A Travellerspoint blog

August 2022

Two walks in one day!

Cook County, IL

sunny 78 °F

Today, I had the great pleasure of leading two Oak Park Bird Walks!

The first, at Columbus Park this morning, was absolutely hopping with warblers though unfortunately most of them were flyovers, too quick to identify. Thankfully, we still saw a nice cross-section of birds including a view goodies. I posted my photos from this walk to the walk’s eBird.org checklist for your viewing pleasure here:

  • *CLICK THESE LINKS TO SEE PHOTOS FROM TODAY!**

https://ebird.org/checklist/S117808426

My second walk was rescheduled from yesterday as yesterday was quite stormy (though ironically not during the time the walk was supposed to happen!). A list with bird photos from this second walk of the day can be viewed at the ebird checklist here:
https://ebird.org/checklist/S117837279

Bird-of-the-day to the CLAY-COLORED SPARROW from this evening which tripped the eBird rare bird alert! It is quite an uncommon species in the fall and a great find for sure. Runner up to the GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER this morning.

And we ended the evening walk with a nice look at the crescent moon.
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Stay tuned — one more walk on thursday morning before I head off to NYC later that day!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 02:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Shorebirding Calumet!

Illiana

all seasons in one day 87 °F

After dropping off my mom and work this morning, I zipped down to the south side to begin a day of birding the South Shore and Calumet. My target birds for the day were as follows: Neotropic Cormorant at Rainbow Beach, Red Knot & Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Forsythe Park across the border in Hammond, IN and Little Blue Heron at Burnham Prairie back on the Cook County side.

Let the adventures begin! I arrived at Rainbow around 9:20 and immediately found an annoying woman walking up and down the length of the protected beach, flushing, yep you guessed it, shorebirds! I managed to pick out the characteristic wing flash of WILLETS which flagged the rare bird alert — awesome starting your day with an unexpected rarity! (though I would describe Willet as merely uncommon this time of year). Here two are pictured in flight with a RING-BILLED GULL.
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Thankfully they briefly landed which alerted me to the presence of other shorebirds including SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS & SANDPIPERS, LEAST, and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS (again mixed in with Gulls here).
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A nice flock of GREAT EGRETS flew over at one point:
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Unfortunately, I dipped on the Neotropic Cormorant (just like in Idaho!). So, it was on to Indiana for the Knot and Whistling-Duck. At Forsythe Park I immediately picked out a BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER transitioning into winter plumage:
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And quickly spied my target the RED KNOT (nonbreeding plumage) between CANADA GEESE! Absolutely awesome! Indiana lifer.
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CASPIAN TERNS with more geese:
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A good number of shorebirds were present including SEMIPALMATED PLOVER:
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PECTORAL SANDPIPERS:
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KILLDEER & LEAST SANDPIPER with eclipse-plumage MALLARDS:
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Then, I found it! Target bird #2, a BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, was sleeping amongst the Mallards and geese! Absolutely sick! Indiana lifer #2 for the day, too.
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Some smaller, darker drake GREEN-WINGED TEAL were mixed in, also in eclipse:
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Small but mighty. This SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER sizes up a CANADA GOOSE (with Leasts and other Semis in the background).
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Here is a wonderful comparison shot of two extremely-similar “peeps” that tend to confuse birders. The bird on the left is a Semipalmated Sandpiper with a grayer back & black legs while its neighbor on the right is a Least Sandpiper with a rusty brown back and yellow legs. These are the simplest, most obvious field marks for telling these birds apart this time of year.
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Aaand…more Semis and a Least with a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (left):
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GREEN-WINGED TEALS with one showing off its namesake speculum:
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GREAT EGRET:
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More Semi Plovers:
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PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. This bird, slightly larger than a “peep,” I fell apart because of its distinctive “cut-off” between the mottled chest and the white belly.
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Now here’s where the peep ID gets trickier. This bird at first glance looks like a nice pale Semipalmated Sandpiper but the thing to pay attention to here is the bill. It is noticeably longer than the Semipalmated and has a slight downward droopiness to the tip of it. Furthermore, if you look extremely closely, you can see a tiny “shoulder spur” of ruddy brownish coloration right at the hinge of the wing. These identifiers clinch this bird as a WESTERN SANDPIPER which is a rarity and in fact only the fifth one anyone has seen in Indiana this year! So a self-found rarity! Always love that — my last self-found bird of this caliber was an Illinois Say’s Phoebe back in 2020. Super proud of this ID too since shorebirds used to be my weak spot.
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More Pectorals:
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SEMIPALMATED PLOVER with a Painted Turtle and Mallards:
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While scoping shorebirds, this GREEN HERON landed basically right in front of me, giving absolutely incredible views:
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And here is a comparison shot between the WESTERN and a SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER. The bird on the left is facing more towards us than the one on the right. I will let you decipher the ID!
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Another Pectoral:
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Eastern Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle sunning with Painteds:
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After that wonderful stop, I headed over to Burnham Prairie and immediately found my last target bird, the LITTLE BLUE HERON! Absolutely sweet! This was a Cook County/northern IL lifer for me and it gave crushing views right alongside the entrance drive. Believe it or not, decades ago this bird used to breed in the Calumet area but due to habitat loss it is now a vagrant to this part of the state. It is in its immature plumage which will gradually molt into a darker grayish blue plumage as the bird reaches maturity. The bicolored bill is a dead giveaway to separate this bird from Egrets.
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There were also shorebirds here including my tenth shorebird species for the day, SOLITARY SANDPIPER:
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And my eleventh, LESSER YELLOWLEGS:
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Along with a GREATER — note the much longer bill:
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This GREAT BLUE HERON made for four-heron day (Great Blue/Little Blue/Green/Egret):
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And finally, the most ominous mammatus clouds I had ever seen started boiling over the preserve and I knew it was time to call it quits. The resulting storm produced squalls of rain, a short stint with hail, and a bit of lightning making for a magnificent drive home.
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Bird-of-the-day to the self-found Western Sandpiper with runners-up to the Red Knot, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Little Blue Heron. An absolutely fantastic day of August birding.

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 03:01 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Wrapping up August at home

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 89 °F

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25:

After a day of rest to recuperate from the wonderfully intense birding I did in Idaho, I was back at it again, this time much closer to home — the Palos preserves!

I started out at Sag Quarries Forest Preserve to see what migrants might be around, as well as hopefully find a flip site that I suspect has the chance at holding Graham’s Crayfish Snake, a would-be lifer. A family of MALLARDS greeted me in the parking lot:
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Unfortunately this WOOD DUCK was struggling in the middle of the water, probably caught on fishing line or something. What a shame. If it was closer, I would have swum out but it was far out in a mucky lake and I just couldn’t take the chances. When I returned, it had either escaped or drowned.
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There were a few Midland Painted Turtles as onlookers.
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I stumbled upon the growing population of Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs at this preserve which used to be exceedingly rare in Cook County. What an awesome sight, and to catch one, too! They are extremely difficult to capture but once it got the sense I wasn’t going to hurt it, the frog just chilled on my hand for a bit.
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CEDAR WAXWING:
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OSPREY:
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GREAT EGRET:
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Unfortunately the supposed flip sight was buried deep in an overgrown, inaccessible marsh so I gave up and will hopefully return in the spring when the plants aren’t as high. My next stop was a nearby preserve for herps (secret so as to protect their well-being) and soon enough, I began finding a number of American Toads:
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And the smallest Chicago Gartersnake I have ever seen!
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These American Toads were more brightly-colored which made total sense as they were found in a sandier part of the preserve. The other darker individuals were all found in dark muddy, mucky streams. Love these evolutionary environmental adaptations.
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Usually this preserve has loads of salamanders (around this time of year 2 years ago my buddies and I found 83 in one trip!), but today it only produced two Blue-spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma laterale. Glad it wasn’t a complete dip in this department.
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Next, I headed down to the Orland Grasslands for more prairie-oriented birds and snakes. A couple White-tailed Deer greeted me:
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A cool Praying Mantis, my second sighting at this location! Here you can see how it earned its name:
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And after a great deal of flipping, I found this beautiful, in-shed Smooth Greensnake under a brick. Super cool!!! Its colors are extremely muted and its eyes a cloudy blue due to it being close to shedding (“in-shed”).
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It was a lot of flipping and that was the only one I found so I called it a day. Bird-of-the-day to the Osprey with runner-up to an unphotographed RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 27:

Today was my first Oak Park Bird Walk of the fall at Columbus Park in the evening. Unfortunately, several factors including it being an evening walk, a loud party nearby, and the cicadas made detecting birds difficult. There were a few though, including this BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON:
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And a nice RED-SHOULDERED HAWK that landed in view on the golf course:
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Then it flew up into a tree:
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There were a good number of immature AMERICAN ROBINS around:
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And a nice SPOTTED SANDPIPER in the lagoon:
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Our bird-of-the-day for the walk came in the form of over twenty COMMON NIGHTHAWKS that started streaming overhead at the end of the walk, a noteworthy perk to doing an evening walk. Awesome!!
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SUNDAY, AUGUST 28:

Another day, another bird walk! This time in my neighborhood and unfortunately it was the slowest bird walk I had ever led. There were absolutely no migrants around unless you counted a flyby flock of 12 CEDAR WAXWINGS. Ugh. At least bird walk participant Laura D showed me this vacant Red-shouldered Hawk nest which was used earlier this summer:
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And we might have found the reason why it was so slow; a juvenile COOPER’S HAWK was patrolling the area! This happens fairly commonly — we have a slow walk and then it turns out a Cooper’s is on the hunt.
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But unfortunately, I have also noticed annual decreases in bird numbers as more and more tall trees are cut down in my neighborhood. It is depressing and at this point, I have decided to only lead neighborhood walks in the most active part of May as unfortunately I just don’t think my neighborhood is the same migrant trap it used to be for this reason. It’s such a shame.

Some numbers to back me up: we only racked up a measly 10 bird species in almost two hours of birding my neighborhood this morning whereas past August walks consistently broke 20 species on pretty much the same route. And this past May, walks averaged in the low 20s while Oak Park Bird Walks in 2014-2017 averaged about 35-40 species in May. Again, I credit this due in part to the ongoing bird declines but especially to the loss of most of our local old growth oak and elm trees since the walks at Thatcher Woods and Columbus Park have remained relatively consistent, species count-wise.

At least Laura and I were able to find some awesome mushrooms growing by the sidewalk. Any ideas on the species?
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Bird-of-the-day today goes to the Cooper’s Hawk with runner-up to the Cedar Waxwings. Not a whole lot from which to choose. We have some storms forecast to come through and hopefully they bring more migrant birds with them!

Stay tuned: a full day of birding tomorrow followed by more bird walks on tuesday and thursday before I head back to New York!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 02:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Idaho Day 10: Muldoon Canyon & Idaho Trip Wrap-up

Blaine County, ID

semi-overcast 80 °F

TUESDAY, AUGUST 23:

After the crazy 16-hour birding day yesterday, Kathleen and I were up at 7am again, this time joined by Jean, to bird Muldoon Canyon and the nearby Little Wood Reservoir outlet. My target bird for the morning was Greater Sage-Grouse, the last Wood River Valley summer bird I still needed to find and an incredibly tough one at that because, apart from the lekking season, they disperse into the vast sage wilderness. Our first photographed species of the day was a classic western bird, the BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE:
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Then, all the sudden, we flushed a GREAT HORNED OWL from the road! Thankfully, it perched up on a branch that was barely visible to us.
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Then it hopped onto another!
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But not before the aforementioned Magpies could start harassing it!!
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Kathleen also spied its owlet offspring in the field halfway between the road and the parent. Awesome! That makes two days in a row with a Great Horned Owl family.
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The underwing view of an owl, even a young one, is always super impressive. Those wings are made for silent, stealthy flight.
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And onward. Female LAZULI BUNTING:
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This nice Chipmunk posed for us at one point. Probably a Least.
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK:
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SPOTTED TOWHEE:
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HOUSE WREN:
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This beautiful RED-TAILED HAWK decided to perch up on a snag right next to the road.
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Then, we saw a few more in the sky and one on the road ahead of us!
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Upon rounding the bend, we found what it was feasting on. Mormon crickets! A cool, but rather disgustingly huge insect famous from this part of the US in the heat of summer. This particular cricket was devouring another of its own kind. Wow.
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Further down the road, we spotted gamebirds ahead which got my hopes up for Sage Grouse!
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Unfortunately, Jean pointed out that they were lacking the black bellies of Sage Grouse so we settled on the positive identification of DUSKY GROUSE, still a fantastic bird and a year bird for Kathleen and Jean! These birds tend to dish out the most soul-crushing looks.
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SWAINSON’S HAWK:
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Possibly my favorite sighting thusfar came when we flushed a group of three EVENING GROSBEAKS into a bush alongside the road! This species was a huge surprise to me in the mainly arid, sagebrush desert that surrounded us so I was absolutely delighted to find this beautiful, increasingly-rare finch. Here is the male:
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And soon thereafter, we found another wonderful bird in the form of a GOLDEN EAGLE:
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SAGE THRASHER:
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And yet another wonderful, uncommon species with a unique kind of beauty: the LEWIS’ WOODPECKER! So glad I didn’t walk away from Idaho this year with this species left unphotographed.
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WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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Unfortunately, we never found a Greater Sage-Grouse, as expected, but it was still an absolutely fantastic morning of birding, especially for August! Bird-of-the-day for me goes to the Evening Grosbeaks with runners-up to the Dusky Grouse, Golden Eagle, and Lewis’ Woodpecker. Lots to choose from.

Before boarding my flights home to Chicago, Kathleen, Marian, and I had to snap a quick selfie in front of Einstein. Thank you, K & M, for so kindly hosting me these past four nights. It was a positively delightful time and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart.
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Bird-of-the-trip for me goes to the Pygmy Nuthatch which was my sole lifer from Idaho this year. Runner-up to the Spruce Grouse which is a bird that can seldom be outdone in rarity, though it was not a lifer for me this year. I was most happy and thankful to share both of these birds with other wonderful friends and birders: Poo, Nubs, and Kathleen.

I have attached my buddy list with Kathleen from these past few days below in banding code form (the 4-letter abbreviations birders use to avoid writing out full species’ names). Props if you can identify some, most, or even all of the banding codes (some of which might be incorrect on my end too). We came out to 130 species over four days of birding which is pretty darn good all things considered, especially keeping in mind again that this is August in dry country! With the addition of Gray Jay, Peregrine Falcon, American Dipper, Pileated Woodpecker, Cassin’s Vireo, Black Rosy-Finch, Red Crossbill, Pygmy Nuthatch, Gray Flycatcher, Virginia Rail, Redhead, and Wilson’s Snipe seen prior to these past four days with Kathleen, that brings my Idaho trip total up to 142 species, my highest total EVER for an Idaho trip despite it being my shortest trip out here yet. I credit this with getting out to bird every day with many of the days being full days of birding thanks to the generosity of my friends Will, Poo, Nubs, Kathleen, and Jean. It was so nice to meet and reconnect with these special people and I am already so looking forward to next time. Will lives close to NYC so next time will be soon for us!

Do stay tuned! I have 5 Oak Park Bird Walks coming up this week (email me at trumpetswan@comcast.net to catch the last few remaining spaces on these!), and then on September 1 I fly back to New York City to start my senior year at the Manhattan School of Music.

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Kathleen/Henry Buddy List 2022:
1. CAGO
2. BWTE
3. CITE
4. NOSH
5. GWTE
6. MALL
7. GADW
8. LESC
9. COGO
10. RUDU
11. RNDU
12. SPGR
13. WITU
14. DUGR
15. CAQU
16. EAGR
17. WEGR
18. CLGR
19. PBGR
20. ROPI
21. MODO
22. ECDO
23. CONI
24. BCHU
25. RUHU
26. SACR
27. SORA
28. BNST
29. KILL
30. BASA
31. WESA
32. SESA
33. LESA
34. SOSA
35. SPSA
36. LEYE
37. GRYE
38. WILL
39. MAGO
40. WIPH
41. FRGU
42. RBGU
43. CAGU
44. CATE
45. COTE
46. FOTE
47. DCCO
48. AWPE
49. GBHE
50. SNEG
51. GREG
52. BCNH
53. WFIB
54. GHOW
55. TUVU
56. OSPR
57. GOEA
58. NOHA
59. RTHA
60. SWHA
61. WISA
62. RNSA
63. DOWO
64. HAWO
65. LEWO
66. NOFL
67. AMKE
68. PRFA
69. WEKI
70. EAKI
71. HAFL
72. DUFL
73. WIFL
74. OSFL
75. WWPW
76. LOSH
77. WAVI
78. CLNU
79. BBMA
80. AMCR
81. CORA
82. TRSW
83. VGSW
84. NRWS
85. BARS
86. MOCH
87. RBNU
88. BRCR
89. HOWR
90. MAWR
91. ROWR
92. GCKI
93. RCKI
94. MOBL
95. HETH
96. SWTH
97. AMRO
98. SATH
99. EUST
100. CEWA
101. HOSP
102. EVGR
103. PIGR
104. HOFI
105. CAFI
106. AMGO
107. PISI
108. WEME
109. REBL
110. BRBL
111. YHBL
112. BHCO
113. GTGR
114. MAWA
115. YEWA
116. YRWA
117. TOWA
118. WIWA
119. WETA
120. LABU
121. LASP
122. CHSP
123. BRSP
124. SASP
125. DEJU
126. LISP
127. SOSP
128. WCSP
129. VESP
130. SPTO

Posted by skwclar 13:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Idaho Day 9: A grand tour of Idaho!

semi-overcast 93 °F

MONDAY, AUGUST 22:

By 6am, Poo, Kathleen, and I were off on a great full-day birding adventure through the Idaho Snake River Plane. Our itinerary included Howe for Sagebrush Sparrow, Camas & Market Lake Wildlife Refuges for assorted birds, Blackfoot for Great-tailed Grackle, American Falls Reservoir for shorebirds & other waterbirds, and finally, the Snake River at Twin Falls for a vagrant Neotropic Cormorant. Fingers and toes were crossed for a successful day!

We were treated to a beautiful sunrise to start the day.
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Our first mini-stop on the way to Howe was at Carey Wildlife Management Area where we had a few PIED-BILLED GREBES:
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Including a young one with a fish!
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And distant flyby SANDHILL CRANES:
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Next, we saw a bunch of waterfowl in Lava Lake so of course we had to stop and scan. Here are some RING-NECKED DUCKS:
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Male RUDDY DUCK (back):
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CINNAMON TEAL with a young AMERICAN COOT mixed in:
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Before we knew it, we made it to our first planned stop of the day. It was a dirt road through sagebrush areas near Howe, ID to search for Sagebrush Sparrow, a species I have only seen once before — and at this exact location, too. I immediately spied some pieces of wood strewn about and of course I had to flip. To my great surprise, what was underneath was not a herp (in the traditional sense of the word), but a Scorpion! Specifically, a Northern Scorpion. This was a lifer species for me and only the second Scorpion I have ever had the pleasure of finding. Absolutely awesome!
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After admiring the Scorpion with Poo and Kathleen (it was also a new animal for them), we went on to picking through the many sparrows scattering through the area as we drove by. Here is a BREWER’S:
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There were also SAGE THRASHER present:
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And to our delight, we soon came upon a good number of SAGEBRUSH SPARROWS — at least ten! Absolutely an awesome year bird and my second sighting ever! They posed extremely well for us, too.
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Another neat sighting was LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.
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We even observed a fledgling begging from a parent!
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Absolutely awesome. Target #1 achieved. Next, we stopped briefly at a pull-off in Howe proper to look for warblers, and we did have a beautiful male WILSON’S, Poo’s first for the year I believe:
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Unfortunately, Camas National Wildlife Refuge was a total bust as they had drained the whole formerly-wetland preserve and not a drop of water could be found anywhere. Bummer. This was because the preserve was going through a 7.8 million dollar restoration project to actually enhance and protect the wetlands in the long term which I suppose is a good thing. The only bird I photographed there was a roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWK in a dying line of trees that used to be rife with warblers:
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We picked up a few YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS on our way to Market Lake.
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Market Lake Wildlife Refuge itself was much better. There were decent numbers of shorebirds including BAIRD’S SANDPIPER:
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LESSER YELLOWLEGS, one of a whopping high-count of 80 of these:
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WHITE-FACED IBIS:
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NORTHERN HARRIER:
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An introduced Red-eared Slider:
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We then walked a hedgerow that is typically good for warblers and GREAT HORNED OWLS, which, as you can see, did not disappoint:
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We even found its mate further along:
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And a fledgling!!!
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After a rather successful time at Market Lake, we continued on to Blackfoot, ID where Kathleen remembered having seen reports of GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES in the Walmart parking lot there. Again, as you can see, not a problem getting them — we saw them before even parking the car. Here’s a male:
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And a female:
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A nearby park held FORSTER’S TERN:
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AMERICAN AVOCET with RING-BILLED GULLS:
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COMMON TERN (left), CALIFORNIA GULL (back), & RING-BILLED GULL (right):
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Then, we continued on to our next stop which was American Falls Reservoir for hopefully large numbers of shorebirds. Unfortunately, our first stop there was majorly disappointing at first with only WILLETS seen with the many hundreds, if not thousands, of FRANKLIN’S GULLS:
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But then, right as we were leaving, it picked up when I spotted nine MARBLED GODWITS mixed in. An awesome shorebird and only my second ever in Idaho.
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EASTERN KINGBIRD on the way to our next viewing location for the Reservoir:
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Luckily, the second location was much, much better though we had to make this stop a very quick one. GREAT EGRET was my Idaho lifer, here pictured with a LESSER YELLOWLEGS:
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BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, another that was only my second ever in Idaho!
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WESTERN SANDPIPER in front — a small Peep with a long, slightly drooping bill — with a PECTORAL SANDPIPER in back, a larger bird with a clean cutoff between its white belly and darker breast.
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SOLITARY SANDPIPER left, GREATER YELLOWLEGS back, and KILLDEER right:
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Solitary again front right, Killdeer middle right, and two Peeps in the back.
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We left American Falls Reservoir with a respectable eleven shorebird species and continued on to our last stop of the day, the Snake River canyon in Twin Falls, ID. A 90-minute drive away, we were betting on the last half-hour of daylight to identify a rare Neotropic Cormorant that has been hanging out the entire summer. The views on the descent into the canyon were fabulous:
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AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN with a MALLARD:
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We almost right off the bat had a flyover group of DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS:
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But wait, does that second-to-left bird have a white outline to its bill? Please let me know whether or not you think this is a Neotropic Cormorant. It doesn’t seem smaller than the leftmost bird but the white outline sure looks good.
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We also had a Beaver:
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And a nice male CALIFORNIA QUAIL:
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And an OSPREY perched across the river to end the day!
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For now, bird-of-the-day goes to the Sagebrush Sparrows and Marbled Godwits with runners-up to the Willets, Great-tailed Grackles, and Great Horned Owls. Nice birds to choose from, even before mentioning the possible Neotropic Cormorant. We shall see!

Huge thanks to Kathleen for driving the whole day and to Poo for being a wonderful birding companion for the day, as well as providing her usual wealth of knowledge about everything natural. What a fantastic day!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 23:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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