A Travellerspoint blog

2020: A Year in Birds

The Western Hemisphere

all seasons in one day

How many times last year did you hear about what a horrible year it was? Yep, probably too many, so you will not hear any of that in this post! 2020, no matter what else happened, still delivered some pretty extraordinary birds and other experiences for me and for that I am extremely grateful. Thank you especially to my parents for their continual support.

I started off my year in Punta Arenas Chile where Jürgen gave my family and I a wonderful guided tour of southern Patagonia specialty birds, including the one-and-only MAGELLANIC PLOVER:


Jim, Dermot, Joe, Aidan, Billy, Tom: I will never forgot you lads, I learned so much from you and we had such a great time seawatching from aboard the Coral Princess.

GRAY-HEADED ALBATROSS among the many pelagic species seen on the leg of the cruise from Punta Arenas to Santiago:

CHILEAN FLAMINGOES once my mom, Pearl, and I flew back down to Patagonia:

My best bird in Chile — TORRENT DUCK in Torres del Paine NP:

And the park itself.

Did manage to do some birding amidst a crazy semester back in New York. This was actually on an insanely long day trip I took to Rhode Island and successfully tracked down my lifer BLACK GUILLEMOT from the Block Island Ferry:

A single day’s birding in Brooklyn brought a vagrant PAINTED BUNTING right along the East River:

And a VARIED THRUSH in Prospect Park, the neighborhood where my Nana grew up:

Then the pandemic hit and I made the best of Chicago birding after returning home with Tian. TOWNSEND’S WARBLER was certainly a highlight at Deer Grove Forest Preserve:

And I snagged my life bird RUFF up in Wisconsin:

Despite Montrose and the rest of the lakefront being closed, May brought its usual insanity. This obliging SCARLET TANAGER I photographed with my dear friend Kim H while on an Indiana big day:

My favorite warbler — HOODED at the Arboretum with my friend Susie!

Life bird LECONTE’S SPARROW at Gillson Park in Wilmette. New favorite sparrow!

Finding these Blue-spotted Salamanders on May 12 started my herping obsession and I haven’t blinked an eye since! Thanks Simon Tolzmann for the inspiration.

Tagging along for my friend Isoo O’Brien’s record-breaking Cook County Big Year was lit, especially when we scored new birds together like this SNOWY EGRET at Burnham Prairie:

This spring had a ton of cuckoos for me and my best looks ever at BLACK-BILLED at Graceland Cemetery:

I was able to snag Isoo his year bird PRAIRIE WARBLER by hearing it across a field in Grant Park — definitely a highlight for the year.

Family road trip out to South Dakota was amazing. Here’s the view from Pinnacles Highway, Black Hills:

Tian after she spotted my life bird LONG-BILLED CURLEW in the rear view mirror — brilliant!


A staple of the west, BURROWING OWL:

Rarest lifer of the trip — CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR!

After the road trip I spent the summer at online Chautauqua Voice camp and, when not singing, at Montrose watching shorebirds with Isoo! These incredibly tame BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS were definitely a highlight:

I’ll never forget my 87 salamander day with Simon Peter and Andrea Tolzmann. Absolutely ridiculous. Here’s a Spotted from the day:

A downstate pelagic on Carlyle Reservoir with Colin was super fun netting me my photographic lifer PARASITIC JAEGER:

The IOS Big Sit competition in September was super fun. Here’s another group of lads I’m super thankful to have in my life: Ben, Eddie, Isoo, Oliver, Simon, Peter, and Jake (left to right)

And a second downstate trip got me my first ever venomous snake (from a safe distance), Northern Cottonmouth. Yep, I’m into snakes and ya just gotta deal with it — hah!

This CASSIN’S SPARROW was an insane Montrose rarity and life bird spotted by the one and only Bob Hughes.

Late November, I took a trip up to Chicago Botanic Garden and saw my lifer HOARY REDPOLL — look at that beautifully frosty rump! That is the clinching characteristic that differentiates it from a Common.

And I ended the year with a great December Big Day with Isoo and Jake. BARRED OWL was a highlight in the early morning at Plum Creek, one of my favorite places in Cook County:

A super-duper year in terms of wildlife sightings and making the best of what I was given! Bird-of-the-year for me goes to the Torrent Duck because it is just an epic and hard-to-find species, and it is a bird that makes the best of harsh conditions: fast moving Andes mountain streams. It *adapts* to its environment — that’s why it is so cool. So I think the Torrent Duck is a fitting bird-of-the-year and I was super happy to share that moment of observing it with mom and Pearl.

2020 was filled with so many more positive moments all of which I can’t possibly name here (one of which though was raising over a thousand dollars in total to various conservation agencies through Oak Park Bird Walks!), and I am grateful to Tian, all of my family, friends, and everyone here for being in my life.

Here’s to a brighter 2021 filled with many, many birds!

World Life List: 1023 Species

Posted by skwclar 03:38

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by Tian Qin

What a great post—Keeping 2020 in perspective! I’m grateful to have you and Tian at home this year. :)

by skwclar

I've enjoyed following your travels and wonderful photos and comments this year. It's people like you, who have knowledge and passion about our fragile natural world that will make a difference now and going forward. Keep it coming!

by Melissa Kirk

Enjoyed your summary! Like your description of the Torrent Duck; a true survivor, like you and your family and friends.

by Mary Mc

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