Kishwaukee Christmas Bird Count

This year we held the count on Wednesday, December 21. We had 28 counters in the field and 4 reporting as feeder watchers. 9 participants got up early and went owling. I am always grateful to them for their extra effort.

The weather and the birds co-operated pretty well. The total of 73 species is not a record for this count but it’s pretty good. The average for the Kishwaukee count is in the high sixties. Dark-eyed Juncos were particularly abundant and Hermit Thrushes set a high count record. One party found a surprising 42 White-crowned Sparrows all in one flock. Although we didn’t break many records most of our birds were present in average, to above average, numbers. A few single birds that helped push up the species total were Northern Shrike, Purple Finch, Brown Thrasher, Savannah Sparrow, Western Meadowlark. The one Ruby-crowned Kinglet was actually coming to a feeder! Let’s hope that the lonely single Swamp Sparrow is an anomaly. Normally we have a dozen or more Swamp Sparrows.

The birds found in unusually low numbers were mostly species that vary their numbers dramatically from one winter to the next. Snow Buntings, Longspurs, Shrikes, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Siskins (missed entirely!) and Purple Finches don’t always show up in northern Illinois in big numbers, possibly due to conditions to our north. Lack of much open water probably kept the gull and waterfowl numbers down. But, it is worrying that we only found one Red-headed Woodpecker. Red-heads are a species of much concern as they continue to lose habitat.

I am attaching the report of the count, including the birdlist, from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count system.You can get access to all the CBC information and past records at:

Many thanks to all of you who participated. Volunteer effort is the lifeblood of the CBC program. You make it work.

Barbara Williams

Kishwaukee CBC 21 Dec 2016

Rockford CBC report

This is a report of the results of the December 17, 2016 Rockford Christmas Bird Count.

Happily, the bad weather that had been forecast for December 17 failed to materialize, so we had a pretty good day to count birds.  The snow held off until later in the afternoon and had little impact on the count unless you had planned to go owling in the evening.  Morning conditions for owling were good.  The snow from the night before meant that some places were not accessible, and walking was difficult in forest preserves and other unplowed areas.

The cold weather that preceded the count meant that most of the still water (ponds, lakes) were frozen, although a quarry was open near Roscoe.  Moving water was mostly open except the Rock River above the Fordham Dam, but the Rock river below the Rockton dam was open.

Normally we have 35-40 counters, but this year only 31 were able to participate.

Those 31, plus feeder watchers, counted a total of 78 species, (3 above the last 5 year average) and 17,914 individuals (approximately 5,000 lower than the last 5 year average), so even though the species list was high, the total number of birds was down. Most of the difference was in the waterfowl category (all of that frozen water and snow cover). There were 2 count week (“cw”) species – Sandhill Crane and Eastern Meadowlark.

Highlights include a species new to the count, Black-crowned Night-heron; first one, then a second, immature bird was seen in the willows along the stream below the Westlake dam.  At least one was still present on Monday, the 19th.  New high counts were: Greater White-fronted Goose (9), Wild Turkey (228, edging out the previous high of 226), Hermit Thrush (7), Fox Sparrow (17), and Dark-eyed Junco (3,172).  It seemed like juncos were everywhere along the roadsides this year.

Waterbirds were very scarce.  A few were in creeks and small streams where the water was open, but most were in the Roscoe quarry.  Very few gulls were spotted. We also had fairly low numbers of raptors.  Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech-owls were low.  I suspect that the snow depth caused some hawks to move.  The lower owl count is partially the result of the inability of observers to access the areas where they are normally found.  After several years of increasing woodpecker numbers, that group had much lower totals.  I don’t know why (low # of counters?).  For the first time in a number of years, no Northern Shrikes were reported.

The high counts of Hermit Thrushes and Fox Sparrows could be the result of birds being trapped by the series of snowstorms and cold fronts that hit the area a week earlier and kept (and are still) coming.

Winter finches have not moved into northern IL so far this year, and Red-breasted Nuthatches are very scarce.  The total absence of Pine Siskins is disappointing, plus few Purple Finches were seen, a continuing and troubling trend.  There was a single Common Redpoll reported.  There was a report of 10 redpolls at a feeder in Pecatonica that same day, but the feeder was outside of the count circle.

On the subject of “outside the count circle,” a reporter on eBird posted that he saw thousands of geese, including both large and small white geese, plus a Short-eared Owl, flying west to east over I-90 in South Beloit on count day.  South Beloit is not in the count circle, but the sighting is evidence that a lot of birds were in that part of the county, perhaps in Lake Victoria in South Beloit, which is an old quarry, and which might have been open on count day.  So close, but yet so far.

The final count report filed with National Audubon is attached below.

Thanks to all of you who participated.  I appreciate it very much.  Next year’s count will be held on Saturday, December 16, 2017.  Please save the date.  I hope that you will participate.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

ILRO 2016-17Results


Rockford CBC on December 19, 2015

Happy New Year Everyone!

Attached is the final report of the Rockford CBC conducted on Saturday, December 19, 2015. The weather on December 19 was fairly pleasant-reasonable temperatures, mostly sunny, low wind-so birding conditions were favorable.

Each year our count manages to produce some surprises, and this year was not an exception. We tallied 75 species and 20,849 individuals on count day. A small flock of 5 swans was unable to be identified to species because they were flying over a vehicle at the time of observation. A Northern Saw-whet Owl was a count week bird on December 21.

Many of us noted that it was often difficult to find birds, particularly land birds, and we had to dig them out. This was likely due to the unseasonably warm weather experienced in the Rockford area during the fall and into December. While the factors that go into an analysis are often complicated, and opinions aren’t often worth the paper they are printed on, the unseasonable mild temperatures probably had several contradictory effects on birds and the count.

Warm temperatures were recorded far north of Illinois, so the wetlands and lakes in those regions remained open, delaying waterfowl migration. Their resident water birds delayed their departure from the north. (See my note on Sandhill Cranes that follows). Passerines in our area, that would normally have moved on, apparently lingered until the major snow storm (12″ of snow in northwest Winnebago County). As a result, many birds either moved on or did not survive the storm. Then, it got warm again and rained, so that by Thanksgiving Day, all of the snow was melted. Still, waterfowl had not moved in, and other migrants had not arrived, so we were caught in the doldrums of migration.

The front that arrived on December 17-18 dropped temperatures and caused some still water to freeze, but, because northern waterfowl and passerines had not arrived, we had some low numbers on the count. The passerines that were formerly spread out because of the lack of snow and access to natural foods had not had time to find and congregate at feeders or in more sheltered spots.

Surprise #1: Total number of individuals counted was only 821 below the last 10-year rolling average of 21,670. And, surprise #2, the 75 species seen, 4 more than the 10-year rolling average of 71, is 4th place high count on the all-time list for the Rockford CBC. Last year’s high of 80 set the record; there were 79 in 1998-99 and 76 in 2013-14.

Some highlights. SANDHILL CRANES (321) completely smashed the old record high (38) by nearly 10X. 296 were at Nygren Wetlands. This was not a surprise, since thousands of Sandhills were reported to be still migrating over Chicago on New Year’s weekend. The cold front got them moving.

A PEREGRINE FALCON was recorded for the first time on the count. EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES have increased incrementally, with 5. For some reason, they are still sparse in Winnebago County, but thriving in Ogle County, where one team on the Kishwaukee CBC had 155 on December 26. PILEATED WOODPECKERS continue to increase. 13 tied the high set last year. BALD EAGLES (64) exceeded the old high of 44.

Species for which only a single individual was observed were: Snow and Ross’ Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Horned Grebe, Rough-legged Hawk (no snow up north), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Shrike, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds, and Purple Finch.

Some low lights: No Hermit Thrushes, Common Grackles, Snow Buntings, Short-eared Owls, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (with the warm temps, these were expected) or White-crowned Sparrows. Low numbers of waterfowl overall; Pine Siskins and Purple Finches weren’t gathering in numbers around feeders.



Dec 26, 2015 Kishwaukee Christmas Bird Count

Thanks to all for your efforts on behalf of the Kishwaukee CBC. I was a bit nervous about being out of town for the count.  I’ve organized and compiled this count for eleven years and this is the first time I’ve missed the count itself. But as I expected, you all did a good job and covered your territories. I needn’t have worried.

Unfortunately, there just weren’t many birds around on count day. Many of you commented on the low numbers of birds and the species that were not found. A few days later when the snow fell and the temperatures dropped, birds showed up on the roadsides, at feeders and on patches of open water. Too late!

We can’t pick a different day and do it over. We have to stick with the day that was chosen. The final data will show the numbers and species of birds in relation to the hours put in afield and watching feeders, the number of miles that counters walked and drove while searching for birds, the temperature, precipitation and wind. Sometimes the most interesting counts are the ones that illustrate why certain species are missing from an area. Sometimes it takes years for the patterns in the data to emerge and be understood. It is worthwhile to go out and collect the information even when its not a great birding day.

As on the Rockford count, we can guess that the abundance of open water to our north allowed waterfowl to stay to our north. Waterfowl were in short supply with only three (!) species of waterfowl. The lack of snow cover meant that Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs, if present, were really hard to find.

Light rain and wind almost always make it harder to find, see and identify birds. That was certainly true on December 26th. While many species were represented by only about half of the normal number, we had particularly low numbers of Great Blue Heron, Pileated & Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song Sparrow, Tree Sparrow and even House Sparrow! Expected in small numbers but completely absent from the count were Pheasant, Northern Harrier, Red-headed Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Purple Finch, Swamp Sparrow.

We had only a few highlights. Our previous record for Wild Turkey was 108, so 135 found in several locations was quite a leap forward. Larry Balch and Gary Jahnke were determined to break 100 on their tally of Eurasian Collared Doves after getting to a record 99 last year. They are justifiably proud of their total of 155 for this year. Thanks to the presence of Klehm Arboretum within the count circle we often get a pretty good total of American Robins. Small numbers of Robins are found in about half the territories in the circle, but Klehm often has large flocks feeding on the many crabapples in the gardens. The previous record was 612. This year Klehm produced a surprising 937. The total for the circle ended up at 1058. So much for Robins being a sign of spring!

A single Saw-whet Owl, one Carolina Wren, two Winter Wrens and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet were nice finds that brightened up the day.

At the end of the day a total of 56 species and 16,419 individual birds were tallied with 6 Green-winged Teal seen during the count week. We had 28 counters participating in the field, plus 5 feeder watchers.

Thanks again for all your time and effort. Happy New Year!

Barbara Williams

Kishwaukee Christmas Bird Count Results

11     Cackling Goose
2648 Canada Goose
543   Mallard
cw    Green-winged Teal
135   Wild Turkey
2       Great Blue Heron
1       Sharp-shinned Hawk
12    Cooper’s Hawk
12    Bald Eagle (6 ad., 6 im.)
52    Red-tailed Hawk
2      Rough-legged Hawk
296  Ring-billed Gull
82    Herring Gull
250  Gull sp. (unidentified)
502   Rock Pigeon
155   Eurasian Collared-Dove
444   Mourning Dove
4      Eastern Screech- Owl
3      Great Horned Owl
3      Barred Owl
1      Northern Saw-whet Owl
6      Belted Kingfisher
71    Red-bellied Woodpecker
3      Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
156  Downy Woodpecker
34    Hairy Woodpecker
13    Northern Flicker
2      Pileated Woodpecker
20    American Kestrel
92    Blue Jay
632  American Crow
16    Horned Lark
426  Black-capped Chickadee
37    Tufted Titmouse
9      Red-breasted Nuthatch
180  White-breasted Nuthatch
92    Brown Creeper
1      Winter Wren
2      Carolina Wren
26    Golden-crowned Kinglet
1      Ruby-crowned Kinglet
75    Eastern Bluebird
1058 American Robin
6119 European Starling
17     Lapland Longspur
4      Yellow-rumped Warbler
225  American Tree Sparrow
623  Dark-eyed Junco
8      White-crowned Sparrow
18    White-throated Sparrow
5      Song Sparrow
256  Northern Cardinal
12    Brown-headed Cowbird
378  House Finch
20    Pine Siskin
171  American Goldfinch
421  House Sparrow

Total species – 56
Total individual birds – 16,419

Rock Cut CBC partial totals from Rock Cut SP

Yesterday, January 2, I was assigned to count the territory that included most of Rock Cut SP on the Rock Cut CBC. I started at the east end of the lake around 0745, when the park opened. As I counted up the endless number of Canada Geese and Mallards, I was interested in the Herring Gulls that kepy flying in from the east. When I got to the boat launch parking lot by the concession stand, the gulls were beginning to build and were cirling over the open water, and some were settling down on the ice to roost. I met Jack and Joyce Armstrong, who were also checking the lake. After they left, I started counting the Canada Geese at that end. I took a break after getting 1050 in the flock on the north side of the lake, and still had several thousand, I guessed, to go. So, I decided it would be fun to count the gulls. It was a nice surprise to find an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull sleeping on the ice with a lot of Herring Gulls and a few Ring-billed Gulls. So, I was able to reach Jack and Joyce on their cell and they returned to see the LBB.

My total count of Canada Geese between 0745 and 0930 was 4489. Other waterfowl included 1 Snow (blue) Goose, 4 Am. Black Ducks, 4 Common Goldeneye, and 5 Am. Coots. The 4 Common Mergansers that Larry Balch and I counted on January 1 could not be relocated.

The Black Scoter that had been on Pierce Lake since late November has not been seen in a week. Larry Balch looked, but was unable to find it on December 31, and neither the Rockford Bird Club field trip on 1/1, or Larry and I, were able to find it later on 1/1. I did not see it on 1/2.

I counted 31 Cedar Waxwings and 2 Eastern Bluebirds near the Harlem Road entrance at the Olson Annex. Jack and Joyce found a 3rd bluebird there (that is their territory on the count), plus found waxwings at the same place.

2 Red-breasted Nuthatches were in the White Pine stand at the driveway to Red Oak picnic area. Overall, land birds were very quiet and hard to locate, at least by me.

Lesser Black-backed Gull at Rock Cut SP

On Saturday morning, Barbara spotted an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull on Pierce Lake during the Rock Cut Christmas Bird Count.  It was on the ice with a lot of Herring Gulls and a few Ring-billed Gulls.

We starting counting at 8:00 a.m., when the park opened.  The lake was full of Canada Geese-9790 of them.  Other waterfowl included Cackling Geese (35), Mallards, American Black Ducks (3), Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser (1), Common Merganser, and Ruddy Duck (5).  There were also 8 Coots.

There were over 150 Herring Gulls and 13 Ring-billed Gulls.

We recommend that you go there to arrive at 8:00 a.m. to have the best chance to find birds on the lake before they dissipate.  The Canadas started to depart around 9:00, and that got the gulls up in the air.  The Lesser Black-backed was not seen in the afternoon.

2014 Kishwaukee CBC report

Thanks to all the participants who helped with the Kishwaukee CBC. A preliminary report is below.

The weather was fairly mild and skies were overcast. There was no wind & ponds and lakes were partly open.

We missed finding any Lapland Longspurs or Snow Buntings. Even without snow I would have guessed that a few would have been around but they were not to be found. Similarly, no Savannah Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows or Northern Shrikes, all open-country birds, were found.

Only single birds were found of some species that are usually more numerous: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Fox Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Carolina Wren. The very cold weather in November may have pushed some of those birds to the south of us.

Collared Dove flocks continue to grow. They were found in Holcomb and Davis Junction. In other good news Bald Eagles, Pileated Woodpeckers and Eastern Bluebirds seem to be showing steadily increasing numbers. Time will tell if it is a long-term trend or just a few deceptively good years.

I’ll get the final report out in a couple of days.

Next year’s Kishwaukee CBC will be on December 26, 2015.  I hope you can join us and help out!

Thanks again and Happy New Year to everyone!

188 Cackling Goose
4445 Canada Goose
3 American Black Duck
1143 Mallard
1 Lesser Scaup
18 Common Goldeneye
4 Bufflehead
53 Common Merganser
11 American Coot
2 Ring-necked Pheasant
99 Wild Turkey
4 Great Blue Heron
47 Bald Eagle (24 ad., 23 im.)
4 Northern Harrier
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk
17 Cooper’s Hawk
98 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Red-shouldered Hawk
3 Rough-legged Hawk
20 American Kestrel
1 Merlin
89 Ring-billed Gull
110 Herring Gull
115 Rock Pigeon
99 Eurasian Collared-Dove
685 Mourning Dove
8 Eastern Screech- Owl
4 Great Horned Owl
8 Barred Owl
4 Northern Saw-whet Owl
12 Belted Kingfisher
2 Red-headed Woodpecker
190 Red-bellied Woodpecker
7 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
277 Downy Woodpecker
63 Hairy Woodpecker
58 Northern Flicker
10 Pileated Woodpecker
281 Blue Jay
545 American Crow
12 Horned Lark
676 Black-capped Chickadee
50 Tufted Titmouse
338 White-breasted Nuthatch
85 Brown Creeper
1 Carolina Wren
3 Winter Wren
4 Golden-crowned Kinglet
98 Eastern Bluebird
103 American Robin
2 Hermit Thrush
2302 European Starling
294 Cedar Waxwing
27 Yellow-rumped Warbler
452 Northern Cardinal
367 American Tree Sparrow
1 Field Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow
18 Song Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow
3 White-throated Sparrow
1306 Dark-eyed Junco
20 Purple Finch
523 House Finch
19 Common Redpoll
33 Pine Siskin
302 American Goldfinch
30 Brown-headed Cowbird
2164 House Sparrow

Total species – 69

Total individual birds – 19,005

Rockford CBC highlights: A new high total

The Rockford Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 14.  Despite the fog, which got worse in the afternoon, the combined teams managed to locate 80 species, plus 2 “count week” birds-Golden Eagle and Short-eared Owl.  This is the highest total in count history, edging the old mark of 79 set in 1999.

Here are a few highlights:

Waterfowl are the big news this year.  The team of Donaldson, Vincent, Kielback and Maynard had 13 waterfowl species (plus 25 Coots), Don Miller and company had a Wood Duck, and two teams had Snow Goose.  Two teams (Kisamore and Longhenry) recorded  Cackling Geese(27).  Longhenry had the only Tundra Swan: a grand total of 17 species.

Some species were only found by one team (captains listed), such as:  White-crowned Sparrow  and Merlin (Eickman); Snow Bunting and Brown-headed Cowbird (Grover); Hermit Thrush, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup (Vincent); Tundra Swan (Longhenry); Rusty Blackbird and Lapland Longspur (Armstrong); Long-eared Owl (Johnson); Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Kehoe); Eurasian Collared-dove and Chipping Sparrow (Oliveri); Northern Shrike (Williams); Wood Duck (Miller).

5 Winter Wrens by 3 teams was very good.  1 team had 3.  The Ruby-crowned Kinglet and  Chipping Sparrow are well-documented.  The Pecatonica Bottoms is the hotspot for Red-headed Woodpeckers, and they were only found there.  33 were recorded by Team Grover (19) on the north side of the Pecatonica River and the team of Phil Doncheck, Gary Jahnke and me (14) on the south side in the ICF/Torstenson property.  Red-breasted Nuthatch is very scarce this year, and none were reported from feeders.  But, 3 were found (2 and 1, respectively) in the center of the circle, which has a lot of wide open agriculture.  I presume that these birds were found in cemetery conifers.

Winter finches are scarce.  We managed to find only 3 Common Redpolls, 7 Purple Finches, and 65 Pine Siskins.  After setting a state high count of 806 House Finches in 2009, this year’s search only found 299.  I believe that the peak has passed  and we won’t see numbers approaching the high total again.

Count high totals for individual species were set by the following:

Bufflehead (4), Hooded Merganser (8), Common Merganser (282), Ruddy Duck (6), American Coot (26), Barred Owl (17), Red-bellied Woodpecker (second record in a row 226), Downy Woodpecker (392), Hairy Woodpecker (86), Pileated Woodpecker ( second year in a row-13), Blue Jay (411), Black-capped Chickadee (814), White-breasted Nuthatch (374).

Low total was Ring-necked Pheasant (5).  I attribute this to substantial loss of habitat, primarily by changing agricultural practices.  Species often seen on the count, such as Wilson’s Snipe, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Fox Sparrow, were not seen this year.  Continuing their trend, Gray Partridge and Bobwhite were not seen again this year.  I believe that the only ones around are recent releases or escapes from hunt clubs.

We had 47 field counters, which is more than average.  There was no snow cover so birds were scattered.  While the fog made visibility difficult, the wind was low., and the mild temperatures before the count caused some still water to re-open. Good coverage by good birders, open water, and mild temperatures all combined to produce this high total.

Thank you to all who contributed their time and talent to make this count successful.  Next year the count is Saturday, December 19, 2015.