John Wesley Powell Audubon is a Chapter of National Audubon

John Wesley Powell Audubon, P.O. Box 142, Normal, Il 61761

Bird Counts


The Christmas Bird Count on December 14, 2013 by 15 observers netted 71 species; our second highest species count ever!  The outstanding species was a total of 1,445 Lapland longspurs, but observers counted waterfowl, raptors, woodpeckers, doves, thrushes, mimids (including a gray catbird, the only record in our count history), seedeaters, and sparrows.

Bird Counts

by Dale Birkenholz, JWP Stewardship Chair 

            The weather on our December 15th Christmas Count could be characterized by some as one of the most rigorous in recent centuries.  The temperature was great; 42 to 52 degrees, however, rain fell and the wind blew nearly the entire day.  To some of us the birds were more intelligent than the counters, they hunkered down, except for some stalwart birds and counters at Comlara Park.  They fared well and the parties there were rewarded with a nice scattering of waterfowl, eagles, large flocks of American tree sparrows, and even flocks of Eastern bluebirds.

            On to the details. Thirteen counters in seven parties tallied 4553 bird of 58 species.  In recent years the total count has ranged from 10 to 18 thousand individual birds of 60 to 65 species.  The mild weather during much of the fall probably kept many waterfowl farther north.  There were records of thousands of ducks and geese still in Wisconsin and even southern Canada, however, many land birds have been recorded recently and many of them probably couldn’t be found because of the weather. 

            No rarities graced our checklists. The waterfowl, 104 white-fronts at Lake Evergreen, 17 Cackling geese, and 671 Canada Geese were mostly near Lakes Evergreen and Bloomington, except for four Mute Swans at Tipton Park.  Only seven species of ducks, nearly all mallards were tallied.  Pheasants are now somewhat scarce, only three were recorded, but they were replaced by 43 wild turkeys.  Three of the five bald eagles tallied may be the ones now nesting on the nearby Mackinaw River.  Five species of woodpeckers; one red-headed, 20 red-bellied, ten downy, four hairy, and two northern flickers were about usual.  Thirty blue jays was a good count, as were 67 Black-capped chickadees, but the numbers of nine titmice, three red-breasted, and ten white-breasted nuthatches and no brown creepers may have reflected the difficulty of birding in the wind and rain.  One winter and 8 Carolina wrens was good, as was the one golden-crowned kinglet, one hermit thrush, and 38 eastern bluebirds.  The latter species has been recorded in nearly all of the past five years and the mild winters may well account for its presence.  The total of 98 robins most likely reflects the relatively mild weather of this fall.

            Native sparrows varied in their abundance.  Cardinals tallied 101, American tree sparrows 200, white-throated 30, and juncos 51, but song sparrow only nine and swamp sparrows six.  The three fox sparrows were unusual but not rare.  American goldfinches were abundant until about Thanksgiving but only 21 were seen on the Count.

            Some observations made outside the Count day shows that more species are likely to be present in the circle than reported.  In the two week period after the Count Matt Winks observed five Tundra Swans at Lake Evergreen.  Les Allen and Ben Murphy found a Merlin in southeast Bloomington.  Given Harper watched a Peregrine Falcon on the south tower of  Watterson Towers at ISU.  Lenore Sobota, with additional information from Angelo Capparella, described the nightly flock of crows at ISU that numbered at least 2000 individuals, many more than the 671 recorded on the Count.

            In summary, the number of species this year was somewhat below our yearly average, the number of individuals much lower.  Given the weather it would be unwarranted to ascribe the overall results to anything other than that, and the yearly Christmas count remains fun and exciting, and we look forward to it. 


by Dale Birkenholz, JWP Stewardship Chair

Ten participants from JWP and friends in five parties combed McLean County’s best bird habitats on Saturday, May 8 for the 35th annual event.  The first count sponsored by the Illinois Audubon Society was taken on Saturday, May 6, 1972 and included more than 650 persons in 62 counties.  Since then this annual event has grown to more than 1600 observers in all 102 counties. 

The count rotates from May 5 to 12 from year to year.  This year we were greeted to a morning temperature of 42 degrees and howling winds of 25 mph. from the northwest, seemingly not best for finding and counting birds.  South winds, however, had pushed many migrants from the south and the cold front on Thursday and Friday stalled huge numbers of migrants in this area. 

All parties encountered large numbers of songbirds for nearly the entire day.  Our group tallied 139 species, totaling 6278 individuals.  A total of 19 species of warblers were recorded, including 409 palm, 223 yellow-rumped, and 87 American redstarts.  Other species totals were 505 common grackles, 488 American robins, 369 red-winged blackbirds, 255 cliff swallows, 251 white-crowned sparrows, 200 Canada geese, and 641 plus barn swallow.  Their numbers were uncountable as areas like Dawson Lake and the Schroeder Preserve were nearly blanketed with them.

McLean County’s total from year to year has been from 112 to a record of 162 species.  This year, our total was about average because waterfowl and shorebirds were below the usual.  However, the plethora of songbirds, especially warblers, made the event very enjoyable and exciting for everyone.


by Lenore Sobota, JWP Vice President

It wasn't colder during this year's Spring Bird Count than the Christmas Bird Count five months ago -- it only felt that way. With a high not much above 50 (if at all) and a wind speed around 25 mph, hats or hoods in addition to gloves were the uniform of the day.

We had almost as much trouble spotting the birds as they had handling the gusts. Undoubtedly we missed a few species that stayed hunkered down all day and didn’t feel like singing -- or maybe their songs were drowned out by the wind whipping through the trees.

But there are some good things to say about a bird count day like May 8.The "action" was spread out from dawn to dusk, instead of the early birds getting their worms and resting the rest of the day.

Plus, when you wake up to a forecast of "cloudy all day" and utter a few discouraging words -- anticipating a less than stellar day of birding -- every bird you see seems like a gift.

By the end of the day, my group -- led by Dale Birkenholz and Les Allen with Ellen Dietz keeping the "scorecard' -- identified 139 different species, we didn't get hypothermia and the turkey vultures that seemed to circle us all day added to our count without us adding to their dinner menu.