Volunteers Cassandra Claman of Chatham and Mike Kennedy of Springfield scan the trees and horizon for birds as Jack Nuzzo, program director at the Illinois Raptor Center, looks through binoculars Sunday during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count at the Margery Adams Wildlife Sanctuary. David Spencer/The State Journal-Register
Every bird counts during annual winter census
The State Journal-Register
Jack Nuzzo walked out of the Margery Adams Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday without catching a rare glimpse of a Northern Saw-whet owl, the smallest ever to inhabit Illinois.
The tiny raptor also happens to be one of Nuzzo’s favorites.
“It’s the most adorable owl on the face of the planet,” said Nuzzo as he walked a two-mile loop along the sanctuary’s perimeter with a group of five other “birders” all on the same mission: to count birds.
The search for rare birds, as well as the usual suspects, is what made Sunday’s annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count so much fun for bird lovers like Nuzzo, program director for the Illinois Raptor Center.
“When you do have that bizarre bird show up, that makes it really exciting,” he said, adding that he’s only seen the saw-whet owl three times since the center opened in 1991.
The two-hour survey of the 40-acre wildlife sanctuary, located at 2315 Clear Lake Ave., was part of the Springfield portion of the annual winter census. The group’s final tally, which wasn’t available Sunday, will be compiled with data from roughly 2,300 other “count circles” in the U.S., Canada and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. The count circles are 15 miles in diameter.
H. David Bohlen, assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum, serves as the compiler for the Springfield count, one of dozens that occur around the state this time of year. In its 114th year, the survey is considered one of the “longest running citizen science surveys in the world.”
Freezing rain made it a challenge at times to find birds by their call sounds, but the colder weather did put the group at an advantage, said Jo Fessett with the Illinois Audubon Society. Although recent freezing temperatures probably chased some birds south, she said the harsher weather forced others to concentrate in the sanctuary’s protected areas.
“The ice is keeping them near the ground looking for food sources,” Fessett said. “When it’s warmer, birds are on the move more.”
The group spotted about 18 species overall, including two bald eagles, a Cooper’s hawk, at least two dozen starlings and numerous Golden-crowned Kinglets.