Smith’s Longspur Trip 04/09-04/11/2010 in Central IL

An Eastern Phoebe with nesting material.

Eastern Bluebirds were common everywhere.

A special treat were the many Field Sparrow, all singing obligingly.

And a Brown-headed Cowbird that wouldn’t move.

Here the actual trip report:


A splinter group of the original Team Smith embarked on a red-eye out of Portland on Thursday 04/08 to finally come to terms with Smith’s Longspur. We arrived at 5am, dodging the rush hour traffic, and headed straight for Larry’s Restaurant in Manito. It took all but a few seconds to get satisfying looks of Eurasian Tree Sparrow around the house. Initially, we were going to stay for lunch, but we were way too early, so we made a generous contribution to the bird seed fund and were off to Sibley Grasslands.

At Sibley Grasslands we got a feeling for how this trip could have gone. For hours, we traipsed through foxtail loaded patches and prairie, only to not hear or see a single candidate for Smith’s Longspur. We did however learn a lot about where not to look for them.

Towards the end of the day, we got our fix of the regular eastern residents at Meadowbrook Park in Champaign-Urbana. There were essentially no migrants in the park yet (except for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher), but we were able to get an understanding of the habitat for our upcoming Woodcock experience the next evening.

We spent the night at Motel 6 in Effingham, within some 25mi of Prairie Ridge SNA.


We got to Prairie Ridge a half an hour before sunrise and immediately ran into Bob Shelby. We proceeded to view the booming chickens for about an hour of so with him, also picking up a Short-eared Owl and calling Bobwhite and Sora. Bob then told us exactly where and how to look for Smith’s Longspur. So, we headed one field over, parked and I immediately heard the rattle of a bird going over. The bird landed and Mike got his scope on it and we both got excellent, yet brief looks. I later managed to see 2 more birds relatively well when Bob caught up with us. A calling Upland Sandpiper fly over us at some point in time. Life was good …

A singing Field Sparrow en route would be the first of many.

Then we were off to check out Sam Parr SP just north of Newton. A Red-headed Woodpecker, a safely identified Carolina Chickadee and a singing Eastern Wood-Pewee (early!) were the highlights there.

After a quick lunch in Effingham, we headed north to Urbana and birded Homer Lake Forest Preserve. Not much there, yet it was early afternoon and we didn’t expect much. Most birds were at the feeders around the office.

We then checked into the Super8 in Urbana and got ourselves ready for the upcoming Woodcock experience at Meadowbrook Park. We heard the peanting start at 7:40pm, but then made a strategic mistake to try to walk to a closer spot. The light was running out quickly and we ended up not even getting a glimpse of a bird, but we did hear 2 birds well.


Having no more targets left, we spent a couple of hours in the morning  at River Bend FP and Lake of the Woods Park near Mahomet where we finally got good looks of several Brown Thrashers.

Next stop was Kankakee SP where we found our only “other” warbler of the trip, a pair of Yellow-throated Warblers.

We briefly pulled into Midewin Tallgrass Prairie, but it was too early in the year for Henslow’s Sparrow. I got a fleeting glimpse of a White-eyed Vireo off Hoff Rd.

A final stop near Romeoville at a little marsh didn’t produce anything new any more. We got to O’Hare by about 6pm for our flights home.

Species list (81 total)

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Redhead (Larry’s Restaurant)
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Ring-necked Pheasant
Greater Prairie-Chicken (15 at Prairie Ridge SNA, view behind office)
Northern Bobwhite
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Upland Sandpiper (1 heared and later flew over at Smith’s Longspur spot)
Pectoral Sandpiper (25 at Smith’s Longspur spot)
Wilson’s Snipe
American Woodcock
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl (1 early at Prairie Chicken spot)
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker (1 at Sam Parr SP)
Red-billed Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (1 singing at Sam Parr SP)
Eastern Phoebe
White-eyed Vireo (1 at Midewin Tallgrass Prairie at access off Hoff Rd)
Blue Jay
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee (Sam Parr SP)
Black-capped Chickadee (River Bend FP)
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler (2 at Kankakee SP where the main entrance hits the river)
Eastern Towhee (1 at Homer Lake FP feeders)
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (literally everywhere)
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow (1 at southern end of Meadowbrook Park)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Smith’s Longspur (about 12 at Prairie Ridge SNA, about 200yds south of 600N & 900E where there is corn stubble on both sides)
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (many at Larry’s Restaurant in Manito)


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