The final 2016 bird monitoring numbers are in, and it was a record year for our grassland birds. Most impressive was the number of bobolinks seen. Previously the most we had seen in one day, since 2010, was six. This year the most was 24, including one point where we had 12 of them sitting right in front of us! Henslow’s sparrows were also numerous and vocal this year, tying our one-day high of 14. Especially notable was that we saw or heard a total of 36 in the three days of monitoring. This far exceeds the old high of 26. And almost all of the Henslows are males. The males sit up on vegetation and sing, while the females are rarely seen. So the assumption is that there are twice as many Henslows out there than we are seeing.
Meadowlarks continue to thrive at Schaumburg Road Grasslands, with a high count of 12. Of note was our first sedge wren, sitting and singing right by the trail.
The only down note was the dearth of grasshopper sparrows. Our high count was only two, whereas last year it was 11. However, this does not appear to be an SRG issue, as their numbers are reported to be worrisomely down countywide.
One interesting note was that the well-named common yellowthroat was quite ubiquitous this year, with a high count of 13. All of these numbers are quite encouraging since protection of the grassland birds was what first propelled our group to start working at SRG.
We do our bird monitoring three times each year, all in June in order to only count birds that are breeding here, as opposed to migrants. We have 13 “points” GPS’d throughout the prairie and shrubland habitat, and each day we spend five minutes at each point.
Other birds of interest this year, not necessarily during monitoring, included an osprey, perhaps confusing our “sea of grass” with its more usual watery haunts. Red-headed woodpeckers were confirmed nesting in a snag that we left for habitat in the Bottlebrush Woods. And a pair of eastern bluebirds has spent most of the breeding season hanging out near another snag that we left there, although we have not confirmed a nest. Also seen at the site were 1,800 migrating sandhill cranes in a two-hour period. Another surprise was a low-flying flock of 20 tundra swans, during migration, of course.
Thanks go to Jill Flexman, Nick Hall-Skank and Laura Larson for their help monitoring this year…and to Lee Ramsey for his mentorship!
By Steve Flexman, Forest Preserves Volunteer. This article originally appeared in the Prairie Breeze, the newsletter of the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards. To learn more about their work, visit poplarcreekprairiestewards.org. Volunteers conduct bird counts at sites throughout the Chicago region through the Bird Conservation Network.