Smith's Longspur Field Trip Report

I had the pleasure of leading an Illinois Ornithological Society field trip for Smith’s Longspurs in McLean County this morning (April 8, 2017). We did manage a flock of seven and another flock of 28 birds — even in flight good enough looks for multiple lifers in the group — always a great feeling.

There is either a psychotic Western Meadowlark here that covered an immense amount of ground never leaving us, or this location has two to three males on territory (I think at least two).

After the trip wrapped-up, I roamed randomly looking for more longspurs and fluddles in Woodford County. I found another group of 15-20 Smith’s and a late Lapland back at the spot on 1500E between 2100 N and 2000N. Pictures of both species from this location are below.

My fluddle surveys included Pectorals, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and a group of almost 90 American Golden-Plover at one location that also had a searingly bright Brewer’s Blackbird.

It’s been awhile since I went AWOL birding in central Illinois. I imagine we are just getting started…

Smith's Longspur (left); Lapland Longspur (right)

Smith’s Longspur (left); Lapland Longspur (right)

by Matt Fraker

Loonapaloonza 2017 Field Trip Report

Twenty-one observers gathered at the Gale Street Restaurant parking lot at 8am on April 1st to have coffee, muffins, and bagels before setting off to explore several of the nearly 200 lakes in Lake and McHenry Counties in search of loons and other waterbirds.

Field Trip Participants

Field Trip Participants

Several close-in observations of Common Loons were had at Diamond Lakes Mundelein Park District boat launch; while several loons were heard calling early, most of the day the loons were quiet (at all locations). The best observation, however, was the adult Bald Eagle perched in a tree across the lake.

We, then headed out to our first stop: Long Lake. The first large group of loons were 28 loons on this stretched out lake, and here we observed lingering Common Mergansers and a nice alternate-plumaged Horned Grebe.

On Pistakee Lake and Bay we observed at total of 52 loons and several nice groups of Ruddy Ducks. Three migrant Bonaparte’s Gulls were seen along with several arrival Tree Swallows. On this huge lake we saw our first pelicans (44) many of which were on an island in McHenry County.

At our traditional Sandbar Bar & Grille spot, we witnessed an amazing spectacle of kettling American White Pelicans with over 600 pelicans riding thermals overhead in multiple groups of 100-200 birds each. Loons were also quite common with 19 seen off the Sandbar.

Later, we observed more ducks including good numbers of Redhead, Canvasbacks, Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup.

Returning to the Gale Street Restaurant, 10 birders stayed to have a wonderful lunch at the Gale Street Restaurant. A total of 104 Common Loons were encountered on this trip, another successful Loonapaloonza!

Common Loon by Brandon Tate

Common Loon by Brandon Tate

by David Johnson

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 was extremely difficult without the ice cover that would normally be found on a Chicago winter day along the lake. Birders assembled on this balmy winter day (topping out at 50 degrees) at the Calumet River Turning Basin Number 5 at 8:30 am. Almost immediately at 8:30 am the continuing second cycle California Gull was spotted and gave a brief flyby before disappearing down the river. With few gulls in the area overall, Amar eagerly chummed hoping to bring in something else good for the group to no avail. After the California Gull left us the only other gulls observed were Ring-billed and Herring gulls circling the basin, with a couple Common and Red-breasted Mergansers flying by.

Scoping for Gulls on Lake Michigan

Scoping for Gulls on Lake Michigan

The group then started a caravan for the BP warm water outlet in Whiting, IN. Along the way we made a brief stop on 126th where a Red-shouldered Hawk was spotted perched on a power line along the roadside. After everyone got a look at the hawk the caravan continued to Whiting where about 70 gulls were present near the BP outlet. Among the flock of primarily Herring Gulls we picked up 5 Great Black-backed Gulls and 18 Common Goldeneye out further in the lake. However, those were the only new birds for the day at this stop despite Amar’s effort to chum the beach. From Whiting, the group headed to Calumet Park which lacked in birds other than the couple hundred Canada Geese near shore in the water. After that brief stop the group headed to Jackson Park which netted a few more duck species: Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, and Bufflehead, in addition to other birds such as American Coot and American Crow. However, there were once again few gulls so this proved to be our last stop of the trip. Maybe not the most exciting winter birding day, but we definitely willed our way to a few good bird species on the day.

Thank you to all that attended the trip and Amar for leading the group down and up the lakeshore!

Species totals:

200 Canada Goose
14 Mallard
3 Redhead
1 Ring-necked Duck
21 Greater Scaup
3 Bufflehead
18 Common Goldeneye
2 Common Merganser
30 Red-breasted Merganser
1 Cooper’s Hawk
1 Red-shouldered Hawk
5 American Coot
40 Ring-billed Gull
60 Herring Gull
5 Great Black-backed Gull
11 American Crow
3 European Starling
1 Red-winged Blackbird
2 House Sparrow

Locations: BP Warm Water Outlet; Calumet Park, Chicago; Jackson Park, Chicago–Inner/Outer Harbors; Jackson Park, Chicago–north lakefront (56th St. to 62nd St.); Lake Calumet area–126th St Marsh/Hyde Lake Wetlands; Lake Calumet area–Calumet River Turning Basin Number 5

by Matt Igleski

2017 IOS Gull Frolic Field Trip Report

Scoping Lake Michigan

Scoping Lake Michigan

IOS hosted the 16th annual Gull Frolic on Saturday, February 11th, at the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club in the northeast corner of the state. As temperatures soared toward 50F degrees and without any ice for the gulls to rest on, despite our best efforts to chum them in, it quickly became apparent that gulls would be hard to come by on this day. Still, scoping Lake Michigan early in the morning, birders were treated to good views of a flyby Great Black-backed Gull, a handful of Long-tailed Ducks and about a dozen White-winged Scoters.

Jean Iron

Jean Iron

Back inside the yacht club, attendees listened intently as Jean Iron passionately told of her shorebird surveys on the vast mudflats and coastal marshes of James Bay. Jean’s presentation focused on her shorebird research and James Bay’s specialty birds, including rufa Red Knots and Akimiski Island Marbled Godwits that were surprisingly found to winter in the Baja California, Mexico. Wow!

In addition to Jean’s presentation, several exhibitors had interactive tables at the event. Attendees could examine specimens of shorebirds and gulls with the Field Museum’s Doug Stotz or learn about Josh Engel’s new tour company, featuring trips to South Africa or northern Minnesota.

Of course, the food was not to be missed. Volunteers, Janice Sweet and Karen Lund, served up pizza and salad and the specialty of the Gull Frolic, seagull stew.

During lunch, IOS President, Matthew Cvetas, recognized long time IOS members, Denis Bohm and Geoff Williamson, with custom framed artwork by young birders, Nandu Dubey and Luke Haberkorn. Denis received a striking Yellow-headed Blackbird by Nandu and Geoff, a painting of Rufous Hummingbirds by Luke.

Gulling typically picks up after lunch and this year was no exception. Despite there being only about 100 gulls present, birders were still able to spot 2 Thayer’s Gulls and a Iceland (Kumlien’s) Gull in the feeding flock at close range. Many were able to obtain great photos of these white-wingers.

IOS would like to thank Amar Ayyash, Jean Iron, all our exhibitors, and volunteers for helping us put on another successful Frolic.

Join us next year for the premier gull watching event in the United States.

IOS Field Trip Report by Tyler Funk

Scoping for Snowy Owl

Scoping for Snowy Owl

On January 7th, six hardened IOS members (Ted Wolff, David and Dale Kalina, Susan Zelek, Linda Foster and Tyler Funk) set out for a field trip this past weekend in search of Prairie Falcons and waterfowl. Leaving the house at 6:15am, my vehicle thermometer read -2° F. However, the sky was mostly clear and the air felt fresh as we set out to begin the day. Our first target was the Prairie Falcons. These birds have proven difficult to find this winter due to the extensive fall plowing that took place in the area. Finding a corn stubble field suitable for food and cover is not easy this season. Rough-legged Hawk, Merlin, Short-eared Owls and Northern Harrier are all relatively easy finds here most winters and they too are tough to locate this season. Another target in the area was a Snowy Owl which was found on January 6th about a mile east of what we call “Falconville”. We began driving a grid which allowed us to systematically check the area. This paid off with an early morning look at a Snowy Owl, but once again, the Prairie Falcon was a scratch. The group then made a sparrow walk through Larry Closson Habitat Area (aka Hickory Ridge) which yielded some nice sparrows for the day list.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

After a drive to Universal Mines, the thawed out group spent the next few hours attempting to estimate waterfowl numbers that blanketed the quarry. The waterfowl numbers here is always a highlight and the numbers of Trumpeter Swans is quite impressive. It certainly rivals any other spot in the state for sure. The group returned to the Prairie Falcon area, where we met up with Travis Mahan, Colin Dobson, Ron Bradley, Corey Lange and Tony Ward. The added eyes were welcome, but the Prairie Falcon remained absent. Those that remained to dark were rewarded with a nice sunset view of the Snowy Owl.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Thank you to all who attended. It was a fun outing!

Species totals:

5000 Greater White-fronted Goose
4000 Snow Goose
20 Cackling Goose
20670 Canada Goose
827 Trumpeter Swan
20 Gadwall
5 American Wigeon
2 American Black Duck
26 Mallard
1 Green-winged Teal
1 Canvasback
3 Redhead
35 Ring-necked Duck
5 Common Goldeneye
10 Hooded Merganser
1 Ruddy Duck
1 Ring-necked Pheasant
2 Northern Harrier
2 Bald Eagle
1 Red-shouldered Hawk
10 Red-tailed Hawk
2 Rough-legged Hawk
3 American Coot
2 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
32 Mourning Dove
2 Great Horned Owl
1 Snowy Owl
1 Belted Kingfisher
1 Red-headed Woodpecker
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
3 Downy Woodpecker
3 Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
5 American Kestrel
16 Blue Jay
27 American Crow
134 Horned Lark
2 Carolina Chickadee
1 Tufted Titmouse
2 White-breasted Nuthatch
2 Carolina Wren
1 Northern Mockingbird
65 European Starling
31 Lapland Longspur
90 American Tree Sparrow
48 Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)
3 Savannah Sparrow
10 Song Sparrow
4 Swamp Sparrow
9 Northern Cardinal
1 Eastern Meadowlark
1 American Goldfinch
74 House Sparrow

Central Illinois Lakes Field Trip Report

On November 5th, 2016, IOS conducted an inland reservoir field trip. This concept was originally conceived by former field trip chair, Travis Mahan, and has proven to be an excellent way to survey Illinois Reservoirs. This weekend has historically been an excellent time to find some of the less likely loons, grebes, scoters and gulls. The reservoirs which have been selected for this trip are in close enough proximity to allow groups to move to other reservoirs when rarities are located.

Lake Shelbyville reported by Tyler Funk

Sunrise over Lake Shelbyville

Sunrise over Lake Shelbyville


A cool morning greeted the birding crew at Lake Shelbyville with virtually no wind. The sunrise was magnificent, reflecting off the glassy lake surface and the scope views were quite good of the birds we encountered. The group circled much of the lake throughout the day with not a lot of activity. Due to the warm, almost late summer-like weather, very few diving ducks, or even dabblers, have arrived in this area. Decent numbers of Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls were seen feeding over most portions of lake. Variety was not the spice of life throughout the day. Afternoon came and so did our first couple of nice birds. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and Red-throated Loon, seen from the Lake Shelbyville–Findlay Bridge East Access point (as it is listed in ebird). However, the R-T Loon identification gave the group some trouble, due to its plumage, even resulting in a paid boat trip to try and get pictures (not with positive results…).

Scoping from Rebel Point

Scoping from Rebel Point

Most of the Lake Shelbyville group met on Friday evening at the Prairie Falcon roosting spot and were rewarded with nice looks of the Prairie Falcons. A bonus was added by Ron Bradley who reported a White-winged Scoter at Larry Closson State Habitat Area (aka. Hickory Ridge).

White-winged Scoter by Ron Bradley

White-winged Scoter by Ron Bradley

The Shelbyville Group (Ted Wolff, Phil Doncheck, Arlene McFadden, Ron Bradley, Jon and Carolyn Grainger, Travis Mahan and Tyler Funk) finished Saturday with 55 species. Birds of the weekend included:

  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Red-throated Loon
  • Black Scoter (Seen by Travis Mahan at Findlay point)
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Prairie Falcon
  • White-winged Scoter

Clinton Lake reported by Matt Fraker

Black Scoter by Matt Fraker

Black Scoter by Matt Fraker


Birds of interest which were seen on Friday evening included:

  • Osprey
  • 3 Black Scoter
  • Rusty Blackbirds

Lake Springfield plus other areas reported:

Notable birds included:

  • 2 Blue-winged Teal
  • 3 Black Scoter
  • 6 Red-throated Loon
  • 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • 1 Great Horned Owl
  • 4 Barn Swallow
  • 2 Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 4 Snow Bunting
  • 2 Pine Siskin