By Martin Kemper, Master Naturalist
May 9th may have been a rainy overcast day, but spring migrant birds didn’t seem to mind. Seven volunteer observers scouted Washington County on that date and recorded 105 species of resident and migratory birds as part of Illinois’ statewide Spring Bird Count (SBC). Species were observed in all habitats including area woodlands, wetlands, grassy areas, and open agricultural spaces.
Special focus areas included the Kaskaskia Macrosite Forest in the Venedy area and Washington County Conservation Area (now officially renamed Washington County State Recreation Area).
Highlights of the day included an adult Bald Eagle at Washington County Conservation Area and rarely seen (at least locally) Canada Warblers and Wilson’s Warblers observed near Venedy. Recording six of the seven species of thrushes occurring in the Midwest was another highlight (American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Wood Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Swainson’s Thrush).
Also noteworthy were the presence of Fish Crows, a southern species at the very limit of their range here, and Bell’s Vireo, a species near the eastern limit of its range.
The 2015 Spring Bird Count in Illinois coincided with the first ever Global Big Day count. As implied, this was a world-wide bird count. This year observers in over 130 countries observed 6072 species of birds on May 9 — over 2/3 of all species on the planet. Some reports are still coming into the official on-line data center at eBird (hosted by Cornell University and the National Audubon Society), so that number may yet grow.
The Illinois Count records not only species, but the numbers of each that are identified. So some interesting results are “in the numbers.”
The eight Red-shouldered Hawks observed this year was a record for the Washington County SBC. Unlike the more common Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, which prefer deep woodlands, were once on the Illinois Threatened Species list because of population declines, but have made modest strides in recent years and have been removed from that listing as a result. Events like the Illinois Spring Bird Count help researchers monitor the health of bird populations, especially those of declining species, of which there are many.
Without doubt, the longest-distance migrants observed on the 2015 count were Bobolinks seen near Posen. This striking “gold-and-white-and-black” songbird travels 12,500 miles per year from its winter home in southern South America to its summer range in the grasslands of the northern US and southern Canada and back again Like many other migrants, these birds are known to have a remarkable navigation abilities including a built in biological compass that tells them direction. On a clear night they can find their way simply by looking at the stars.
The 42nd annual Illinois Spring Bird Count will be held Saturday May 7, 2016. More information about the SBC can be found at the Illinois Natural History Survey web page (http://inhs.illinois.edu/databases/sbc/about.html).
Count participants in 2015 included: Jennifer Malacarne (Venedy), Jim Rapp (Waterloo), Glen and Linda Schuetz (Venedy), Scott Shubert (Okawville), Will Summers (Nashville), Robert White (O’Fallon). Martin Kemper (Nashville) is the local count coordinator.