Chasing Predators: In Search of Snowy Owls and Prairie Falcons

Falcon Sky IMG_9454_1

Unidentified Falcon

Reports came last weekend from Coles County, Illinois–farm country about 3 hours south of Chicago–of sightings for two rare visitors: Snowy Owl and Prairie Falcon.

Even though Illinois is a “prairie” state, a Prairie Falcon sighting is a rarity. I saw one fly by in New Mexico last year but it’s a bird I would definitely like to see again. So I gladly joined three friends (as an aside, when we go out on expeditions together we call ourselves the 4 L’s or the Four Elles, all of our names beginning with “L”) for a day trip Sunday to comb the farm roads searching for these elusive creatures.

Farm Road wih Horned Lark - can you find it?

Farm Road wih Horned Lark – can you find it?

Alas, we did not find our target birds. An hour or two into our drive, in fact, we read a report of two Snowy Owls at Northerly Island back on the Chicago lakefront, the direction we were driving away from. But they were being harassed by…my crows, I’m afraid, and eventually left. I have reason to believe they are my crows evicted from the former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now under current destruction; earlier this winter an increase in the crow population was reported at Northerly Island. Crows would be the first to notice the Snowy Owls. But I’m also thinking if they had not harassed the owls, the owls might have gone unnoticed. There’s nothing like crows to detect the presence of predators and call your attention to them. Come to think of it, we could have used a few crows on Sunday to find the falcon for us…

Kestrel Hunting IMG_9321_1

Our first bird was an American Kestrel, hunting in a field, then perched on the wire,

Kestrel w prey IMG_9382_1

that just would not become a Prairie Falcon. It had a vole and was trying to eat its prey, but we couldn’t get close enough for decent photographs.

Kestrel w prey IMG_9383_1

Kestrel w prey IMG_9384_1

I’m afraid he got tired of us watching him.

After several more Kestrels, which I was still thrilled to see as they have all but disappeared from the Chicago area, we did have another falcon… this solitary creature, which might have been a Merlin. The bird appeared to be a juvenile, whatever it was. No matter how much we tried to make it into the sought-after species, it sat quietly in the middle of the field, no doubt amused by all the people peering at it, by now, with scopes from both sides, knowing we were too far away to get really decent looks.

Falcon IMG_9493_1

Even though these pictures are hardly worth publishing, we Four Elles had a great time, over the course of the day getting great if brief looks at Rough-Legged Hawk and Northern Harriers, lots of American Tree Sparrows and Horned Larks, and it was our last chance for sunshine for quite a while. The days are getting longer, but it seems the winter weather is just beginning.

2 thoughts on “Chasing Predators: In Search of Snowy Owls and Prairie Falcons

  1. I love days like that. To go hunting for certain birds, it is such fun even though you may not find your target. You never know what you may find, such is the fun of birding. We get Kestrels here all the time as do we see Merlins. Prairie Falcons we see once in a while and I have been fortunate to get a few decent photographs. One specie that I fear I may never see is the Snowy Owl. I have seen glorious photos and I am so envious of them.

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