I decided to get creative on a cold and increasingly windy morning. With the wind and still-low numbers of waterfowl, I skipped the productive coastal locations. Instead, I issued a challenge: 20 species of birds without looking at salt water, and within Freeport west of I-295.
Beginning at Florida Lake Park, the seasonal trend of few birds in the woods continued. The first 10 of 31 BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES on the morning were followed by a single BROWN CREEPER. A NORTHERN CARDINAL was along the entrance road, but the highlight was definitely the adult BALD EAGLE sitting in a tree all but right over our heads. It eventually flew off, but it was about as close as anyone in the group had ever been to a wild eagle! It was a pretty impressive sight, and a great spot by one of the group.
Driving around, we kept an eye out for everything, but our best pocket of roadside birds was just beyond Florida Lake, but the lack of a shoulder here made it an unfortunately quick check. I'm sure there were more species than what went on the official count: a RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER, about 30 EUROPEAN STARLINGS, about 20 EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, 15 HOUSE FINCHES, at least 20 AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, and at least 6 BLUE JAYS.
Elsewhere to and fro, we added 6 total HERRING GULLS in flight, a sum of 38+ AMERICAN CROWS, another 30 European Starlings, and another bluebird.
Hidden Pond Preserve was devoid of birds except for a group of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES. We left there with a mere 13 species, and a roadside feeder stop produced only a pair of WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. We had work to do!
I had spotted some CANADA GEESE in a pond while driving to Florida Lake, so we went back to that spot. There, I counted 34 geese (we also had 8 high-flying migrants while at the lake), but as hoped for, we had a couple of MALLARDS among them. 5 HOUSE SPARROWS were perched on a wire visible from the parking area, which put us at 16 species.
My last spot, the thickets along Richards Lane, which is always productive for us on our Christmas Bird Count came up big today. HAIRY WOODPECKER for #17, then 3 AMERICAN ROBINS. An active feeder added some more chickadees and another pair of White-breasted Nuthatches to the tally as activity picked up. A family group of 4 TUFTED TITMICE was species number 19, which was followed shortly by 3 DARK-EYED JUNCOS to reach our goal of 20 species. A single RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH was then added to the list for good measure.
So today's game was a good lesson in birding by micro-habitat, and provided a little challenge for our first very wintery Saturday morning of the season.