the Rookie Birder

I have watched birds all my life, but after reading "The Big Year," "Grail Bird" and especially Kenn Kaufman's "Kingbird Highway," plus Santa's timely stocking stuffer of "Sibley's 2003 Eastern & Western Field Guides," I made the decision to become a rookie birder beginning January 1st, 2006.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Peregrine Falcon & Great Horned Owl

Clark Park vicinity
Chicago River at Addison Street Bridge
& Lincoln Park Zoo

February 16, 2006, 1015-1130am

A posting by Jimmy G got me out today as soon as I took care of some calls and emails for work. He reported 6 Snow Geese on the Chicago River by Gordon Tech where he is enrolled. This I had to see! I got over to the river, parked around the corner illegally on the street in a zoned parking area, and trotted over to the bridge. I began by looking south, just some Canada Geese, Rock Doves and Mallard Ducks. I crossed the street to see what was on the north side of the bridge looking up toward Gordon Tech. Again, nothing, just gulls.

With nothing else to do, I decided to look at the gulls. There were about a dozen gulls, Ring-billed with 2 or three much larger Herring Gulls. But then one of the supposed Herring Gulls turned around and its back was a very dark gray, especially as compared to the other gulls it was with. A Lesser Black-backed? You bet, had the dark streaking on the head, the yellow legs instead of pink
ones of a Herring Gull, and it was definitely larger that the Ring-billed Gulls, but just a bit smaller than the Herring Gulls. But it was the dark gray back that gave it away.

And just as I was pleased as could be about this find, my 28th Chicago species, I noticed a hawk/falcon moving rapidly down the river from the north to the
south, now taking direct aim at the gulls on the building on the east side of river. They didn't wait to see what its intentions were. They scattered loudly. I couldn't decide what to watch...the LBB Gull or this new raptor. I decided to try and get a look at the raptor, but it was moving so fast that as soon as I got my bins, it was over me and moving south. I eyed it and could see clearly the helmeted head, it must be a PEREGRINE FALCON (photo Neil Fifer).

As I had never IDed this bird on my own, I would not have counted it as a sighting with this quick view. Thanks to him, the gulls were gone now, so I began walking back to my car. When I got to where it was parked on Rockwell Street, that same bird appeared over the river, moving up slowly, and this time I got a great look at it, it was bird number 74 for the year, and number 29 for Chicago, a Peregrine Falcon. I watched it move up slowly, and then glide down toward Lane Tech where it suddenly accelerated toward the NE until I lost it from view.

How cool was that? And to think that these birds had disappeared from Chicago until they were reintroduced in 1980. Now I know of sightings in downtown, at Northerly Island, North Pond and along the lakefront up to Montrose Harbor.
I had seen them myself when I had an office across the street from the Sears Tower on the 45th floor and had even seen one take out a Rock Dove 30 stories up from the ground in mid air.

It was now raining rather hard, and I still had one more stop on my list for the morning, the Lincoln Park Zoo, to see the GREAT HORNED OWL (photo Ed Tuene) that had been seen there all winter, who apparently returned after a brief absence. It was really raining hard by the time I parked at the zoo, and I almost didn't make this stop. Glad I did. The owl was reported in a willow by the Flamingo Pond. It took about 2 minutes to find the owl perched uncomfortably with all this rain coming down. Because I could stand in a covered picnic area, I wasn't getting wet, and I could see him easily without my binoculars. But with them I had a wonderful view of the marbled pattern on the feathers, the barred breast, orange-ish face and intense piercing big yellow eyes.

I would have watched him for longer than the 20 minutes I did, had it not been for the rain. How wonderful. He was right there, sometimes watching me, sometimes looking away. I thought to myself as groups of people walked past wondering what the goof with the binoculars was doing, that they had all come to a zoo to see exotic and rare animals, and right here in front of them was this wonderful animal that they wouldn't even look up to see, instead making comments about me and my binoculars when they could just look up and see this marvelous wild and unexpected zoo treat. They didn't. Glad I did.

Now it was raining hard. I was wet, and needed to get back to work. For the day I had one new Chicago bird, and two new birds for my first year as a birder:

#74 Peregrine Falcon
#75 Great Horned Owl


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