A Travellerspoint blog

June 2020

Day 1: Hawkeye WMA, Lewis & Clark Recreation Area


semi-overcast 81 °F

Today was the first day of my family’s roadtrip to South Dakota! We woke up bright and early at 5:40am and were on the road around 6. Our first stop was in the town of Big Rock, IL to pick up our rental RV. There were no birds of note apart from a singing CAROLINA WREN across the street.

Then, it was a straight shot west along the Lincoln Highway and I-88 into Iowa, and right as we were crossing the Mississippi, my dad spotted a flyover flock of AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, of which I miraculously obtained a shot from the moving car:

One hilarious way to pass the time during the drive is for Pearl and I to tease my father every time he makes a slight error in driving. Pearl and I are keeping a list of “de-merits” — the name for infractions with which he grew up in the 1970s (and loves to “award” to me when I drive), as well as the time, place, and reason for the de-merit. We are up to 38 in total and may even post Dad’s personal de-merit log at the end of the trip! :)

We had an early lunch stop at Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area off of I-380 closer to Cedar Rapids, IA where I was able to bird for a bit less than thirty minutes. Upon stepping out of the car, I heard the melodic song of ORCHARD ORIOLES and, although the male was impossible to track down, I was afforded a brief view of the female.

Its relative the male BALTIMORE:

In the woods alongside the road I saw and heard two male AMERICAN REDSTARTS on territory:

And I almost stepped on this snake! If anyone has an identification down to the species, let me know. Eastern Garter? So cool!

And the bird-of-the-stop for me was definitely this YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO which perched really nicely. As my mom told me today, it’s been quite a “cuckoo” year!

I ended the quick stop at Hawkeye with 34 species, over 1 species per minute — pretty good! Then, it was time for the long haul up to the southeast corner of South Dakota: Lewis and Clark Recreation Area where we would enjoy our first campsite of the the trip. At the recreation area, I enjoyed some swimming with Pearl and saw a few nice birds including YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, BALD EAGLE, and my first truly “western” species of the trip: WESTERN KINGBIRD! Unfortunately, at this time, Travellerspoint is not letting me upload any more pictures due to poor wifi here so those photos will have to wait till tomorrow or a later date...

Stay tuned: tomorrow, before another big day of driving, I am waking up *before* dawn and birding the area in search of three classic Great Plains species, and possible life birds, right across the border in Nebraska: Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Lark Bunting. Wish me luck!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1115 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:21 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Morton Arb

Lisle, IL

semi-overcast 90 °F

Today, Susie Nies generously bought me a pass to visit the Morton Arboretum with her (since they are gradually opening up to members on a timed order only). Thanks to my mom who dropped me off there by 7am, Susie and I were able to connect at the entrance and we promptly began to tour the Arboretum for its specialty bird species. My targets included Yellow-throated Warbler, Summer Tanager, Barred Owl, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Well, this one isn’t an enigma: within ten minutes of searching the vicinity of Parking areas 2 & 3, I heard one male bird singing its little heart out — YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER! I believe the Arb is their only nesting location in DuPage County (this is a more southerly species addicted to conifers and sycamores). It took quite a bit of tracking down, but eventually it sat up in the tippy-top of a conifer and gave absolutely breathtaking views — my best ever of this uncommon species.

Then, another birder tipped us off to a HOODED WARBLER singing near Parking area 8 and, upon getting out of the car, I heard the bird singing within two minutes. We walked down the road, met up with two other birders who were tracking the warbler, and eventually had great looks of my absolute favorite warbler. Look at that stunning jet-black hood contrasting with the beautiful lemon-yellow tones. So cool. This bird apparently has been on this territory (classic dense-understory forest) for a number of years, so hopefully he finds his mate.

We continued on to the Big Rock area in hopes of Summer Tanager & Barred Owl. A CAROLINA WREN was piping away which was awesome, and there were plenty of INDIGO BUNTINGS around:



And a good number of EASTERN BLUEBIRDS seemed to be utilizing natural nesting cavities in dead snags — a great sign.


An algae-covered Painted Turtle:

Alas, we failed to find the owl or the Summer Tanager, but a consolation was great looks at a male SCARLET TANAGER.

A DICKCISSEL was singing its heart out in Big Rock Prairie:

We continued on to the west side of the park in hopes of any random Summer Tanagers, as well as Red-breasted Nuthatches which nest on Hemlock Hill. At the hill there was an INDIGO BUNTING:

And sure enough, I soon heard the “yank! yank! yank!” of a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH which we quickly tracked down. Very cool, especially considering how scarce they were last winter (their more expected time in these temperate climates).

An amazing morning of birding thanks to Susie! Bird-of-the-day to the Hooded with runner-up to the Yellow-throated Warbler, two truly stunning breeding warbler species which we are lucky to have at the Arboretum.

STAY TUNED: Bright and early tomorrow, my family and I will begin our RV trip out west to South Dakota with birding each and every day (and hopefully some life birds).

Good birding,
World Life List: 1115 Species

Posted by skwclar 15:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Last bird walk & flycatcher chase!

sunny 60 °F

Yesterday morning, in unseasonably cool temperatures, I led my last Oak Park Bird Walk of the season! We started from my house and walked the usual route up to Taylor Park and back. Along the way, we spotted an AMERICAN ROBIN nest:

And another nest that the robin is not too happy about — the COOPER’S HAWK of 830 Fair Oaks.

There was a bit more bird activity in Taylor Park including CEDAR WAXWINGS:


And the walk ended with another migrant warbler, a first-year AMERICAN REDSTART. Nice to get migrants up to the last day of may.

Upon arriving home and using my inhaler (due to horrible allergies that seem to always be the worst when I walk around Oak Park), I saw that a would-be life bird rarity was continuing from the day before up in Lake County: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!! So, I hopped in the car and drove an hour north nearly to the Wisconsin border to chase this long-tailed, elegantly-colored species. Many birders were present and we searched high and low, finding a bunch of other species including SANDHILL CRANE:

And among the many, many DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS at the cormorant rookery, there was a single NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, about half the size of a Double-crested, that we all got to enjoy! An Illinois life bird for me and a super cool find since this species’ typical range is much closer to the Gulf of Mexico.

PURPLE MARTINS were flying around among a diverse mixed flock of swallows.

But alas, the Scissor-tailed had gone MIA. So, I decided to stay around the area to search for other northern Lake County goodies while having the option to head back to try for the bird again. The obvious choice was Illinois Beach State Park where I struck out on hoped-for rails, and otherwise it was mostly quiet with a few exceptions. A perky raccoon and I had a stare-down near Sand Pond at one point.

And at the South Unit, I found a classic dunes bird of the State Park: BREWER’S BLACKBIRD! This is the only place in the state where this species nests, I believe.

Another notable at the state park was a LARK SPARROW, which unfortunately was heard-only.

So, after a quick bite to eat, I decided to return to Trumpet Marsh to give the Scissor-tailed one last shot. I thought I’d at least give it a fair try since I had come up all that way. An OSPREY was there to greet me upon returning:

SAVANNAH SPARROWS were singing all over the place in the scrubby fields around the area.

I even found a male BLUE-WINGED TEAL at a possible nesting site which was super cool. This species can be regarded as an “indicator species” for wetlands.

A Traill’s Flycatcher also made an experience. This bird is either a Willow or an Alder (I’m leaning Willow), but this time of year can only be distinguished by voice while the two identical species are both migrating through.

Alas, I dipped on its cousin, the Scissor-tailed. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes! Bird-of-the-day to the Neotropic Cormorant which is actually a hell of a consolation bird since usually there’s only a few in Illinois each year, and runner-up to the Brewer’s Blackbirds at Beach Park. Stay tuned: this week, I may lay low for a bit due to an extremely turbulent & dangerous rioting situation here in Chicago, but on Saturday, my family and I will rent an RV and head out west to South Dakota (sigh of relief). That should bring some incredible birding opportunities and, although wifi may be an issue for posting during the trip, I can’t wait to share with my finds, whenever that may be.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1115 Species

Posted by skwclar 08:49 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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