The Birding Chronicles – 2023

Well, we are at it again. Ron and I have decided to once again take on the Average Year challenge. We are currently on the road to get this year started out on the right foot. With the counter reset, it is a whirlwind of activity as we fill up the easy slots and hunt down any rarities we can. As soon as I get the chance, I’ll let you know how it is going and get some of the stats up.

We now have the stats spreadsheets up and running. Here is the current look at how we are doing through the first week of March.

Quick summary of counts:

The Cumulative Species graph:

Our Daily Species graph:

Our Monthly Species graph:

Here is a recap of the various outings I’ve been on so far.

Update 05/28/2023: Ron camped with us overnight so we spent the day birding in and around the Chain O’ Lakes area. Plan for the day was to hit the State Park in the morning and then head over to Glacial Park Conservation Area to get a Sparrow species we needed there. Pretty obvious most of the Warblers had moved on from Chain, but there were still a few checks we were hoping for. The first was the Black Tern that we always see hunting the boat dock area and the waterways off the Goldfinch Trail. If we found it at Chain we could forego having to donate a gallon of blood to the horde of vampire mosquitoes at Goose Lake. At first we struck out – nothing much moving at all at the boat dock. As we were disappointingly heading out, Ron recommended we take one more look as we passed by…there is WAS! We both jumped out of the car, took some distant shots just in case and then headed to the water. Good thing we followed the “get something in the the tin first” golden rule as it had left by the time we covered the 50 yards or so. That was the ONLY time we spotted that species the rest of our stay there. Happy now we decided to bird the campground and the pond and nearby lake. Not much to report there, but did see some Wood Duck chicks that were uber-cute. Eventually made our way out to the entrance to see if the Black-Billed Cuckoo we found there last year had come back. As we slowly passed by the row of trees on the left I spotted it, but in the process of getting Ron to backup it dove down into the thicker shrub. We spent a long time traversing the tall grass and brush trying to locate it without luck. What we did manage to find was a Willow Flycatcher singing away on nearby tree – it even presented fairly well giving me a chance to get a number of shots. We noted the tent/bag worms were back in this tangle that the specimen we found last year was busy feeding off. At least it was back, just needed to try a little later to get it in the tin. Proceeded to bird the Goldfinch area, met a nice young lady that was in her first year of birding, Jessica if I remember correctly. For only birding a year, she was definitely up on her birding knowledge. Decided to head out to Glacial and took another pass at finding the Cuckoo. Caught a glimpse of it lower in the trees this time and struggled mightily to get The Beast to cut through the branches. Like last time, it quick took of deeper into the brush, but stopped probably the only branch I had a clean shot at. Grabbed a few clicks and we congratulated each other in getting that checked for the year. Glacial was equal parts elation and depression. Pulled up to the parking lost past the visitor center, popped out of the car and snapped a Bobolink – talk about calling your shot ha. We had already tinned that species the day before, but knowing that was still a sure thing at Glacial was good to know. From there we moved back to the visitor center parking lot to have a go at the Henslow’s Sparrow. Another shock, we walked about a tenth of a mile on the trail and heard two of them singing away. Took a minute or so, but finally located a perfect specimen sitting on a small wire fence. This is the kind of birding I like ha. There were reports of a Bell’s Vireo and a Yelow-Breasted Chat in the area. If they were, we were unable to locate either of them. Our second failure at the Bell’s in two consecutive days. +4 on top of yesterday’s large haul made for another good outing.

Need to get caught up on these missed dates:

Update 03/31/2023: Already the end of the month, this year seems to flying by. Now in the Florida Panhandle, it was time to get down to some serious birding. We did not make it to Florida during last year’s Average Year efforts and this could be the big boost that makes it possible to crest over the 300 mark which eluded me last year. Ron and I were pretty lucky to get the Swallow-Tailed Kite checked off our list thanks to two of them getting lost and showing up 30 minutes away near Galesburg. Now we were in that beautiful birds home field and thus tops of my list of need to gets. Honestly, I thought it would take a bit more effort. We pulled into what turned out to be a surprisingly nice KOA in Perry – definitely checked the box on our personal assessment sheets indicating we would stay there again. Got everything hooked up and decided to take a quick walk to check out the facilities. On our way back I looked up and excitedly proclaimed to Linda that there was a Swallow-Tailed Kite flying right above us – actually, technically TWO. Probably at great embarrassment to Linda, I sprinted back to the RV, grabbed the camera and managed to get a few shots before they glided over the nearby trees and out of site. Wow, Florida was already “Panning” out hehehe. Think Linda took the long way back so no one would notice we were together! We still had some time left in the day and decided to check out the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area 30 or so minutes away. Not familiar with this large area, we opted for the Hagen’s Cove Unit. It was pretty evident there was recent burning in the area and signs on road warning about smoke obscuring the roads. Later learned from another visitor that they had a controlled burn just the previous day – ugh, it usually takes a few days before the wildlife comes back after these events. There were hopes of spotting a Seaside Sparrow (quickly becoming my nemesis bird), with all the burning it didn’t seem likely. We made it to the end of the entrance road and started on the right side where the boat dock was. Noticed a large number of shorebirds in the nearby waters and eagerly asked a birding couple heading back to their car if they saw anything interesting – “Yes we did!” – and then they got in their car and left. That’s it, no details at all. Linda and I had a good laugh and made jokes about it throughout the rest of the trip. There was definitely a LOT of birds there. but nothing identifiable as new – not even a Whimbrel that was reported the day before. Should point out another couple in a car stopped and asked us how it was going. At the time I was getting the Palm Warbler checked off the list for the year (little did I know those Palms are extremely abundant in the area and spotted numerous specimens in every place we stopped in the Panhandle. Unlike the previous visitors, they were very nice, gave us tips on the local hotspots and the types of birds they were seeing – including a recommendation on where to find the Seaside Sparrow on the other side. Thanked them for the information and headed back to our car. There were two Clapper Rails calling in the nearby reeds. You can never pass up a Rail, but these two managed to elude me in the tall grass. The other side was more of a picnic area. Once again, huge flocks of peeps and other shorebirds – unfortunately, nothing new. Did get some very nice pictures of Black-Bellied Plovers and probably the most accommodating peep ever! Shocking number of Marbled Godwits there.

Update 03/28/2023: The next big stop was the Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama. This is one of my favorite places to visit as it sits within a large forest with an incredible array of biking/hiking/running trails. A great way for me to get my training miles in while we are on the road, but the hills will make you work for it. We missed the Brown-Headed Nuthatch while in Conroe, Texas this year and was eager for a second attempt here at the falls. I thought it would take a little more work though ha. We pulled into our campground site, got out and immediately heard the squeaky toy calls coming from the pine trees around us. Grabbed my camera and went to work. Hearing and getting a picture is two different things with these tiny canopy birds. Probably took me an hour before I finally got a clear shot in the tin. A nice recovery from the miss earlier in the year. Oddly enough also took care of the Brown-Headed Cowbird while we walked the falls area. Kind of shocking that asshat had not been checked off yet.

Update 03/27/2023: This marks the start of our April bird migration trip down to Dauphin Island. The first leg included a stop in the Florida Panhandle area before picking up Ron and heading back to the migration hotspot Dauphin Island. On our way down we stopped in the Kentucky Lake. I was excited as there were reports of Horned Grebes in the area which was a disappointing miss from the Vegas trip. We headed out to two spots they were reported, the Kentucky Dam Marina and the Kentucky Dam Beach Access. Both of these places were just a few minutes from the Kentucky Dam itself. The Dam was a bust, but these two other spots yielded some checks. No Horns were found, but there was a Thrasher rooting through the leaves a the Marina and the beach finally got me the Common Grackle and the Red-Headed Woodpecker. Not the most exciting birds, but glad to get those off the hunt.

Update 03/23/2023: Linda mentioned to me at breakfast there was a Rusty Blackbird being reported at the Woodford County State Conservation Area. This was located on the other side of Illinois Rive up past Spring Bay. We had been there several years earlier, but didn’t really see a lot of targets. I missed previous attempts at the Rusty this year, so we decided to give it a try. Pretty desolate when we go there – a few boat trailers near the launch and a may two other cars showed up the entire time we were there. Unfortunately, it was rather muddy from the earlier rains so the lowlands were not really passable. Opted to take a hike through the campground which had a high levee on the backside that fronted a thick tree marshy area. Merlin eventually picked up the Rusty call which started a rather frustrating hunt. So many Red-Winged Blackirds and Grackles it was hard to figure out which is which. Eventually found an isolated group of 3 that Merlin was able to confirm. A nice check for the effort.

Update 03/20/2023: Right around St. Patrick’s day is when the local birding organization (IOS) would hold their annual Timberdoodle or rather American Woodcock Walk. This was held at the Tawny Oaks Field Station maybe 20 or so minutes away. Last year I realized there was a similar setting right down the street from us at Jubilee College and sure enough, discovered the Woodcocks can be found there as well. No need to drive all the way out there and have to make sure I am free on a certain day. Headed out there today to see if I could find them in the Big Meadow again. Not much action until it the sun was just about to set and then their familiar Peent calls started ringing out. Unable to get anything flying, but did manage to find a really nice specimen foraging on the ground in the far back area. As an added bonus, a Fox Sparrow graced me with its presence – more like attacked me as I was standing there minding my own business looking for Doodles. Saw it coming at me out of the corner of my eye, kept coming, kept coming gets like 5 ft from me and then diverts up to a nearby tree. A little startling, but appreciated the bonus +1

Update 03/05/2023: Today is our last day for birding as we leave sun and sand for home tomorrow morning. Had to determine the best use of our time today. We were pretty lucky to get just about every bird we went after. Missed a few for sure, but for a week’s worth of effort, pretty happy with the results. There were some tradeoffs to consider, go somewhere new not knowing what will be there, revisit some areas that were not as productive as expected hoping the conditions change, risk the now predicted 70mph winds to go after the primary rarity that we struck out trying to find at Spring Mountain. The advantage of Spring is there were three other birds there that we missed during our first visit. Opted to risk the high winds and try to bag the Acorn – if not there, maybe one of the other three will show up in its place. Paid another $15, bundled up against the colder temps and I headed to the picnic area while Linda got her stuff together. Remembering a tip I learned from a photographer video on YouTube, took a moment to get my camera settings right for the slightly overcast conditions. What a timely tip. As soon as I entered the picnic area I heard a Woodpecker like squeaking. Triangulated the sound, looked up and there it was sitting on a branch staring at me. Wow, immediately brought The Beast on target and took a few shots before it took off for a further tree. Encounter went so fast I had to look at the tin to see what I got – yes, there it is – trophy earned 1 minute into the hunt. I had made it to the area I thought it had flew to when Linda showed up. She asked if I had seen it – seen it and snapped it! I think she was a little shocked as well. We continued searching for a few more minutes until it flew out of the clump of trees back into the picnic area. More clear shots and now Linda was able to get good shots as well. We continued to follow it for a while until it once again flew off out of the picnic area. Now time to track down the other targets. We went up to the observation trail area and didn’t find anything. Linda then opted for the warm car while I took the same out and back trail through the Ash Grove we took yesterday. Also came up empty. Left some on the table and I’m good with that as I did manage to track down proverbial needle in the haystack. It was a good week with a final count of +26 for the trip. That includes and amazing tally of 9 lifers!

Update 03/04/2023: All rested up we headed out to Red Rock Canyon. The wind was starting to pick up in the mountains bringing a definite chill. Now with proper reservations (you have to register what hour time slot you are going to enter the park with a 30 minute grace period on each end) we had no issues getting in. The worker who checked us in used to work for a Cat Dealer outside of Chicago – small world. Stopped at the visitor center and did a quick scan from the Rock Wren and the Canyon Wren – no luck. Did find a really nice Anna’s Hummingbird. This happens to be the first place I ever saw one of those beautiful hummingbirds. From there we headed out on the 13 mile auto-loop. Although busy, we had little trouble finding places to park at the various pull-offs. Contrary to that, I was having a really hard time finding any birds – it was likely the wind was keeping them scarce. Eventually came to the spot where the Spotted Towhee has been a sure thing. Knowing that we were coming here, lessened the anxiety of missing that bird while we were in Texas. Jumped out of the car expecting to see one immediately…nothing…headed up into a clump of rocks, surely one is there … nothing.., headed over to a picnic area where they usually hang out in a giant tree…nothing.. not only that, half of that tree was now missing. What the hell, panic setting in. Took the petraglyph trail, took “digital pictures of their carved pictures” and headed back towards the car. Still no Towhee – in fact, beyond a bunch of Scrub-Jays, no birds at all. I hate failure. Linda headed to the car while I took a final search. As I was on a rocky trail behind the bathrooms, I noticed a dark bird scurry between two scrub bushes. Now excited, I went on the hunt. We pretty much danced from one cover to the next as I tried to get glass on the specimen. Eventually, it went into a clearing to do some ground scratching – snap, snap – damn too dark, snap, snap, still too dark, sun breaks through clouds, snap, snap, YES. Finally got one in the tin. A hard earned +1 for the year and a claw back from a Texas miss. Continued on through the rest of loop eventually coming to a small spring that was flowing over the pavement. Thinking that would be a good place to bird, Linda pulled over and let me out to explore. Definitely the place I would want to be if I was a bird… but I’m not and clearly there were no other birds that thought that. Latter found out there was a Pacific Wren hanging out there that I apparently missed – that would have been a nice lifer. All was not wasted though as I looked up and saw a Golden Eagle soaring quite a ways above me. Only my second encounter ever with this majestic bird and a mighty fine addition to the current Average Year. A hard fought +2 for the morning. From there we headed over to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. We had heard good things about this place and eBird was reporting a sighting of an Acorn Woodpecker. Count me in, one less required trip to California. $15 bucks to get in which is a bit steep, especially after just paying $20 to get into Red Rock Canyon (plus $2 for the reservation). The Acorn was worth a good chunk of that fee and there were at least three other potential birds being reported. Paid the fee and headed to the parking lot. There we found a very nice picnic area with a number of tall trees bordering it .. a few even had acorns which immediately felt promising. Scoured the grounds and came up empty for the woodpecker, but did find a number of Juniper Titmice, White Crowned Sparrows and more Spotted Towhees. Asked a Ranger if he knew where the Acorn Woodpecker would likely be located. He pointed back to another area called the Ash Grove. Excited, we headed off. We spent several hours searching the closest Ash Grove and even took a long out and back path to a second area – nothing! As we came back Linda says “You are not going to want to hear this”. Nothing good ever comes after that opening. “Found a rare bird listing on the web and they state that the Acorn Woodpecker is a recurring bird ….. in the picnic area.” CRAP! What a waste – although I did enjoy the walk as it passed through the desert landscape. Back at the picnic area we once again came up empty. Linda decided to head back to the car while I made once last ditch effort to find it, anything more accurately. Headed up into a new area and found a nice trail with two ponds along the way. Definitely more birds, all that I had already checked off. Wait, what are those two reddish headed finchlike birds sitting in the nearby tree. No streaks on the body, heavy red colored crown – think that is a Cassin’s Finch. A new lifer that saved the visit. A $15 bird, but at this point I’ll take it. Definitely took a lot of work, but manage to add +3 for the day.

Update 03/03/2023: Was a light day today. We were moving to the strip for the final days of the trip. We had left the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area visit for this part of the trip as we would be staying closer to that spot. As we were making the trek to the visitor center, we noticed a temporary road sign stating that entry to Red Rocks was restricted to reservations only. That was news to us – it also didn’t help we couldn’t get cell reception up there. With that news and the fact Linda was feeling a bit off from all the exhausting birding and late nights on the casino floor we decided to skip the park that day and just hit the pullout not too far from the exit of the Canyon. Pretty much guaranteed to see a Scrub-Jay there and I could finally take the official check for that. Sure enough, there were a number of specimens there, a few of them came right up close giving me fantastic poses. They obviously know the visitors bring a high degree of snack potential ha. Headed back to New York, New York Casino/Hotel and took a well deserved rest.

Update 03/02/2023: Missing the Crissal Thrasher for two days straight was annoying me. This was the last day staying in Henderson – it had to happen today or not at all. Asked a very helpful volunteer if she knew the best place to find that Thrasher. She pointed out the side of pond 9 and 6 is a good spot and the inner trails near pond 2 and 7. She also warned us to start out at the first location as the bus loads of children would be arriving soon. We encountered them the day before – noisiest bunch of kids I’ve ever experience. Apparently these days you have to scream at the top of your lungs as you are picking up trash. The Center’s volunteers didn’t seem that excited to be hosting them. On a mission Linda headed out to the first location. It probably took us only 15 minutes before we heard the Thrasher’s call..well, the calls the Thrasher was cycling through. Linda was running the Merlin app and it was coughing up false bird after false bird thanks to this efficient mocker. Luckily, it decided to fly into the Center’s grounds giving us a good view from a nearby tree. Primary mission accomplished. Headed over to pond 4 at a final chance at the California Gull. There we met a very nice birder named Steve Dougill. He informed us the Gull had been there earlier, did a quick scan and said it must have flown off. Did tell us it was not in mature plumage, but clearly larger than the other Ring-Billed in the area. I wasn’t looking at the 1st/2nd year olds and now need to go check my previous pictures again. He also provided us a number of other popular places to bird including Corn Creek and Spring Mountain Ranch SP. Linda was familiar with both so we decided to start at Corn Creek/Desert NWR. Desert NWR is absolutely massive and I believe the largest desert sanctuary in the US. We spent most of our time taking the trails closer to the visitor center. Definitely added to my top birding locations list! Quickly checked off a lifer with a Western Bluebird (only recently learning that was a different species from the Eastern) and added a Western Bluebird which I had only seen once before in Yellowstone. Took an easy +1 with the Common Raven and saw a Western Scrub-Jay just as it ducked into the underbrush – would wait until I got a better look before counting that one. Came to a rather plain colored, but odd looking bird sitting on a tree by the side of the trail. Got several good shots and began to wonder if it was a Townsend’s Solitaire. Never seen one before, so there was definitely some uncertainty. Had Linda bring up Cornell’s site and we compared features. Big eyering, check, predominantly grey coloring, check, buffy patches on the, check – sure enough, a new lifer for me (and a catch up from Brad who had already provided a guest post on one he found in Colorado). A very fine +5 for this second spot of the day. From there, Linda drove to a place called Rainbow Park. A completely urban setting no bigger than say a standard lot (here, more like two or three in Las Vegas) that they have set aside as a sanctuary for Burrowing Owls. There is a fenced off area that contains a number of artificial burrow. A quick scan found an Owl standing outside one of these holes. My first full body viewing of a Burrowing Owl. Up to that point I’ve only been able to see from the neck up in the few encounters we’ve had. Now that was pretty cool. To close out the day we headed over to the nearby Floyd Lamb Park. This was a new place for us and at first hesitant to pay the $6 entry fee not knowing what to really expect. Went ahead and did it based on the eBird reports showing some potential +1s. Good choice as this place is really nice. Lots of tree, a very nice pond and well maintained trails. Our first sighting was of some wild Peacocks (Indian Peafowls) roaming the grounds along with a number of domestic Greylags and Pekin Ducks. Linda decided to hang out at the car while I took a stroll around. Found my first ever Juniper Titmouse a few minutes into the walk and then found myself in a quite area towards the back of the park absolutely bustling with bird activity. Juncos, Starlings, Doves, Robins along with a mixture of other standard birds. All of a sudden I heard a different call – like a Cat being squeezed – Sapsucker perhaps? Searched through the trees tacking the call when I found the specimen – sure enough, a Sapsucker, a Red-Naped Sapsucker to be exact. I had seen one many years ago in Colorado and had forgotten about – I’ll just take this sighting as my first encounter ever. Two lifers, worth the price of admission. As the park was getting ready to close down, I heard a Nuthatch calling from the trees near the pond. Pulled out Merlin and it confirmed it was a Red-Breasted variety – one I needed. No luck finding it before the park worker started telling everyone the park was closing with his bullhorn. Gave up the chase. Another great day with +8 across the three locations we visited.

Update 03/01/2023: We are not into March. This year’s Average Year was getting off to a good start with two very good birding months already in the books. Hoping this good luck would carry into this new month. Decided to hit Henderson Bird Viewing Center again in hopes of getting a confirmation shot of the California Gull and the elusive Crissal Thrasher. Our best efforts came up empty on that mighty curve billed Thrasher the day before. Once again took pictures off all the Gulls located on pond 4 in hopes of getting that checked off once I was back home with the reference books. We were getting pretty good at locating the Abert’s Towhee, but again no luck on the Crissal. I did manage to see one scurrying along the side of the trail which managed to duck into the brush as soon as was able to bring The Beast on target. Blanked again, we headed over to a new place called Sunset Park. Quite an interesting place. Our first exposure was a set of homeless tents constructed a short distance from a police building located inside the park – hmmmm, that had us second guessing our choice as we pushed further into the park. Came to a set of ball diamonds and Linda pulled over to get our bearings right. Took a few pictures of a Snow Goose hanging out with a flock of Canada Geese in the infield (was hoping it was a Ross’ Goose). On way back to the car noticed a black bird with a yellow eye. Definitely smaller than the Grackles, so headed across the parking lot to get a better look. Sure enough, a Brewer’s Blackbird for an easy +1. From there drove to a small pond absolutely loaded with ducks and allies. Didn’t take long to see why, lots of people feeding them from the shore. Not a whole lot new there, but managed to finally get some good pictures of a Canvasback Duck – they are usually a long way out. There were also a number of domestic Greylags and White-Fronted hanging about. I felt sorry for the flock of domestic ducks that were being harassed by a small child – public spanking needs to be brought back in vogue…on the parents of ill-behaved children. From there we continued to what I think is the southern end of the park. A stark contrast from the more standard park setting at the beginning, this back consisted of a paved trail through desert scrub. Linda hung back at the car (we had been going nonstop since we arrived in Vegas and was in need of a well deserved break). That walk was extremely enjoyable and highly recommend it if you get a chance. It didn’t yield a lot of new birds, but very relaxing. Decided to call it a day and head back to the car. Before I got there, noticed a large number of Gambel’s Quail hanging out in scrub. Usually those Quail run for their lives whenever they see me coming – not this flock. They let me get extremely close allowing for some of my best shots ever. Can’t wait to process those. Only +1 for the day’s effort. On way back stopped off at Pittman’s Wash. Quite an interesting place and need to explore that again when I get a chance.

Update 02/28/2023: Last December, Linda and I had to cancel our Arizona trip thanks to coming down with Covid. That trip would have easily put us over the 300 threshold for that year – unfortunately, not to be. Linda was able to get that trip rescheduled to Vegas (long story, but essentially their trip guarantee policy sucks so we had to pick a different destination to come under the price we already paid for the Arizona trip. Vegas always works out for us as we usually get our rooms free at the Casino hotels. Kudos to Linda for getting everything back in order. One of the first places I wanted to visit was the Bird Viewing Center in Henderson, NV. Their 9 nine large ponds are a magnet for birds and the fact they are in the flight path for Vegas means the birds are rather conditioned to loud noises. As usual, it didn’t disappoint! Chalk up +9 on that first day of birding including two lifers, the Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher (actually photographed previously, but was never positive that was what it was) and the Sharp-Shinned Hawk. It is likely I also tinned a California Gull while I was there – will need to verify it with the reference books. From there we took the short drive over to the Clark County Wetlands. This is a really nice place with plenty of paved and packed rock trails to take. It didn’t take long to cover the surprising miss at Henderson – the Gambel’s Quail. They were running all over the place from shrub to shrub. Thanks to a stupid move of staring at an Abert’s Towhee while walking instead of watching where I was going, I took a hard tumble. Foot fell off into the 7-8″ inch drop off. Tweaked the ankle (fortunately, my stronger one) and slammed down on my left knee. All the way down I was trying my best to keep the camera from hitting the ground. No luck, once my knee hit I lost control and the camera flew out of my hands hitting the pavement rather hard. My heart nearly stopped, the first day of the trip and I might have broken my camera. Linda was busy asking me if I was okay while I was busy fretting about the camera. I’ll heal, losing The Beast would be awful. Checked the glass connection, looked for dents and then took a few shots – all looked well, what a relief. Congrats to Nikon for making a durable rig. Managed to get a nice shot of a Cooper’s Hawk and came upon several Bushtits that were busy hunting a tall set of reeds. The tits were a lifer for me, but struggled to get decent shots as they are quite hyper. Decided to make one last ditch effort to get the Phainopepla while Linda headed to the car. This is where I had found one a few years back and was hopeful I could get it checked again for this year. Thought I heard it down a trail and immediately headed that way. Sure enough, there it was hanging out in a tree by the trail – clarify – the VERY MUDDY trail. Of course, I was focused on the bird and not the thick patch of red mud that covered most of that a area. Deal with that later, kept focus on the bird. Feeling sorry for me, she popped up nicely into a tree giving me decent shots. Took the entire trip back to the car to get the mud off – worth it! Another +4 at Clark’s bringing the daily total to +13.

Update 02/20/2023-02/26/2023: Now back from Texas, it was time to try to pick off some locals. With the feeders now being regularly filled, our “feathered guests” were once again hanging out on our lot. Linda was running the Merlin App from our porch on the 20th and caught a Harry Woodpecker. Grabbed the camera and started scanning for a large-bodied Downy Woodpecker. Sure enough, once was making return trips back to the feeder. Without having the direct size comparison to the Downy to distinguish the Harry, had to assess the bill length compared to the body and validate with spots on the tail feathers. Sure enough the bill was significantly bigger in relationship to the head compared to the Downy giving me another check for the month. A few days later (23rd), I looked out at the feeders and noticed an Eurasian Tree Sparrow chowing on the seed. We are lucky enough to get visits from this very restricted region bird from time to time. If we do not see him at the lot, we can always go to Havana, IL and tin one at their rural substation. Lastly, we were getting ready for our Vegas trip at the end of February. Needed a few supplies so headed up to the Dollar General. On the way, I looked up and saw a Barred Owl sitting on a telephone wire. Gave Linda our code word for “stop the car” while I fished around for my phone for a chance to get a shot. By the time Linda found a safe place to pull off we were a ways from the sighting and had to turn back – sure enough it was still sitting there. Managed to get a few shots on the cell phone before it took out across the field. With the Barred, that was three more checks for the week.

Update 02/17/2023: Last year, one of the big misses was the Snowy Owl. Not for lack of trying as we went for it several times, not to be. The reported sightings were very thin for 2023 and getting worried that it would be another unchecked box for this year. Linda had been keeping an eye on one south of Champaign, IL at a place we had not heard of before called The Magic Stump. Needless to same I was intrigued by the name alone. That was a lengthy trip, but we decided to take a chance. The best part was there was an additional lifer bird hanging around in that area that would be a cherry on the top. Two checks for around 4 hours of driving tipped the scales. Linda drove us to the recorded GPS coordinates. As per the other locations we have spotted them, we ended up in rural fields – even had wind farms nearby which strangely has become a common structure where they like to hang out. Checked every fence post, telephone pole and scanned the fields for a large white creature. Not too far down from the initial coordinates, we passed a farmhouse which a rather large barn on the side all surrounded by plowed fields. A white pole caught my eyes and immediately drew them to the ground where, sure enough, a large white object was sitting nearby. Took a bit of work to dial in a camera setting that actually confirmed it was indeed the sought after Snowy Owl (heat foils were confusing the auto-focus). Yes, we had our Snowy Owl for the year. Now it was time to track down the lifer – the Prairie Falcon that was hanging out there as well. Took a right at the next intersection to head to the Magic Stump location. Immediately noticed a hawk/falcon of some sort flying parallel to the car. Getting shots through the car was futile and simply encouraged Linda to keep up with it. It eventually made its was to the field opposite the next intersection and took up a hunting posture on a large tangle in the middle of the field. Same difficulties with the heat foils, but eventually it lifted off and started “kiting” a short distance away. Made some snaps and confirmed it was the Prairie Falcon! Wish it would have been closer so I could get better shots of this first timer. Later find the Magic Stump the other way on the road – actually a grass road between two fields. There was nothing hanging out there. Took a few snaps just to mark the location. Met a guy down from Chicago who was hunting those same two birds. Pointed to the field where the Falcon was and Linda gave him instructions on how to get to the farmhouse where the Snowy was hanging out. Per his ebird report, he also managed to see both of those birds. A good +2 for the day’s work.

Update 02/12/2023: Ron alerted me to an eBird post documenting a mass gathering of Snow Geese forming at Emiquon and Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge – latter having and estimate of 500,000. Already had the Snow Goose from our time in Texas, but that report also indicated a large amount of Greater White-Fronted Geese, Trumpeter Swans and a few Tundra Swans. Oh, and a Crested Caracara which has all the Illinois birders losing their shit being that it was the first ever reported sighting in Illinois. Again, not that exciting for us Winter Texans. Still, the others gave me a chance at a +3 and if I could get the Tundra, a miss from last year, that would be really nice. On my way to Emiquon I was pulling off at various fields around Canton to photograph the stopover Snow Geese/Greater WFs/Canada Geese. Little did I know I’d be watching thousands pass overhead once I got to the refuge. Pulled into the South Globe parking area and immediately found the Trumpeters and Merlin was detecting Tundra’s in the mix. A little far away for me to tell for sure where the Tundra’s were, so made sure I took a picture of everyone there. Met a nice lady from Chicago while I was there. She was a retired writer/editor that was down to see the Caracara. Moved over to the Emiquon visitor center – what a mud slosh. Jeep looks like it went through a mud bath (can’t wait for Linda to notice that when I get home ugh). Definitely not worth having to now take the Jeep to a car wash, but lemonade out of le”mud”s – got a really nice picture of a Greater White-Fronted Geese passing over. Decided to head over to Banner Marsh and see if they had any Tundras – if nothing else, an easy get of the Mute Swans that hang out there year round. Sure enough, lots and lots of Mute Swans that were getting along surprisingly well being so territorial and all. There were also a bunch of other Swans there, but Merlin tagged most of those at Trumpeters (much better shots than at the Globe though). Like at the previous spot, took shots of all that I could find – will sort out in the digital darkroom and see if I got lucky. At least a +3 for the day, so smiles all the way. Now at 206

Update 02/11/2023: Linda and I decided to go after a Snowy Owl that had been recently reported in the Bloomington area. Last year we made multiple attempts to get this checked off the list and every time we came up empty. That was a big miss for the year and was hoping to get that out of the way earlier for this year’s Average Year. It probably didn’t bode well for us that we are going through a bit of a warming spell here in February – think it made it to the mid-40s today. Whether that was the reason or not, we were unable to locate it – drats. I did manage to tin a few Horned Larks that were hanging out by the road as we traversed the area. On the way back, we dropped in at Bloomington Lake as someone reported a Canvasback and Cackling Goose there. Did get the Canvasback, but there were soooo many Geese, it was impossible to pick out the one Cackling that was probably in the midst so threw the towel in on that one. To top off the day, we made a quick stop at Detweiller Riverside to see if I could get the American Tree Sparrows I had missed on an attempt a few days back. Lady Luck was on my side this time. A few Dark-Eyed Juncos lead me right to a group of the needed Sparrow – click, click time to slosh through the mud back to the car. Was hoping a Hairy Woodpecker would reveal itself, but I’ll have to get that on a future trip. A good day, came back with a +3 putting me at 203!