Quite the opposite of the Champaign County CBC held yesterday, this Christmas Bird Count often holds the promise of being able to find a diversity and sometimes good numbers of a variety of waterfowl. Unfortunately this winter, we really had to search hard for much in the way of variety or numbers when it came to waterfowl. Seven Cackling Geese were nice and the flock of 121 Hooded Mergansers was a pleasant surprise, though we thought that “big flock of ducks” would be holding more than a couple of species. We did find 3 Pied-billed Grebes and a lone Horned Grebe, but no Common Loons which we have often recorded on this CBC. New birds for my yearly Christmas Bird Count species list (that I mentioned earlier) included 4 American Coots and 11 Bonaparte’s Gulls. What has become an annual addition to my CBC list here at Clinton Lake, we also re-located the only No. Saw-whet Owl I would SEE (did hear another) on this winters ten CBCs. It had been located earlier by others before the CBC.
Also new for my list were 3 Savannah Sparrows, but much more delightful, two different Winter Wrens, which both came in for close portrait photographs by both Greg & Rob, and both wrens even gave some wonderful snatches of their bright, energetic and very musical summer song which you can sometimes hear this species give on even the coldest of winter days! How can even the most dreadful CBC not be considered a fun and worthwhile winter day’s effort if you can look upon two of nature’s cutest two birds, the diminutive Saw-whet Owl and the even more tiny, bright, bubbly & energetic little Winter Wren. When I see a Winter Wren bobbing up and down on a fallen log in the forest, they always appear to me to be doing their daily round of push-ups, while giving their diagnostic little call notes, dit-dit….dit-dit…..dit-dit.
Some of the few other good birds that we were able to locate on this rather dull and dreary day consisted of a nice Merlin chasing a Horned Lark (our only lark of the day!) out over some ag fields, a single Belted Kingfisher, 3 Eurasian Collared-Doves, 3 Golden-crowned Kinglets (took a ton of effort for these guys!), 7 Yellow-rumped Warblers and a lone Purple Finch, but I could not have been more pleased getting to have good, long views of two different Winter Wrens and the sleepy Saw-whet Owl!
I started doing this Christmas Bird Count back in the early 1980’s and helped on it as a team with Bob Chapel for many years. Even before Bob tragically was killed in a car accident several years ago, I went several years where I didn’t help on this CBC, though I was doing Christmas Bird Counts in several other areas of the state then and earlier that I occasionally or often helped on like the Newton CBC (includes the Greater Prairie Chicken Refuge), Cypress Creek (Johnson/Pulaski Co.s), Warbluff Valley Sanctuary (Pope Co.), Rend Lake (Franklin & Jefferson Co.s), Carlyle Lake (Clinton, Fayette & Bond Co.s), Springfield (Sangamon Co.), Shelbyville Reservoir (Moultrie & Shelby Co.s), Kankakee Valley (Kankakee Co.), Lisle Arboretum (DuPage, Will, & Cook (?) Co.s), and Meredosia Island (Brown, Cass, Morgan, Pike & Scott Co.s). I would like to help on several other Illinois CBCs some day including the Mermet Lake, Chautauqua N.W.R. and Jackson County CBCs to name a few.
Bob and I had some neat finds over the years with two of the more memorable being a Eurasian Tree Sparrow that Bob first spotted at the “Magic Feeder” in the tiny town of DeWitt, and a female Yellow-headed Blackbird also found at the “Magic feeder”. I guess you can see why I call it the Magic Feeder?! A Prairie Falcon also spent several winter’s just northwest of Clinton Lake in the count circle, entailing a special trip out into the corn & bean fields to look for it… even after it no longer returned in succeeding winters. Some of the many other good birds found by Bob & I on this CBC included Short-eared Owl, Northern Shrike, House Wren, Common Redpolls, & Snow Bunting. Rarities found by “The Team” more recently include Trumpeter Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper, American Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Warbler and LeConte’s Sparrow to name a few.
Rarities found on recent Clinton Lake CBCs by “The Team” include these Trumpeter Swans and Spotted Sandpiper (photos by Greg Lambeth) and American Pipit and LeConte’s Sparrow (photos by Rob Kanter). The LeConte’s was particularly photogenic after it flushed into willows near a huge field of it’s favored habitat, a large field of nothing but foxtail (Setaria sp.).
One of the main property holders in the Clinton Lake count circle has always been the owners of the Nuclear Power Station there, currently the Exelon Corp. After the 911 disaster, special permission had to be requested from Exelon, if not before then, to gain access to some of the areas we cover on the count. I remember going to the plant to gain permission for us to hike some of the better areas behind the nuclear power plant, from the plant manager and having the guard at the main entrance gate meet me with a machine gun strapped to their body!
Number of species I tallied for the day: 60
Total species for this CBC season: 92 (+ 1 Count Week Species)