Sat 13 Mar 2010
Thursday afternoon, after the clouds broke up and the rain stopped, my wife and I were driving down Spring Creek Road in Rockford, where the speed limit is 45 mph. I pointed out a Turkey Vulture to her that was crossing over headed directly north. A few blocks later, as we approached Alpine, headed west, I spotted another vulture up ahead, just north of the road. Almost immediately, I noted and remarked to her in surprise that it was flying like a Black Vulture—flap, glide, flap, glide. The bird was circling back toward the road, and I desperately wanted to get a better look at it. So, while negotiating the slight curve through the intersection, and trying not to get run over in the moderate traffic, I managed to slide open the moonroof (no birder should be without one!) just before the bird passed directly over the opening in the roof, perhaps 100-150 feet above us. In the split second it was visible, I clearly saw the white in the primaries of both wings. Unfortunately, the fast-moving traffic and a lack of side streets prevented us from turning around to try to find the bird again.
I’m not sure when this species returns to southern Illinois, but Cornell Lab says it returns to Missouri in late February and early March. Some raptors were clearly moving that afternoon, as within 5-10 minutes we also saw a Red-tailed Hawk and a Red-shouldered Hawk moving over that urban neighborhood, and just before dusk, we and Steve Gent saw a group of 6 Northern Harriers sitting together on the ground at Nygren Wetland Preserve.