A Travellerspoint blog

June 2015

Kids Bird Walks & Upcoming East Coast Tour

semi-overcast 81 °F

Today I led the two 2015 Oak Park Kids Bird Walks. It was very fun to see the kids experience the focus required for birding and be rewarded with views of some nice birds.

Because it is summer, only common breeding birds were seen, but we enjoyed the walks nevertheless. Male NORTHERN CARDINAL:

We spotted a few tiny and very cute Eastern Cottontail rabbits such as this one:



12 bird species were seen on the walks:

Cooper's Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Downy Woodpecker
Red-eyed Vireo
House Wren
American Robin
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch

In other news, this afternoon I will be flying with my choir to New York City to start our 9-day tour of New York City and Washington, DC. I will make a non-boarding recap post about the tour in a week from Tuesday because this is also a travel blog after all!

Until then, adieu and good birding!

World Life List: 754 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 09:02 Archived in USA Comments (1)

South Side Birding & Birds of the Past

all seasons in one day 84 °F

Yesterday (Friday, June 18) I birded with Jill Anderson in the morning in the southeast side of Chicgo to find a rarity Western Kingbird and then I met Nick Minor, a rising freshman in college who showed me around the Field Museum's absolutely breathtaking avian collection.

Jill and I drove to a place called Steelworkers Park on the southeast side of Chicago to find a Western Kingbird that has been recently seen in the area as well as a few other interesting birds that have been there as well. The Western Kingbird is a robin-sized bird in the flycatcher family that has a beautiful yellow belly and is native to the western regions of North America and Central America (in the winter), and therefore qualifies as a vagrant here in Illinois.

We arrived around 9:30am and quickly found these NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS:


We also heard but did not see a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, another one of our targets for the day, in approxiamately the same location as the above Field Sparrow. This NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was yet another target bird we nailed down:

Another secondary target bird, a BELL'S VIREO, was a heard-only species (but countable nevertheless), but after 2.5 hours of searching, we struck out on the elusive kingbird. We then drove up Lakeshore Drive to 63rd Street Beach where we admired a colony of nesting CLIFF SWALLOWS, and then the wooded island of Jackson Park where I found this BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON in a tree but failed to find any of the desired Monk Parakeets that have established a feral (but countable) population there.

Shortly before 1:00pm, Jill dropped me off at the Field Museum. Thanks for driving, it was a great morning of birding with you, Jill!

I then met a very friendly and extremely knowledgable guy, Nick Minor, who showed me around the Field Museum's awe-inspiring bird collection. Here is Nick's fantastic blog, the Science of Birds: http://scienceofbirds.blogspot.com

Also, this fall when he starts college I will actually be taking over his blog devoted to forecasting Illinois nocturnal bird migration, "Arrivals and Influxes,"

Anyway, the bird collection, as I already stated, was FANTASTIC! 9/10ths of the world's bird species (that's right, over 9,000 species!) are housed in the Field Museum. I could spend days in that place, but considering we only had an hour and a half or so, he showed me the "best of" plus a few of my requests.

This is a Blue Cotinga, a bird I saw from afar in Panama in the fall of 2013!

Here is a link to the blog post where I photographed this species (3rd photo down): http://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/13/

This is a comparison of a Pileated Woodpeker (top) and its EXTINCT (!!!), larger cousin the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (bottom):

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker once lived in wooded swamps of the southeastern USA and Cuba:

Another EXTINCT species, a Carolina Parakeet, the most northerly naturally ranging parakeet known, which was found as far north as Illinois & Wisconsin:

This parakeet lived in mature riparian forests throughout the majority of the eastern USA.

A pair of a beautiful birds with an even better name: Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, found in the Andes of South America:

Then, Nick showed me the birds of paradise, possibly the most beautiful birds in the world, native to New Guinea and select parts of Australia:

This is a Kori Bustard, the largest surviving flying bird, native to parts of Africa. My foot is next to it for comparison. WOW!

Bottom: Andean Condor, one of the largest raptors in the world, and native to the Andes of South America. Top: Wandering Albatross, the bird with the largest wingspan in the world. I got 4 feet away from these majestic albatross on a pelagic trip off of the coast of New Zealand in 2014.

You can see the post here (you have to scroll down in the post): http://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/68/

There were just shelves upon shelves of beautiful birds taking up nearly an entire upper floor of the museum. This is an especially stunning shelf of different kinds of tanagers from Central and South America:

This is a Resplendent Quetzal, an astoundingly beautiful bird that I missed in Panama in 2013 but hope to find this summer in Costa Rica. Note the amazing iridescent green and the extremely long secondary (not tail!) feathers:

Next, Nick showed me an entire shelf full of my other "nemesis bird," the Great Gray Owl, a species I have looked for too many times to count. Despite being the largest owl in North America, these looked tiny after seeing the bustards and albatross earlier:

Then, he showed me a shelf full of my second favorite bird species, the Cerulean Warbler. All of the songbirds in the collections are turned on their backs to preserve them better, so you see the underside of these birds. Males have white undersides with a blue breast band while females are yellowish underneath.

Then, he showed me a shelf full of my FAVORITE bird species, the Hooded Warbler! The males have the dark markings on their throat while the females lack them.

Here is my blog post from earlier this year featuring photographs I took of both of my favorite bird species from the same day (again, you will have to scroll down in the post): http://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/275/

This picture of the main corridor through the bird collection does not even do it justice to how expansive it really is:

Nick informed me that some of these birds are shot specimens from times before the non-game bird laws came into place, while others are mainly victims of window crashes. It was extremely interesting to see the collection of my favorite and nemesis birds as well as extinct and downright breathtaking birds, as well. Thanks, Nick!

Tomorrow I will be leading two kids bird walks in the morning which I will probably post about, and then in the afternoon I will be flying with my choir to New York City for our 9-day-long tour to the East Coast! I will make a rare non-birding post about the tour after I get back from it, as well.

Bird-of-the-day yesterday to the NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD and runners-up to the BELL'S VIREO & GRASSHOPPER SPARROW. Honorable mention to Resplendent Quetzal, Great Gray Owl, Cerulean & Hooded Warblers, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parakeet, Kori Bustard, Andean Condor, and Wandering Albatross! Whew!

Good birding,

World Life List: 754 Species (no life birds recently)

Posted by skwclar 21:07 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Prothonotary Warbler!

overcast 70 °F

This afternoon I birded some avian "hot spots" near the Glenview area in northern Cook County with a birding friend, Suzanne Coleman. We had a blast, so thanks for everything, Suzanne!

Our first birding stop, and where we would spend the majority of our time, was Air Station Prairie in North Glenview. It was in the 70's, however a stiff breeze made it feel like the 50's, too chilly for June! It was refreshing, however, after a 92-degree day yesterday. My first bird at the prairie was this GREAT BLUE HERON:



Flight photo:

The wildflowers were bountiful and beautiful today in the prairie:

Wild Onion flower:

Suzanne told me that the little holes in the ground at Air Station Prairie and many similar grasslands are caused by terrestrial crayfish, believe it or not! She said they are more like little crabs that scurry around on the ground underneath the tall grasses:


The best bird at Air Station Prairie was this WILSON'S SNIPE, which is an uncommon bird for Illinois in the summer.


Our next stop was a quick 15-minute look at the nearby Techny Basin, where the best bird was this sleeping male BLUE-WINGED TEAL out on a mudflat:

Then, we drove to the Skokie Lagoons where we were hoping to see one of the Prothonotary Warblers that are nesting there for at least a fourth summer in a row now. Sure enough, within two minutes of stepping out of the car, we found this brilliant male PROTHONOTARY WARBLER from across the lagoon! This is a very good find because it is an uncommon species this far north; they are typically found in the wooded swamps of Arkansas, Alabama, and other more southerly locations.



A brief but awesome look at my "life-mammal" MINK, the first one I have ever seen, was a great way to wrap up a fantastic afternoon of birding!

We ended the day with 46 species in total, the best being the male PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Runners-up to the WILSON'S SNIPE and the BLUE-WINGED TEAL. Thanks again, Suzanne!

Good birding,

World Life List: 754 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 21:37 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Blue Grosbeaks!

overcast 77 °F

Today I continued my successful streak of early-summer birding trips. My mom, dad, and I drove out to the Morton Arboretum so I could see a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, a species that is very rare this far north in Illinois. I was also hoping to see Hooded & Cerulean Warblers, however they haven't been seen at the Arb in a few weeks, so I knew the last two species would be a long shot.

Here is a mystery oriole that I photographed - it is probably a female and/or immature Baltimore or Orchard Oriole, but I just can't seem to give this bird a positive identification! Here is my email if you have an ID for this bird: [email protected] UPDATE FRIDAY, JUNE 5: This bird has a very confusing identification, a first-year oddly-molting male ORCHARD ORIOLE:

I walked the Heritage Trail on the east side of the Arboretum for the 1.5 hours we stayed there because that trail is consistently where all of the interesting birds have been seen recently. This GREAT HORNED OWL immediately proved that point because it is always a treat to see an owl during the day:

Soon, I arrived at the grassland where the Blue Grosbeaks have been seen recently (thank you Ed McDevitt for the directions). I saw many small, bright blue birds, but they turned out to be common INDIGO BUNTINGS, like this beautiful male:

Suddenly, I spied a songbird perched atop a small shrub from all the way across the grassland. Knowing Blue Grosbeaks' tendency to perch on the top of shrubs, I got closer to the bird, and it turned out to be my target bird! It was a beautiful male BLUE GROSBEAK! They are extremely similar to the more common Indigo Bunting, however if you contrast this bird with the photo above, you will notice that the grosbeak has brown wings and a heavier beak than the bunting.

I also saw this male chasing a female BLUE GROSBEAK, so hopefully this pair will nest in the Arboretum!


I found this very late male MOURNING WARBLER in the woods west of the grassland where I found the grosbeak. They should have all departed for the sub-boreal forest where they nest by now, but it was a very pleasant surprise to see this bird:

Singing male HOUSE WREN:

Finally, another blue bird to round off the day - an appropriately-named male EASTERN BLUEBIRD:

Bird-of-the-day to the male BLUE GROSBEAK, which I have only seen once for five seconds before today. Runner-up to the late MOURNING WARBLER. The full species list is below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 754 Species (no life birds today)

45 species

Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Ring-billed Gull 5
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2
Mourning Dove 2
Great Horned Owl 1
Chimney Swift 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 3
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 2
Tree Swallow 7
Barn Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
House Wren 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 10
Eastern Bluebird 8
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 20
European Starling 2
Cedar Waxwing 2
Mourning Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 3
Yellow Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Blue Grosbeak 2 Pair of adult birds in grassland area just west of Big Rock. Male singing and chasing around female. Photos obtained of male.
Indigo Bunting 5
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Common Grackle 8
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Baltimore Oriole 1
Orchard Oriole 1
House Finch 3
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 5

Posted by skwclar 10:45 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Connecticut Warbler, Tired Feet, and my Favorite Bird

sunny 70 °F

Today was one of the longest and most tiring, but also one of the most productive days of birding of my life. I woke up at 6am and took the El into downtown Chicago, where I walked nine blocks to find a rare male CONNECTICUT WARBLER at a random parking lot at the corner of Clinton & Harrison Streets. As you can see because I capitalized its name, I successfully found the bird within a minute of arriving and photographed and admired this rarity for a solid 18 minutes. I captured photos, but I also revisited the warbler later in the afternoon and obtained even higher quality photos (see below)!

Despite being a random parking lot in the middle of the downtown area, the birding was actually fairly productive with a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and an unidentified EMPIDONAX FLYCATCHER species seen, as well. Here is the bird list for the parking lot:

Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Empidonax Sp.
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (seen later at same location)
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Common Grackle
House Sparrow
House Finch

Then, I walked a few blocks to the Union Station where I bought my round-trip Metra ticket and boarded the Southwest Service train to Palos Park. I arrived at Palos at about 9:30am and took a long walk to get to the preserves where I would spend the greater part of my day birding and walking. The chain of preserves that include McClaughry Springs and Swallow Cliff Woods have some of the most quality concentrations of breeding woodland birds in northern Illinois, and the chain definitely yields the best woodland birding in the greater Chicagoland area.

The walk to the preserves itself yielded some fairly productive birding. I found a local specialty of the Palos Area along the way, a CAROLINA WREN, which is a species you are unlikely to see any other place in northeast Illinois:

I also saw this male GRAY CATBIRD:

I hiked the Sag Valley Trail through 5 forest preserves today: Palos Park Woods, McClaughtry Springs Woods, 40 Acre Woods, Swallow Cliff Woods, and Cap Sauer Holding. The wildlife seen along this beautiful chain of forest preserves was very abundant and diverse and included mammals, as well, like this White-tailed Deer:


A definite highlight of my day was finding not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE bird: the HOODED WARBLER. One adult male in particular was especially cooperative for this photo. Just look at the jet black hood of that bird contrasted against that brilliant yellow color - unbelievably awesome!

Unidentified butterfly:


Here is the bird list for the Sag Valley Trail:

Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Empidonax Sp.
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Kay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

It was very productive birding, but certainly a lot of walking, as well! I was very thankful that a birder I met towards the end of my birding excursion, Carl Giometti, offered to give me a ride to an ice cream parlor right next to the Metra station (best ice cream I've had since gelato in Italy!). Thanks, Carl!

After the Metra ride back to Chicago's Union Station, I had time to kill before my choir rehearsal so I decided to revisit the CONNECTICUT WARBLER, which I found again very quickly and obtained these photos due to its being amazingly cooperative:

Wow, what an awesome bird and such a great opportunity to photograph this rare species, which usually reclusively lurks in the thick centers of dense shrubs and bushes. Not the case for this brave little guy who was fearlessly foraging and singing in the small trees ringing a downtown parking lot a half a block away from very noisy construction!

A surprise ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (yet another uncommon species!), my unidentified Empidonax flycatcher from the morning, was also present:

As well as a GRAY CATBIRD:

The bird-of-the-day award will be shared by the awesome CONNECTICUT and HOODED WARBLERS; no explanation needed for these special birds. Runners-up to the CAROLINA WRENS and the ACADIAN FLYCATCHER. A fantastic day!

Stay tuned - I will be birding the Morton Arboretum in hopes for Cerulean & Hooded Warblers as well as Blue Grosbeaks, all rare birds for northeast Illinois, on Thursday or Friday!

Good birding,

World Life List: 754 Species (no recent life birds)

Posted by skwclar 19:47 Archived in USA Comments (3)

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