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Big Day (Bird Race)

12 December 1998

by Jeff McCoy

Big Day Statistics:


“We held little hope in beating the Bloomington team's respectable total of 78 set the previous weekend, especially in northern Indiana.  However, several unexpected bonus birds and a number of tough-to-get species, along with only a few big misses allowed us to come quite close.  Our day started with two owling stops and despite Ed's determined hooting and whistling we were met with complete silence.  But in the marshes of Beverly Shores we fared better when two VIRGINIA RAILS answered our tape and finally, just before dawn, E. SCREECH-OWL responded.  A lakefront Big Day would not be complete without a visit from "Beverly Shore's finest" and sure enough they pulled up lights flashing to give us our standard "final warning" for stopping on the roadway.

On to Michigan City Hbr where it was immediately apparent that gull numbers were way up.  But not a single "white-winged" gull could be sifted from the swarm.  RED-THROATED LOON and nine WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS were spotted as fly-bys and the ever-present PEREGRINE FALCON watched the action from its perch on the power plant.  Just before our set departure time we managed to locate an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL swimming out on the lake - a nice consolation prize after an otherwise fruitless search for much needed winter gulls.  On our way out we casually ticked off the expected pair of LESSER SCAUP in the yacht basin (little did we know these would be the only scaup of any kind we would see all day).  We had missed our staked-out RUDDY DUCK and REDHEAD and our list stood at 17.  Back to Beverly Shores where we began filling in all the easy land birds.  Jerry and Ken simultaneously spotted what would easily be bird-of-the-day, a N. SHRIKE sitting right along the roadside.  At the overlook of Lake Michigan we spotted a group of Mallards coming in with one oddball among them.  As they got closer and landed directly in front of us we were amazed to see that it was a SURF SCOTER.

Upon leaving Beverly Shores our list stood at 47, and we had enough woodland birds to warrant skipping the feeders at Dunes State Park.  Long Lake was our best chance for PIED-BILLED GREBE, WOOD DUCK, AND HOODED MERGANSER and we quickly got all three before our hike out to scan Lake Michigan and go through the raft of 5000+ ducks that had accumulated offshore of West Beach over the past few weeks.  One problem - they were gone!  Not letting this disappointment and costly waste of time deter us we rushed up to northwestern Lake Co. for a few quick stops.  At Jeorse Park four BONAPARTE'S GULLS sitting on the beach were unexpected and at our dependable BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON site on the Grand Calumet River it didn't take John long to spot one in a small tree on the bank.  We then bolted for Kankakee FWA right on schedule at 1145 hrs and with our list at 59.    En route we chanced upon a flock of 69 TUNDRA SWANS in a gravel pit.  We continued to Kankakee where scouting the day before had found extensive flooded fields filled with waterfowl.  N. PINTAIL was easily found and a large flock of KILLDEER and COMMON SNIPE was feeding in one field.  Other tough Big Day birds such as SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, N. HARRIER, and RING-NECKED PHEASANT were ticked off one-by-one.  We ended up spending almost double our planned time here but picked up 13 new species including a very late BLUE-WINGED TEAL found by John on our way out.  Somehow, however, we had missed ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (three had been present the day before).

With our list now at 74 but only a little over an hour of daylight left we headed for our last stop at Kingsbury FWA.  A quick pass through Shamrock Sod farm En route was a bust as our staked-out LAPLAND LONGSPURS had moved on.  At Kingsbury we pulled up to the area where the wintering MERLINS stage each evening and immediately spotted one in the top of a small tree.  But unfortunately the only other birds we were able to add to our list in the failing light were SWAMP SPARROW and RUSTY BLACKBIRD.  Our final total was higher than I expected but I think we could have done even better with a date earlier in the month, more extensive scouting (we only had half a day), and a more concerted effort to reduce partials.”

Species list:

Red-thr. Loon
C. Loon
Pied-b. Grebe
Horned Grebe
Double-cr. Corm.
Gr. Blue Heron
Black-cr. N.-Heron 1
Tundra Swan 69
Mute Swan
C. Goose
Wood Duck
Gr-w. Teal
Am. Black Duck
Blue-w. Teal 1
N. Pintail
N. Shoveler
Am. Wigeon
Ring-n. Duck
L. Scaup
Surf Scoter 1
White-w. Scoter 9
C. Goldeneye
H. Merg.
Red-br. Merg.
N. Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-t. Hawk
Am. Kestrel
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Ring-n. Pheasant 1
Virg. Rail 2
Am. Coot
Killdeer 12
C. Snipe 21
Bonaparte's Gull 4
R.-b. Gull
Herring Gull
L. Blk.-b. Gull 1
E. Screech-owl 2
"large owl sp." 1
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
B. Kingfisher
Red-h. Woodp. 1
Red-b. Woodp.
Downy Woodp.
N. Flicker
H. Lark
Blue Jay
Am. Crow
Blk.-c. Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-br. Nuthatch
Car. Wren 1
E. Bluebird 1
Am. Robin
N. Shrike 1
E. Starling
Br. Creeper
N. Cardinal
Am. Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow 2
White-thr. Sparrow
White-cr. Sparow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-w. Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Br.-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Am. Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Jeff McCoy
Columbia City, IN