Winter finch forecast: What will we see this year in Illinois?

Red Crossbill female. Photo by Ron Bradley.

Red Crossbill female. Photo by Ron Bradley.


This winter’s theme is a “mixed bag” of finch movements. For example, some species such as Purple Finch will go south while White-winged Crossbills will likely stay in the boreal forest in widely separated areas where spruces are laden with cones. Sure would have been nice to have another great White-winged Crossbill irruption this winter.

To read Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch forecast, click here. Let us know what you see this winter season by posting on our Facebook page.  And send photos to They may get printed in a future issue of Meadowlark.

How to have a GR-EIGHT Owling Day

Snowy Owl in Illinois

Snowy Owl at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area in Grundy County. 5 January 2012. Photo by Jim Tezak.


By Jeff Smith

The winter of 2011/2012 saw a record, major irruption of Snowy Owls into Illinois. Double-digit numbers were observed along Chicago’s lakefront and well inland, even extending to the far reaches of southern Illinois. These owls garnered much attention from the media, birders, and anyone with a camera. Not to be overlooked though, were the good numbers of Northern Saw-whet Owls reported on some of the northern Illinois Christmas Bird Counts. Short-eared Owls were also plentiful in the larger grassland preserves. Of the winter visitors, only Long-eared Owls were difficult to find on a regular basis. However, when I located a Barn Owl in northern Illinois on its winter roost, I began to think of attempting an eight owl big day.

Eight owl species either breed or are mostly regular, winter residents within Illinois. The Illinois record for number of owl species found in a single day had been seven since 1994 when Alan Welby located that many in northern Illinois. This number was duplicated in central Illinois by Bob Chapel in 1995 and in southern Illinois by Dan Kassebaum in 2004. Barn Owl was missed in the central and northern regions, and Snowy Owl was missed in the southern region. I’m sure the thought of an eight owl day has crossed the minds of others several times in the past. I first heard of the possibility of having an Eight Owl Big Day when a Burrowing Owl was found at Pyramid State Park during the winter of 2006/2007. This year was the first time I’d have a reasonable chance to successfully attempt to record eight owls in a single day. Considering the extensive experience that all of our team members have had in locating and calling in owls, as well as the unique experience of having many of the uncommon to rare owls present and waiting for us to find them this winter, I felt our chances were very good for locating all of the owls that we would be searching for.

To find out if the eight owl big day was achieved, read Meadowlark: A Journal of Illinois Birds, Volume 21 No. 3, which was mailed to members in early October 2014.

Click here to join IOS and receive four annual issues of Meadowlark.

IOS Spontaneous Shorebirding Field Trip Results - August 23, 2014

Despite the predicted insane heat and humidity, the weather was actually much better than expected for the Illinois Ornithological Society’s spontaneous shorebirding field trip on Saturday, August 23rd.  Beginning around the 7:00 AM meeting time, our group of 10 (eventually) made our way out across the cross-dike at Chautauqua to find AMERICAN AVOCETS and WILSON’S and RED-NECKED PHALAROPES out in the shallows of the north pool.  A lone LITTLE BLUE HERON was found in the wetland vegetation next to the parking area.  Some BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS were also in good showing from the cross-dike among many other common shorebirds.  The more than 100 BLACK TERNS roosting on the flats and feeding over the water was a neat sight in the foggy morning light.  A group of the HUDSONIAN GODWITS were visible from the cross-dike but only as a group of large distant shorebirds.  Being perhaps a mile or more away in haze, yeah, we decided to save those for later.  Continue reading IOS Spontaneous Shorebirding Field Trip Results – August 23, 2014

Rusty Blackbird Blitz

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group (IRBWG) has been studying this species for a number of years, trying to determine why Rustys have declined 85-95% since the mid 1900’s, according to the best available estimates! Quoting from their website, “The Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is a widespread North American species that has shown chronic long-term and acute short-term population declines, based both on breeding season and wintering ground surveys.”


Continue reading Rusty Blackbird Blitz