A Travellerspoint blog

July 2015

Day 4: Golden Eagles!

sunny 84 °F

Today I birded Warm Springs Road by bike west of Sun Valley, in Blaine County, Idaho from 9:15am to 10:45am. It was very productive and I had one major avian highlight during the bike ride. Stay tuned and find out next!



It was another beautiful day with completely sunny skies and temperatures rising from 44 degrees in the morning to 84 in the afternoon. I was again treated to some great views:




The definite highlight of the day was spotting a distant pair of rare GOLDEN EAGLES soaring over the surrounding mountains. Here is a cropped and far-away photo of one of them, the best I could manage:

Then, my mom and I went shopping and we picked up my dad and my sister who had just flown into the Sun Valley-Hailey Airport. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon and evening at the pool and the condo.

Bird-of-the-day to the GOLDEN EAGLES and runner-up to the LEWIS' WOODPECKER. The full avian species list for the day is below.

Good birding and stay tuned for continuing daily posts from beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho!

World Life List: 855 Species (no life birds today)

38 species + 1 other taxa today:

Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Hummingbird Sp.
Lewis' Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Say's Phoebe
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Mountain Bluebird
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Tanager
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Black-headed Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
House Sparrow
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Posted by skwclar 16:51 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 3: GHO!

sunny 79 °F

Today was my first full day in the beautiful town of Sun Valley, Idaho on this trip. From 9:00am to 1:30pm, I birded the Warm Springs Trail that leads essentially from our condo's backyard up a large mountain called Mt. Balde, famous for its ski runs in the winter. I bird this trail every year and it is always very, very productive for finding montane bird species.

When I woke up this morning, it was a frigid 39 degrees, but thankfully it was a "balmy" 52 degrees by the time I left the condo at 9:00am. The difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures here in the mountains is always surprisingly drastic. It was a beautiful day, however, with completely sunny skies again and temperatures reaching the upper seventies in mid-afternoon.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS such as these enjoy roosting on the nearby ski lodge:

A beautiful view along the trail with some nice sunflowers in the foreground:

A little way along the trail, I found a GHO - the title of post! "GHO" is birding lingo for GREAT HORNED OWL, one of the most common and largest owls in North America. This owl is also commonly referred to as a "Hoot Owl" and it is about the size of a large hawk.

I also found its mate hiding in the trees:


Doe Mule Deer:

This WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER, typically a hard-to-find species of higher-elevation conifer woodlands, is a relatively easy bird to see about two hours up the trail:

This uncommon OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER was also a great species for the day because they are listed as a declining species, technically federally "near-threatened," mainly due to habitat loss of the naturally disturbed conifer woodlands they prefer.


I always stop hiking at a ridge with beautiful views of the mountains about two and a half hours up the trail. Here is a beautiful view of the Pioneer Mountains. The third mountain peak from the right in this picture is Hyndman Peak, the 9th highest mountain in Idaho, standing at just barely over 12,000 feet above sea level.


Female of the same species:

Juvenile TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE with a very interesting speckled plumage:


This reliable AMERICAN DIPPER was foraging along Warm Springs Creek behind my condo when I returned from the hike around 1:30pm.

I spent the afternoon at the condo and then attended a concert in the evening in which my mom performed as a soloist with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in a fantastic performance of Bernstein's "Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs." Great job, Mom!


I just realized I have forgotten to do "bird-of-the-day" awards recently! I will resurrect that tradition with the cooperative pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS being the bird-of-the-day. Runners-up to the uncommon OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER.

The full avian species list for the day is below. Stay tuned because tomorrow my dad and my sister will be joining my mom and I here in beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho.

Good birding,

World Life List: 855 Species (no life birds)

31 avian species today:

Red-tailed Hawk
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Great Horned Owl
Lewis' Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Hammond's Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Clark's Nutcracker
American Crow
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
American Dipper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Mountain Bluebird
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Tanager
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Brewer's Blackbird
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Posted by skwclar 19:16 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains animals birds Comments (1)

Day 2: Boise to Sun Valley

sunny 69 °F

Today my mom and I drove the 3-hour drive from Boise, Idaho's largest city, to the small mountain town of Sun Valley famous for its winter skiing. After a buffet breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites, we were on the road at exactly 10:00am.

Although we didn't stop for birding during the drive, I saw quite a few birds including a flyover FERRUGINOUS HAWK, a gigantic raptor and only the second one I've ever seen! Other noteworthy birds along the way were SAY'S PHOEBE, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, COMMON NIGHTHAWK, and LEWIS' WOODPECKER.

The drive is beautiful in its own way. The scenery along the drive alternates from habitats as varied as upland sagebrush desert to pre-montane foothills.

A funny road we always pass on this drive:

Here is my bird species list for the drive to Sun Valley:

Turkey Vulture
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Shorebird sp.
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Lewis' Woodpecker
Say's Phoebe
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Sparrow Sp.
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Sparrow

Then, shortly before 1:00pm, we arrived at our trusty condo in the Warm Springs neighborhood of Sun Valley in which we have stayed for five years in a row now.

The view from the back deck is very pretty with a clear mountain stream called Warm Springs Creek constantly providing a babbling soundscape for the condo.

There were also a few birds around, including this uncommon CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER:

And this AMERICAN DIPPER, a characteristic bird of mountain streams ranging from west-central Canada all the way down to Panama. This bird's feathers are waterproof and are very thick to properly insulate the bird when it swims, and sometimes even dives, into the cold and sometimes even glacial-fed water where it hunts for underwater plants and critters. It also has a translucent coating under its eyelids that allows it to hunt efficiently underwater without damaging its eyesight.

This juvenile HERMIT THRUSH was a bit of a surprise:

I took a leisurely mid-afternoon birding bike ride down the nearby Warm Springs Road, which took me into the Sawtooth National Forest after a few minutes of biking.

There is one patch of sunflowers a short way into the bike ride where I always stop to take photos:

Can you spot the male AMERICAN GOLDFINCH?

The views are sublime here, and it was a beautiful day with very few scattered clouds and temperatures topping out at a seasonably chilly 69 degrees.



Warm Springs Road follows and occasionally crosses Warm Springs Creek, the same brook that runs behind our condo:

Here is the bird list from my bike ride:

Red-tailed Hawk
Hummingbird Sp.
Lewis' Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Black-billed Magpie
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Bank Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Hermit Thrush
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lazuli Bunting
Brewer's Blackbird
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

After shopping with my mom and practicing trumpet, we spent a quiet and relaxing evening at the condo. Stay tuned - tomorrow I plan to bird the entire morning!

Good birding,

World Life List: 855 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 18:48 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains trees birds Comments (0)

Day 1: Idaho!

semi-overcast 87 °F

And it's back to day 1 on a new trip, after returning from my last trip only 4 days ago! This time, my family is off to Sun Valley, Idaho for a 3-week-long vacation while my mom and dad play in the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in which they participate every August.

Warning: this is not a birding post, it is simply a travel post because you will notice that this is a birding/travel blog!!! I promise my post to be more bird-oriented tomorrow. This is my family's 6th year going to Idaho and we always love it; my favorite pastimes here are hiking, nature viewing, photography, listening to the symphony, and of course (starting the summer of 2012), BIRDING! The birding in this part of Idaho is surprisingly rich, even in August, due to the many varied habitats that can be found in a relatively small, central part of the state. Within Blaine County, the county in which we stay, habitats range from marshes and sagebrush plains in the 4,000 - 5,000 feet above sea level range to tall alpine mountain peaks towering 11,000 or even 12,000 feet above sea level in some cases. It truly is a spectacular place.

As usual, our family's complicated schedule has created a unique way we are getting to Sun Valley. My mom and I flew a direct flight to Boise today and are staying in a Hampton Inn & Suites Tonight near downtown Boise. We will make the 3-hour drive to Sun Valley tomorrow and stay there for 3 weeks. My dad and my little sister, Pearl, will fly into the Hailey/Sun Valley airport and join us starting Thursday.

My mom and I caught a 4:20pm flight out of Midway Airpot with direct service to Boise. The flight was, for the most part, enjoyable and I took some photos from my window seat.

Takeoff roll:


Up, up, up and away!

Interesting cloud formation:

Alpine lake with glaciers and snowfields. I believe this was in the Wind River Range of Wyoming:

Our descent over Idaho took us pretty close to Sun Valley and I actually spotted a few locations where I have birded before and hope to bird on this trip!

Silver Creek Preserve, a place where I go birding every year, as seen from the sky. This is about an hour's drive from where we stay in Sun Valley.

The Magic Reservoir, another location I plan to bird on this trip.

Beautiful descent into Boise:

Almost there - cue for everybody aboard to nervously cling to their seats for touchdown:

Landed safely in Idaho!

After a very expedient baggage reclamation and rental car check-out, we checked into our hotel, refreshed, and then walked to dinner at a nearby outback steakhouse. It was unseasonably "chilly" here in Boise because a storm had just passed through; when we stepped out of the airport, it was a pleasant 70 degrees outside instead of the usually-sizzling 95.

I ordered the largest steak on the menu, a Porterhouse cut:

And yes, I finished it! It was delicious!

Stay tuned - tomorrow my mom and I will drive to Sun Valley. I promise for an at least somewhat more "birdy" post!

Good birding,

World Life List: 855 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 21:47 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains sky snow planes Comments (0)

Day 10 & Costa Rica Trip Recap

semi-overcast 87 °F

My journey to Costa Rica with my high school group under the No Barriers' Youth Company was one that I will remember for a lifetime - I can undoubtedly say that it was the BEST traveling I have ever done and I would recommend it to anyone my age who loves to travel and learn about themselves and others.

First, I will give the recap of the Costa Rica trip as a whole and then I will write briefly about the travel day home with a couple of photos from the airplane.


My first order of business is giving well-deserved shout outs to the truly OUTSTANDING staff who led this trip. I am really, really thankful to these amazing adults who were the reason this trip functioned as smoothly and positively as it did.

Ms. Smith (chaperone - teacher from OPRFHS) - Thank you, Ms. Smith, for being an awesome mentor to us along the trip! You contributed a great deal to the group with your witty sense of humor.

Mrs. Nelson (chaperone - teacher from OPRFHS) - Thank you, Mrs. Nelson, also for contributing your positive energy to this group, and I greatly enjoyed pointing out all the birds I could to you!

Mr. Farley (instructor - teacher from OPRFHS) - Thank you, Mr. Farley, for leading our class in all of the pre-trip classes and field trips. Without these, our group wouldn't have bonded nearly as well as we did on our trip. Also, thank you for your unforgettably sarcastic sense of humor and the very wacky way you run! (inside joke for people on the CR trip)

Louis (bus driver from Costa Rica) - Thank you, Louis, for being an overall awesome person. You were the "underdog" of the trip since you had to drive the bus so much everyday and had less direct contact with us than Alexa, Mario, and the teachers; however we greatly enjoyed your amazing driving feats, your sense of humor, and seeing photos of your beautiful family.

Mario (birding & natural history guide from Costa Rica) - Thank you for, Mario, for as a fellow birder, reaching out to me and greatly augmenting my trip by pointing out awesome bird species to me, leading the fantastic morning bird walks, and being always willing to "talk bird" with me during the trip (birders out there, you know what I mean). Thank you for also being a friend and mentor to me!

Mario is a fantastic guide for birding, natural history, and culture in Costa Rica! I would recommend him to ANYONE thinking about doing ANY sort of guided trip to the country; however, he is also a fantastic birder and I would especially recommend for birders. Here is his information:

Mario Córdoba H of Crescentia Expeditions

Alexa (expedition leader from Costa Rica, main group leader) - Thank you, Alexa, for leading this entire trip with a vibrant and contagious positive energy. You are such a great person and, from going out to lunch with the Costa Rica group the day after we returned from Costa Rica, everyone misses you SO much already! Thank you, also, for making my trip special and birding with Mario and me at La Selva Biological Station for one awesome morning. Our group was truly inspired to be compassionate global citizens by your bottomless enthusiasm, and the detail I miss most from the trip is your "Pura!" and the group's excited "Vida!" response.

Alexa is an extremely knowledgable, kind, generous, and caring guide in Costa Rica and, like Mario, can tell you everything there is to know about the country. I promise that if you go on one of her tours, you will not regret her positive energy and vast knowledge of the country. Here is her information:

Alexa Stickel of TropicAves

Secondly, here is my personal outline map of the highlights of my trip to Costa Rica:

  • La Carpio - working with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Fondation and playing with the children there
  • 1st group evening circle meeting @ Selva Verde Lodge - the group really started bonding there
  • An astounding morning of birding with Alexa and Mario at La Selva Biological Station
  • River float down the Sarapiqui River
  • Tour of a pineapple farm with the hilarious guide Miguel, eating dozens of pineapples
  • Tour of Don Juan's farm with the hilarious guide Sergio, comparing 2 farms in one day
  • Visiting the orphanage in La Fortuna and playing with the children there
  • Boating across Lake Arenal, then Louis, our bus driver, making record time to Monteverde
  • Finding the RESPLENDENT QUETZAL with Mario @ Curi Cancha Wildlife Refuge
  • Hilariously fun Mid-trip Meeting with the group completely bonded by this point
  • Ziplining through the cloudforest, also riding the scary "free fall" rope swing
  • Night Sky Acitivity @ Corozalito Beach
  • Watching a mother sea turtle lay eggs @ Corozalito Beach
  • Visit to one room school house in Corozalito and playing with children there
  • Picking up litter, swimming, and picnicking @ Corozalito Beach
  • Soccer game with the same school children as earlier in the day
  • Closing Ceremonies meeting under the giant fig tree in Corozalito
  • Fun bus ride back to San Jose, seeing monkeys, planning out thank-you presentations
  • Thank-you presentations for Alexa, Louis, Mario, and Mr. Farley
  • Our last dinner in Costa Rica @ San Jose

Thirdly, here is the complete bird list for my trip to Costa Rica. I identified 168 avian species in total, including exactly 100 life birds:

Great Tinamou LIFE BIRD
Little Tinamou LIFE BIRD
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Black Guan LIFE BIRD
Crested Guan LIFE BIRD
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron LIFE BIRD
Green Heron
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Ibis
Double-striped Thick-Knee LIFE BIRD
White-throated Crake
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite LIFE BIRD
Double-toothed Kite
Roadside Hawk
Gray Hawk
Ornate Hawk-Eagle LIFE BIRD
Crested Caracara LIFE BIRD
Common Pauraque LIFE BIRD
Gray-rumped Swift LIFE BIRD
Mangrove Swallow LIFE BIRD
Blue-and-White Swallow LIFE BIRD
Gray-breasted Martin LIFE BIRD
Southern Rough-winged Swallow LIFE BIRD
Violet Sabrewing LIFE BIRD
Stripe-throated Hermit LIFE BIRD
Long-billed Hermit
Green-crowned Brilliant LIFE BIRD
Blue-chested Hummingbird LIFE BIRD
Steely-vented Hummingbird LIFE BIRD
Crowned Woodnymph LIFE BIRD
Stripe-tailed Hummingbird LIFE BIRD
Coppery-headed Emerald LIFE BIRD
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer LIFE BIRD
Green Violetear
Purple-throated Mountain-Gem
Rock Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Red-billed Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Band-tailed Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Short-billed Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Ruddy Pigeon LIFE BIRD
White-winged Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Gray-chested Dove LIFE BIRD
Crimson-fronted Parakeet LIFE BIRD
Olive-throated Parakeet LIFE BIRD
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
White-crowned Parrot LIFE BIRD
Scarlet Macaw
White-fronted Parrot LIFE BIRD
Red-lored Parrot
Mealy Parrot LIFE BIRD
Groove-billed Ani LIFE BIRD
Squirrel Cuckoo
Black-headed Trogon LIFE BIRD
Gartered Trogon LIFE BIRD
Orange-bellied Trogon LIFE BIRD
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Rufous Motmot LIFE BIRD
Turquoise-browed Motmot LIFE BIRD
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher LIFE BIRD
Amazon Kingfisher LIFE BIRD
Rufous-tailed Jacamar LIFE BIRD
Prong-billed Barbet
Emerald Toucanet LIFE BIRD
Collared Aracari LIFE BIRD
Keel-billed Toucan
Black-mandibled Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Hoffman's Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Golden-olive Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Rufous-winged Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Lineated Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Plain Xenops LIFE BIRD
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper LIFE BIRD
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper LIFE BIRD
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper
Red-faced Spinetail
Fasciated Antshrike LIFE BIRD
Dusky Antbird
Streak-crowned Antvireo LIFE BIRD
Paltry Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Mountain Elaenia LIFE BIRD
Piratic Flycatcher LIFE BIRD
Olive-striped Flyatcher LIFE BIRD
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila LIFE BIRD
Long-tailed Tyrant LIFE BIRD
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher LIFE BIRD
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
White-ringed Flycatcher LIFE BIRD
Streaked Flycatcher LIFE BIRD
Tropical Kingbird
Rose-throated Becard LIFE BIRD
Cinnamon Becard LIFE BIRD
Long-tailed Manakin LIFE BIRD
White-collared Manakin LIFE BIRD
Three-wattled Bellbird LIFE BIRD
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush LIFE BIRD
Black-faced Solitaire
Clay-colored Thrush
Rufous-naped Wren LIFE BIRD
Band-backed Wren LIFE BIRD
Stripe-breasted Wren LIFE BIRD
Rufous-and-White Wren
Plain Wren
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Lesser Greenlet
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Buff-rumped Warbler LIFE BIRD
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat LIFE BIRD
Golden-crowned Warbler LIFE BIRD
Three-striped Warbler LIFE BIRD
Passerini's Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Silver-throated Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Green Honecreeper LIFE BIRD
Blue-black Grassquit
Variable Seedeater LIFE BIRD
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-headed Saltator LIFE BIRD
Orange-billed Sparrow LIFE BIRD
White-eared Ground-Sparrow LIFE BIRD
Stripe-headed Sparrow LIFE BIRD
Rufous-collared Sparrow
House Sparrow
Blue-black Grosbeak LIFE BIRD
Black-faced Grosbeak LIFE BIRD
Red-throated Ant-Tanager LIFE BIRD
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Melodious Blackbird LIFE BIRD
Bronzed Cowbird LIFE BIRD
Giant Cowbird LIFE BIRD
Great-tailed Grackle
Montezuma Oropendula
Golden-browed Chlorophonia LIFE BIRD
Olive-backed Euphonia LIFE BIRD
Yellow-throated Euphonia
Yellow-crowned Euphonia


The group awoke at 2:00am in order to bus to San Jose International Airport in time for our flight. Once at the airport, we said our sad goodbyes to Louis, Mario, and Alexa - it was really hard to leave those special people - and then we boarded our 6:00am flight to San Salvador, El Salvador.

I sat in the middle seat between two friends, Carolyn and Jaycie, on the flight to San Salvador. Here is our last view of Costa Rica before we flew out over the Pacific Ocean:

The descent into San Salvador was beautiful as we followed the Pacific coastline and saw many picturesque volcanoes and river deltas from the window.

After an annoying layover through security lines in San Salvador, we boarded our 4-hour flight back home to Chicago, where I sat in the aisle seat next to a mother and her daughter.

We landed around 2:45pm Chicago time and were back at Oak Park River Forest High School, two blocks away from my house, at around 4:30pm. When I arrived back to my house, the whole grandeur of the trip finally dawned on me - I had been in 3 countries in one day and had just spent 10 days in paradise: Costa Rica.

With this conclusion to my posts about my life-changing trip to Costa Rica, below are two inspiring quotes that Alexa read to us during our Closing Ceremonies under the giant free in Corozalito. I am leaving tomorrow, Monday, July 27, for my family's annual 3-week vacation to Sun Valley, Idaho, so I will start posting daily about that either tomorrow or the next day.

"Humankind has not woven the web of life - we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."

"The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn't even think to ask."

Posted by skwclar 20:46 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (2)

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