• aerin

My 2020 Big Year

At the beginning of 2020, I planned to do a global big year, with trips to Arizona, Michigan and Colombia, as well as birding while visiting my family in Western NY. I also live so close to IN and relatively close to MO, I figured I would get some birds there, too. When COVID hit and my trip to Colombia got cancelled, I shifted gears a bit. I realized I would have a lot of time to bird. And as the year went on, I started to get more and more birds in the state of IL. When I hit 280 or so, I decided to try to break 300. At the end of October I did it! And November rarities were still ahead!

I started off the year co-leading COS field trip to deer grove. We had 24 total species, the best being the best, close, clear looks ever at THREE Long-eared Owls!

We then took a trip to AZ in January. It was not a trip solely for birding but we did as much birding as possible. We flew into Tucson, stayed in Tubac for two days, then drove up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, then flew home from Phoenix. I saw 107 total species, at least 40 of which would unlikely be seen anywhere in midwest. I got seven lifers included: Abert’s Towhee, Hutton’s Vireo, Rivoli’s Hummingbird, Hepatic Tanager, Rufous-backed Robin, Juniper Titmouse, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Highlights were all the lifers, plus Greater Roadrunner, Gambel’s Quail, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire, Pygmy Nuthatch,Verdin, Sage Thrasher, Bewick’s Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, Bridled Titmouse, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Phainopepla, Say’s and Black Phoebe, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Gila Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Red-naped Sapsucker, Canyon Towhee, Loggerhead Shrike, Pyrrhuloxia, Green-tailed Towhee, Cactus Wren, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Mexican Jay, Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay, Anna’s and Costa’s Hummingbird, Western and Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Bushtit, Red Crossbill, Inca Dove and of course, Common Raven!! (I LOVE RAVENS and any chance I get to observe them is a complete joy!)

After AZ, I decided to get as many winter birds as possible and not leave them so I was scrambling to get them in December!

I didn’t do much birding at the end of January, but I did discover a place called Maplewood Cemetery in Rantoul. I checked it out and found a GREAT HORNED OWL! What a great year bird to stumble upon in a brand new birding spot! I birded that place many times after that and wracked up a nice site list!

On February 1, my friend Scot Judd and I chased the Gyrfalcon that was seen in Seneca, IL. We did not end up seeing the bird (sadly, I think it was snagged by falconers which I CAN’T BELIEVE is LEGAL!!! >:( ) but we did add some great winter birds to our year list that day: Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Cackling Goose, Snow Goose, and Ross’ Goose. We swung over to Wolf Lake after to get some good ducks and a Northern Shrike, which cooperatively was on the IL side!! :D One last stop on Avenue M under the highway got us our year Monk Parakeets.

I continued to add notable winter birds in February, including great looks at a Northern Saw-whet owl at Homer Lake!

Also, Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra and Trumpeter Swan, Rough-legged Hawk and Snowy and Short-eared Owl soon after. While looking for the Coles County Prairie Falcon (which we did not find but got later on Halloween!), my friend Scott Latimer discover a lovely Prairie MERLIN, which was a treat and a FOY for both of us! :D

A Long-tailed Duck showed up at Montrose for an easy FOY. I got excellent looks at a couple of Red-shouldered Hawk in Columbus Park on my birthday, March 10th! I added Black Scoter and Glaucous Gull in early March. Scott Judd and I took an evening trip to Air Station Prairie and in the artificial light saw some great displays of American Woodcock!

Then COVID hit hardcore. Once I found out I was going to be furloughed indefinitely, it made sense for my cats and me to move to Paxton, IL, where my partner Michelle was living at the time. COVID changed EVERYTHING about the way I approached my birding year from then on!

I birded more in Central IL now and Allerton Park in Piatt County became an awesome refuge from the stagnant stay-at-home order. Amazing birding there and hardly another soul on the paths! It was there I got beautiful, daytime looks at not one but two BARRED OWLS! Pileated Woodpeckers are also all over the place there for an easy FOY.

Carolina Chickadees show up at Busey Woods in Urbana, so I got those in late March. A Vesper Sparrow showed up at Deadstick Pond which was a great find for Cook County (though I would see many more in fields in Central IL).

I had my earliest warbler sighting ever of a Black-throated Green on April 1 at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet, IL. Then Tyler Funk reported Smith’s Longspurs in Champaign. This was only the second time ever seeing them in IL for me and they are so beautiful! :D

Michelle and I took a trip to Bloomington, IL where you can reliably see and hear Fish Crows. This was my first IL state lifer of the year!

The next state lifer came the next day, when I made the trek up to West Branch Forest Preserve in DuPage County to get an Eared Grebe.

I still wasn’t IL focused and I had all the time in the world to bird now, so I took a trip to Goose Pond FWA in IN. I got FOY Hudsonian Godwit and Black Vulture. I would eventually get these in IL, too, but it was still a really fun trip.

Soras are everywhere at Heron County Park in Vermillion County! Got those easily for FOY. I managed to coax out one Virginia Rail for an FOY. Hadn’t had much luck finding Louisiana Waterthrush in habitats that were perfect for them! Finally found two cooperative birds at Howard Virgin Timber Park in McLean County!

Found some excellent birds in IN on a trip in late April: Upland Sandpiper, White-faced Ibis, Grasshopper Sparrow and Northern Bobwhite. The LARK BUNTING was the best bird though! I'd only seen them in Montana prior. The guy whose property it was on was Amish. (It was cool to hear him explaining what I was doing to his kids in that crazy Amish german! :D ) He was so sweet and welcoming! He was really upset when I couldn't find the bird after an hour and he eventually was the one to find it and point it out to me!

I would eventually get most of these in IL later except for White-faced Ibis (on my many trips to Emiquon I was only ever able to find Glossy!) and GRASSHOPPER SPARROW! I absolutely CANNOT believe I did not at least HEAR one at Steelworkers Park or PLUM CREEK! Also did not have one at IL Beach State Park or Park 566! This is a BIG MISS of a fairly easy to get bird for IL and it drives me nuts!

A birder I would come to know better later named Evan Smith found a CINNAMON TEAL in Piatt County! I rolled up and got my third IL state lifer!

That day I combed the field fluddles in Bement and Cisco and found some hundreds of American Golden-plovers! Also got FOY American Pipit quite easily. Fluddles also yielded my first Stilt Sandpiper of the year.

My first trip out to Emiquon NWR secured me some more great year birds: Wilson’s Phalarope, Short-billed Dowitcher, my first ever IL Black-necked stilts, Prairie Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat! I stopped at a random park in Heyworth, IL to get my FOY Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

Steve Huggins found a Worm-eating Warbler at North Pond on April 28th. This was the first time this year I really missed living in Chicago and being close to the great birds found there during migration. By the time I got there, the bird was gone! To add insult to injury, a WEWA was reported at BUSEY WOODS IN URBANA pretty much as soon as I set foot at North Pond! I tried not to freak out but it was one of those "you can’t be everywhere at once" moments that kinda stung! I did get one nice year bird, scoping the closed 63rd Street Beach from across Lake Shore Dr to find a Willet! I went back to Urbana and got a nice FOY White-eyed Vireo and Broad-winged Hawk.

Two days later I went back to Busey and GOT THE WORMY! My warbler total was starting to increase as I got FOY Ovenbird and Northern Waterthrush that day, too.

My FIRST EVER photo of a Worm-eating Warbler!

May 1st rolled around and migration was in full swing. And I didn’t have to work a day in May this year! Though I would never wish the circumstances that caused it, this was a dream come true!

I got Clay-colored Sparrow at Middle Fork River FP, then headed to Allerton Park. I got a couple more warbler species for the year plus a nice Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Vireo and Wood Thrush.

But the best bird seen that day was a Champaign County lifer BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK! Got word at 7:20PM and FLEW out the door to get to the spot before dark! Got there at 7:48 and got decent photos before I lost my light! :D

May 3rd at Crystal Lake in Urbana yielded even more FOY songbirds, including 18 species of warblers, including Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Northern Parula, Pine, Yellow-throated and Black-throated Green!

A trip to Middle Fork River FP campground got me great looks at FOY Blue Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole. I coaxed out a Sedge Wren, too!

Word got out later that evening that Colin Dobson found a SNOWY PLOVER in a fluddle in Murrayville. This was a haul for me, so I left hella early and got there at 7:30am. Colin is the best and was keeping tabs on the bird, so when people rolled up, they just had to walk up to the scope and see it! This was only my second Snowy Plover ever! I got great new shorebird species for the year that day: White-rumped Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover, as well as Black Tern. On my way home, I found on my own a Baird’s Sandpiper while scouring fluddles!

Allerton Park is luckily home to breeding Kentucky Warblers. So I easily got this species there- a species that I had to work hard for in past years!

The next day I took a trip to Brown County, IN. Still not focused on IL birds, I thought it was my best shot at Cerulean Warbler. I could hear them all over the woods but had to bushwack pretty hardcore to actually get a look! One male finally cooperated and I got decent pics. Also got my FOY Hooded Warbler there. Later I would get AMAZING looks at both male and female CERW at LaBagh Woods! And a Champaign County lifer HOWA at a random cemetery!

May 7th I got another Champaign County lifer LARK SPARROW at Legacy Ave Ponds!

I decided to do the Champaign County Spring bird count instead of Chicago that year. It was on May 9th. It only yielded one FOY bird but it was a great one: Acadian Flycatcher! It was a little tough to be birding at Lake of the Woods when a WESTERN TANAGER was coming to a feeder in Hoopeston, IL! But I covered my areas well. As soon as I was done I

SHOT over to Hoopeytown and grabbed my IL LIFER WETA!

After that I went back to Champaign County to get AMAZING close looks at a county lifer Wilson’s Phalarope! Much better than the crap looks at Emiquon earlier!

The next day was a doozy! I got word there was a WHITE-WINGED DOVE in Stonington, IL in Christian County. This bird was proving to be quite a nemesis for me! I had missed it by 30 minutes at hawkwatch at Ft Sheridan once, and staked it out for HOURS in a yard in Minonk, IL, to no avail. And it only came to my friend Amanda’s feeder in Evanston for a brief stop and never showed again! So I was ready to GET THIS BIRD! I staked out the area where a large amount of corn had been spilled. TONS of Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared-doves were eating there, but no WWDO. My friend Scott Latimer showed up and we looked together, combing the neighborhoods and listening for its very obvious call. Nothing! We split up and I went back to the corn pile. Just as I pulled up, I saw a flash of white wings!!! I called Scott and we tore over to where it had headed and soon found it perched in a tree! After three full hours of searching, I got my sixth IL lifer of the year- FINALLY!

May 13th was the first real extreme disappointment of my year. I had decided to stay in Chicago that weekend and bird hard core around the area. I went to LaBagh early to try to improve my warbler list, then headed west. Three Red-necked Phalaropes and a Ruddy Turnstone were seen at a fluddle in Kane County. Let me start with one of the first rules of birding etiquette: DO NOT TRESPASS! If a bird is in a fluddle, you have to scope it from the side of the road! So that’s what I did and I saw a Killdeer, some Pecs and a Semi-plover or two. Nothing of note. Since the target birds were seen yesterday, I assumed they had moved on. I was disappointed but I didn’t have high expectations either. I left at around 9:20 after about 15 minutes of scoping. Around 10:30am I see an alert that the RNPH and RUDU were SEEN AT 9:00am!!! I was STANDING THERE not 5 minutes after that! HOW DID I MISS THOSE BIRDS?! I texted Nathan Goldberg who had made the post. “Did you check the fluddle in the back? You can’t see it from the road.” I had NO IDEA there was ANOTHER fluddle behind there, and that you had to go into this random housing development, down a little side road and then you could see it clearly! At this point, I pretty much lost my shit! I was WAY out in McHenry county, seeing NOTHING there! It took me almost an hour to get back to the Kane County fluddle. When I pulled up to the pin Nathan had given me, there was another birder there. She told me she hadn’t seen the birds and pointed out a TRACTOR plowing very near to the fluddle. OH, and get this: you know how I was worried about trespassing? Somehow this piece of land was NOT PRIVATE property! So I could have gone out there all along! So I did and the fucking birds had been flushed by the tractor long ago! I literally took off my hat and threw it on the ground. I was PIIIIISSSSSSSED! The RNPH would have been a LIFER and RUTU is not a given in any year!

In the morning I went back to LaBagh Woods for more nice looks at that pair of Cerulean Warblers, as well as FOY Philadelphia Vireo and Canada Warbler.

I was still majorly pouting about yesterday, but these awesome finds cheered me up a little at least. I also stopped by Big Marsh to get my Common Gallinule for the year. On the way back home, I stopped at a place in Will County called Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve. I saw a ton of great warblers there, including a Bay-breasted which had somehow evaded me in the warbler bonanza at Busey Woods and Crystal Lake!

Great birds continued to pile up in the midst of migration: Mourning Warbler, Common Nighthawk (Champaign lifers!), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Bell’s Vireo. (Sadly, I learned this winter that this amazing slam-dunk spot for Bell’s Vireo had been BURNT to the ground and tilled for more fucking farmland! Like we need that here! So, so fucked up! >:( )

A trip to Cowles Bog at Indiana Dunes got me my first Connecticut Warbler (though I ran into a couple in the fall at Montrose.) Also Least Bittern and Common Tern (both of which I would get later in IL).

A very frustrating trip to Jackson Park (it was FOGGY!!) did yield one great bird: Olive-sided Flycatcher! On my way back to Ford County, I stopped at dusk at Hooper Branch Savanna NP and heard lots of Whip-poor-wills singing! Luckily, I was driving Raven, my Toyota Highlander. She saved my life! I was driving down this one-lane dirt road that had become super muddy. As I went forward, I realized it was REALLY bad, but I couldn’t turn around or I’d get stuck for sure! We had two very close calls, but Raven pulled through! PHEW! :o

Another great year bird required a long trip to Darrell Rd Marsh in Lake County. There I got my FOY Yellow-headed Blackbird. He stayed well hidden most of the time, but did pop up briefly for positive ID. And I am pretty sure I saw a female bird, too!

Another trip to Emiquon was next and it was mostly good. Near there, in Havana, IL, I got awesome looks at breeding plumage Cattle Egrets. I saw a nesting pair of Western Kingbirds and took probably my best bird photo ever to date!

At Emiquon I was looking for White-faced and Glossy Ibis seen the day before. They were just not around but I did get my first ever IL WHIMBREL!

A Red Knot was reported at Waukegan Beach on May 21st and then again on May 24th. So on the 25th, I headed up to Lake County. I was hoping even if I didn’t get it I could get some other good shorebirds. This was around Memorial Day weekend, so Waukegan Beach was closed to car traffic. It is a LONG walk from the yacht club to the beach and I just wasn’t going to lug my scope. No Red Knot, no Ruddy Turnstone. Hardly any shorebirds at all. This was the second time I struck out big time. I tried IL Beach SP for shorebirds, too, but came up empty. Although I did get 46 species there that day, including my FOY IL Brewer’s Blackbird.

Another bird I was really hoping and looking hard for since the start of migration was a Black-billed Cuckoo. This is a pretty hard bird to find as they are not known as big singers and are a little skulky. Once they perch, they often don’t move for a long time so you simply don’t see them. Day after day of birding I was still coming up empty. They were reported at various places in Lake County, IL, so I thought I might as well try since I was up there. So at the end of a disappointing day of walking FAR for nothing, I scored my first BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO at Middlefork Savanna!

On my way home, I stopped in Monee, IL. My friend Michael Carroll told me about a Hudsonian Godwit hanging out in a small fluddle there. I already had HUGO in IN, but I figured, what the hell! It was on my way home. Not only did I then get to count this bird in IL that year, it was also an IL lifer. And I got the most AMAZING, close looks! I couldn’t even get out of the car or I would have flushed the bird! I just rolled down the window and snapped away! :D

Another trip that was intended to bump up my total year birds (and bird with my awesome friend Sam Burckhardt!) was to East Tawas, MI. At this point in the year, Red-breasted Nuthatch had been hard to come by. I got my first of year on Sam’s property, along with FOY Purple Finch. Here I also got my only Ruffed Grouse of the year. But of course the best bird was the nesting Kirtland’s Warbler. Sam and I had to try really hard to track one down. (We could hear them singing but they stay tucked away in the jack pines so it is challenging!) When we found him, I got AMAZING photos and video! A real highlight of the year!

As soon as I got home from MI, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was reported in Charleston, IL. I headed down and when I arrived, the guy who had initially found it was hanging around waiting for it. Not only did it show up shortly, I got great views of it carrying nesting material to a cell tower, and later perched cooperatively for photos! This was another state lifer!

Since I had a ton of free time, I decided my next trip would be to southern IL to try to find some key species down there. And I figured while I was down there, I could spend the night and head even further south in the morning to find a lifer: SWAINSON’S WARBLER! My friend Adam had just made the trip and gave me great info about how to find a Barn Owl in Marion County. So this was my first stop. I should say that up until 2019 I had two birds I needed to see before I die: American Dipper and Barn Owl! I got dipper in MT and SD that year. So when I saw that heart-shaped face of the Barn Owl looking out of the nest box, I totally cried! :D

I had 5 more targets in southern IL: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Mississippi Kite, Little Blue Heron, Least Tern and Chuck-will’s-widow.


YCNH, LETE and CWWI were all IL state lifers.

Now it was time to head further south. I started in TN at Reelfoot NWR. I struck out on SWWA but I did see some amazing dragonflies and Prothonotary Warblers were like trash birds! Singing everywhere! I then moved into KY (I was on the border of IL, MO, TN and KY).

I had the windows rolled down and was listening for SWWA when I heard a rustling next to the car. I looked down and saw SEVEN ARMADILLOS!!! I nearly lost my mind! I took tons of photos and videos and could have watched them root around and scamper about all day! One of the most amazing creatures I have ever seen!

I drove down a long road, playing the SWWA call to no avail. I was about to give up when IT ANSWERED! I jumped out of the car and got pretty decent looks at the bird! I couldn’t manage a photo but I got a great, clear video of it singing!

This was my THIRTY-NINTH warbler species of the year! That is my highest total for warblers species ever in a single year!

I took a trip to Indiana to score a lifer Roseate Spoonbill next.

A couple of trips to Emiquon and Chautauqua NWR got me a my second Marbled Godwit in IL, my first ever Glossy Ibis in IL and finally, my lifer Red-necked Phalarope!

In July, the Chicago lakefront was still closed due to COVID. Birders were freaking out, not being able to access valuable habitat for shorebirds. And Monty and Rose, the Piping Plovers that nested in Chicago last year, were spotted by park district staff. It was soon determined that they were going to nest at Montrose again! Because I volunteered as a Piping Plover monitor the year before, I was allowed to volunteer again. This meant I would have access not only to guard these birds, but to scope the lakefront! This was a huge relief! I not only got great views of Monty and Rose and their 3 chicks, I got amazingly long looks and close views of a GORGEOUS Red Knot in breeding plumage!!

Even with these frequent trips to the Chicago lakefront, I still kept missing Ruddy Turnstone! That one finally came at Waukegan Beach in mid September. A Swallow-tailed Kite showed up in Charleston, IL and I got several Buff-breasted Sandpipers in Kendall County. While hunting for those, someone also found 2 Upland Sandpipers which I could then count for IL.

Swallow-tailed Kite in This photo of UPSA was taken later in Charleston. IL Ford County

A California Gull was reported by Colin Dobson at Lake Springfield, and I took a short jaunt over for great looks at this IL lifer. A trip to Carlyle Lake got me my lifer Laughing Gull in IL and also a FOY Franklin’s Gull.

California Gull Laughing Gull, middle, Franklin's Gull, right

A mega PURPLE GALLINULE showed up at Montrose, adding a lifer and an amazing site bird!

Next I got both Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows at Rainbow Beach.

I got only my second Sabine’s Gull ever at Lake Shelbyville in late September. That day, we also saw a LEUCISTIC TURKEY VULTURE which was one of the coolest birds I’ve ever seen!

By the beginning of October, my IL total had climbed to 289. I was starting to feel like I could actually break 300! The next bird I added to my IL list was an outright lifer: a Red Phalarope at Yorkville Dam!

A trip to western NY almost derailed my IL goal, but I did get an FOY Parasitic Jaeger on that trip, a NY state lifer and my only one of the year anywhere.

I came home early from NY because a ton of great birds were being reported in IL! I drove all the way from western NY to Montrose to find an excellent year bird: Harris’ Sparrow! Later that day in Woodstock, IL with the help of a birder named Craig Taylor who worked with the homeowners, I was able to get my state lifer Black-headed Grosbeak! (My camera was broken at the time so all I could manage was this terrible digibin shot! Wish I could have gotten a real photo of the Harris' Sparrow and this incredible bird! :( )

The next day I headed to Saganashkee Slough to gnab a Red-necked Grebe for the year.

While I was working from home on October 24, reports of a Magnificent Frigatebird at Carlyle Lake came pouring in. Bummed that I couldn’t get down there that day, I went early the next morning. My hopes weren’t high since these birds tend to be one-day wonders. I whiffed on it, but I did get a lifer Long-tailed Jaeger! On my way home, someone found a Little Gull near Lake Shelbyville. I was able to grab that on my way home for an IL lifer!

A trip to Chicago got me two pretty easy birds I still didn’t have in IL: Tundra Swan and, of all things, American Wigeon! This put me at 299 birds! I hadn’t been to IL Beach State Park hawkwatch in years, so I headed up, hoping for Golden Eagle or Northern Goshawk. Stopping at Big Marsh for those two easy year birds proved to be a big mistake- I missed a NOGO by 20 minutes!! I was really, really bummed but I cheered up. I saw a meadowlark fly behind us. I pointed it out to folks but then lost it in my bins. Then Andy Stewart perked up and said, “Did you hear that? That was a WESTERN MEADOWLARK call!” I HAD JUST GOTTEN MY 300th BIRD OF THE YEAR!!!

On my way home I got my FOY IL Eastern Screech-owl at a trusty spot in Chicago.

Working from home again, I missed an Ash-throated Flycatcher in Olney. By the time I got down there the next day, it was long gone. I added the Coles County Prairie Falcon to the list on my way home. While I was there, Evening Grosbeaks were reported in Piatt County! Now I was regretting wasting time on the ATFL! I almost started off towards Piatt when another report of Evening Grosbeaks came, this time in St Joseph, IL. Since these were more recent and in my home county of Champaign, I set out for those. I got awesome looks at these amazing birds and state lifers!

On November 1st, I decided to head up to Lake County to try for Red Crossbill and then over to Ft Sheridan hawkwatch, hoping for a second chance at Golden Eagle and Northern Goshawk. The crossbills took their time, but I did get good looks and okay photos. But I missed an early Goshawk at hawkwatch!

However, we did get a report of a Golden Eagle flying past IL Beach State Park hawkwatch. About 20 minutes later, Adam Sell spotted it high up and over the lake. I was psyched to get this IL state lifer! I really thought I had missed NOGO, so I was about to head to McLean County for a Pacific Loon. Something made me stay a little longer and that was when Adam said he had a really good bird in his scope. A SECOND NORTHERN GOSHAWK! I got this amazing year bird after all! I then flew down to McLean and got the state lifer Pacific Loon!

Got my first irruptive Common Redpolls at Montrose next. A Western Grebe showed up at Lake Springfield for another really nice year bird. I made a third trip to lake county, scouring anywhere with tall pines with cones. Finally, at Lyons Woods, I got decent looks at a flock of White-winged Crossbills!

November 14th turned out to be one of the best days of the year. A GYRFALCON was reported in IL (I will not divulge where since these birds are hunted by falconers.) I was so psyched to have a second chance at this MEGA LIFE bird! About 8 people searched for hours. I was about to pack it in when the guy who initially found it REFOUND it! A magnificent bird! I was so, so excited to see it!

Nathan Goldberg was one of the folks searching so I ran into him there. He said he had permission from a homeowner to see a Rufous Hummingbird on her property. He graciously let me tag along. We waited an hour in the rain and damp chill. We took turns having our eyes fixed on the feeder. When it was my turn, it showed up and I gave the “hey hey!” We all rejoiced, especially since this is the bird with which Nathan broke the IL STATE RECORD! Number 335 for him! This day had to be one of the highlights of my entire year.

More fun November rarities began to surface: a Spotted Towhee in Palatine, IL. A Golden-crowned Sparrow in Rockford, IL, which was a state lifer. And another state lifer Eurasian Wigeon showed up in Channahon. I got INSANELY close, long looks at White-Winged Crossbills in my very own Champaign county at Woodlawn Cemetery! And my first ever IL Hoary Redpoll I got at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

So I have to take a second to explain something. I had seen European Goldfinches on my unsuccessful trip to Waukegan Beach to find the Red Knot. What I did not know is, though these birds have been seen here often for years and are no doubt breeding, they are still not considered established. So they ARE NOT COUNTABLE in IL! So that Western Meadowlark I was rejoicing about was NOT my 300th bird! I guess this is just semantics, but I thought I should mention it.

So the Hoary Redpoll was #316.

The next bird was a doozy! In the same spot in Channahon I had the Eurasian Wigeon, a GREAT KISKADEE showed up! This was a new state bird- FOR EVERYONE! FIRST TIME it had ever been seen in the state of IL EVER! About 30 people staked out this bird. And our hero was Dan Kassebaum (I think that’s his name and think I got the spelling right!) because he finally spotted it for the group after searching for an hour or so! Absolutely fabulous find!

NOW, had I been paying a little bit more attention, I would have been EVEN MORE ecstatic at this point. Little did I know, I had just set a new record! At 317 I had seen the MOST species in one year by any woman in the state of IL!! And I did it with the most amazing bird possible!!

I went on to get a Purple Sandpiper in Lake County. (I REALLY wanted to find one myself and had combed the rocks at Park 566 THREE times without success!)

And on December 28th, a Mountain Bluebird was seen not 45 minutes away! I got it the next day after a group effort of searching for 2 and a half hours!

I finished the year with 319 countable species in IL, and one unofficial EUGO! My North American total was 376, the highest EVER! (I was supposed to go to Florida on December 28 through January 3. We didn’t think it was safe to go because of COVID, but if we would have gone, I would have tried to break 400 species!)

Here are the full bird stats:

Total year birds: 376 (IL, IN, MI, WI, OH, PA, NY, MO, TN, KY and AZ)

Total IL year birds: 319 (320)

Lifers seen this year: 16 -- Abert's Towhee, Hutton's Vireo, Rivoli's Hummingbird, Hepatic Tanager, Rufous-backed Robin, Juniper Titmouse, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Barn Owl, Swainson's Warbler, Roseate Spoonbill, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Purple Gallinule, Long-tailed Jaeger, White-winged Crossbill, and Gyrfalcon

Lifers seen in IL this year: 7 -- Barn Owl, Swainson's Warbler, Roseate Spoonbill, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Purple Gallinule, Long-tailed Jaeger, White-winged Crossbill, and Gyrfalcon

IL state lifers: 35!!! THIRTY-FUCKING-FIVE!!! -- Fish Crow, Eared Grebe, Cinnamon Teal, Black-necked Stilt, Western Tanager, White-winged Dove, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Upland Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Least Tern, Chuck-will's-widow, Glossy Ibis, California Gull, Red-necked Phalarope, Laughing Gull, Purple Gallinule, Red Phalarope, Black-headed Grosbeak, Long-tailed Jaeger, Black Vulture, Little Gull, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Golden Eagle, Pacific Loon, White-winged Crossbill, Gyrfalcon, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Eurasian Wigeon, Hoary Redpoll, Great Kiskadee, and Mountain Bluebird!!

Warbler species this year: 39!!! -- Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Connecticut, Mourning, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, American Redstart, Cape May, Cerulean, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Pine, Yellow-rumped (BOTH Audubon's and Myrtle!) Yellow-throated, Prairie, Black-throated Green, Canada, Wilson's, Swainson's, Townsends's, Black-throated Gray and Kirtland's!!

The only birds I did not see in IL were KIWA, BTYW, TOWA and SWWA!

Nathan Goldberg was just asked how many miles he drove on his IL big year. He said he was still trying to find a way to come up with that total, and I agree, it would be really hard to do or even estimate! But thousands of miles, for sure!!!

Biggest triumphs: really, really hard to say. The Barn Owl was literally a dream come true. Other than that, too hard to narrow down, so let’s leave it at that. The length of this blog shows just how hard it was to narrow down! LOL I really wish I could have reported on every single bird. They are ALL special to me!

Biggest misses: The easy birds I should have had in IL- GRASSHOPPER SPARROW?!?! UGH! Western Sandpiper was a big miss, too. If I had more energy I could have gotten White Ibis, White-faced Ibis and Anhinga. I missed Cassin’s Sparrow because I was working. That would have been an outright and state lifer!

However, the good certainly outweighs the bad and I really couldn’t be happier! I was never competing with anyone but myself. I was just trying to see as many birds as I possibly could, not beat anyone else’s number of species.

There are really too many to mention, but I'd like to thank a few folks: Colin Dobson was a huge help and not only offered me pins for target birds, but a ton of details, without which I could have wasted valuable time and effort. He is a joy to bird with and a great guy! Nathan Goldberg also helped a lot with details about finding key birds and, I will say again, it was an awesome moment to be there when he broke the IL big year record! Steve Huggins was also very helpful and encouraging throughout. I'd like to thank folks who went out of their way to tell me about great birds that had not been reported (Michael Carroll especially) and anyone who DID post on our group me groups or IBET, I couldn't have done this without that help! And, of course, my partner Michelle, who was so patient and understanding that this is a passion and how important it is to me!

I have decided that in 2021, I am NOT chasing birds, except for state lifers and outright lifers! Chasing birds like this is exhilarating but EXHAUSTING! I will focus on getting some new county life birds in Champaign and if I start getting close to the record, I may give it a shot. But I think I will be happy to watch my feeders and keep my yard list going strong. (Stay tuned for a complete blog post about birds I saw in my new yard this year!) I am hoping something really rare will show up so I, for once, can be the one to report it and have everyone flocking over, thanking me!

We’ll just have to see what 2021 brings!

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