Welcome to another episode of Sunday evening birding!
This evening I went birding with birder Eric Walters in northeast Lake County, Illinois. We covered State Line Beach, Spring Bluff Forest Preserve, and the North & South Units of Illinois Beach State Park with our primary target being the diminutive Northern Saw-whet Owl. This was the last of his surveys of this species for the fall, as he surveys for this species in Illinois multiple times each October-November.
I rode the trusty ol' Metra up to Winthrop Harbor which was about an hour and a half train ride:
We started at State Line Beach, where the bird activity was low but Lake Michigan looked beautiful at sunset during this clear, pleasant day in the upper 50's/lower 60's:
We then continued to Spring Bluff Forest Preserve, where the activity was slow at first but then things started picking up. A pair of SANDHILL CRANES flew overhead and I photographed them on their descent into the marsh with "landing gear down," against a background of the sunset:
We then located them in the marsh:
200-300+ CANADA GEESE also flew over on their way to their evening roost:
One sub-flock within the larger flock held a much smaller goose that turned out to be my life bird CACKLING GOOSE! It is in the lower line of geese and appears to be the eleventh (much smaller) bird from the right:
The identification for this goose is positive because it is the only goose that is under half the size of the Canadas, as the above photograph illustrates. Then, we heard the begging screeches of two young GREAT HORNED OWLS, as well as the low-pitched calls of an adult. Here is one of the "young-uns" against the sunset:
This was an awesome sensory experience because as I was watching this owl silhouetted against the beautiful sunset, Canada Geese were trumpeting overhead and a not-so-distant pack of coyotes were howling vociferously. Soon, the sun was completely down and the beautiful crescent moon became obvious:
At that cue of nightfall, Eric and I surveyed various locations in Illinois Beach State Park for our target - the Northern Saw-whet Owl - a beautiful species that is a tad smaller than a Robin. The survey method is parking the car, opening all of the doors, and blasting the Northern Saw-whet Owl's various recorded calls into the wilderness; then, listening for responses from real birds between and after the calls are played. We soon picked up another GREAT HORNED as well as two EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS, both species being fairly common year-round residents across the state. Then, at our second-to-last survey location, Eric pointed out to me a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL responding to its recorded call by giving its ascending "Weerp!" call three times. It fell silent when a nearby Screech Owl started whinnying, but it was certainly a positive identification because we both heard it clearly! We could never locate either of the owls, but hearing "counts" just as much as seeing! This is what the location looked like where we heard the Saw-whet:
It was a fantastic evening and certainly a nice break from the hectic nature of this school year! Thanks so much to Eric Walters for letting me tag along on his final, and successful, Northern Saw-whet Owl survey!
Bird-of-the-day goes to my life bird NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, of course, and runner-up goes to my other life bird today - CACKLING GOOSE!
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is my 12th owl species this year, which is rather unprecedented as I have never gotten nearly this many owls in a single year! So I guess this continues my streak of "owl luck" this year! In addition, this is only the second time ever I have gotten three owl species in one evening!
The full species list from the evening is attached below.
World Life List: 867 Species
2 life birds today: Cackling Goose & Northern Saw-whet Owl
24 species today:
CACKLING GOOSE (1)
PEREGRINE FALCON (1) (from train)
Great Horned Owl
NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL (1)
American Tree Sparrow