A Travellerspoint blog

July 2020

Shorebirding: A break to the summer doldrums

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, IL

semi-overcast 89 °F

This morning, I birded Montrose with my friends Simon, Peter, their mom Andrea, and Isoo. The morning was off to a very slow start at first with only an expected breeder here in the shorebird department, the SPOTTED SANDPIPER:

With the help of a SANDERLING and this PIPING PLOVER though, the shorebird activity slowly grew from nothing to a steady trickle of birds here and there. Monty and Rose, Chicago’s resident Piping Plover couple, were successful yet again this year despite unprecedented, high lake levels. They successfully fledged three chicks: Esperanza, Hazel, and Nish. This pale individual is one of the young ones.

And this cutie I believe is Rose, the adult female.

The nightmare of the day came when a parks district-hired bulldozer worker came and started filling in the fluddle on the beach (after leaving his bulldozer idling, pumping fumes for over 30 minutes!). We were PISSED! Why would the parks district be filling in shorebird habitat on a beach that is literally CLOSED to the public? Covid doesn’t grow on beaches, that’s for sure! The four of us marched on to the beach in front of the bulldozer and demanded to know what he was doing and he replied with a simple “mayor’s orders.” Whatever — yeah it’s your job but it’s a pretty crappy one if the parks district can’t find anything better to do with their workers than fill in migratory bird habitat at Chicago’s prime birding hotspot. Multiple angry calls were made to the parks district.

With what remained of the fluddle, shorebirds kept visiting including this solitary SOLITARY SANDPIPER, a good bird for Montrose:

Yep, the shorebird count did increase slightly after about an hour: here are SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS (left), a PECTORAL SANDPIPER (center), and KILLDEER (right).

The “Pec” by itself:

LEAST SANDPIPER — Montrose is where I got my lifer of this species, back in 2013 I think.

This SEMIPALMATED PLOVER made for a plover trifecta today! Any day with three plovers is a great day and today was no exception. Note the presence of only one black breast band, compared to two on the similar Killdeer.

CASPIAN TERNS with a RING-BILLED GULL. No hoped-for Laughings, unfortunately for big-year birder Isoo...

Can you spot the immature SAVANNAH SPARROW:


After the Tolzmann’s had to leave, Isoo and I hit the Magic Hedge in search of any early migrants. And in fact we got pretty lucky! Isoo picked out this YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER:

An oddly-streaked young WARBLING VIREO:

And I found this TENNESSEE WARBLER, super cool to see in July in Chicago!

Other non-photographed species in the hedge area included YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, WOOD THRUSH, and SEDGE WREN — pretty productive for July.

Out on Fishook Pier, we took delight in a close-range SANDERLING:

And another Least Sandpiper back at the beach:

Overall, it was an exceptional day of July birding with 56 species in total. Bird-of-the-day for me goes to the Piping Plovers, a new species for my year list. Runner-up to the early Tennessee Warbler. So nice to see nine species of shorebirds, and to be birding with friends!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1120 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:33 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Burnham Prairie with Tian

Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve, IL

sunny 95 °F

Yesterday, Tian and I were up at the crack of dawn to head to Burnham Prairie to hopefully find some wetland bird species. And that, we did! Although we had nothing too common, we did find a number of GREAT EGRETS:

Painted Turtle:



This GREEN HERON gave stunning views.


MUTE SWAN family!

A pair of WILLOW FLYCATCHERS was also great, but perhaps even more interesting was an unidentified flycatcher which winged its way over at one point. Eastern Kingbird? Western Kingbird even? I shall never know, so fingers crossed it wasn’t anything too rare. I snapped one crappy photo of it flying away from me:

I was dismayed to have missed my target bird there which shall remain nameless in order to protect its sensitivity. Darn!

We later swung by Montrose but couldn’t find any parking so called it quits and headed back to Oak Park. It was getting hot out under the sun anyway. Bird-of-the-day to the Green Heron with runners-up to the Great Egrets. Rather slim pickings, though a species count of 41 was pretty good for a July morning.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species

Posted by skwclar 15:51 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Surprise hawk & Comet Neowise!

semi-overcast 81 °F

Today, I had a relaxing, unexpected full-day break from online Chautauqua music camp so I just spent a lazy day at home. BUT, during dinner in the back yard, a Buteo hawk flew over and so I of course ran to get my camera to check which species: Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, or Broad-winged?

Turned out to be a BROAD-WINGED HAWK, I think my first of the year! Very cool!

A bunch of AMERICAN ROBINS were mobbing it and the hawk seemed fairly agitated, giving its high-pitched “see-wee” call many times! Very cool to witness.

Then, mom, Tian, Pearl and I hopped in the car and we drove 45 minutes west to the farm fields of Kane County in hopes of viewing Comet Neowise. We were treated to a beautiful post-sunset western sky as we had arrived a smidge earlier than the comet was predicted to appear:

Then, after about twenty or twenty-five minutes of searching in the northwestern sky, I spotted it with binoculars! It was indeed about 2.5 or 3 fists almost directly under the Big Dipper and was much easier to see in binoculars than with the naked eye. Indeed, we found that we could not actually directly look at it without losing it — with the naked eye, we could only see it if we looked a little bit to the right or left! Binoculars, though, gave incredible views of the tailed beauty which won’t be around for thousands of more years. Amazing! Here are the girls admiring the comet.

No photos because a telephoto lens is required for this type of challenging night sky photography, but it was a memory that will be instilled in us forever!

Bird-of-the-day to the Broad-winged Hawk with runner-up to the angry robins mobbing it. Honorable mention to Comet Neowise, of course.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:08 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Wrapping up the St. Louis Trip

Powder Valley Conservation Area

all seasons in one day 88 °F

A few days late, but better late than never! My last morning in St. Louis, I hit Emmenegger Nature Park and nearby Powder Valley Conservation Area to do some herping. I had two targets in mind: Cave Salamander and Western Slimy Salamander which had both been seen in the area, according to iNat.org.

I started off before dawn, flipping rocks in the creek at Powder Valley, hoping for Cave Salamander. Nada. Just a distant RED-SHOULDERED HAWK calling along with the usual dawn chorus, led my CAROLINA WRENS.

I headed west into the hills to find a locked gate into one of my hoped-for preserves, so I headed back to the Powder Valley area, specifically to Emmenegger Nature Park right across the highway. Herping there yielded a nice Fowler’s Toad which was cool to see:

I couldn’t find a way to orient this photo correctly on the blog, but I did find the “Three-toed” subspecies of Eastern Box Turtle unique to this area. Incredible!

Dipping on the Slimy Salamanders at Emmenegger, I headed back over the Powder Valley to try again for both sal species. Several birds greeted me in the parking lot including EASTERN BLUEBIRD:

And a nice female SUMMER TANAGER:

Unfortunately, I completely dipped on new salamander species for the trip. Summer can be a really tough time for finding these slimy, cool-climate-loving species, so I was not surprised. I still consider the trip a success though as I got my lifer Swainson’s Warbler with Theo — a truly GREAT bird and one of only three that are known to be in Missouri this summer. I’ll leave you with one last photo of the St. Louis arch from the highway — of course I have to be a tourist sometimes:

Bird-of-the-day to the Summer Tanager with runner-up to the Eastern Bluebird. No awards for the missing salamanders! For now, I will be a little less active birding-wise as I will be participating in the Chautauqua Institution’s online opera camp spearheaded by my wonderful teacher Marlena Malas. In the meantime though, get out, enjoy nature, wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands! We’re all in this together, and we all have the responsibility to protect one another.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species

Posted by skwclar 09:56 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Twitch: Swainson’s Warbler

Colombia, MO

sunny 90 °F

Being my one full day in St. Louis, MO, I took advantage of the day to twitch a Swainson’s Warbler with my friend Theo B. This bird has been seen at a place called Grindstone Nature Area in Colombia, MO since at least May and Theo has seen it there once before, when it was HIS lifer! I was hoping that today would be my turn to nab this secretive, ground-dwelling warbler species of the southeast!

Theo picked me up at the hotel by 4:30am and we were on the road for the two-hour trek west to Grindstone. It was a quick ride passed by enjoyable conversation (talking “bird” as my parents would say), and before we knew it, we had arrived!

We got out of the car to a nice dawn chorus including YELLOW-THROATED & KENTUCKY WARBLERS, CAROLINA WREN, & YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT among others — all expected species down here. We hiked in about a half a mile to the spot where Theo had the bird last month. After a bit of searching, no luck, so Theo checked the eBird reports of the bird and we decided to try another path bordering Grindstone Creek where the bird had also been reported. One interesting sighting here was a shy BARRED OWL that flew back into the woods, evading photos. Bird photography gets tough come July.

Then, we heard a clear, high-pitched, downward-slurred song from the woods south of us alongside the trail and I asked Theo, “that it?” Well, it sure as HELL was!!!!! My lifer SWAINSON’S WARBLER, a very very hard-to-find warbler species. This is the only reported one in central Missouri this year, I believe. There has only been a single sighting in Illinois too — they are just so hard to come by. Now, the trick was trying to get a look at this tiny brown bird within a veritable jungle of trees and bushes. Theo headed back to move the car to a closer carpark while I circled the patch of woods from which the bird was singing, trying to get eyes on it. I made a complete circle before, to my great surprise and delight, the bird came out right alongside the path right where I had first heard it. WOW! My shaky hands were barely able to keep the camera still enough for photos — I was that excited!

INCREDIBLE! Our next stop was at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area along the Missouri River to look for a would-be lifer for Theo: Black-billed Cuckoo. We saw the largest beaver of our entire lives cross the road. This picture can’t do it justice but it was so large it was approaching the size of a golden retriever. Dang!

One nice sighting was a LARK SPARROW:

DICKCISSELS were everywhere:

We gave the Cuckoo a fair shot at the appointed location, but alas, no luck. We frustratingly had 3 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS and 4 cuckoos that went unidentified so it was certainly disappointing, but Black-billed is extremely hard in the summer this far south. I told Theo he should come up and bird Montrose with me during migration one of these years where he would have a much better shot at finding this localized species.

It was still an amazing morning with that Swainson’s Warbler, though! He will be the bird-of-the-day with runner-up to the Barred Owl seen there. It was great birding a new state and thanks so much to Theo for an extremely enjoyable morning of productive birding. Stay tuned: tomorrow morning I am waking up at the crack of dawn to find a lifer: Cave Salamander! Wish me luck.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species (1 life bird today: Swainson’s Warbler)

Posted by skwclar 13:12 Archived in USA Comments (3)

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