Unfortunately, each year the Lost Mound CBC is scheduled the day before the Champaign County CBC, which entails a long drive down to Urbana after hiking around all day on the Lost Mound CBC. I guess that is to be expected given I was doing ten Christmas Bird Counts this winter, but at least I was heading for the warm and cozy home of fellow birding friend Greg Lambeth. Greg has been nice enough to put me up at his place the two nights before and between the back-to-back CBCs we have been doing together for the last several years, and this year would be no different. Having some friendly conversation with Greg, his wife Marybeth and their two kids Ben & Claire… and who could forget energetic little Baxter, their dog!
Greg Lambeth and I on an earlier Champaign County CBC, east of the Swine Ponds at the marshy area near the Cattle feedlot where an ibis, shorebirds and other good birds can often be found. This year we found a group of cowbirds here mixed in with the House Sparrows & starlings on the CBC.
Greg and I usually begin the Champaign Co. CBC by doing some owling for an hour or two, before meeting up with our third partner in crime for the day, Rob Kanter at one of our main coverage areas, Urbana’s Meadowbrook Park.
A “daytime” owl we found a couple years ago in the Arboretum on count day, a very rare “Arctic” Great Horned Owl. The 1st one I’d ever seen in 40+ years of birding!! One way that you can tell that it is the Arctic subspecies, besides the very pale orangish facial disks and overall whitish cast, especially to the upperparts, is how close it let us approach for photos…right underneath it, something a local owl would never let you do. photo by Bob Schifo.
Rob has a blog on environmental issues (http://environmentalalmanac.blogspot.com/ ) and also hosts a radio program on the environment called Environmental Almanac on WILL-AM 580 on Thursdays at 4:45 & 6:45 PM. He and Greg are also really good photographers and always have their cameras and big lenses with them on both CBCs that we do together, and usually get good/great photos of most of the better birds that we find on the CBCs… saves time having to write out a documentation form when you have close, often stunning photos of the birds!
Two of the reasons I really like doing this CBC, which I did NOT help on for many years are the good camarderie between Greg, Rob & I and we get to cover some of the best habitat in the circle (and because of the latter we often find some of the better birds!). Although I often don’t bother with having much of a lunch while helping on a CBC, having lunch at the Campustown Potbelly’s Sandwich Shop is one of the fun exceptions! Every year, one of our “jobs” is to go and get the Peregrine Falcon which roosts on one of the taller buildings in Champaign, and we do this on our way to having lunch at Potbellys! A couple of years ago, we had a four-falcon day, also finding a Merlin near a major road intersection in town and finishing the day finding a big surprise PRAIRIE FALCON at our traditional last stop of the day at the privately owned Barnhart Prairie state nature preserve.
It is amazing what you can find in the patchwork group of small areas of restored habitat, but often times small patches of a little grass here, a few trees there, a small amount of idle habitat not being used around there. Other than the Homer Lake Forest Preserve (which has become badly overgrown with dense stands of bush honeysuckle), a couple of relatively small (but one large) University of Illinois research plots, and a few well managed city parks, there isn’t a whole lot of habitat in the Champaign County CBC circle… but it is sort of like a Chicago city “migrant trap”, in that the Champaign-Urbana area is surrounded on all sides by mostly hundreds/thousands of square miles of corn and soybeans. However, our team is often able to scrape up 45-55 species of birds in our area by getting one or two species here and three or four species there, and due to Greg’s scouting have often turned up some great bird species on past Champaign County CBCs in our coverage area like Orange-crowned Warbler, Harris’s & LeConte’s Sparrows, Dickcissel, Gray Catbird, and many other “goodies”.
All of the above past year’s CBC goodies were found by Greg’s pre-CBC scouting efforts (except for the Saw-whet Owl and American Pipit which were found on count day), and then relocated on the CBC by our team. Both the Long-eared and Saw-whet Owls used to be yearly or near-yearly birds tallied by “The Team” on count day at the U of I Forestry area where the above Saw-whet was photographed by Greg Lambeth, as was the Orange-crowned Warbler which was found in the U of I Arboretum area. The rufous-morph “Western” Red-tailed Hawk returned to the same South Farms fields and was tallied by us on the CBC for 6-8 years running, photographed here by Greg. The Dickcissel was located in the same weed patch as the Harris’s AND LeConte’s Sparrow (all on the same year’s CBC!!) & also photographed here by Greg. The American Pipit was photographed by Rob Kanter on the South Farms. The above Long-eared Owl and Harris’s Sparrow were photographed by Ivan Petrov, at the U of I Arboretum & at the South Farms weed patch (after Greg had found them on or just before the CBC), respectively… great shots guys!
This winter, Rob even found a YELLOW WARBLER in early December in a very tiny… I hesitate to even call it a… park. Unfortunately, it was not to be found on count day. As we also get to cover one of the few bodies of water within the count circle, the First Street Pond, we turned up a few of the better birds found on this winter’s Champaign County CBC, including a single Snow Goose, a lone American Wigeon, two American Black Ducks and a lone Green-winged Teal… and of course the regularly wintering Peregrine Falcon. About the only other good birds worth mentioning that we located included 32 Ring-necked Pheasants (this species has quickly taken a nose-dive in overall numbers in east-central Illinois), a single Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (formerly a pretty rare bird in Illinois in winter outside of far southern Illinois), two Red-breasted Nuthatches (not a big flight year this winter in Illinois), a Tufted Titmouse (a rare bird in Champaign County… thanks for watching the feeder Marybeth!) and 40 Pine Siskins… kind of an off year for us. We did turn up our usual large numbers of White-crowned Sparrows in what remains of the former U of I South Farms study plots, an incredible 167 White-crowned Sparrows which will probably be the highest count in the entire state… from one relatively tiny area. We have had even more in previous years! These exceptional numbers beg the question, WHY SO MANY???
Number of species I tallied for the day: 45
Total species for this CBC season: 84 (+ 1 Count Week Species)