A Travellerspoint blog

July 2021

June 6-15


all seasons in one day

On June 6, Aerin T and I led a Chicago Ornithological Society bird walk at Plum Creek Preserve, my favorite place to bird Cook County.

Anticipating a usual summer midday heat-up, we headed to the grassland first so we could bird in the open area without getting roasted under the hot sun. We did well with the grassland songbirds such as FIELD SPARROW:


A stunning look at GRASSHOPPER SPARROW:

This pair of EASTERN MEADOWLARKS posed very nicely for us:

Afterwards, I headed to a nearby preserve where I heard Kirtland’s Snakes have had a historical population. I knew exactly where their preferred wet prairie habitat was at that preserve so I made a bee-line for that area and after about forty minutes of bushwhacking, found an appropriate area with lots of cover to flip for snakes.

I found about five DeKay’s Brownsnakes and was about to give up when I saw a different-looking snake with an interesting barred pattern: it had to be KIRTLAND’S SNAKE!!! Wow! To give perspective about how exciting a find this was, it took one of my herping friends ten years of specific searching before he found a Kirtland’s. Thorough research and the willing to bushwhack a little bit pays off!

A few days later, I finally convinced Tian to hold a snake since it was a cute Smooth Greensnake, her favorite. They are indeed adorable and strikingly beautiful creatures.

Another foray down to my friend Dave’s property was fruitless but a nearby savanna provided my lifer Glass Lizard…yes believe it or not this a legless lizard, not a snake! A very cool find.

Tian and I spent the last week before we left to our respective music camps, Chautauqua for me and Atlantic Music Fest for her, by sightseeing Chicago. Here we are on front of the Bean, proper Chicago tourists, after visiting the Art Museum.

So now I am here in Chautauqua, NY at music camp until August 8 when I fly out to Sun Valley, ID to join my family for 12 days of hiking, birding, and relaxing. I will probably be able to do a bit of birding out here after July 19 when Marriage of Figaro ends, so stay tuned!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1126 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:10 Archived in USA Comments (1)

June 1: June Big Day!

Cook County, IL

semi-overcast 71 °F

On June 1, Isoo O, Ethan E and I covered Cook County in hopes of beating our record for the June Cook County big day we set of 132 species back in 2019. Our hopes were high because there had been multiple nights with northerly winds, keeping most lingering migrants from moving further northward. Furthermore, we had researched meticulously beforehand to pin down any rare breeders or “weirdo” species that were hanging around anywhere — beating 132 is a tall order and until our perfectly-planned big days in recent years it would have been seen as nearly impossible. I have linked the checklist (with photos) from the day so you can see the incredible amount of birds we were able to find. It was one of the most incredible birding days of my life for sure!


Good birding,
World Life List: 1126 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:34 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Finishing up May


all seasons in one day

May ended fairly strongly for me, with the usual high doses of birds and smattering of herps. The bird walks were a big success. Here is a male SCARLET TANAGER:

Intermediate/darkish morph BROAD-WINGED HAWK, a very cool looking bird:

TENNESSEE WARBLERS predominated on one of the neighborhood walks:

One afternoon I headed down to the Kankakee Sands with the Tolzmanns to stay at my new friend Dave’s property to find a few lifer snakes such as Bullsnake, Hognose Snake, or a lifer subspecies which would be Blue Racer. As you can see, we fairly quickly flipped an amazingly beautiful Racer — I had seen this species before in Southern Illinois, but they are Black Racers down there so technically a different subspecies. Very cool to see its bluer cousin! Here is Peter holding it.

Simon also snatched up my visual lifer Boreal Chorus Frog:

A bird walk I led the following morning at Douglass Park turned out to be a huge success. GREEN HERON:

A huge highlight was this MOURNING WARBLER which was a species I was not able to get a decent photo of last season. At least this one is identifiable!

YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER was also very nice to see:

As well as GREAT CRESTED — flycatchers predominate in late May:

OLIVE-SIDED was a huge treat:

A classic late-May warbler is the BLACKPOLL. This one is a breeding male due to the black markings — all other forms of this species are streaked grayish — female, immature, and nonbreeding male.





I led a wonderful walk with Ed W at Jurgensen Woods — we had a brief but nice look at this YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER:

And a PILEATED WOODPECKER male by its nest hole:

Afterwards I headed to Plum Creek Forest Preserve with Kris G where we admired grassland birds such as this HENSLOW’S SPARROW:

CEDAR WAXWINGS on a walk closer to home:

Isoo, Ethan and I ran our nearly-annual June Big Day on June 1, so I did a bit of scouting the day before in the Palos area with the highlight being this LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH at Swallow Cliff Woods in a ravine there:

So May was a success! More catch-up posts to come, including about our June Big Day!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1126 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:36 Archived in USA Comments (2)

May 18-19

semi-overcast 75 °F

Wow, almost two months late in posting now…well as always, better late than never! Here are my sightings from two pleasant days in mid-May.

On tuesday, May 18 I led a bird walk at GAR Woods which totaled 52 species, though most of them were heard-only and very fast-moving so it was tough to get people on them. We made the best of it, though, and found a few gems such as this beautiful male BALTIMORE ORIOLE:

HOUSE WREN at its nesting cavity:

INDIGO BUNTING male molting into his adult plumage:


The bird-of-the-walk was this BAY-BREASTED WARBLER which gave fairly good, albeit high, views for everyone:

After the walk, I drove down to the Palos area because I was in the mood for herping and on LITERALLY THE FOURTH FLIP I flipped a friggin Brown Eastern Milksnake, a lifer subspecies for me! (I had seen the Red subspecies in southern Illinois earlier this year). Absolutely insane. This is a very uncommon snake for Cook County with only a few iNaturalist records, and my observation is the first in many, many years for the forest preserve at which I flipped this beauty. This was a small one, these Brown ones up in this part of the state can grow to a couple feet long and considerably thicker than this.

Then, I drove to another nearby preserve where I found some Painted Turtles:

And a young American Bullfrog:

At this site, I phone-recorded the first-ever site record for Blanchard’s Cricket Frog calling — this particularly species had only ever been seen at one other location in Cook County so this was a new discovery for this species! Amazing!

And at another preserve, I was herping the edge of a lake and caught this Common Watersnake, but there was one catch: it had a fishhook stuck in its side! So I tried in vain to remove it, but the hook was deeply implanted. I went up to a sympathetic fisherman who had a pair of pliers and tried my hardest but ended up calling Willowbrook Wildlife Rehabilitation Center who said they could take it in.

So, I saw someone throwing away an empty lunch container in the nearby parking lot so I grabbed the container with one hand, quickly put the feisty little snake in the container with the other, and drove the creature 30 minutes to the wildlife rehab center. Overall a cool experience and I wish the snake a full and quick recovery.

On wednesday, May 19 (my birthday), I accompanied my mom to her friend’s wake and while she was doing that, I herped my grandparents’ former property in Otsego, MI. They have a ravine that apparently has had Blue Racer in the past, so I knew herps were present. Alas, I didn’t find any snakes, but I did find several frogs including a Green Frog:

And I flipped my LIFER WOOD FROG!!! So cool I was able to get a herp lifer on a former family property! Very touching for me — definitely a gift from my late grandparents.

Good birding and herping,
World Life List: 1126 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:44 Archived in USA Comments (4)

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