photo by Fran Morel

photo by Fran Morel

As 2015 began for Illinois birders, all the attention was on Quincy, Illinois, with its RARE visitor, an adult Ivory Gull.  And the day after it became a no show, a Slaty-backed Gull was a one-day (one hour?) wonder in Peoria.  It was a VERY “gullciting” start to Illinois’ birding calendar for 2015.

Quietly, and with little fanfare, before the Ivory Gull was even a thought forbirders in the Chicago area, a very special year-long event kicked off at LaBagh Woods.  Chicago Ornithological Society (COS), in conjunction with a number of other conservation-minded partners, launched a fundraiser for the restoration of the understory at LaBagh in 2015 and beyond.

How is COS doing this?

COS has designed a “collective” Big Year concept where EVERYONE who joins the team can participate, simply by birding at LaBagh and reporting what they see on eBird.  Those sightings will become our collective “Big Year” as we attempt to discover how many species of birds we can see at LaBagh in 2015.  We will then ask volunteers, LIKE YOU, to fundraise in your circle of conservation minded friends and family, to make either a flat donation to the COS effort, OR if they are more of a gaming type, a donation per bird species seen by our “collective” team during 2015. 

Birders from Chicagoland wasted no time getting started on this endeavor, with 12 birders, led by Shawn Pfautsch, scouring LaBagh Woods on January 1st as the New Year began.  The eBird records tell the tale: Shawn Pfautsch and Fran Morel began their effort at 830am, David Antieau at 905am, Judy Pollock at 910am and Oded Ovadia at 928am.  When they were all done, they had seen 19 species of birds at LeBagh to start the year.

photo by Fran Morel

photo by Fran Morel

Since then, four other birders, JohnCsok with Laura Symons and her daughter, along with this author, have made three additional trips to LaBagh on the 6th, 11th and 12th, and have added 4 more species to the “Big Year” total, bringing the total to 23 species thus far in 2015.  So what does this mean for the fundraiser? If you asked someone to donate a dollar per bird species for the year, for example, you would have raised $23 from that person thus far. 

So how does the start of this year compare to what we would expect at LaBagh for a January?  In the last 10 years, 24 species have been seen at this Forest Preserve in January.  The only bird yet to be seen this January is a Double-crested Cormorant, not a bird I expect us to see this winter at LaBagh in January, as cold as it has been.  But I expect we might find other species not previously reported there as LaBagh was seldom birded in January and February in past years.   

What about for the whole year at LaBagh? 

Over the history of eBird records, reliable observers at LaBagh have recorded 159 species there.  In the last 10 years of eBird records, 154 species have been observed and reported here.  Most recently, 136 species were reported to eBird for 2014.  AND that was done without the benefit of a lot of eyeballs at LaBagh (unlike our hopes for 2015 with this effort), and eBird reports were only made in 7 of the 12 months of last year.  I can’t imagine what we might find if we “collectively” bird LaBagh at least weekly for a whole calendar year. 

This author has the expectation that we can see between 135-145 species there this year. 

photo by Fran Morel

photo by Fran Morel

Now, the question is, can we parlay that effort into donations for the rehabilitation work that is being done there?  Who do you know who could pitch in $1, 50 cents or even a quarter per bird species seen to help restore LaBagh?  Donations such as that could translate into $135-145, $67.50-72.50, or $33.75-36.25 for LaBagh restoration work based on the number of bird species our team sees in 2015.  And ALL the money raised, every cent, will be put toward restoration work.  COS will not keep a penny.

Want to join the COS Team LaBagh Big Year effort?  We have observers there weekly and would love for you to join us for our 2-4 mile hikes in this lovely preserve to see what we might see, as we add bird species to our COS Team LaBagh Big Year.  It isn’t only birds we see either -- lots of great wildlife is there.  Plus, sometimes just getting out there is its own reward.

Until the next report in about a week,

The COS LaBagh Big Year Team!

- post contributed by Jeff Skrentny

For those interested, below is the list of species seen so far this year at LeBagh to the COS Collective Big Year there.  They are listed in taxonomic order showing the date FIRST seen this year, with observer(s) noted:

  • Canada Goose January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Mallard January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Cooper’s Hawk January 6th Skrentny
  • Red-tailed Hawk January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Ring-billed Gull January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Herring Gull January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Rock Pigeon January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Mourning Dove January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Downy Woodpecker January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Hairy Woodpecker January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Blue Jay January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Black-capped Chickadee January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • White-breasted Nuthatch January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Hermit Thrush January 12th Skrentny
  • American Robin January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • European Starling January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • American Tree Sparrow January 6th Skrentny
  • Song Sparrow January 12th Skrentny
  • White-throated Sparrow January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Dark-eyed Junco January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • Northern Cardinal January 1st Pfautsch & Morel
  • American Goldfinch January 1st Pfautsch