Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rare Bird Prediction Tool/Burrowing Owl in Illinois

A Burrowing Owl has apparently been hanging around in Southern Illinois for at least a week or two; the birding community at large was only made aware of its presence a few days ago. (Yes, I'm wondering who saw it over the last week or two and didn't tell anyone about it-- bastards!)

Anyway, this got me thinking about how to predict when a rare bird will arrive, and I've come up with an equation that has a high probability of correctly predicting when the next rare vagrant will arrive in Illinois.

First, make a list of all of the hypothetical species that *could* be seen in Illinois. Next, identify the rarest 1% of the birds on that list. After you have done that, pick out the five most interesting/"showy" birds from that 1%.

Finally, get a calendar, and mark my next trip out of town on that calendar. One of the five birds on the list you made will show up on the first day of my next trip. Reliability is guaranteed. You can call this the "BINACgoneagain Effect," which is similar to the Patagonia Effect, but much meaner. I tend to repel rare birds, so when I leave town, others invariably find them. See Hermit Warbler (Morton Arboretum) and Wood Stork (Palos area).

Burrowing Owl is on my top-5 "Most Wanted" list for Illinois (with Black Skimmer, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owl, and Evening Grosbeak), so I was not surprised when the news of its confirmation arrived just as I was getting onto a plane bound for Florida.

I had a plan worked out where I would hop on a flight to St. Louis, rent a car, drive to the Burrowing Owl site north of Carbondale, then drive back to Chicago. I let the predicted 4 inches of snow and low temperatures in Chicago, contrasted with the 75 degree temperature in Tampa today, talk me out of this plan. I guess the bird was not refound today so I'm glad I didn't change my plans.

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