Tagging along on practice run for breeding bird survey at Cap Sauers, part of BCN’s growing database
Follow along with monitor Woody Goss on a practice run for the breeding bird survey at Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve, as part of building the decades-long database by the Bird Conservation Network.
Woody Goss spotted an American red squirrel — an Illinois first for him — after we crossed from Teason’s Woods parking to Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve in Palos Park. We had just met, so he had no clue red squirrels hold a piece of my heart.
That set the tone for a practice run of his breeding bird survey for the Bird Conservation Network (BCN).
‘‘The guy who did it before me [Tom Mulcahy] did it for, like, 15 years,’’ said Goss, who is in his second year. ‘‘I was really honored when they offered it to me.’’
At each established point (the 13 are on his Google Maps), he looks and listens for birds within 75 meters for precisely five minutes. He does his survey twice, two weeks apart. During the survey, Goss tracks nest-building, territorial calls and courtship displays.
BCN, a coalition of 21 conservation organizations, has collected breeding data from managed lands in the six-county area since 1999. The ‘‘Breeding Bird Trends in the Chicago Region 1999-2020’’ gives an update, both uplifting and depressing, on the status of more than 100 nesting species.
‘‘When I discovered [Cap], I came every day,’’ Goss said. ‘‘For whatever reason, this woods gets a handful of species you don’t see often. It’s one of the coolest spots in Cook County. Last year, I had a white-eyed vireo. I don’t think they breed here.’’
To start were wood thrush, eastern wood-peewee, blue-gray gnatcatcher, gray catbird, brown thrasher, northern cardinal, red-tailed hawk, northern flicker, possible prothonotary warbler, red-bellied woodpecker, house wren, cedar waxwing, indigo bunting.
‘‘Cedar waxwings sound like a lot of different fledglings,’’ he said. ‘‘Another one that sounds like a whining baby is a gnatcatcher.’’
Goss uses a Canon EOS 7D with a 100-400 mm lens, Nikon Monarch binoculars, the ‘‘Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds’’ and the Merlin Bird ID app. After every birding trip, he makes an eBird list.
Veery, eastern towhee, tufted titmouse, blue jay (a jay mimicked a Cooper’s hawk), scarlet tanager, tree swallow, black-capped chickadee.
‘‘Ah, there’s an Acadian flycatcher,’’ Goss said. ‘‘That’s one I have to keep track of. There will only be one or two.’’
Brown-headed cowbird, red-eyed vireo, phoebe, hooded warbler, chickadee, yellow-throated vireo.
When he had a Louisiana waterthrush outside of 75 meters, he said that were he doing the actual survey, he would’ve rushed to the next point, hoping to have it in range.
Goss also is a musician. He is best known as a keyboardist with the funk band Vulfpeck.
American goldfinch, field sparrow, blue-winged warbler, Baltimore oriole, possible green heron, possible black-billed cuckoo, great crested flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, summer tanager.
When an Acadian flycatcher made a territorial call, he said: ‘‘Interesting that they are doing that even to humans.’’
To confirm a blue-gray gnatcatcher, he ‘‘might have to look at the sonogram.’’
Rose-breasted grosbeak, grackle, robin, great blue heron, Canada geese.
‘‘They used to have breeding chestnut-sided warblers here, but not anymore,’’ Goss said. ‘‘That’s probably one of the stories of decreasing bird populations.’’
At the end of the loop came red-headed woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, European starling, yellow warbler.
‘‘Only homework is to check on ovenbird,’’ Goss said. We had it on Merlin, but he wasn’t certain.
It was time.
On the way back came downy woodpecker, barred owls (‘‘Who cooks for you?’’), turkey vulture, chimney swift, eastern bluebird, eastern kingbird.
One surprising miss was pileated woodpecker.
Goss marked all the regular woodland breeders at Cap from the BCN’s ‘‘species of concern” and one ‘‘species of concern’’ in shrubland.
BCN’s full dataset, background and analysis is at bcnbirds.org/trends21/trends.html.