A Travellerspoint blog

December 2015

2 Rarities to End the Year & 2015 Recap

sunny 26 °F

This post will be split up into two parts; the first part being the usual narrative & photos of the day and the second being my birding recap of 2015. Hope you enjoy it, and have a happy New Year!

Today my Uncle Mory and I birded a few places near La Crosse in western Wisconsin in search of two target birds: Lewis' Woodpecker and Northern Saw-whet Owl.

In the morning, we drove to a farm in Galesville, WI where a rare Lewis' Woodpecker has been reported recently. This is a species native to the Rocky Mountains of the western USA and this is only the fourth time one has ever been recorded in Wisconsin.

Upon arriving, we immediately found the LEWIS' WOODPECKER with its diagnostic Christmas colors - red and green - which is an uncommon color pattern in birds. This bird was the most aggressive bird at the feeders (even though it didn't actually take any seeds while we were there), frequently chasing off Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees. Here are my photos of the bird:

We then headed to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge where I found these distant flocks of waterfowl on the little open water remaining in the area.


CANADA GEESE with a few TUNDRA SWANS mixed in:

We then drove to a nearby state park where there were a few other birds. Here is an adult BALD EAGLE:

Small flock of HORNED LARKS on the road in front of us:


After a delicious lunch of chili and relaxation back at their house, my Uncle and I drove to a place called Breidel Coulee Road in hopes of finding Northern Saw-whet Owl, a tiny owl species that has been reported there recently.

On the way, I spied an even rarer bird flying over a distant field which then landed in a tree across the field. It was a GOLDEN EAGLE, a very very uncommon bird for Wisconsin! Distinguishing field marks from an immature Bald Eagle are that this bird has a "golden" look to the back of its head (characteristic of a Golden) and lacks the characteristic white breast patches of a juvenile Bald. It was also a HUGE bird with a gigantic wingspan, slightly bigger than a Bald Eagle which supports my identification.

A flock of CANADA GEESE flew over:

Then, I heard some strange warbling sounds to my right and saw a huge flock of 41 (!) WILD TURKEY on the edge of the nearby woods. Here is only a small part of that flock:

Despite driving along Breidel Couldee Road for almost 45 minutes and periodically stopping and playing the Northern Saw-whet Owl recording, we could not coax one to come out and therefore missed this bird. The rare Golden Eagle; however, more than made up for this miss in my opinion, especially since I had heard my life bird Northern Saw-whet Owl earlier this year with Eric Walters back in November.

It was a great day of birding with two Wisconsin rarities found in one day! The bird-of-the-day for me will be the Golden Eagle since I found it without knowing I would even see one, and runner-up to the already-known Lewis' Woodpecker, even though it is a slightly rarer bird for Wisconsin. The full bird species list for the day is attached below.

PART 2: 2015 RECAP
"The Year of the Owl"

First, I would like to give a massive thank you to everyone who has helped me have these unbelievably wonderful birding experinences, especially Mom and Dad, as I could not do it without them. As I am posting this, it is literally 11:55pm and with these last few minutes of 2015, it saddens me that another absolutely fantastic year is drawing to a close. This year I gained 179 life birds for my world life list including 12 owl species and 2 former nemesis birds, the Resplendent Quetzal and the Great Gray Owl.

Since this year was a stellar year for finding owls with 12 species in total, I will first list the owl highlights of the year and then I will list other avian highlights from the year.

  • *January 1: Snowy Owl w/Uncle Mory at Buena Vista Grasslands, WI
  • *May 22: Barred Owl heard calling on our former Michigan property
  • *June 4: Great Horned Owl (GHO) photographed at Morton Arobretum, IL
  • *July 29: Great Horned Owl (GHO) photographed on Mt. Baldy, ID
  • *August 7: Lifer Long-eared Owl @ Silver Creek Preserve, ID
  • *August 9: Northern Pygmy-Owl heard w/Ryan Anderson near Stanley, ID
  • *August 13: 3-owl evening in ID with Poo W-P & Maria Allen, we have GHO & my lifer Barn & Short-eared Owls
  • *August 14: Conquer nemesis bird Great Gray Owl w/Kathleen, Poo, and Maria and hear lifer Boreal Owl same evening in ID
  • *August 15: Western Screech-Owl lifer w/Ryan Anderson near Hailey, ID
  • *August 16: GHO & Western Screech-Owl w/Poo Wright-Pulliam near Hailey, ID
  • *August 17: GHO flies across road on way to airport before flying home from ID
  • *August 22: GHO seen on Illinois Young Birders field trip near Kankakee, IL
  • *September 23: Photograph Barred Owl for first time at Morton Arboretum, IL
  • *November 1: GHO w/Suzanne Coleman at Fort Sheridan Preserve, IL
  • *November 15: 3-owl evening w/Ryan Anderson at IBSP, IL with GHO, E Screech, and lifer N Saw-whet Owls
  • *November 29: GHO found and photographed for first time ever in backyard (IL)
  • *December 29: Amazing Great Gray Owl photo ops w/Uncle Mory & Bruce at Sax-Zim Bog, MN
  • *December 30: Great Gray & Snowy Owls in MN & WI w/Uncle Mory & Bruce

Non-owl highlights:

  • *March 21: Lifer Long-tailed Duck at Monroe Harbor, IL
  • *March 29: 1st day of Arizona trip, best birds are Hepatic Tanager & Arizona Woodpecker
  • *April 3: Elegant Trogon seen w/Dad in Madera Canyon, AZ
  • *May 6: Rare hybrid Lawrence's Warbler photographed in backyard, IL
  • *May 9: Rare Snowy Plover (lifer) and dazzling array of warblers at Montrose Point, IL
  • *May 23: 2 of my then-favorite birds, Cerulean & Hooded Warblers, photographed at Yankee Springs SP, MI
  • *June 2: Connecticut & Hooded Warblers photographed in Chicago area, IL
  • *June 19: Touring Field Museum, IL bird skin collection w/Nick Minor
  • *July 11: Finding Northern Parula & Summer Tanager w/new birding friend Jonathan B
  • *July 15: First day of Costa Rica trip, BEST trip of my life!
  • *July 16: Finding 72 species in 1 morning w/guides Alexa & Mario in La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica
  • *July 19: Finding new favorite bird, RESPLENDENT QUETZAL, w/Mario @ Curi Cancha Reserve, Costa Rica
  • *July 27: First day of Idaho trip where the highlights are the OWLS, see above
  • *September 27: Costa Rica class reunion at my house, IL
  • *December 13: First day of trip to Florida & Emerald Princess cruise
  • *December 18: Finding Kirtland's Warbler on Eleuthera, Bahamas w/Dad
  • *December 26: First day of trip to Wisconsin & Minnesota where highlights are the OWLS, see above
  • *December 31: Finding 2 rarities w/Uncle Mory, Lewis' Woodpecker & Golden Eagle, on last day of year

Bird-of-the-year goes to the RESPLENDENT QUETZAL I saw on July 19, with that species automatically going from nemesis to favorite bird due to its sheer...well...resplendence. This bird was seen with my fantastic guide Mario Córdoba and a select group of the Costa Rica class in the Curi Cancha Reserve near Monteverde, Costa Rica. Runner-up for that award goes to the GREAT GRAY OWL, my other past-nemesis which is now my second-favorite bird. This bird was seen by me on three days this year: August 14 near Stanley, Idaho with fantastic birders Kathleen Cameron, Poo Wright-Pulliam, and Maria Allen, and also on December 29 & 30 at the Sax-Zim Bog in northeastern Minnesota with Uncle Mory and Bruce Bartel. Thank you to all of these people, and again to Mom and Dad, for helping me see these astoundingly special birds.

Happy birding & owling and I hope 2016 brings you peace and plentiful birds (and owls):

World Life List: 887 Species (179 life birds in 2015)

24 species + 3 other taxa today:

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Wild Turkey (41!)
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Raptor Sp.
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Woodpecker Sp.
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Passerine Sp.

Posted by skwclar 20:50 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes lakes people animals birds snow night Comments (0)

2015's Owl Finale

Sax-Zim Bog, MN to La Crosse, WI

semi-overcast 26 °F

As 2015, the Year of the Owl, is about to come to a close, today's birding yielded a grand finale of sorts to a truly astounding year for owls. Today my Uncle Mory, his friend Bruce, and I drove back from the Sax-Zim Bog in northeast Minnesota to my uncle's house near La Crosse, Wisconsin. A drive with these two; however, always means that great birds are seen en route, and today was certainly not an exception!

We left our bed & breakfast at the Sax-Zim Bog around 8:00am and immediately found a pair of PINE GROSBEAKS at the feeder just outside the door. Here is the male of that species:

There were also HAIRY WOODPECKERS around the feeders including this one:

We spent the morning birding the Sax-Zim Bog and found these WILD TURKEYS on Arkola Road:

Then, we birded Admiral Road where we found a beautiful GREAT GRAY OWL (again!) just south of the gravel pit towards the northern end of the road:

Liftoff! What an awesome bird!

We kept watch over the feeders along Admiral Road in hopes for my lifer Boreal Chickadee. While waiting, we found this RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH:


We never found the Boreal Chickadee; however, we did search a few other sites very thoroughly for this elusive species throughout the morning.

As we drove along Arkola Road, we came upon a flock of 15 SNOW BUNTINGS, a species that was a life bird for me just two days ago. This is the first chance I have ever had to photograph one:

Then, we visited the Welcome Center bird feeders where we immediately found these beautiful PINE GROSBEAKS:

A few COMMON REDPOLLS, but sadly no Hoary Redpolls, were also present including this male:

This cute Pine Squirrel also fed off the feeders there:

Then, we left the Sax-Zim Bog in the twelve o'clock hour and continued towards the Duluth and Superior area. As we were driving over the big bridge between the two cities, I photographed this flock of waterfowl which consisted of mainly unidentified ducks but also of MALLARD, LESSER SCAUP, and COMMON & RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS:

We checked for a reported Gyrfalcon which would be an epic, super rare bird to see, at a grain elevator but failed to find it. We instead found this BALD EAGLE which was partially hidden in branches:

Then, we checked the parking lot of a Menards' store across town in hopes of finding a reported Snowy Owl. Sure enough, my Year of the Owl gave us an encore presentation as I spotted this beauty!

Here are some close-ups of the bird, notice the large black patch on the crown (top of its head) which is, believe it or not, shoe polish left by a local Duluth Snowy Owl bird bander who not only bands the owls but also leaves his telltale shoe polish mark on their head. This can be quite annoying for photographers such as my Uncle Mory and Bruce. It is still a very impressive and magnificent bird, though:

It was an absolutely fantastic day! With two owl species seen in one day, this was certainly a grand finale presentation brought to you by 2015, my Year of the Owl. Bird-of-the-day, of course, goes to both of the owls I found today: GREAT GRAY and SNOWY. The full species list for today can be found below.

A few bits of trivia for today are that this year I found Snowy Owls on exactly 2 days of the year: January 1 and today, the second-to-last day of the year. Also, the Great Gray Owl is the largest and tallest owl found in North America while the Snowy Owl is the heaviest.

Tomorrow, my Uncle Mory and I will be in search of a vagrant Lewis' Woodpecker, a species typically found in the Rocky Mountains, which has turned up about thirty minutes away from his house. Stay tuned!

Good birding,

World Life List: 887 Species (no life birds today)

27 species + 2 other taxa today:

Canada Goose
Lesser Scaup
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Wild Turkey
Bald Eagle
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (1 light & 1 dark morph)
American Kestrel (seen only by Bruce)
Gull Sp.
Rock Pigeon
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
Common Redpoll
Passerine Sp.

Posted by skwclar 18:36 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes people animals birds snow Comments (1)

The Year of the Owl Delivers Again

Sax-Zim Bog, MN

overcast 18 °F

This owl-tastic year just keeps getting better and better! My former nemesis and now second-favorite bird, the Great Gray Owl, put on a fabulous show today at the world-famous Sax-Zim Bog!

Today my uncle Mory, his friend Bruce, and I criss-crossed the Bog in northeast Minnesota in search of four main target birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Pine Grosbeak, and Boreal Chickadee. You already know that we found at least one of my targets...read on for more...

It was a long day with 120+ miles of total driving mileage (the Bog is HUGE!) interspersed with occasional birding stops. It was overcast with bitingly chilly temperatures ranging from 11 to 18 degrees F.

Our first stop in the morning was Admiral Road where it is possible to see Great Gray Owls and Boreal Chickadees. We found this GRAY JAY near the feeder setup along the road; however, sadly no Boreals as they are quite uncommon:

As we approached a gathering of cars and photographers with huge lenses at one point along the road, Bruce spotted something large perched atop a nearby dead snag:

GREAT GRAY OWL - MY SECOND FAVORITE BIRD!!! I have only seen this species once before, in Idaho last August, and this was an even better look than the August sighting so you could imagine how thrilled I was to see this beauty!

Here is the view of the scene with snow-covered Admiral Road on the left:

The next stop was the feeders at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center, where we hoped to find Pine Grosbeak and, although very unlikely, a slight chance for Boreal Chickadee again. Along the way, we found a small gathering of COMMON REDPOLLS on Stickney Road. We would later find them to be abundant around the Welcome Center.

This male DOWNY WOODPECKER was working the trees with a few HAIRY WOODPECKERS (but sadly no Black-backeds) near the Welcome Center:

We checked off PINE GROSBEAK, one of our target species for the day, when we found a flock of eight of these beautiful, rare winter finches:

A scan of the feeders at the Racek Road - Hwy 29 intersection proved to be unsuccessful for finding the hoped-for Sharp-tailed Grouse; however, we will have a chance to visit that location in the morning again tomorrow because other birders' reports have told us that mornings have proved to be better for finding the grouse.

We then visited Nichols Lake where we tried very hard to coax Boreal Chickadees to come out of the bog using the playback method; however, none of these made any appearances. This is a very scarce species and the Sax-Zim Bog is the most reliable out of the handful of locations they can be found in the US outside of Alaska.

Then, we decided to drive back to Admiral Road where we hoped to see the Great Gray again and possibly, just possibly, find an elusive Boreal Chickadee at the feeders. We certainly succeeded in finding the marvelous GREAT GRAY OWL; it was in the same general area as it was in the morning and allowed for a truly gorgeous photo shoot:

Alas, we failed to find the Boreal Chickadee, but we agreed that the super-cooperative Great Gray Owl more than made up for that. After all, it is my second favorite bird in the world! The last birding stops of the day before dinner, the Welcome Center and Racek Road, turned out to be unproductive in the quickly-fading light of the 4 o'clock hour.

Although no life birds were found today, we had a great day with two out of our four target species being found, including my second favorite bird, the Great Gray Owl, which will of course be my bird-of-the-day for today! Runner-up to the beautiful pink Pine Grosbeaks which were another target bird we found. The full list for the day can be found below.

Tomorrow we will be birding the Sax-Zim Bog in the morning where we hope to find Sharp-tailed Grouse, and maybe if some miracle happens, Boreal Chickadee. Then, we will drive back to my uncle's house near La Crosse, Wisconsin - hopefully stopping at a Snowy Owl in Superior, WI en route.

Stay tuned, and good owling!

World Life List: 887 Species (no life birds today)

14 species today:

Bald Eagle 2
Great Gray Owl 1 1 mile south of feeders on Admiral Road, great long-lasting, soul-satisfying looks
Downy Woodpecker 1 Welcome center feeders
Hairy Woodpecker 2 Trees around welcome center
Northern Shrike 1 Perched on wire along open area on Stickney Road
Gray Jay 6 3 at Admiral Road feeders, 3 others throughout Bog
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 5
Common Raven 10
Black-capped Chickadee 25 Different flocks at Admiral Road feeders, welcome center feeders, and east side of Nichols Lake. Again, no Boreals.
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
European Starling 4
Pine Grosbeak 8 Welcome Center feeders
Common Redpoll 50 About 25 congregating on and around Stickney Road in an area of thick dogwoods, about 25 at feeders around Welcome Center.

Posted by skwclar 17:58 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes lakes people animals birds snow Comments (2)

Wisconsin to Sax-Zim Bog, MN

overcast 25 °F

"Welcome to the land of arctic temperatures, windswept, snowy landscapes, and biting wind," the Sax-Zim Bog seemed to tell us as my uncle Mory, his birding friend Bruce, and I entered the frozen, northern Minnesota winter. What a change from the warm Caribbean Sea just over a week ago!

The drive was pretty good for birding (although we missed the Snowy Owls in Superior, WI); we saw about twenty BALD EAGLES, I got my only life bird of the day which was an unphotographed flock of SNOW BUNTINGS that flew away from the road (Bruce confirmed my identification on that), but the clear highlight was this beautiful light-phase ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK that all three of us enjoyed photographing. Here are my photos of this beautiful bird:

Once we arrived at the Sax-Zim Bog, we had an hour before darkness would set in so we birded Admiral Road where we learned we had missed a Great Gray Owl, one of our primary targets for the trip, by fifteen minutes! How aggravating! Here is an example of the winter landscape we entered today:

Apart from a few BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES (although no Boreals like we were hoping), as well as this RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, the Admiral Road feeders were disappointingly quiet:

The bird-of-the-day came at the end of the day when Bruce spotted this RUFFED GROUSE which appeared right in front of the car as we were slowly driving down a road in the Bog. It froze, motionless in the glow of the car's headlights:

Stay tuned - tomorrow we will be searching thoroughly for the Great Gray Owls, with other targets being Sharp-tailed Grouse, Northern Goshawk, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, and Hoary Redpoll.

Good birding!

World Life List: 887 Species (1 life bird today: Snow Bunting)

Posted by skwclar 19:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Buena Vista Grasslands

semi-overcast 32 °F

Today was the first day on my trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota with my birding aunt Mary and uncle Mory. After having lunch with my cousins Dave and Katie, my aunt, uncle, and I visited a beautiful preserve called Buena Vista Grasslands in hopes of finding my lifer Greater Prairie-Chicken, a rare species of grouse only found in native grassland habitats - and Buena Vista is the only place to find them in Wisconsin. It was a beautiful day with mostly clear skies and temps on the chilly side, ranging from 25 to 32 degrees F.

We spent hours creeping down the gravel roads that criss-cross the grassland landscape and scanning for birds. At one point, I spotted a flock of about 25 grouse-like birds flying in the distance, but it was too quick and distant of a look to make a clinching identification. Another frustrating moment was when we flushed a small bird with white wings from the side of the road that very well could have been my life bird Snow Bunting; however, it too flew away too quickly for an identification.

AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS were, relatively speaking, one of the most common birds of the day:

We had two AMERICAN KESTRELS including this one:

My Aunt Mary had the best spot of the day with a flock of at least 15 WILD TURKEY seen in a distant field. Here is a bad photo of part of the flock:

Alas, we never found the prairie chickens (bird wise, it was very quiet overall today), but we had a good time, a lot of laughs, and at least a few birds were seen. Here is the beautiful sunset we witnessed shortly before departing the preserve:

Tomorrow my uncle Mory, his friend Bruce, and I will drive up to the Duluth area in preparation for our visit to the world-famous Sax-Zim Bog, the winter finch and owl capital of the world.

Bird-of-the-day goes to the distant flock of WILD TURKEY; not much to choose from on some days and today was one of those days. The short species list is attached below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 886 Species (no life birds today)

12 species (+2 other taxa)

Wild Turkey 15 Conservative count
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 50 Conservative count
Mourning Dove 6
woodpecker sp. 1
American Kestrel 2
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 15 Conservative count
Black-capped Chickadee 10
American Tree Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 1
Eastern Meadowlark 1
House Sparrow 10
passerine sp. 1

Posted by skwclar 20:07 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes people animals birds snow Comments (0)

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