Loving it and listing it: Cook County big year records toppled in 2022
Carl, Cvetas racked up 287 and 293 species, respectively.
When 2022 started, Audrey Carl promised herself she wouldn’t bird as much as she did during the previous year.
“My husband and I barely saw each other [in 2021],” she recalls.
But she found herself birding almost every day just as she did in 2021, when she smashed the record for a Cook County Big Year by a woman, tallying 281 species. That is no small feat in a county that may be one of the most heavily birded in the nation.
“I continued chasing most rarities,” she says, “but I didn’t spend nearly as many days and hours in the field, and I didn’t leave Cook County as much. The adage ‘work smarter, not harder’ boded well for me.”
Carl began birding in 2015 but became more serious about it in early 2020 when the pandemic hit. She visiting LaBagh Woods on the Northwest Side of Chicago nearly every morning before work.
“That spring really sparked something in me,” Carl says. “I started talking to more birders, began listing, and started seeking out lifers.”
As she entered her sightings into eBird, and the calendar turned to 2021, she realized she was higher and higher among the ranks of Cook County birders. Her first big year began to evolve.
“I thought it was pretty cool that I was the only woman on a list that was predominately men,” the Avondale resident says.
In 2022, Carl totaled 287 species, which put her within striking distance of the alltime Cook County mark for any gender (more on that below). She broke her own record with a late 2022 run that included Whooping Crane (a neighborhood flyover), Tundra Swan, Great Black-backed Gull, Spotted Towhee, and Glaucous Gull. Carl found the towhee, a western species, during the Lisle-Arboretum Christmas Bird Count in a southwestern Cook County forest preserve. Only the third Spotted Towhee record for the longtime count.
“Kelly Ballantyne and I got eyes on a towhee,” she says, “which we were super excited about, but upon taking a closer look I noticed some plumage differences and was like, ‘Uh...I think that's a Spotted!’”
As for this year, Carl is taking a bit of a breather to focus on work. And with the recent cold snap, it’s been a great time to stay indoors.
“I can’t wait to get out there when the weather and daylight improve,” Carl says. “I’m just planning to bird for enjoyment. Although I said that last year, too!”
Cvetas topples alltime Cook County record
Matthew Cvetas demurred when asked about the November 2022 sighting that set the alltime record for Cook County Big Year.
“Snow Goose was 289 and set the record,” he says, “All the way down on the edge of Cook County in Richton Park. Nothing particularly notable about the sighting.”
Cvetas recorded 293 species in Cook County last year, and topped Isoo O’Brien’s record of 288, set in the pandemic year of 2020. For this writer, Cvetas’ big year wasn’t on the radar until a message in the Cook County birding GroupMe chat. Maybe that’s because Cvetas often ranks among the county’s top birders.
“Honestly, I didn’t plan on going for a record,” Cvetas says, “I simply decided I would try to beat my personal best, which was 264 in 2017.”
As the months ticked by and September arrived, Cvetas thought he had a chance at the record.
“I didn’t even tell my wife,” the Evanston resident says with a laugh, “she was probably my biggest supporter. She said, ‘Win or don’t come home.’”
One of the biggest highlights for Cvetas—and many other folks—was the first state record Lesser Goldfinch at Camp Sagawau, a Forest Preserves of Cook County site. Sagawau, which is near Lemont, also produced six Evening Grosbeaks on a blustery day in November. As with so many other sightings, the joy was in sharing the northern visitors with others.
Says Cvetas, “A number of people got to see them as the finches stayed all day.”
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Looking back at the New Year’s Day eagle rescue
Jim Tibensky didn’t hesitate when he plunged his kayak into frigid Waukegan Harbor on Jan. 1. There was a young Bald Eagle sitting motionless on a nearby ice floe, and it needed help.
“My thought is this bird is really sick and it probably won’t be a very hard rescue,” Tibensky later told WGN News.
Tibensky and Annette Prince of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM) had come to the big raptor’s aid after a call from birders Jeff Bilsky and Nat Carmichael.
Tibensky used his kayak to gently push the ice floe—and the ailing eagle—to a nearby dock so Prince could transport the bird to Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
There’s some incredible video of the rescue from Carmichael (above).
The Bald Eagle initially made some progress at Willowbrook, but on Jan. 5 the wildlife center announced the sad news that it had passed away, presumably having ingested rodenticide. The wildlife center said that, unfortunately, “this happens often in wildlife cases they treat.”
If you find an injured bird, call CBCM at 773-988-1867.
If you're looking for something to do on Sunday, before the big game, we have a free showing of THE MAGIC STUMP on Superb Owl Sunday at 2 p.m. Click here to RSVP. See you there as we celebrate this special place in Illinois and its birds! Thanks to Fort Dearborn Audubon Society and Notebaert Nature Museum.
As thrilling as it is to see huge flocks of Snow Geese at this time of year, they also represent a population that’s out of balance. Ducks Unlimited recently released a report that shares the adverse consequences for other waterfowl species and for coastal wetlands in the Arctic…..A Wild Turkey has become a regular visitor to a Tinley Park backyard. Turkeys are rarely seen inside the borders of Cook County…..One of my favorite writers on Substack isand he recently shared a walk through dunelands in the Netherlands, and I couldn't help but think of the similarities to dunelands around Lake Michigan.
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