It’s spring break — time for the Gyllenhaal boys to hit the road in search of birds for their year lists! Ethan and Aaron (ages 13 and 12) have declared this a week of Big Break Birding. On a Big Day, birders count all the birds they can find in one day. A Big Year is all the birds found in year. (We want our year lists to be as long as possible, but we don’t consider them serious enough to be Big Years.) I googled “Big Break Birding,” but only one result came close — a Big Day at a place called Big Break. So I guess the boys invented a new piece of birding terminology.
Go here to read about Saturday, when we went to Lake County, Illinois, to see a California Gull. Sunday it snowed — snowed!?! — and we spent the morning at home, looking at scenes like this:
We made sure the birds all had things to eat while we waited for the snow to stop. When it did stop, we got back in the car and spent the afternoon exploring birding hotspots fairly close to home, in southwest Cook and southern DuPage Counties. The first year bird of the day was a Savannah Sparrow at Lemont Quarries, also know as the Heritage Quarries Recreation Area (large pdf brochure and map here). The second was a pair of Wilson’s Snipe at Whalon Lakes Forest Preserve. (Yes, when we go on a snipe hunt, we find a real bird!)
Monday was our biggest trip so far. We built our itinerary around reports of a Red-necked Grebe on Morse Reservoir in Indiana. We also made several other stops along the way and after, but we’ll cut to the chase — we found our target bird off Morse Park at the south end of the lake:
We only saw one Red-necked Grebe on the lake, but we saw many smaller Horned Grebes before we found our target. Each time we saw a new Horned Grebe, we hoped for the best, but each time the bill was too small and the head and neck pattern wrong:
Since we found our target, we would have been happy even if we went nowhere else on Monday. However, we made several other stops that turned our trip into a wonderful birding adventure.
On the way south from Oak Park to Morse Reservoir, we drove the roads around Kankakee Sands Nature Preserve in Newton County, Indiana, where we saw many birds that like open fields, including this Rough-legged Hawk:
When I lived in Indiana more than 20 years ago, White Pelicans were rare sights in the state. Now you can count more than 130 in a day (as one birder reported on the Indiana birding e-mail list). Wild Turkeys have also become much more common over the past 20 years, so we weren’t surprised to see two flocks walking the Patrol Road ahead of us:
We had seen Wild Turkeys elsewhere this year, but we still enjoyed watching these birds. Elsewhere at Willow Slough, Ethan and Aaron walked ahead of me on a dike and saw another year bird, a Great Egret in flight. It was gone before I got there.
After leaving Willow Slough we headed towards Morse Reservoir, but made one stop along the way. There was a flooded field just north of the Newton County landfill that held another year bird, a sandpiper relative called the Greater Yellowlegs:
Our next stop after that was Morse Reservoir, where we found our trip target, as described above.
After Morse Reservoir we drove to Eagle Creek Park, a great place for birding on the northwest side of Indianapolis. It was getting late — 6:00 p.m. local time — so we got no usable photos. But we did get three more year birds: Carolina Chickadee, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Lesser Yellowlegs (a shorter-billed relative of the bird pictured just above). After sunset, we finally headed for home.
Overall, it was a 15 hour, 450 mile trip. It’s what I call Big Footprint Birding (because leaves a big carbon footprint). I feel much better about my Big Green Birding close to home, but I’m glad our big-footprint trips help keep the boys interested in birds.
By the end of the day I had 7 new year birds, and the boys had 8 to add to their year lists. Aaron’s year list had reached 136, and mine had 129 birds. (Go here to see my growing year list for 2009.)
Today we’re sticking close to home, with the last day of FeederWatch in our yard (11 species so far) and a short trip to Columbus Park (27 species in 50 minutes). Tomorrow we hit the road again, this time with Gail along to help with driving.
At the end of the day on March 31, our Big Break Bird total was 92.
All the photos were taken with Ethan’s Sony DSC-H50 camera using its 15x optical zoom lens. All photos were enlarged through cropping. Most photos also were enhanced for clarity using Photoshop (but not the grebe photos).