A Travellerspoint blog

October 2020

Broken camera, but many birds

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 52 °F

So, I led my last bird walk of the season on saturday at Miller Meadow, but I opened up my camera at the beginning of the walk and my LCD SCREEN HAD CRACKED! Damnit! (and my viewfinder has never worked properly) So, I still managed to lead a successful walk despite the unfortunate circumstance, and I got the camera shipped back to be repaired a few days later. Hopefully it will be back in a few days — thankfully covered by warranty.

So, since herping doesn’t require a big fancy camera, Tian and I were in the Palos region monday. It was really slow going due to cold temps and Tian bet we couldn’t even find five salamanders — soon I had one Blue-spotted, though. If we found five, she would treat the next time we eat out.
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I soon picked up three more Blue-spotted and one really beautiful Spotted Salamander which was Tian’s lifer (“wow, it is really fat!”) — cool since my lifer Spotted was also at this preserve, back in July, and I haven’t seen one there since then. Overall a beautiful creature and unfortunately very commonly poached by people selling them for pets. So my mouth is shut in terms of giving out the locations for these salamanders.
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One more Blue-spotted made a total of five — Tian’s treat next time! Hah!

Frustratingly enough, as soon as I got home from the salamanders, Ben Sanders let us birders know that he had found a mega-rare Little Gull at Saganashkee Slough just 10 minutes from where I was earlier that afternoon — UGH! Even though it would’ve been a lifer without camera, I would’ve wanted to see that bird, especially considering that it was the first chaseable one in Cook County in decades...

Well my luck somewhat turned around as Simon T reported it “present” when I woke up the next morning, so off I was, back to Palos in search of a lifer! Upon arriving to the Slough’s central parking lot, about twenty birders were lined up, scanning the slough for the world’s tiniest gull, apply named “Little.”

After an excruciating five minutes of suspense, Jeff Skrentny got on the bird and gave impeccable directions as to the bird’s every-single-movement over the opposite side of the slough. To the naked eye, it looked like a tiny white dot flying among the hundreds of other gulls out on and over the water, but with magnification you could make out its distinctive black M on the wings as well as the absolutely tiny size, even compared to the Bonaparte’s Gulls nearby. Great bird, and a long-awaited LIFE BIRD I’ve had major dips on previously in NY!

After the gull excitement, I drove half way back home to Miller Meadow Forest Preserve where I met Jill Anderson for some hawk watching. It was great to see her after a few years of not crossing paths due to our busy lives. It was also a great day for hawkwatching (Ben had a Golden Eagle, AT Sag Slough under an hour after I had left the slough, another UGH!). Anyway, Jill and I also had a fair share of raptors including two that gave us head-trips. This juvenile BALD EAGLE was dark enough in the shadows to confuse us into possibly being a Golden until we reviewed this photos at home — very blotchy under-wings, so yeah, just a Bald... (all raptor photos below courtesy of Jill!)
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Another was this bulky COOPER’S HAWK (likely a female) that had us on the edge of thinking Goshawk until reviewing her photos at home.
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43 raptors in total, a really sweet count for a two-hour watch! BALD EAGLE, AMERICAN KESTREL, RED-TAILED (many), COOPER’S, & SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS.

I was back at Miller today since there were fairly strong northerly winds. Even though they were northerlies, they were slightly out of the east though which tends to be less productive for hawk migration in this area than winds out of the west. So, raptors were few and far between, but I did have two consolation prizes: the first was a bunch of owl pellets I found and collected which were under a post where I have seen a Great Horned perch upon in the past. Super cool!

And secondly, this SNOW BUNTING I found on the way out which was my first this year and a great bird for this location! I managed a couple “digibins” — shooting with the iPhone through binoculars. First time I’ve had success with this method! And definitely one of my favorite birds.
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So despite the whole camera fiasco, I’ve still had some great birding this week. Stay tuned — this is vagrant season!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1121 Species (1 life bird: Little Gull)

Posted by skwclar 20:47 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Southern Illinois, day 2!

all seasons in one day 62 °F

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18—
Today my family and I visited the Little Grand Canyon in Pomona, IL before heading back to cold, rainy Chicago. The hike afforded many beautiful views, as expected, and therefore many photo ops.
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I did a fair amount of flipping and found two tiny LONG-TAILED SALAMANDERS, including one which was missing a tail either from being mishandled by a human, or narrowly escaping another predator. These amazing creatures can regenerate their tails in order to escape predators. Small but mighty! (and very pretty)
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Overall it was a great hike, but we were tired and ready to head on home, especially since there was rain in the forecast. The only noteworthy bird seen along the way was a group of a few possible Black Vultures, though I couldn’t make the ID for sure due to distance.

Good birding! Stay safe — covid cases are on the rise here in Illinois. Let’s pray this country can get its act together...

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1120 Species

Posted by skwclar 16:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Southern Illinois, day 2!

all seasons in one day 62 °F

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18—
Today my family and I visited the Little Grand Canyon in Pomona, IL before heading back to cold, rainy Chicago. The hike afforded many beautiful views, as expected, and therefore many photo ops.
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I did a fair amount of flipping and found two tiny LONG-TAILED SALAMANDERS, including one which was missing a tail either from being mishandled by a human, or narrowly escaping another predator. These amazing creatures can regenerate their tails in order to escape predators. Small but mighty! (and very pretty)
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Overall it was a great hike, but we were tired and ready to head on home, especially since there was rain in the forecast. The only noteworthy bird seen along the way was a group of a few possible Black Vultures, though I couldn’t make the ID for sure due to distance.

Good birding! Stay safe — covid cases are on the rise here in Illinois. Let’s pray this country can get its act together...

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1120 Species

Posted by skwclar 16:33 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Biggest herping day EVER!

Southern Illinois

semi-overcast 69 °F

SATURDAY, OCT 17:

Today was the greatest day of herping in my life so far. And it is almost all in part to my wonderful mentor for the day, Tony Gerard, who was recommended to me by Simon Tolzmann. Targets for the day: Northern & Spotted Dusky, Marbled, Mole, Northern Slimy, & Northern Zigzag Salamander, as well as literally any snake (I’ve only seen a few species from this area).

After I made an unsuccessful attempt at Northern Dusky Salamander at a beautiful location in far southern Illinois (one of their only locations in the state)—
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—I headed to Tony’s place and we met up for an absolutely insane day of herping. I won’t give locations online due to herp poachers out there, but the main 2 locations covered today included Wildcat Bluff & Snake Road. His place is awesome and they have some equally-awesome domestic turkeys. Some of them are for eating, some of them for pets. Incredible.
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Camel Cricket while Tony and I were beginning to herp.
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You know it’s a great day when your first herps of the day are lifers — MARBLED SALAMANDERS!!! Quite possibly one of the most beautiful salamanders I have ever seen.
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Lifer!
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Next on the docket was another lifer: NORTHERN SLIMY SALAMANDER, our only of the day — cool!
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Giant millipede:
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Short-tailed Shrew:
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And an absolute stunner of a CAVE SALAMANDER. Coooool!
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This LONG-TAILED SALAMANDER was Tony’s first at this particular location — amazing! We sure were having a lucky day.
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A lifer snake was unexpected given the habitat but totally welcome — SMOOTH EARTHSNAKE!!!! This is typically a snake of more upland habitats but we surprisingly found it in a bottomland swamp habitat.
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My lifer GREEN TREE FROG! A darker green due to the colder temps, Tony said.
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CENTRAL NEWT, Southern IL’s bland subspecies of the Eastern Newt. Lifer subspecies!
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AMERICAN TOAD, told from a Fowler’s because each dark spot on the back only has 1-2 warts as opposed to 3-4.
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A really wonderful surprise was my lifer MOLE SALAMANDER in a super dry area — this Ambystoza sp. is typically closer to wet areas than where we found this one.
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Pose with the Mole.
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GREEN FROG:
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Beautiful view from today with fall colors.
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EASTERN BOX TURTLE:
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BLACK VULTURES found alongside the road between locations were a fun southern Illinois specialty bird to see!
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Next stop, Tony brought me back to try to find the Northern Duskies I had missed earlier in the morning. Turns out I had just gone to the wrong stream — just one stream over had plenty Duskies to spare! Awesome, localized lifer! This species was actually introduced to Illinois incidentally by fisherman and now resides in a few isolated Illinois streams and is protected despite its nonnative status.
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Then, we drove about 40 minutes to the OTHER Dusky Salamander species in the state, Spotted Dusky Salamanders which are native to Illinois and on the far northern tip of their native range. We pulled up, hiked down into a different rocky stream and immediately found these guys, too! SPOTTED DUSKY SALAMANDER, possibly one of the most localized/rare amphibians in the state!!!
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Another big treat was finding a couple of SOUTHERN TWO-LINED SALAMANDERS in this same tree — I had no success photographing this species three weeks ago at Kankakee River State Park, so it was great to finally get this species as a photographic lifer.
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On the way out I found my lifer FOWLER’S TOAD — notice that it has 3-4 warts in every black spot on the back. Cool! Subtle field marks like these are super helpful in blth herp and avian identification.
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It was an amazing day with Tony. By that time I had 9 salamander species, and the day wasn’t over yet! Next, my family and I headed to the world-famous Snake Road in hopes for more snake species for the day as well as maybe, just maybe, Zigzag Salamander. Tony told me that these are super challenging this time of year so I was just hoping to mainly snag some snake species for the day.
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And that we did! This quick WESTERN RIBBON SNAKE dove into the cliff face only allowing for this one horrible but diagnostic pic of its streamlined black and yellow streaking with one single more orangeish ventral stripe (it would be yellow on an Eastern, or on Garter Snakes).
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And a little while later, I hit the jackpot — I actually found one of the elusive little NORTHERN ZIGZAG SALAMANDERS! I wasn’t even flipping over everything I saw due to tiredness from the day so this one was just an extremely lucky flip! This is definitely one of the hardest species to track down as they range all up and down Snake Road (which is LONG), but they are not too common, particularly this time of year. INCREDIBLE!!! Ten salamander species in one day! This one is a look-alike to Eastern Red-backeds which are common out east.
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BLANCHARD’S CRICKET FROG was a lifer today:
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As was this PLAIN-BELLIED WATERSNAKE which allowed for a very close approach and then it suddenly bolted away through the grasses at an alarming speed. Crazy!
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Oh, and a trip to Snake Road isn’t complete without its venemous cousin the NORTHERN COTTONMOUTH (or “Water Moccasin”) which is a dangerous snake and rather alarmingly, the most common snake on and near the road. I admired this beautiful specimen from a distance (one photographer made a surprisingly close approach to this dangerous creature). A long-overdue lifer!
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And later I found an even larger specimen nestled along the cliff face, inching its way toward a hole in the cliff, presumably getting ready to hibernate for the winter:
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On the way out I spotted this tree frog clinging to the inside of one of the posts of the gate blocking off Snake Road. Gray Tree Frog, maybe? Who knows...it was far down, in the dark.
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Snake Road in the evening.
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Later, my mom mastered the art of improvisation with what we are given as we didn’t have electric at our site for cooking in the hot pot. So, she brought the instant pot to cook by plugging it into an outside plug of the park’s headquarters! Crazy cool! I stayed with her during the process of making a gourmet chicken dinner using INSTANT POT in the one outlet we could find in this campground. Amazing. And the dinner was delish.
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So once again it was an incredible day. Thanks SO SO MUCH to Tony for being so generous with his time and showing me some amazing herps!!!! Herp-of-the-day to the surprise lifer Zigzag Salamander at Snake Road with runner-up to the slightly -out-of-place lifer Mole Salamander. I attached the final herp list for the day below.

Good birding (and herping):
Henry
World Life List: 1120 Species (no recent life birds)

Salamander list: (26+ individuals, 10 species)
1. Marbled Salamander — LIFER 7
2. Northern Slimy Salamander — LIFER 1
3. Cave Salamander 1
4. Eastern Newt 2
5. Long-tailed Salamander 1
6. Mole Salamander — LIFER 1
7. Northern Dusky Salamander — LIFER 4+
8. Spotted Dusky Salamander — LIFER 6
9. Southern Two-lined Salamander 2
10. Northern Zigzag Salamander — LIFER-1

Snake list: 6 individuals, 4 species
1. Smooth Earthsnake — LIFER 1
2. Northern Cottonmouth — LIFER 3
3. Western Ribbon Snake — LIFER 1
4. Plain-bellied Water Snake — LIFER 1

Frog/toad list: 13+ individuals, 6 species
Green Tree Frog — LIFER 1
Tree Frog sp — 1
Blanchard’s Cricket Frog — LIFER 4+
Green Frog — 4+
Fowler’s Toad — LIFER 1
American Toad — 1+
Spring Peeper — 1

Eastern Box Turtle — 2

Posted by skwclar 23:04 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Riverside private bird tour & Saganashkee Slough, Part 2

Cook County, IL

semi-overcast 75 °F

Tuesday morning I gave a private guided tour to a wonderful birder named Stephany and her mom in Riverside, a few suburbs down the street from Oak Park. We started off with a bunch of YELLOW-RUMPED and this single ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER which was nice:
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Immature CEDAR WAXWING:
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A bend in the Des Plaines River held some more water-related species like KILLDEER:
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GREAT EGRET:
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And the surprise of the day was these two female COMMON MERGANSERS roosting on a rock in the middle of the torrent. Not only is it early for this species, but it is an odd location as the Des Plaines isn’t particularly wide (and presumably not too deep) here.
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First-year WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW lacking the white of an adult:
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My favorite passerine of the walk was this lively WINTER WREN:
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It was a great, enjoyable walk! Yesterday, after my dad came back with the car, I hopped in and drove back down to the Palos region — specifically Saganashkee Slough, to hopefully find the Red-necked Grebes I had missed there this past weekend. This would be a photographic life bird AND an Illinois lifer if seen!

RUSTY BLACKBIRD along the shore of the slough:
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Grebes — but they were PIED-BILLED:
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And then, I saw them. Two long-necked, large grebes with dagger-like bills and buffy necks. Hell yeah! My almost-lifer RED-NECKED GREBES! The only other one I’ve seen was from a distance on the coast of Long Island two winters ago.
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After a successful twitch, I headed over to the nearby location where Oliver, Simon, and Peter had their beautiful Eastern Milksnake last saturday. I felt like I’d give it one last shot since it would be the last over-70-degree day of the year. Here is what the crazy habitat looked like — lots of rocks to flip for certain, I definitely didn’t flip them all, but flipped well into the hundreds today!
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Welp, I didn’t get a single snake of any kind (cmon, not even a Garter?!) but on the way back I did catch this mid-sized American Bullfrog:
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Next, I explored some rocky ravines in hopes of discovering some salamander populations, but unfortunately came up empty with only some earthworms, slugs, and this Green Frog (which still is a good indicator species for ravine habitats). The Palos preserves have a lot of “unexplored” woodland that has great potential for finding herps — for the rest of the year, snakes will be harder to come by though, and I am expecting to focus more on salamanders (in addition to birds, of course).
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Bird-of-the-day to the Red-necked Grebes with runner-up to the Rusty Blackbird. A very successful birding trip, even if the herping was dead. STAY TUNED: this weekend I head to southern Illinois with family for a three-day camping trip. Herping targets will include: Black Kingsnake, Northern Cottonmouth, Northern Dusky, Spotted Dusky, Marbled, Zigzag, Northern Slimy, and Mole Salamander. We’ll see how it goes!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1120 Species

Posted by skwclar 22:23 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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