So much for the hoped for Red Crossbill invasion into Illinois. Perhaps some folks got excited by the annual Winter Finch report, despite that only focusing on Eastern US predictions. And then we had some amazing appetizers, Red Crossbills showing up for 15 minutes or so in a variety of places, including Central IL, then soon after, ever Southern IL - it looked like we were going to have a huge invasion. But it was like waiting for the waiter to return to your table at a packed restaurant, after some great appetizers… only to get stiffed. The pattern started to emerge, Crossbills reports that folks chased turned into nothing on most occasions. Only the lucky initial birders had the fun.
During early Nov and early Dec, I stopped at 80 locations that had good habitat, had reports from years ago, had reports from this early Winter and/or subsequently had reports from. It was a well rounded attempt, with 45 spots in Northern IL, the rest in C. and S. IL, probably covering at least 30 different counties. Despite the effort, I only had Red Crossbills from one location (and well yes, it was an explosion, 92 at Henderson County’s Big River State Park). But the fact that I had nothing to show for seeking after crossbills elsewhere and the drying up of statewide reports in the last few weeks, gives a strong suggestion that there really wasn’t any invasion at all, just a quick move in and out of the state by wide ranging flocks.
Now its worth noting that in some past years, an expected invasion had nice appetizers in late Fall, then disappeared during early Dec-mid Jan…. but then the invasion DID come. Example, the WW Crossbill and Common Redpoll explosion that began at Lake County’s Lyons Woods FP in mid-Jan of 2009, then they were all over the northern half of the state within 10 days.
But for this year disappointment, there’s always the big Winter Finch unexpected surprise. So its worth bringing up that it was 40 years ago this week that Greg Neise shockingly found the greatest concentration of Pine Grosbeaks in IL history (which is still true to this day). Just finding one PG would make for an awesome ending to a birding year. How about 80 of them?! I can imagine the elder birders listening to Greg explain that he found that many at the Morton Arboretum. I personally would have taken him into a warm room, given him some hot chocolate and let his mind warm back up, just to allow saner sensibilities come back to him. But it turned out he was completely right, as many got to see parts of this flock over the next month. As for me and my friends, we were the last ones to see a few of them on the 3rd week of Jan 1978. An amazing true memory from back then, I had see the PG’s a few times in a few places at the Arb, also the WW Crossbills and Redpolls that also had invaded there, that I got wind from another birder that there was a bird called a White-breasted Nuthatch over in the nearby oaks. I got so excited and left the PG’s/WWC/Redpolls and ran over to get my lifer views of that awesome nuthatch! Naturally, when I returned, the PG’s were gone, which didn’t see like such a big deal at the moment. But here it is, 40 years later (a whole generation has passed!) and I’ve still not seen any more PG’s in Illinois. Ah yes, a Winter Finch trip down memory lane (thanks Greg!)… so hopefully this CBC season will generate some other winter finch magic, as it did 40 years ago this week.