eBird Tip – Viewing Bar Charts

eBird bar chart screenshot

eBird bar chart screenshot for Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)

Among the many features eBird has to offer, one of the most useful is the ability to view bar charts for a given hotspot. These bar charts make it easy to see monthly status information for all the species eBird has records of for a hotspot. To pull up an eBird bar chart

  1. Go to an eBird hotspot
  2. In the pale blue sidebar on the left side of the page, click the Bar Charts link under the EXPLORE heading (the graphic below is a screenshot of this section).

eBird sidebar screenshot

That’s it. The chart may take a few seconds to completely load, so be patient. Try it for Montrose Point and see what comes up.

Long-tailed Duck, February 2, 2021

Long-tailed Duck with a fish (click to see the larger version)

A very tame female Long-tailed Duck showed up in the harbor on February 1. She was still there on February 2. The bird has a pale spot on the bill, a mark I associate with male Long-tailed Ducks, but I think the head is too dark for a young male and the scapulars are brown, not pale gray as would be expected on a young male Long-tailed. Note the small fish she caught in the photo. More photos of this bird are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

The west side of Montrose Harbor is still open and has been hosting a decent variety of waterfowl for us and for the time of the year, including Greater and Lesser Scaup, a Bufflehead, an American Black Duck, and until recently, a Brant and Snow Goose. This will probably change with the bitterly cold air forecast to arrive over the weekend.

eBird Checklist
February 2, 2021

Concepts – Relative vs. Absolute Rarities

Brant

A relatively rare but still exciting Brant at Montrose Point in Chicago, January 2021. (click to see the larger version)

Birders think a lot about rare birds. More than think about — we obsess over them, drive thousands of miles to chase them, and dream about finding them. But what is a rarity? There are a couple of ways to think about this. Most of the rare birds we see are only regionally unusual, that is, they are common someplace within their range but uncommon outside it. The Brant that showed up at Montrose in early January is a good example of this concept. The world population is in the hundreds of thousands, and they’re common on their wintering grounds from New Jersey to Massachusets on the East Coast. Illinois is outside of their main range and migration route, so it’s a big deal here; when one shows up it generates a lot of excitement in the birding community. Brant is rare enough in Illinois to be on the review list of birds requiring documentation, and Montrose has four or so previous records. Relative rareness doesn’t just include birds outside their normal range, it also includes birds outside of their normal timeframe. A Bay-breasted Warbler in Chicago in December is an example.

The other kind of rarity are birds whose entire population is low. The world population of Kirtland’s Warbler in 2020, for example, was a little under 5,000 birds. That’s not a lot. By comparison, the seating capacity of the bleachers at Wrigley Field is about 5,000. Such small populations are vulnerable to all sorts of disturbances. This class has a handful of species, most of which are on the Endangered Species List. Of these, a few have been recorded in Illinois, including Kirtland’s Warbler, and recent records of Whooping Crane and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

Identification – Greater vs. Lesser Scaup

Greater and Lesser Scaup

Greater and Lesser Scaup (click to see the larger version)

Greater and Lesser Scaup can be challenging to identify. Seeing the two together makes the differences between them easier to compare. On January 25, I saw and photographed an adult male Greater Scaup with an adult male Lesser Scaup inside Montrose Harbor. The photo nicely shows the main differences, namely the fuller, more rounded head of the Greater and the narrower, more pointed head of the Lesser. Also note the purer white sides of the Greater compared to the grayer sides of the Lesser. If you get the chance to compare two similar species side by side, take the time to study them closely. More photos of these birds are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
January 25, 2021

Urban Birding Tip – Watch Those Pigeons

Have you ever seen a group of pigeons explode into flight or flying back and forth in a panic? When I’m walking around or driving through Chicago, I sometimes see pigeons launch into flight for no obvious reason. More often than not the source of their disturbance turns out to be a bird of prey, like a Cooper’s Hawk or Peregrine Falcon. The pigeons are smart enough to recognize the threat a hawk presents and they respond to that threat by getting up and flying around. This predator response is the same for other birds, like shorebirds or gulls that flush at the sight of a hawk, falcon, or other large bird of prey. So the next time you see a flock of pigeons explode into flight, look around, there might be a Peregrine Falcon or Red-tailed Hawk behind or above them.

Whoever said pigeons were useless was wrong.

Kankakee Sands, January 9, 2021 – Bison, Buteos, and More

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk (click to see the larger version)

I took a break from Chicago birding and headed down to the Kankakee Sands in Newton County, Indiana on January 9. The Kankakee Sands is a complex of prairie and wetland habitat owned and managed by the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy. I visit the Sands several times each year, usually in summer and winter to look for birds and butterflies. Birding is excellent all year round. Summer is the season to see the grassland specialties like Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows and Dickcissels, which are hard to miss and fill the air with their songs. Winter brings a different set of visitors, most notably raptors like Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Short-eared Owl. These birds of prey were my avian targets on my January 9 visit. I saw a dozen Rough-legged Hawks and seven Northern Harriers, all coursing the fields for rodents or perching on the tip tops of trees for a better vantage. I missed Short-eared Owls, probably because I was there too late in the morning, but they are there and in numbers. I also had a couple of Bald Eagles and American Kestrels, a Cooper’s Hawk, and a lone Red-tailed Hawk. The Sands is one of the few places where Rough-legged Hawks outnumber the usually more common Red-tailed Hawk. The main mammal claim to fame at the Sands is a herd of about 70 American Bison. These Bison were introduced to a section of the Sands in 2016 and play an important role in maintaining the integrity of the grasslands. They’re hard to miss and I didn’t have any problem finding them.

How to Bird The Kankakee Sands (and look for Bison)

The Kankakee Sands is about an hour and a half due south of Chicago off of US41 in eastern Newton County, Indiana. Morocco is the nearest large town and lies about six miles to the south. When I bird the Sands I drive back and forth slowly on the gravel roads east of US41, looking and listening for birds and other wildlife. These roads don’t get a lot of traffic, especially in winter, and are safe to bird while driving. Note that in winter the roads might not be drivable because of heavy snow. County roads 500N and 400N are excellent for birds of prey.

American Bison

American Bison (click to see the larger version)

The Bison are best viewed from the Bison Viewing Area west of US41. To reach it, take 400W south from 400N for about half a mile. Look for a gravel road that goes east and take it to the parking lot. Walk up to the top of the rise and start scanning. The Bison are usually to the south, east, or northeast. They can be seen with your eyes but binoculars make the experience more enjoyable. This is also an excellent place and vantage point to look for Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and other birds of prey. I’ve included a link to my eBird checklist for my January 9 visit below. The checklist includes more photos of the birds I saw.

To read more about The Nature Conservancy’s efforts at Kankakee Sands, go to this site – Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands.

eBird Checklist
January 9, 2021