CBC Marathon Man

Twenty-three consecutive days of winter birding no matter how bitter the cold. Rising before dawn to listen for owls and staying up late to compile the day’s sightings. Thousands of miles of driving often traveling through the night without sleep to get to the next destination, sometimes navigating treacherous stretches of highway in blizzard like conditions.

Kelly McKay by Steve Hager

Kelly McKay by Steve Hager

Sound like heaven or hell?

To the National Audubon Society, it’s officially the 118th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the nation’s longest-running citizen science project, designed to capture long-term data on the status and distribution of bird species. Every day during the count period (December 14, 2017 – January 5, 2018), all across the United States, birders and conservation enthusiasts alike gather to count birds within a well-defined 15 mile wide circle. Many “CBCers” participate in a single count and then not another until the following year.

To wildlife biologist and CBC iron man, Kelly McKay, the count is a chance to do what he loves most – identity as many bird species as possible in a day while also contributing to science. Unlike most who are “one and done,” Kelly attempts to contribute to a different CBC every day of the count period, a grueling 8+ hour/day logistically challenging feat known as the “CBC marathon.” On top of that, Kelly compiles the data for not one but seven count circles, a significant challenge in itself.

Inspired in the early 1980s as a teenager by his mentor and avian biologist, Pete Peterson, Kelly has participated in more than 475 CBCs all time, second only to birding legend, Paul Sykes. It wasn’t until the 2002-2003 season that Kelly began to plan his first marathon, but quickly ran into problems. He couldn’t find a count within reach on three count days! The following year, Kelly started planning much earlier and on January 5, 2004, after the Andalusia CBC, he successfully completed his first marathon. This January, Kelly finished his 9th marathon in the last 16 years, covering more than 25 counties in five states – Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

While Kelly takes his CBC participation very seriously, he doesn’t expect many to even think about let alone attempt a CBC marathon. He does hope his story inspires others to get more involved in community science projects to advocate for bird conservation and preserve our state’s biodiversity.

by Matthew Cvetas

Winter Birds at Sax-Zim Bog Field Trip - Feb. 2 & 3 2018

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IORC Evaluation of Barnacle Goose Records

Barnacle Goose by Davida Kalina

Barnacle Goose by Davida Kalina

The question of origin of Barnacle Geese that are observed in Illinois is not straightforward, at least not for making an “official” decision as is the case for members of the Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC). IORC does have plans to do a careful evaluation of a number of these records. I am aware of twenty distinct occurrences of Barnacle Goose in Illinois, in numbers from one to three, with varying amounts of evidence behind them. The twenty include this current bird. (See IOS Rare Bird Alerts.) Documentation of four of these, including the current McLean County bird, has been submitted to IORC for evaluation. In the two cases that have been decided (the 1998 Winnebago Co. bird and the 2013 McLean Co. bird), IORC did not accept the records on the basis of origin. A third case (2015 Mercer Co. observation with three birds involved) was documented, but a decision is still pending. This one now represents a fourth record for which documentation has been submitted to IORC. I won’t make a prediction of when IORC will be done with its work, but I am hopeful that it can be done without excessive delay. The possibility exists for IORC to revisit the prior records that were not accepted, depending on the outcome of its investigations.

The question of countability is simpler. If you feel a Barnacle Goose that you observe in Illinois is of wild origin, you may count it in your list totals that you report to the American Birding Association (ABA). For Listers Corner, maintained by the Illinois Ornithological Society (IOS), until Barnacle Goose gets on the state list, you may not count it. In no situation does IORC’s decision on any particular record have any say on whether birders may count their sighting on ABA or IOS lists. For lists that you keep for your own purposes, the ABA and IOS have nothing to say about the matter, and you are free to do what you think is appropriate.

Information about IORC can be found at the IOS Web site.

Geoff Williamson
Secretary, IORC

Rare Bird Alert – 19-Dec-2017

Hoary Redpoll by Emil August

Gyrfalcon: Lee (North) – Elizabeth Milne-Anschutz photographed a Gyrfalcon zipping by Sinnissippi Park in Sterling on December 19th.

Barnacle Goose: McLean (Central) – Todd Bugg reported a Barnacle Goose at the Towanda Borrow Pit on December 16th. Barnacle Goose is not officially on the state list.

Townsend’s Solitaire:

Continue reading Rare Bird Alert – 19-Dec-2017

Prepare Your Data for Listers Corner

Lister’s Corner

Since we’ve officially hit December, it’s time to start thinking about gathering your data for your submissions to the 2017 IOS Listers Corner! As always, you may submit in any manner you choose, be it email to Joe Lill, sending Word docs or Excel files, or by snail mail to:


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IORC Update - 26 November 2017

The Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC) recently concluded evaluations of 15 records of occurrence of rare birds in Illinois, accepting 11 and not accepting four. For each record, we indicate below the species or form, with number of individuals in parentheses if greater than one, followed by date or date range, location, and county. At

Continue reading IORC Update – 26 November 2017

A Distant Eagle Primer

Golden Eagles (like this juvenile) have wings that pinch in to the body with bulging secondaries that taper to the hands

As November rolls in, many Illinois birders shift their focus to a shorter list of target species. The majority of migrants have left the state for the winter, but some are still moving

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17th Annual Gull Frolic

February 17, 2018

Start Time – 9:30 a.m. (please note the later start time).

The Gull Frolic is a unique winter event at Illinois’ premier gull-watching hotspot: North Point Marina. Bring your binoculars, scope and cold weather gear, and join birders outside of the yacht club to enjoy close study of some of

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Christmas Bird Count (CBC) Map

IOS has created a Christmas Bird Count (CBC) map so you can easily find count circles near you. Click on each circle to find the date of the count and contact information. If you have updates for a count, use the Contact Us form and direct your message to “Christmas Bird Counts.”


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Rare Bird Alert – 31-Oct-2017

Glossy/White-faced Ibis by Suzanne Bidgood

Glossy/White-faced Ibis: McHenry (North) – Up to nine dark ibis were present at Glacial Park Conservation Area in McHenry County for several weeks in October. Only one, perhaps two individuals have been positively identified as White-faced Ibis.

Glossy/White-faced Ibis: Cook (North) – On October 21st, Josh Engel found a

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