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So Many Blue Grosbeaks

5/29/2024


With migration mostly over, I was planning a grassland tour this last weekend. It went well, but I cost myself a day of birding by paying too much attention to the weather. I have always enjoyed the grassland species. Ticks and chiggers - not so much. I usually dose up on repellent if I plan on walking any fields. With what I had planned for this weekend, that would not be a problem. It was all going to be road or trail birding. My main target was Lark Sparrow, of which I have very few photos. As always, it turned into a Henslow's Sparrow hunt, which actually turned into a Blue Grosbeak bonanza.


Saturday, I was up and headed to Kankakee Sands. I had a target in mind. Lark Sparrow are limited breeders here in the state. For some reason, I have never put the effort into chasing them. This was going to be the day. I got to Kankakee Sands a little late, but it did not matter much. The winds were a bit strong , and it was very cloudy at sunrise. Even with the winds, there were a few birds perched up and singing. Some pishing got a few of them closer. I came prepared with a 1.4x converter and was able to grab some images that were a little bit further than I normally like to shoot. Mostly, I had Grasshopper Sparrow; a fantastic little sparrow with some bright yellow epaulettes. There were a few Field Sparrow with their cute pink bills, too. A pair of Eastern Kingbird were patrolling the field but remained fairly distant, for the most part. I could hear several Henslow's Sparrow, but only one was perched up. It, of course, was on the wrong side of the road. Dickcissel and an Orchard Oriole rounded out the morning. What I did not have was a Lark Sparrow. I paced the length of the field a few times and then moved on.


Even though it was late in the morning and the sun had come out, I headed over to Willow Slough for a quick look over there. Here, I found my target. A pair of Lark Sparrow were busy flying about in a field. They would not let me get a photo, though. I will have to try another time.


Sunday, I cheated myself out of some birding. The weather had called for rain all day with heavy winds and hail. I did not want to get caught away from the house in a hail storm. Getting caught on the interstate in a hail storm would be a recipe for disaster. I stayed home and slept in a bit. Of course, the storms did not arrive until around noon. Even when they got here, they were not that bad. We got a lot of rain, but none of the other extreme weather they had forecast. I could have easily gone out birding.


Monday was the holiday, and I headed out to bird Prophetstown SP. It was another cloudy and windy morning. I pulled in to my usual spot and was greeted with silence. No sparrows. I drove elsewhere. No sparrows. I checked a third spot. No sparrows. This was going to suck. Now, by "no sparrows", I mean I am not hearing any Henslow's. This is my go-to spot for Henslow's. They are always here - except, I guess, when they are not.... I drove back to my initial spot and met up with Mark Welter for some photography. We are both in the photo challenge this year and were looking for some shots we could use. We birded the park and did not have any luck with Grasshopper or Henslow's. We heard both species distantly, and only one of each. What we had fantastic luck with was Blue Grosbeak. I think we had a total of 6 birds; including one non-breeding male, which I had never seen before. This bird looks like a female but with blue in the face and through the rump and tail. Quite an interesting bird. We had another pair feeding next to the main road, and a final pair that were feeding down by the aquatic center. They were fantastic encounters, and they paid little attention to us as we photographed them from the cars. There were a few Dickcissel around, but even those seemed low in number. We had a single female Bobolink. A few Field Sparrow and Common Yellowthroat were about, too.


The park looks like half the area went through a burn. I understand the sparrows not being in those parts, but the other half, where I normally find them, was barren as well. I really do not know what has happened up here. Maybe they burned in April when the birds were showing up and it pushed them out? Regardless, it sucks that whatever happened has had such a huge impact on the wildlife here.


This will wrap up May and migration for me. I had hoped to also make it to Goose Pond but missing the day meant missing out. From here, things tend to slow down a bit. I will be making a quick trip to Alaska. Hopefully, the weather and plans go smoothly for that trip. We do not have a lot of time up there. After that??? Who can say. I do not have any plans, but I am sure I will come up with something.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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