Jeff Donaldson called me yesterday and left a message that he had seen a female Merlin at Blackhawk Park, along the Rock River, south of the 15th Avenue bridge on the south side of Rockford. He said that the bird flew to the trees on the west bank by the condominium development there.

Gary Jahnke and I counted 93 Eurasian Collared Doves Saturday in our Kishwaukee Christmas count territory in northern Ogle County. 7 of them were scattered about the small town of Holcomb, where they have been for several years. At 8:30, we counted 24 on wires (mostly) and in trees along Route 72 near the grain elevators in Davis Junction. Those birds later scattered throughout town. Later in the morning, while we were counting 10 birds in trees around farm buildings on E. Scott road, near Moulton Road, a single flock of 40 flew over us, headed east. Somewhere around one o'clock, we had nine birds in the residential area between Route 72 and E. Royster Road, east of Timberline Drive off 72, and west of Kilbuck Road. Lone birds at scattered locations accounted for the rest of our count.

The Rockford CBC was held on Saturday, December 14, 2013. This year's count recorded 76 species, the second highest total in 60+ years of count history. The high is 79 (1999). 41 field birders, plus 11 feeder watchers, participated. The preliminary total of individual birds is 22,980.

The average snow cover of 2-3'' was helpful, moving Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings and many sparrows to the plowed edges of the road. Still water, and the slow-moving sections of rivers, were frozen. There was enough open water to attract a few species of waterfowl, mostly below the Rockton dam. Despite the morning snow and wind, the temperatures were fairly moderate, so walking and counting could be done in relative comfort. Unfortunately, pre-dawn hours, when owling normally takes place, was pretty windy. No one was able to find an Eastern Screech-owl on Saturday morning. I went out again early Saturday evening, after the wind died down, and managed to get one to call in response to a recording. 3 Short-eared Owls were found at dusk.

The count recorded historic high totals of ten species (the number follows in parentheses):
Hooded Merganser (4), Common Merganser (78-smashing the old record of 37), Red-bellied Woodpecker (195), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (, Hairy Woodpecker (70), Pileated Woodpecker (9), Blue Jay (371), Horned Lark (760), Eastern Bluebird (an amazing 62), and Hermit Thrush (3). We tied count highs for Horned Grebe (1) and Lincoln's Sparrow (1). We actually have had 2 Lincoln's Sparrows but a clerical error (mine) on the form we use didn't mark the species for documentation, so one document hasn't been received yet. I expect to receivew it in a week or so. 3 Vesper Sparrows and 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet were notable. The historic high count for Vesper Sparrows is 6, set in 1957.

In contrast to last year, there was an absence of winter finches. Purple Finches continue to decline in numbers reported on this count.

On the subject of declines, the population of Ring-necked Pheasant continues to plummet locally. I believe that the primary cause is massive loss of habitat caused by changes in farming practices and loss of CRP acreage. 512 Crows, although not the lowest count, is a low number. Whether this is the result of West Nile Virus or just reflects a change in roosting locations to other parts of Rockford outside the Rockford count area needs further assessment. The Kishwaukee CBC, which covers southern and southeastern Winnebago and northern Ogle Counties has seen an increase in the number of crows. And, after reaching their high of 806 (state high count) in 2009-2010, House Finch numbers have declined steeply. This year, we only found 269.

Birds seen during count week were Killdeer and a Goshawk. And, after not showing themselves since December 1, a pair of Eurasian Collared-doves reappeared on Thursday, 12/19, 2 days too late to be included as a count week species.

I expect to finalize data entry on the Audubon CBC site soon. Most of it (except for 1 of the Lincoln's Sparrows) is entered, but not completed.

Finally, no count would be complete without a bird story. Mark Blassage reports that, as he was going out the door to start his car on count day, a Starling decided to use the opportunity to come in from the cold, and it zipped into his house through the open door. A merry chase ensued throughout the ground floor as the starling dodged Mark. Mark finally caught it up in the rafters, took its picture while holding it, and then released it outside. The starling is included in the totals.

A Killdeer flew over the parking lot of the Riverfront Museum Center at 9:45 a.m. this morning. Not surprisingly, it was headed south!

Herring Gulls are also moving down the river by 1s and 2s. 5 Common Mergansers were just upstream from the gravel bar above the 15th Avenue bridge. Many Canada Geese are roosting there now.

This afternoon, I drove roads in the northwest part of Winnebago County. I found flocks of Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks in many places. They were all feeding on the sides of the roads. There were 22 Lapland Longspurs near the intersection of IL 70 and Harrison Road, another 70 longspurs and 10 Snow Buntings about 1/2 mile north of that intersection on Harrison Road.

A Northern Shrike was on Eicks Road about 1/2 mile N of Yale Bridge Road.

A flock of 350 Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs were on Laube Road about 1/2 mile E of Anderson Road. The species were divided approximately equally. A few Horned Larks were in the mix.

A Northern Harrier was flying over Laube Road near the Eicks Road intersection.

66 Wild Turkeys were feeding in a cut cornfield on the south side of Kilburn Avenue between Porter Road and Tate Road about 1:20 p.m.

Dave Mullen reports that he had a Snowy Owl on their farm on Wednesday afternoon, December 5. It was not there the next day. Dave said that it was "very white." No photos were obtained. Their farm is in far northwestern Winnebago County, north of Durand on Eicks Road.

I just received an eBird update. It included a report of a Snowy Owl in northeastern Winnebago County. Specifically, the bird was at the eastern end of Swanson Road, north of Rock Cut SP, at 0730. The reporter said that crows drove the bird away and it flew "to the northeast."

There is also a Snowy Owl (looked like an immature male) east of Genoa, Dekalb County, on the north side of Derby Line Road, about 1.5 miles east of Hayes Road. There is a subdivision on the south side of the road. The bird was perched on the crest of a hill in the corn field about 1000 feet off of the road.

There are many other Snowy Owl reports from across north and central IL, and a few from southern IL.

This morning I saw a Northern Shrike on a phone wire on Pierce Road, where it angles to the southwest. After a few moments, it flew east toward a house at 8001 Eddie which is overrun by House Sparrows.

Around 11:15 this morning, Barbara and I were walking our dog around the loop road at Anna Page Park. A Peregrine flew over us from W to E and continued in the general direction of downtown Rockford. I have had sporadic reports of a single Peregrine in downtown Rockford since late summer, but this is the first one I have seen in Winnebago County this year.

Other birds of note in the park were Yellow-rumped Warbler, Brown Creeper, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. No siskins or other winter finches heard or seen.

Barbara spotted 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches coming to our sunflower feeder this morning. These are the first two of this species in our yard since back in September.

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