A Travellerspoint blog

November 2020

Crying for cranes


semi-overcast 43 °F

Yesterday, I dragged Tian and Pearl along with me so I could search for a very rare sophomore bird: the Whooping Crane. With less than 1K individuals left in the wild and the fact that I had only ever seen this bird once before (and for just about five seconds as a flyover above some treetops), I was really hoping to find this bird.

After about an hour and 25 minutes in the car, we arrived at the appointed location (have to keep it a secret in case for some reason the birds are still around — one is not allowed to post about this species in Illinois) to find many SANDHILL CRANES in attendance, along with CANADA GEESE:

Other waterfowl were around as well, including NORTHERN SHOVELER:

Drake GREEN-WINGED TEAL with more geese:



One of my favorite sightings of the fay was definitely this ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, a winter visitor from the High Arctic which was a year bird for me:


And the Sandhills streamed in in numbers. First dozens, then hundreds, and I ended the day with about 2050 as a rough count.

As the last light of the day crept away from me, my hopes for the elusive Whooping Crane grew dimmer with it, despite my efforts of scanning all of the incoming Sandhill flocks in an impeccable manner. At least there was a beautiful sunset.

Well, you win some you lose some! Hopefully I can get the Whoopers next year. Happy late Thanksgiving to all!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1123 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:46 Archived in USA Comments (2)

A long day: Montrose, Evanston, and the Botanic Garden

Cook County, IL

overcast 42 °F

Today I hit several spots in Cook County: Montrose Point for anything random that might be there, Evanston for White-winged Crossbill, and the Chicago Botanic Garden for Common Redpoll and others.

I arrived at Montrose to find the continuing SURF SCOTER with the local Mergansers! Cool. Thanks to Josh E for pointing out.

Over by the fishhook pier there was a continuing GADWALL:

I had a few duck flocks fly past the pier including GREATER SCAUP — distinguished from similar members of their Aythya genus in flight by the thick white band that extends far along the trailing edge of their wings.

Another “Aythya” duck, the REDHEAD. These genus includes this species, Greater & Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and various other species:

Well this bird certainly gave me a start. Have you ever seen such a golden crown on a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW? Well, I hadn’t until today — my friends informed me that this is within the range of normal for juvenile White-crowned (I’m assuming as the strip of the crown color transitions from a pale brownish color to white.

Next stop was Evanston where I came up empty at the feeder reporting a White-winged Crossbill yesterday. Darn! Would’ve been a nice year bird for Illinois, but it was sweet to get them in the Black Hills this past summer.

So, Isoo convinced me to follow through with my original plan to head up to the Chicago Botanic Garden as he had just had a group of 15 Crossbills there, as well as a good candidate for a Hoary Redpoll which would be a lifer for me if found! I bought a timed entry ticket for 11am and managed to get in a couple minutes early. I met Isoo as he was leaving and he pointed me in the direction of the redpolls. He wasn’t 100% on his bird but he said he got some pretty solid fieldmarks like unstreaked undertail which strongly leans Hoary as opposed to Common. The problem for me though, is that this time of year, there are DOZENS of redpolls to pick through to find that one Hoary!

GREAT BLUE HERON on the way to the Redpoll location.


Yep, finches were around — here is a PINE SISKIN:

More siskins bathing with goldfinches:

COMMON REDPOLL was a sweet year bird for me but I was definitely on the prowl for its rarer cousin, the Hoary. I counted about 65 Commons here, a pretty nice number for november.

I spent the next two hours chasing this huge flock of Commons, trying to check all of the paler-looking birds. It was pretty hopeless considering horrible overcast lighting and the flock kept flying all over the place.

A solid candidate for Hoary — thoughts? The undertail looks extremely clean from this perspective and this bird is awfully pale...

Super fat squirrel munching away...

After two and a half hours, I gave up and walked out. PIED-BILLED GREBE on the way out:

Feeling rather defeated and frustrated, I drove home...if only I had just gone straight to the Garden with Isoo this morning...

Alas, when I got home, I picked through my photos further, and BOOM! I had a super frosty redpoll with no undertail streaking and a white rump: textbook HOARY REDPOLL!!!!!! This was THE classic example of having such bad lighting in the field it was impossible to ID without reviewing and lightening up photos. So there I had it, a lifer discovered after I was done birding! Crazy.

Bird-of-the-day to the Hoary Redpoll, with runner-up to the 65 Commons. A Redpoll kinda day!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1123 Species (1 life bird today: Hoary Redpoll)

Posted by skwclar 20:31 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Miller Meadow hawkwatch & a Montrose Twitch

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 40 °F

A few days ago Tian and I headed to Miller Meadow to monitor any raptors that might be moving on WNW winds. And once I heard of a southbound Golden Eagle an hour of north of us, I absolutely had to get out in the slim chance it would pass by, following the Des Plaines River.

Once we got to the top of Kestrel Hill for viewing, I spotted a distant finch perched on a bare tree. Though I wish it were a Crossbill or Grosbeak, it turned out to be a PURPLE FINCH, a decent find nonetheless:

The first raptor of the afternoon, the local AMERICAN KESTREL, hawked over the hill at one point:


A fast-flying SHARP-SHINNED HAWK bolted past — a species I seldom get to photograph so this was cool:

It was a big day for SANDHILL CRANE migration — they tend to migrate in the fall on chilly days with northwesterly winds, and this was no exception.

By far the best bird-of-the-day though was a quick, unphotographed flyover of an EVENING GROSBEAK that zipped over the field, calling. Too bad I didn’t snap a pic but its “deer” “deer” “deer” call is very recognizable. Truly cool! My first one ever in Illinois. Unfortunately that Golden Eagle didn’t feel like flying by Miller, at least while I was there...

Yesterday, I was in complete agony most of the day as a Cassin’s Sparrow had been spotted by Montrose Point birder Bob Hughes early in the morning — BUT my dad was recording a recital downtown and had the car. So, I had to wait till mid-afternoon to chase this species which has only shown up three times before in Illinois.

Tian and I hopped into the car before two and headed straight to Montrose, and sure enough there was a small posse of birders including Josh E and Ian S huddled around a pine tree at the appointed location. CASSIN’S SPARROW! Life bird #1122 for me and a bird much more expected in states like Colorado and New Mexico — an absolute MEGA for Illinois and an incredible spot by Bob as this bird is the literal definition of an LBJ (little brown job). That being said, I think the bird is actually beautifully patterned in a subtle, classy way. I like its style, but then again I like any life bird.

I then dipped again on Common Redpoll which I still need for the year, so Tian and I headed a bit further south to Diversey Harbor to search for another year bird: SNOW GOOSE. We pulled up, I scanned for a few minutes, and soon spotted it as a bright speck all the way across the harbor hanging out with a gaggle of CANADA GEESE right next to LSD! Hilarious! It seemed unfazed by all of the speeding cars merely feet away.

So, it was on to the day’s fourth target: Harris’ Sparrow! This is another rarity but is encountered annually once or twice in the area so a little more expected then the Cassin’s, but only slightly. We drove down to North Pond where this bird was being seen and immediately began scanning the sparrows in the flocks present feeding on the lawn. Here it was also nice to see fellow birder Lyn who has come on my bird walks!

Its common cousin the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:




Unfortunately, despite the Harris’ being reported to have been hanging out with the Juncos, the search for this bird was to no avail. And so yesterday was a case study in birding productivity: you win some, you lose some, BUT it is always worth trying — I got a solid life bird out of yesterday’s efforts! Love a nice Cassin’s Sparrow, my bird-of-the-day for yesterday. Runner-up to the Snow Goose. Stay tuned, and STAY SAFE!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1122 species (1 life bird: Cassin’s Sparrow)

Posted by skwclar 21:01 Archived in USA Comments (1)

South Side Rumblings

Chicago, IL

sunny 77 °F

I made two trips to the south side for birds and herps in the last three days to take advantage of this unseasonably warm and nice weather — two days ago with Simon, Peter, and their mom in search of Short-eared Owls and anything that may fly over, and today in search primarily for herps..

We started off friday’s birding at Park 566 on the lakefront with a few AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS:

Flyover HORNED LARK. We also had flyover AMERICAN PIPIT & SNOW BUNTING, but no hoped-for winter finches which are irrupting this season.

HORNED GREBE in the harbor:

And then, we started flushing SHORT-EARED OWLS left and right from the open grassland area!!! We had at least five of them.

Even managed a shot of one in front of the Sears Tower!


BLACK SCOTER was a year bird for me and is quite uncommon here so it was awesome to see.

Then, we all headed to another preserve to hopefully flip some EASTERN TIGER SALAMANDERS and...I found one hiding underneath a rock on THE! FIRST! FLIP! Epic. Only my second ever.

Look at that handsome salamander smile:

Simon also found a huge Chicago Garter Snake which was cool. Sorry about the orientation — couldn’t seem to fix this properly.

Bird-of-the-day friday to the Short-eared Owls with runner-up to the Black Scoter. Both were really quality year birds for me.

Today I was back in search of herps. Started with a flyover COOPER’S HAWK:

And I ended up flipping two EASTERN TIGER SALAMANDERS including the same exact individual from last time (put him back quickly so as not to disturb). What a cool creature — this salamander is very uncommon especially in the Chicago area and is really special because it is the largest, chunkiest terrestrial salamander in the state.

So, good stuff recently! Fingers crossed for more winter finches — this winter’s “irruption” is turning out to be rather spectacular in Lake County, IL as while as Indiana but still has yet to really affect us down here in Cook County, IL.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:48 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Montrose: 3 targets

Chicago, IL

sunny 60 °F

On this tumultuous (but beautiful, weather-wise!) election day, Tian and I hit Montrose Point in search of three year bird targets: White-winged Scoter, Common Redpoll, and Snow Goose.

First we checked the harbor for the scoter but instead found a PIED-BILLED GREBE:



At one point, a calling HORNED LARK flew over:

DUNLIN (left) was a nice year bird for me and the right bird, a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, should be long gone by now but this particular individual has stayed at Montrose for a number of days...it has stayed long enough to become a concern for the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors which are trying to arrange a rescue for the bird in the coming days. Interesting.

Another check of the harbor for the White-winged Scoter, and I found its less-common cousin, the SURF SCOTER! Cool bird.

Unfortunately no White-winged. And we checked the lawn again for the Snow Goose but instead just got surrounded by a ton of CANADA GEESE! Lol!


Unfortunately, none of my target birds were seen today but the Dunlin was a year bird so that will be my bird-of-the-day, with Surf Scoter as my runner-up. Stay safe folks: we may be in for some interesting times ahead...interesting and dark times.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:00 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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