Rare Bird Alert - 21-Mar-2017

Golden-crowned Sparrow: Woodford (Central) – Andy Sigler and Craig Taylor report a 1st year Golden-crowned Sparrow on a gravel road that runs along the northern boundary of Letcher Basin, a ParkLands Foundation property, in Woodford County today.

Park at the end of the road overlooking a large burnt field (junction of CR 400N and CR 1975E in Secor) and go west (towards Barn Owl box) along the edge of the field. Stop 100 feet short of the Barn Owl box. It was found in shrubby vegetation and cedars along this path with White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Wintering Raptors of Central Illinois

General Reflections Based on Surveys in McLean and Woodford Counties

In the fall of 2007, Matthew Winks and I created an approximately 50 mile winter raptor survey route that begins an ends at the Fraker Farm abode. This route heads east south of the Mackinaw River past Evergreen Lake to Lake Bloomington where it crosses north across the Mackinaw, heading back west all the way to the Congerville Road, and then back south across the Mackinaw for a weaving, wandering route that heads back to the east to its finish.

Over its almost 10 year history, this route has been amazingly productive for raptors, with total counts usually finishing in the 70s or 80s, and the best counts pushing 100 birds.

Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan's) by Matthew Winks

Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan’s) by Matthew Winks

A quick summary of raptor abundance for the most part yields few if any surprises. Northern Harriers present consistently but in variable numbers depending on the year. Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, while clearly present, can be a tough get. Red-shouldered Hawks are resident in this corridor of the Mackinaw River, albeit in small numbers that always provide excellent eye-candy moments when they decide to pop-up on survey day. Bald Eagles are a solid winter presence here, and are now also breeding in several sites along the upper Mackinaw. Merlins and Peregrines remain very scarce on these surveys, but have graced them on a couple of occasions while American Kestrels have a healthy presence here.

The two species that make for the most striking presence on this route largely due to their migratory presence are Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks.

Rough-legged Hawks occur in sections of this route with an impressive frequency. Most of the birds are juveniles or adult males (not surprising as the males tend to wander farther south than the females do in most years). We generally see more light phases than dark phases, but the darker birds are always at least annual.

Rough-legged Hawk by Matthew Winks

Rough-legged Hawk by Matthew Winks

Yet it is our most common raptor that has become the most interesting. Red-tailed Hawks are the “Herring Gulls” of the hawk world. With tremendous inherent variation just in the “Eastern” (borealis) subspecies alone, our “meat and potatoes” most common raptor here, we then must add several other variants of Red-tailed Hawks present here in winter to get the full, complicated, and often confusing picture. These additional variants include “Harlan’s” (harlani), “Krider’s” (kriderii), “Western” (calurus), and “Northern” (abieticola).

“Harlan’s” Hawks are very rare but almost annual in central Illinois, with the more common darker phases being expectedly more often documented, although here in our survey corridor, we have documented the much rarer lighter phase Harlan’s on at least three occasions (including an adult this year right by the Fraker Farm).

“Krider’s” variants are also almost annual, but can be difficult to confirm due to a sliding scale of inherent variation in “Easterns”.

“Northern” Red-tailed Hawks represent a subspecies that has only recently gained a whole lot of attention. Out of all the different variants mentioned, these tend to be the least rare of the non-“Eastern” versions, with several being found annually in central Illinois.

Red-tailed Hawk (Northern) by Matthew Winks

Red-tailed Hawk (Northern) by Matthew Winks

And finally there is the “Western” Red-tailed Hawk, or the calurus. One of the larger mysteries surrounding Illinois winter raptors is why so many gorgeous dark-phase “Westerns” get well documented, and yet not a single light-phase calurus can make it into the Illinois books. Distributionally, it makes zero sense that dark “Westerns” show-up annually, probably more so than “Harlan’s”, but light “Westerns” never get here.

Or are these dark “Westerns” actually true calurus?

An interesting theory behind the disparity between phase presence of “Westerns” here in Illinois is that maybe all of our dark “Western” birds are actually dark “Northerns” (abieticola). Because field identification of a dark “Western” versus a dark “Northern” at this point is not feasible, only some sort of physical monitoring (bands, satellite, tags) of these dark “Western” type birds that show-up in the east might lead us to where they return in spring helping us uncover whether or not these dark mystery birds are “Westerns” or “Northerns” (entire paragraph pers.comm. Jerry Liguori).

While winter can be a season of dread for Illinois residents, for many of us it is yet another great season for getting out to find birds — raptors especially. Try to photograph or at least pay closer attention to every winter Red-tailed Hawk that you safely can — it is almost guaranteed that at some point during a winter you’ll photograph/see a special wanderer from afar.

by Matt Fraker

IORC Update - 10 March 2017

This update reports the 2017 membership of the Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC), recent changes to the IORC Review List, and IORC’s decision regarding Illinois’s one record of Green Violetear in light of the taxonomic split of that species into Mexican Violetear and Lesser Violetear.

2017 Membership

For 2017, IORC welcomes Walter Marcisz as a newly elected member serving a three year term from 2017 to 2019. Walter’s well recognized skills in field identification are reflected in the detailed and careful documentations that he regularly includes with his seasonal observation summaries submitted to the seasonal report editors for IOS’s Meadowlark and the American Birding Association’s North American Birds publications. He also has years of service to eBird as a Regional Reviewer for Illinois.

Paul Sweet continues on IORC, being elected to a three year term, 2017-2019, following the expiration of his previous term of service at 2016’s end.

Stepping down from IORC is Greg Lambeth. Greg served a three year term from 2014 to 2016, and he was IORC’s Vice-Secretary during 2015 and 2016. Greg relocated to Idaho during 2016 so that his abilities in and knowledge of bird identification and distribution are being directed at a different part of the country. His valued contributions to and work with IORC will be missed.

The 2017 makeup of IORC is thus as follows.

  • Josh Engel (Vice-Secretary)
  • Matt Fraker
  • Walter Marcisz
  • Keith McMullen
  • Doug Stotz
  • Paul Sweet
  • Geoff Williamson (Secretary)

Changes to the Review List

The “Review List” consists of all forms for which the IORC will review all records (possibly excepting records from specified areas for some forms). It includes species whose occurrence in the state is less than regular, but IORC may also include other forms as it sees fit, for instance species that involve identification difficulties.

At its 13 Feb 2017 Annual Meeting, IORC removed California Gull from the Review List and added Pacific Loon and Tricolored Heron.

Previously, California Gull in other than adult plumage was on the Review List, so that the change is now that IORC is not mandated to review all documentations of immature California Gulls. Documentation of California Gulls in any plumage that are submitted to IORC may still be reviewed, at IORC’s discretion; however, with the departure of California Gull from the review list, IORC will no longer actively solicit such documentation. This change was motivated by the regular stream during recent years of accepted documentations of immature California Gulls.

Pacific Loon was added because of the difficulties in making positive identification of this species under typical field conditions. Though Pacific Loon occurs regularly in the state, it does so only in small numbers, so that given the identification problems, IORC feels an accurate appraisal of its pattern of occurrence requires sufficient supporting details for any observation.

Tricolored Heron returns to the Review List after an absence of many years. Its previous removal from the Review List stemmed from a period during which many individuals occurred in Illinois in what became then a regular pattern. However, in the last decade the pattern has again changed to one of a virtual absence.

Mexican Violetear

IORC reviewed record 2009-033, accepted as Green Violetear, in order to assess whether it would be possible to make a determination of its identity to species as either Mexican Violetear or Lesser Violetear, given the recent “split” of the two species involved. After a reviewing specimens of both forms at the Field Museum of Natural History and discussing the identification criteria, IORC accepted the record as a Mexican Violetear based on the photographic evidence available in the archive.

Mexican Violetear, 10 Aug 2009, St. Clair County. Photo copyright Rich Scheibel.

Birding Evergreen Lake by Benjamin Murphy

Evergreen Lake, which is located in both McLean and Woodford Counties and the surrounding Comlara Park, is arguably the overall best location to find birds in McLean County, IL, boasting over 245 reported species, including such rarities as the only recorded Yellow-billed Loon in Illinois found in December 1998.

To read the full account,

Continue reading Birding Evergreen Lake by Benjamin Murphy

Memorial to Wes Serafin by Al Stokie

Wes Serafin by Sue Friscia

Hello Bird People,

I have been running into Wes Serafin since the late 1980’s and his presence always made the birding day more fun. Wes and I along with Sue Friscia, Geoff and Chris Williamson, and University of Chicago grad students, Dave Mandell and John O’Brien (and others), all

Continue reading Memorial to Wes Serafin by Al Stokie

Memorial to Joan Norek by Al Stokie

Joan Norek

Hello Bird People,

A Requiem in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was a musical service, as in a Requiem Mass, in honor of someone who had died. Well no music here but just some words to accomplish the same thing, to honor Joan.

In spite of being the person who has passed

Continue reading Memorial to Joan Norek by Al Stokie

Chicago Lakefront Winter Field Trip Report

One day after the Gull Frolic on February 12th, a small group of birders joined gull expert, Amar Ayyash, and Gull Frolic speaker, Jean Iron, for a day of birding along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. The main target of this excursion was winter gulls and waterfowl. Much like the Gull Frolic finding masses of gulls

Continue reading Chicago Lakefront Winter Field Trip Report

IOS Honors Denis Bohm and Geoff Williamson

At the 2017 IOS Gull Frolic, IOS honored Denis Bohm and Geoff Williamson for their services to both IOS and the Illinois Birding Community. Each was the recipient of donated framed custom artwork, produced by a current or former member of Illinois Young Birders (ILYB).

Denis Bohm (left); Geoff Williamson (right)

Denis Bohm

Continue reading IOS Honors Denis Bohm and Geoff Williamson

Rare Bird Alert – 26-Feb-2017

Neotropic Cormorant: Fulton (Central) – Corey Lange reported a NEOTROPIC CORMORANT at Thompson Lake in Fulton County on February 26th.

California Gull: Lake (North) – Adam Sell observed a first-cycle CALIFORNIA GULL at Channel Lake in Lake County on February 23rd.

Mew Gull: DuPage (North) – Mike Madsen reported a 2nd cycle MEW GULL from

Continue reading Rare Bird Alert – 26-Feb-2017

Rare Bird Alert - 13-Feb-2017

Gyrfalcon by Tim Lindenbaum

Gyrfalcon: McLean (Central) – On the morning of February 13th, a Gyrfalcon was photographed by Tim Lindenbaum on N 3100 East Rd south of E 2450 North Rd. in Colfax, McLean County. Interestingly, a Gyrfalcon was observed and photographed in the same area last year.

California Gull: Cook (North) –

Continue reading Rare Bird Alert – 13-Feb-2017