Extraordinary birds of 2022
|Painted Redstart by Hemant Krishan|
Rare sightings and other surprises captivated local
watchers throughout the year
The younger, hot-shot birders call them megas, as in
mega-rarity—their name for the occasional OMG birds that send dedicated
watchers racing for their binoculars and car keys.
Megas can be once-in-a-lifetime events. What are your
chances, say, of spotting a painted redstart in Illinois? Almost zero. And yet
it happened on August 21, at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda.
“It was an exciting adrenaline rush for sure,” said the
finder, Jeff Bilsky. “The bird was amazing and beautiful with its brilliant red
belly, white wings and the constantly waving tail.”
Painted redstart is a bird of southeast Arizona. Our state
had never seen one.
Jeff’s companion that day, Beau Schaeffer, quickly alerted the
birding community via the GroupMe app, enabling about 50 fast-acting birders to
get eyes on the history-making songbird before it vanished. Searchers came up
empty the next day.
Another surprise visitor from the West, lesser goldfinch, appeared
in March at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lamont. The bird, also an Illinois first, was discovered
during a banding project and hung around the center’s feeders for a week.
Exciting birds filled out 2022 from start to finish. Few were
megas, of course, but a good many left their viewers feeling lucky and
News of a feather
I’ll get to those sightings in a bit. First, let’s review
the year’s bird-related news, leading off with the serious stuff:
The "2022 State of the Birds Report,” issued in
October by 33 leading science and conservation organizations, said more than
half of U.S. bird species are declining. Seventy “tipping point
species,” it added, have each lost half or more of their populations in the
past 50 years and could lose another half in the next 50 years if nothing
changes. Among them: chimney swift, rufous hummingbird, golden-winged warbler,
evening grosbeak, and bobolink.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2022, now in Congress, would deliver a
significant boost for at-risk species, supplying $1.3 billion in annual funding.
The bill enjoys strong bipartisan support and could be signed into law any day
The Bird Conservation Network released a landmark
study based on 22 years of bird census data. “Breeding Bird Trends in the
Chicago Region 1999-2020” calls out the importance of protected lands as
critical habitat for nesting species.
Monty died at Montrose Beach on May 13, from a
respiratory infection. The renowned piping plover was no doubt missing his
mate, Rose, who did not return. This would have been the fourth year of nesting
by the pair on their namesake Chicago strand.
|Neotropic Cormorant by Randall Everts|
On a brighter note, the Great Lakes Piping Plover
Conservation Team noted a record-breaking 2022 breeding season, with 149 plover
fledglings, the most since counting began in 1984 and up from 87 in 2020.
Imani, one of Monty and Rose’s chicks from 2021, was
spotted on Montrose on May 25, the same day birders held a memorial for his
Monty did not die from avian flu, but an outbreak of
the virus last spring caused the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to
advise a shutdown of bird feeders and bird baths. Among wild bird populations, aquatic
birds were most affected locally, including a large die-off of double-crested
cormorants at Baker’s Lake near Barrington.
Infection also claimed the life of a beloved female
great horned owl that nested for many years at Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
approved a $25 million expansion and revitalization of Willowbrook Wildlife
Center in Glen Ellyn. Completion is set for 2025.
Willowbrook took in several raptors for rodenticide
poisoning last winter, including a bald eagle and snowy owl. Both were released
after successful treatment.
Voters approved a tax increase last month that will
provide extra resources for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, a big win for
urban and suburban nature.
Illinois Audubon Society celebrated its 125th
anniversary in 2022 and in August named Jo Fessett executive director. She succeeds
Jim Herkert who retired in April.
The Naperville-based Conservation Foundation achieved
a milestone as well, turning 50.
Bird Watcher’s Digest folded suddenly
after 43 years in print, only to be reborn six months later as BWD, with
new ownership and a larger page format.
A greater white-fronted goose crashed a Los Angeles
Dodgers playoff game in prime time, and a Volkswagen commercial with a birdwatching
theme made the song “I Like Birds” even more popular. You know that tune from
“The Big Year,” right? Right?
New video from Louisiana prompted the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service to pause plans for declaring the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct.
Hope is still alive.
Redpolls and white-winged crossbills invaded from the
north, delighting birders all winter and deep into spring. A Mundelein
homeowner reported 300 redpolls in her yard at once!
The DuPage County Spring Bird Count (SBC),
coordinated by the DuPage Birding Club, turned up 173 species on May 7. Adding
just one new bird to the SBC all-time list is a long shot—the logbook is going
on 50 years. Incredibly, three were added in 2022: common redpoll, Neotropic
cormorant and trumpeter swan.
|Northern Bobwhite by Henry Meade|
Six woodpecker species, none of them an ivory-bill,
were among 205 birds found on May 13 by the Big Day team of Mike Avara, Colin
Dobson, Mark Vukovich and Mike Ward. Their carefully planned itinerary covered
750 road miles and shattered the old Illinois Big Day record of 191 species,
set in 2013 and tied in 2016.
Across all counties, water-loving species considered
uncommon or rare popped up regularly, perhaps due in part to climate change. Black-bellied
whistling duck; cattle and snowy egrets; little blue heron; black-necked stilt;
red-necked and eared grebes; Neotropic cormorant; white-faced ibis; and trumpeter
swan—all presented excellent viewing opportunities in 2022. State of the Birds,
mentioned above, singled out wetlands as the one habitat in which bird numbers
you’ve got the time, we’ve got the birds” made a good jingle for 2022. Here are
some additional highlights:
In January, a snowy owl spent two weeks at DuPage
Airport while another watched planes at O’Hare. In April, a third snowy turned
up at Northerly Island in Chicago, formerly Meigs Field.
Three whooping cranes rested overnight at Nelson’s
Lake Marsh in March. Black terns coursed over the Batavia preserve in August.
Kaneville Cemetery produced a white-winged dove and once
again proved to be the most reliable place to find a Eurasian tree sparrow.
Fermilab, finally reopened to birders in April, boasted
three pairs of nesting ospreys.
Morton Arboretum produced cerulean warbler, northern
mockingbird, blue grosbeak, western kingbird, and pileated woodpecker. Best of
all was a spotted towhee in October.A flyover golden eagle electrified a DuPage Birding
Club walk at Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton.
In June, a northern bobwhite called its name along
the Great Western Trail in Lombard.
Miller was justifiably giddy after finding a Brewster’s warbler (blue-winged/golden-winged
hybrid) at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve near Darien.
|Evening Grosbeaks by Bonnie Graham|
After an absence of many years, grasshopper sparrows
returned to Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville.
Hooded warblers nested again at St. James Farm Forest
Preserve, where pileated woodpeckers may be breeding as well. A pileated was
spotted next door at Cantigny Park twice.
Observers at the Greene Valley Forest Preserve hawk
watch tallied 1,809 migrating broad-winged hawks on September 26, the site’s
fourth-highest daily count for the species.
Numerous evening grosbeak sightings across the region
in November sparked hopes of an irruption year for the coveted species.
A Neotropic cormorant hung out all spring and summer at Lambert Lake, a small preserve in Glen Ellyn.
Barn owls appeared three times at Montrose Point Bird
Sanctuary in Chicago, the region’s hottest of all hot spots. The site’s 2022 avian
goodies included piping and snowy plovers, red knot, laughing gull, upland
sandpiper, Townsend’s solitaire, and yellow-headed blackbird. Tack on 30
species of warbler, too.
A purple sandpiper at Montrose in September, seen by
many, was the earliest fall sighting of the species on record.
Marsh dwelling black rails were heard in both Cook and
Lake Counties, and a yellow rail turned up in a Ravenswood back alley.
Chicago’s creatively named Park 566 produced a black-legged
kittiwake, lark bunting, Say’s phoebe, and loggerhead shrike.
|Fork-tailed Flycatcher by Bonnie Graham|
Jackson Park surrendered a western tanager, and a
sage thrasher turned up at Northerly Island.Illinois Beach State Park was the place to be in May,
for rare flycatchers and their human admirers. Some birders scored a remarkable
trifecta on the same day: eastern kingbird, western kingbird (a pair) and
scissor-tailed flycatcher. One week later a fork-tailed flycatcher visited, the
third on record for Illinois. Mega!
Birders who missed the IBSP “forkie” had two more
chances. In late October, a fork-tailed flycatcher toured Glacial Park
Conservation Area in McHenry County. Another (maybe the same bird) lit up the
Indiana Dunes a few days later.
A Bullock’s oriole graced a private residence in
Winthrop Harbor, and a tricolored heron thrilled birders at nearby Waukegan
Beach in June.Will County pitched in with Barrow’s goldeneye,
great-tailed grackle, Smith’s longspur, and painted bunting, the latter at Midewin
National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington.
Midewin and Indiana Dunes are practically next door
compared with other 2022 rarity hideouts. Birders zipped over to Mason County
for limpkin, the state’s fifth record, and Knox County for swallow-tailed kite.
Last month, a northern wheatear landed in Jasper County.
Two McHenry homeowners enjoyed (and shared) unlikely
feeder birds this month—a juvenile male rose-breasted grosbeak in Algonquin,
and a Harris’s sparrow in Crystal Lake. A McHenry County surf scoter at
Turnberry Park was notable in October.Finally, it’s almost a holiday tradition for a rufous
hummingbird to visit a backyard nectar feeder that was kept out “just in case.”
Hosting honors this year belonged to Oak Park homeowner Rebecca Koch Czurylo, who
generously opened her yard to scores of eager birders in late November. The
western hummer was still sipping away in early December.
|Rufous Hummingbird by Graham Deese|
One of my best moments of 2022 occurred in March while
up on a ladder cleaning out the gutters. The dreaded task took an unexpected
turn toward joy when a big flock of noisy white-fronted geese passed over—my
second-ever yard sighting of the species.
Vesper sparrow always eluded me until April, when
Haley Gottardo alerted birders to their presence at Kress Creek Park in West
Chicago. Once there, Nick Waite pointed me to the cryptic ground-feeding birds
(a flock of three) and shared one of his photos. Thank you both!
|Vesper Sparrow by Nick Waite|
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed “An Evening with the
Cranes” at the International Crane Foundation in June. It was our first visit to
Baraboo (Wis.) since ICF’s impressive $10 million renovation, completed in
2021. You don’t have to be a craniac to love the place, or the organization.
In closing, kudos to all my fellow birders, young and
old, who graciously shared the hobby in 2022. The pandemic brought many new watchers
under our tent—truly a silver lining. We all appreciate birds, and there’s a
place for everyone, from relentless chasers to kitchen window feeder peepers. Let’s
keep growing the community and raising public awareness for bird conservation.
Birding is fun but it carries a responsibility, too.
May your holidays be mega-happy, and the new year filled
Copyright 2022 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.