Date: 2/22/17 9:10 am
From: Michal Furmanek <mifur2...> [ILbirds] <ILbirds-noreply...>
Subject: IBET Interesting Longspur at Fort Sheridan
I spent an hour at Fort Sheridan early this morning (6:45 to 7:45 AM). It was a little bit foggy at first, but clearing up fast.
The best sighting was of a Longspur that flew north low over the parking lot soon after 7 AM. I heard the bird calling first. A quick rattle and a short "tiu" sound made it obvious that I was dealing with a Longspur, but the bird didn't sound like a Lapland Longspur at all. The rattle was softer than what I always hear from Laplands, and a main call of that bird was a soft, somewhat rattly jee-vee (or however else I should describe it). It called several times, so I got an earful of that sound, so to speak :). I looked at it through binoculars, and I was astonished how dark that bird was. It was slowly heading NW over the prairie, so I was looking at it mostly from the side (and slightly from behind), and the belly on that bird was clearly very dark or plain black. I've never had such impression on a Lapland Longspur, and I have seen some big flights of those over the prairie at Fort Sheridan. 
I lost the bird and figured it was likely migrating north, got a phone from my pocket, opened the Audubon Birds app, and typed "Chestnut-collared Longspur". I clicked on the call of it, and it was the EXACT same vocalization I had heard just a minute before! The same exact sound, with just a couple of soft rattles and one "tiu" call mixed in.
After a couple of minutes I heard the same call again a couple of times. It was just north of the parking lot, but I couldn't see the bird this time. I walked a little bit into the prairie, as far as the mud and water let me (rubber shoes would be great, but I was on my way to work), and stood there for about 20 minutes, listening. I never heard the call again; it's too bad the trail was too muddy to walk on. 
Just before leaving, a flyover Longspur showed up, but didn't stop, just kept flying. That one sounded like a typical Lapland and had a light-colored belly - clearly a different bird migrating along the lakefront.
The voice of the first bird was really striking and unique. I believe that was a Chestnut-collared Longspur, and if you heard that voice, I think you would believe that too. However, I think the case lacks evidence for such a rare sighting - no picture, no good view of details of the plumage, no other people seeing or hearing it. Therefore, it must go down as probable, and I won't be reporting it on ebird or claiming to see one. 
The bird might still be in the area, but it's really hard to say. Rubber shoes are recommended for walking the trail. 
As far as Longspurs go, Fort Sheridan has had a few sightings of Smith's in the past, and Laplands are seen there often during migration, sometimes migrating in large numbers.
Other than that, there was a lot of birds at Fort Sheridan this morning, including about 900 blackbirds (800 of which appeared to be migrating SOUTH!). There was a flock of about 250 Red-wings, about 150 Common Grackles, and a mixed flock of about 300 blackbirds, all of them heading south. What is up with that, and on SW winds! A few Brown-headed Blackbirds and 5 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS were also seen. Also a Kildeer and many other local birds; no singing Meadowlark yet.
I really wish I could have stayed longer and take in a bit more of that spring migration! And maybe had a chance to take another, better look at that Longspur if it was still there!
Michal FurmanekLake Bluff, Lake Co.

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