A fabulous falcon and other yard highlights
(posted 6-5-07)

Several few years ago I won some kudos for spotting a peregrine falcon during the spring bird count. I was with two other birders covering the Morton Arboretum when I saw the bird high overhead and called out. It was a rather improbable sighting, but my colleagues--more experienced than me--confirmed the ID. I enjoyed that moment, and I recalled it on May 27 when I saw only my second lifetime peregrine falcon in DuPage County--this time from my back patio!

The peregrine was a new "yard bird" for me, species No. 104, and obviously one of the highlights of my spring birding. During May, the peak of migration season, I was out on the patio almost every morning just before 6 a.m., listening and looking. Even on work days I squeezed in an hour of birding before heading for the train. So a lot of early wake-ups, but it was worth it.

The same day I saw the falcon, I also spotted a yellow-billed cuckoo. I'd only had a cuckoo in the yard once before, in May 2005, so it was quite a surprise. Another bird I'd only had once before was Eastern kingbird, a fairly easy bird to find if you know where to look. But until May 4--and then again on May 27!--I hadn't seen a kingbird in my yard since 2002. It was good to end a five-year drought.

Another sweet May moment was finding a rose-breasted grosbeak on my sunflower seed tube feeder one morning when I first went outside. Fortunately he startled me more that I startled him so he stayed for a few minutes. It would be my only grosbeak of the spring.

In the warbler department it was a so-so May in my yard. I logged a dozen varieties, among them Blackburnian, chestnut-sided, blackpoll, black and white, Wilson's and bay-breasted. Vireos? Just two: red-eyed (of course) and blue-headed (alright!).

This spring I really got to know the beautiful song of the Swainson's thrush. I'm not sure if it was one bird or several different ones, but Swainson's was "uncommonly common" in my yard during the second half of May. Most mornings I never saw one but boy did I hear it.

Brown thrasher is a bird I can never count on. Before last month I'd only had two yard sightings, once in late April and once in very early May. It was therefore kind of shocking to have one stop by on May 28--a true "bonus bird." He was perched fairly high in a neighbor's tree and making all the weird sounds you'd expect from a thrasher.

One species I expected to see (or at least hear) was gray catbird, one of my favorite backyard birds. No luck. But if birding is anything it's unpredictable.

For 2007, my yard list now sits at 74 species. This is my fifth straight year of keeping a "year list" for the yard, and so far my highest total is 79 species, in 2005. With a little luck--and a lot more hours on my patio this fall--a new personal best is within reach. A flyover bald eagle for No. 80 would be nice. But a catbird would be fine, too.

Copyright 2007 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.