A Travellerspoint blog

November 2019

Back to Chicago, again!

Chicago, IL

overcast 48 °F

Today, I birded the Chicago lakefront in search of waterfowl and any other goodies I might happen to find.

Starting at Canal Shores Golf Course & Park in Wilmette, fellow birder Dan G & I didn’t find much anything of note, so I headed over to Gillson Park on the lakefront to see if there was any waterfowl there. I was disappointed because a Saw-whet Owl was seen at the golf course just yesterday! I immediately noticed a flock of far-away ducks flying over the lake which turned out to be locally-uncommon WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, and 17 of them! Very cool!

There were plenty of HOODED MERGANSERS in the harbor:

And their relative the RED-BREASTED MERGANSER was also in good numbers offshore:

I was surprised to see yet another Black Squirrel — I seem to be finding these guys everywhere I go!

Next stop was a lakefront park in Evanston where there wasn’t anything of note except for this very cooperative HORNED GREBE:

After an unsuccessful stop at Loyola Beach, I tried my luck at Montrose Point but it also turned out to be impressively quiet! Disappointing, considering goodies such as Short-eared Owls and Black Scoters had been seen there recently. In fact, the only bird I managed a photo of there was my first-of-the-season AMERICAN TREE SPARROW:

Bird-of-the-day to the uncommon White-winged Scoters, with runner-up to the Horned Grebe. A slower day, but still enjoyable to be out in nature!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 22:40 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Birding in the Rain

Manhattan, NYC

rain 45 °F

Today, I birded Manhattan in hopes of finding two target species that have been seen in various locations this morning: Great Horned Owl & American Woodcock.

After getting off the B at 103rd, I birded the Central Park Loch in hopes of finding the reported GH Owl, as well as any migrants that may have been in the area. There were birds around, as I almost immediately heard a BROWN CREEPER and saw this common RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER:

It was raining lightly and in the 40’s, making for less-than-desirable photography conditions, but it was still fun to be out in nature. The usual GADWALL in the “Pool” were cooperative for photos today:

Then, I ran into a friendly birder who gave me directions to the GREAT HORNED OWL — and there he/she was! As promised, the owl was roosting in a fairly obscure location (probably because there had been reports of jays harassing it earlier), so getting photos of it was a sport of shooting through the twigs and branches.

Close up on its beautiful face:

Here is one of the Black Squirrels, of which there are a few in the north end of Central Park — pretty cool! Hopefully, the owl finds a rat for dinner instead...

Next stop was the Reservoir where I was hoping to find some waterfowl migrants, including my favorite duck, the Bufflehead. NORTHERN SHOVELERS immediately proved to be in large numbers:


The three expected gulls: RING-BILLED (left), GREAT BLACK-BACKED (center), & HERRING were also prolific.

Then, as I was heading south about to leave to Reservoir, I spotted the BUFFLEHEADS, yay! So beautiful!

Between the Reservoir and my next stop, Turtle Pond, I found a couple HERMIT THRUSH:

And as I expected, the HOODED MERGANSERS were on Turtle Pond, but not showing particularly well for photos. Here is a male:

Then, on the recommendation of David Barret from the Manhattan Bird Alert, I took the B train down to Bryant Park to look for the woodcock. Upon arriving, to my surprise, I saw a warbler! Then I remembered that this male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT has been hanging around the park for weeks, possibly even months now. Getting late for you little buddy!

And after a little bit of searching, I found the brilliantly-patterned, dorky shorebird called the AMERICAN WOODCOCK foraging underneath some bushes. This species is one of the few shorebirds just about never to be found near water.

My secondary target for Bryant Park was this late-staying WOOD THRUSH which is another tardy straggler: these guys should be in Central America just about now. I’d bet that the tall buildings, bright lights, and noise ambience of Bryant Park disorients these migrants and keeps them “trapped” from migrating, sadly enough.

Then, I got too cold & damp so I decided to head back home on the D train. It was a great afternoon of birding, though! Bird-of-the-day to the American Woodcock with runner-up to the Great Horned Owl. Not any day that one gets to observe both of these species, and in Manhattan!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:12 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Birding at the crack of dawn

Sayville, NY

snow 44 °F

Last night, I saw a post on the facebook page “What’s this bird?” and a woman on Long Island had clearly gotten a photo of an immature Golden-crowned Sparrow, a vagrant from the west coast! After almost having a heart attack, I scrambled to check the Long Island Railroad sunday morning schedule and the location of the bird, and sure enough the county park where it was seen was just three blocks away from a railroad station! So, I was up at 5:25am this morning, hopeful to find my lifer Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Upon departing the Long Island Railroad train at 8:10am, I was caught in a light snow shower:

After a quick ten-minute walk, I arrived at the Brookside County Park where the sparrow was reported on friday. A whole bunch of birders were gathered on the back porch of the visitor center and they luckily said the bird had just been seen. There were certainly sparrows around — of the common WHITE-THROATED variety:


Unfortunately, it seemed to have a tumor on its right cheek. Nature can be beautiful, but it’s important to remember that it can be absolutely be cruel, as well.

Then, my target bird arrived: the immature GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW! This was almost casual-seeming among the many birders and photographers gathered there because it had apparently been in and out of the area every few minutes all morning. Note the slight bit of yellow one can see appearing on its crown: adults sport a full golden crown, somewhat reminiscent of the white on top of a related species, the White-crowned Sparrow. Awesome life bird!!!

Here it is posing with WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS:

Because of the quick appearance of the bird, I looked at the train schedule and realized that if I immediately walked back to the station, I could catch the next train back to Manhattan. On the walk back to the station, common birds were fairly active such as this NORTHERN MOCKINBIRD:


One of the loveliest parts of my day was meeting and chatting up a very kind woman on the train named Eileen who was interested to here my “Golden-crowned Sparrow odyssey.”

It was also nice to have brunch in midtown with my dad after getting off of the Long Island Railroad:

Bird-of-the-day to the Golden-crowned Sparrow, with runners-up to some probable Fish Crows I saw along the Long Island Rail Road. A great day!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species (1 life bird today: Golden-crowned Sparrow)

Posted by skwclar 19:54 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Bull Hill

Hudson Highlands State Park, NY

sunny 40 °F

My dad was in town this weekend with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to play in Carnegie Hall, so today the two of us took the Hudson line of the Metro North Railroad up to Hudson Highlands State Park to hike Bull Hill.

Now, don’t be confused by the name “hill:” Bull Hill is one of the highest mountains in the Hudson Highlands area, and the loop hike to the summit and around the mountain includes 1400 feet of elevation gain and 8 miles of hiking in total. A true butt-kicker!

Since the Hudson line parallels first the East, and then the Hudson Rivers, I spent a lot of time looking for both waterfowl and migrating raptors which use the Hudson River Valley as a migration path. As well as a few REDHEAD, these BUFFLEHEAD were seen along the journey:

As well as a distant look at an Eagle sp — whether it is an immature Bald or the rarer Golden, I will never know. It is hard to photograph from trains!

We disembarked the train at the Cold Springs station, and after refueling at a local bakery, were on our way towards the trailhead. There were a few feeders in this very cute town with common species such as BLUE JAY:


My first identifiable raptor of the day came in the form of this TURKEY VULTURE:

Soon, I also spotted its much less common cousin in these parts, the BLACK VULTURE! (separated from the Turkey Vulture by the Black’s diagnostic whitish wing tips)

As we ascended the mountain using the fairly steep trail, the views across the Hudson became increasingly beautiful:

One of many CAROLINA WRENS seen today gave wonderful views:


The views from the top of the mountain were just stunning. And even though we were on an exposed summit and it was just above freezing, wind was almost nonexistent, making for very enjoyable conditions under a winter parka.

I noticed a decent raptor movement from the top of the peak, including this RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, my first for New York state: note its heavily-banded tail.

Its more common cousin the RED-TAILED HAWK was also present:

And then, a stranger-looking hawk came in to view. It was very clearly an Accipiter (bird-eating) species, but it was extremely bulky in its build & had heavy chest marking and thick banding on the underside of its tail. With all these field marks in mind, the identification of this bird is extremely clear: first-year NORTHERN GOSHAWK! Too cool — a very uncommon find for this part of the state, and one that was not even on my radar for today!

The views of nearby Breakneck Ridge were stunning on the last leg of our hike.


While waiting for the Metro-North at Breakneck Ridge, my dad and I were afforded some decent views of CEDAR WAXWINGS:

And the train arrived right on time: 1:09pm. The Breakneck Ridge station’s sole purpose is to pick up & drop off hikers, so the platform is accordingly quaint.

Here are some stats for our hike today:

What a fun day, huge thanks to my dad for hiking with me! Bird-of-the-day to the Northern Goshawk with runners-up to the Black Vulture & Red-shouldered Hawk.

Good birding,
World Life List: 977 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:28 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Chicago Never Disappoints!

Grant Park, IL

semi-overcast 43 °F

Upon seeing a report of an immature male King Eider in Evanston IL yesterday night, I was extremely bummed — today I would be in Chicago to visit my family (more on that later) for O N E day, and I would certainly not have time to make the trek up to Evanston.

Come this morning, I wake up, and I see that the King Eider had flown down to Monroe Harbor near Jackson St in Grant Park, downtown Chicago! CRAZY! As this is a 20-minute walk from my condo, I wasted not a second and my dad and I headed over to the harbor. We had a duck to find!

Just after leaving our condo, we were sidetracked to find a stranded Brown Bat (species?) in front of the Chicago Cultural Center. We attempted to upright the animal, but it resisted, so we called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors who said they would come pick it up even though it’s a bat. Several friendly passerby helped the cause by alerting people to walk around the bat.

Upon arriving at Monroe Harbor and walking a bit along the lakefront, I spotted a large duck sitting among even-larger CANADA GEESE. Could it be...the sought-after Eider??


Unfortunately, I had only heard about the rogue Eider once I was almost already on the plane to Chicago, so I did not have my camera with me. BUT, this dang bird was so cooperative and allowed for many photos with my mom’s iPhone, the best camera I could muster today:

This HORNED GREBE was also around:

All I have to say is W O W! That’s birding for you — constant surprises! And especially, birding in November: November is a notorious month for bringing in rarities.

I am in Chicago for one night because tonight is my sister Pearl’s Lyric Opera Debut in the Chicago Children’s Choir group in the Lyric Opera’s new production of “Dead Man Walking.” I am SO excited to see this! Lyric opera collaborations were definitely some of the highlights of my time in the amazing Chicago Children’s Choir.

So, bird-of-the-day goes to the King Eider, just recently a life bird for me out at Orient Point, New York! So, so cool! Runner-up to the Horned Grebe.

Good birding,
World Life List: 976 Species

Posted by skwclar 12:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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