird of the day, and a RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD calling which was our second.

Then, at another preserve twenty minutes away, we finally picked up our EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS for the day where we recorded a pair of calling birds. Still needing Barred & Great Horned Owls, we headed down to Palos at McClaughry Springs Woods where all was quiet, so we headed to another preserve nearby.

There, we picked up a pair of duetting GREAT HORNED OWLS in the pitch black which continued calling during first light, and soon as the morning slowly peered through the branches of the forest, some songbirds started coming to life including AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, DARK-EYED JUNCO, and AMERICAN ROBIN. We walked down one of the paths we had staked out earlier and were able to clean up some great saves for the day including CAROLINA WREN, EASTERN BLUEBIRD, BROWN CREEPER, and PILEATED WOODPECKER.

After another stop which netted us common birds like AMERICAN TREE SPARROW and flyover RING-BILLED GULL, and two really good songbird catches for the winter — WINTER WREN (ironically) and GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET — we headed to Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center where the highlight was this continuing SHARP-SHINNED HAWK I picked up in a tree one hundred yards away. My first Sharpie in Cook County in a number of years, a bird I do not see all too often!
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Next stop was out of Palos: a random Chicago intersection where we immediately picked up twenty EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES:
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No hoped-for Red-shouldered Hawk at our next stop but we had AMERICAN CROW:
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We missed Canvasback, Pied-billed Grebe, and Black-crowned Night-Heron at Channelside Park but picked up a few nice things like BELTED KINGFISHER:
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HOODED MERGANSER:
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COMMON GOLDENEYE:
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GREAT BLUE HERON:
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After a stupidly annoying miss on Marsh Wren, we were at about 40 species which could go either way. If we had great luck on the South Side later today, we would still have a shot at the record — but the stars would pretty much have to align for this to happen and we would have to find a way to fill in some of the gaps on our list. At Northwestern we picked up RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:
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HERRING GULL, though none of the rarer hoped-for gulls:
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After a moment of despair, we finally found the resident flock of RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH which we knew we wouldn’t get anywhere else:
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PEREGRINE FALCON at a northside location was clutch:
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Montrose was annoyingly slow apart from the pair of LONG-EARED OWLS which have amazingly stayed in the same place since we saw them last. Things were looking slightly less hopeful after Montrose was so dead (we had hoped for Gulls, maybe Pied-billed Grebe, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Towhee — got none of those):
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Thankfully, the resident wild ducks that associate with the banded captive ducks at Lincoln Park Zoo came through including WOOD and this AMERICAN BLACK DUCK:
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Doesn’t count for the species list but a lifer hybrid for me: MALLARD X AMERICAN WIGEON (female):
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GREEN-WINGED TEAL, our only of the day:
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I was thrilled to spot another target for the day — a pair of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS which were another species we only got here today!
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Despite some worrying precipitation, the downtown lakefront provided a number of nice pickups for the day like REDHEAD:
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I was relieved to pick out this Thayer’s ICELAND GULL (note the dark eye) from the more common Herrings:
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GREATER SCAUP (we also picked up LESSER SCAUP, COMMON MERGANSER, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, and RUDDY DUCK here):
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A brief scan at Jackson Park got us our only CANVASBACK of the day, a great spot by Simon pictured here with more Scaup:
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And a BUFFLEHEAD I spotted:
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Two southside parks were extremely unproductive (missing Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Ring-necked Duck, and others) with only stuff like repeat RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:
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And more Redhead:
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But the continuing CACKLING GEESE (note the smaller, stubbier bills than the surrounded CANADAS) showed well at Calumet Park, another important find for the day as they were are only of the day:
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Another great pick-up was three MONK PARAKEET pictured here with EUROPEAN STARLINGS. Things were starting to look up as we were at about sixty species by now. The record was within reach!
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We dipped on Trumpeter Swan but picked up COOPER’S HAWK and these GADWALL in Calumet:
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Big Marsh was one of our most important stops which put us in reach of the record. AMERICAN GOLDFINCH:
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COOPER’S HAWK:
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We picked up FOX, SWAMP, SONG, & WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS here and Simon’s best spot of the day on the way out was this flyover dark-morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, a very hard county bird and my Cook lifer! This put us at 72 species for the day, tantalizingly close to the record of 74 (75 to break).
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The route the GPS took us on to our next stop took as by Harborside Golfcourse which we thought was closed (because we called earlier), but it was OPEN miraculously, and we were ahead of schedule, so we went in in hopes of Northern Mockingbird, Mute Swan, Pied-billed Grebe, and Ring-necked Duck. And we were NOT disappointed!! NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD showed amazingly well, our 73rd bird of the day, one shy of tying the record.
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Distant BALD EAGLE:
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The other guys photographing the Mockingbird:
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Then, after scanning Lake Calumet, I saw a white blob two miles away on this huge lake and shouted, “MUTE FUCKING SWAN! MUTE FUCKING SWAN!!!!!!!!” And with that, we had tied the record!!! 74 species and one more to break!
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There were a handful of possibilities to break the record at the Bend of the Little Calumet River such as Ring-necked Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Surf Scoter, Double-crested Cormorant…so when Peter and I sprinted across 130th, we waited for Simon and Henry M to cross before starting to scan.
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And Peter spotted our tie-breaking bird, #75, the PIED-BILLED GREBE! This diminutive bird netted us the Cook County January big day record, a title I nearly missed in 2021 so this was sweet redemption.

AWESOME!!!!! We were thrilled.
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Posing with our record breaker. Simon, me, Peter, and Henry M.
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Unfortunately, we dipped on Short-eared Owl later, but we DID get a BARRED OWL hooting in the southern part of the county which was our #76 and last bird for the day! We were even able to record it calling. So awesome, and this wrapped up our day at a reasonable 6:00pm.

So, I was home by 7:45 and enjoyed some celebratory, homemade green tea ice cream. Yum!
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Bird-of-the-day to our record-breaking PIED-BILLED GREBE with runners-up to all the important pick-up birds we only got once during the day and were therefore essential to our route & record: SHARP-SHINNED & ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, EASTERN SCREECH, GREAT HORNED, BARRED, & LONG-EARED OWLS, CANVASBACK, CACKLING GOOSE, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, and ICELAND & LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS. Lots of great pick-ups that with slightly a different execution of timing or route could have been missed and lost us the record. What a PHENOMENAL big day!!!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1143 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:53 Archived in USA

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Comments

Amazing! Way to keep at it even when it looked like all hope was lost. Thank you for your posts; I glean so many birding tips and tricks from your writings.

by Claire Loretz

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