A Travellerspoint blog

December 2015

Day 3: Grand Turk!

semi-overcast 82 °F

On Wednesday, the Emerald Princess' port of call was Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands. Tuesday was a day at sea, so although it was extremely relaxing and enjoyable, there is nothing to post about for that day. Wednesday was also enjoyable - but in an action-packed and very birdy way!

My dad and I disembarked the ship at about 8:15 in the morning so that we had a nice chunk of time for birding on Grand Turk. My mom and Pearl stayed back for most of the morning and then later joined us for snorkeling.

My dad and I birded the island by foot, focusing on the salinas (saltwater ponds/mudflats) that dot the island, which are great for shorebirds (many of which are winter residents that migrate to Grand Turk every year from arctic Canada) and other aquatic species. The first salina we visited, Hawke's Nest Salina, proved to be very productive for shorebirds.

SANDERLINGS:
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RUDDY TURNSTONE:
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RUDDY TURNSTONES, SANDERLINS, LEAST, SEMIPALMATED, and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. The white stuff is not snow (it was a pleasant 80 degrees!), but salt buildup due to the salty nature of the salina.
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RUDDY TURNSTONES, SANDERLINGS, WESTERN SANDPIPERS, and a life bird for me: 2 STILT SANDPIPERS which are the birds in the water in the middle of the photograph:
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We then somewhat followed the Grand Turk Birding Trail, which leads through areas of native scrubland and occasionally past various ponds and salinas which are the most productive spots for birding on the island. At one point, we found these two lizards alongside the trail:
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Female AMERICAN KESTREL:
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Female GADWALL (left) with a female BLUE-WINGED TEAL (right):
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Female BLUE-WINGED TEAL (left) with a LESSER YELLOWLEGS (right):
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Then, I found my lifer WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL, a beautiful resident duck of Caribbean islands:
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Here is another pintail with two BLUE-WINGED TEAL on the right:
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Two more WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL:
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Nonbreeding-plumage SPOTTED SANDPIPER:
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Horses roam free on Grand Turk, and this photo captures the ambience of the island nicely in my opinion. Notice the white CATTLE EGRET underneath the horse on the left, feeding off of insects attracted to the horses.
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LITTLE BLUE HERON, haven't seen this bird since Panama in November of 2013:
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Nonbreeding-plumage BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, which loses its black-bellied breeding plumage in the winter:
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This SMOOTH-BILLED ANI, a type of cuckoo native to the Caribbean, was a life bird for me:
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My dad and I saw a sign for Columbus Landfall National Park:
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And just beyond that sign was a beautiful vista of the Caribbean Sea:
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OSPREY:
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We then picked up a cab, who first took us to a Salina he knew about where one can find flamingos. We succeeded in finding a solitary AMERICAN FLAMINGO, a life bird for me!
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Then, he took us to Bohio Beach, which was probably the most beautiful beach we had ever visited.
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It was great for birding, too, with salinas right behind the resort full of shorebirds and other species. This beautiful male YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER even perched right on the bathroom for a nice photo:
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Then, my mom and Pearl joined my dad and I and we went on an hour snorkeling excursion where a guy took us in his motorboat to a buoy. He gave us an hour to snorkel there and informed us that the area around the buoy was one of the best snorkeling spots on Grand Turk. It was astounding! A huge school of fish greeted us immediately as we entered the water, with brilliant yellows and iridescent hues shimmering through the crystal-clear water. Continuing back another twenty feet, we encountered a huge underwater drop-off from the coral reef that revealed a deep blue vastness reminiscent of scenes from the movie "Finding Nemo." The coral on top of the underwater wall was breathtaking and the schools of multicolored fish were absolutely stunning. A group of a dozen yellow-patterned medium-sized fish swam by while a dazzling, tiny blue fish weaved its way through the coral. This snorkeling experience was second only to the Great Barrier Reef in February of 2014.

After snorkeling, my parents lounged around on lounge chairs, my sister played in the sand, and I went birding again in the salinas (salt ponds) behind the resort.

BLACK-NECKED STILTS (left) with one nonbreeding-plumage BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (right):
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LEAST SANDPIPERS:
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Cute SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS:
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GREATER YELLOWLEGS:
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ROYAL TERNS:
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This TRICOLORED HERON foraged astonishingly close to me and allowed for a gorgeous photo shoot:
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This CAPE MAY WARBLER, a winter resident from the Canadian boreal forest, also was very cooperative:
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A female or immature-type MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD flew by the beach:
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LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL:
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All too soon, it was time to get back on our ship, the Emerald Princess.
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As we departed Grand Turk, I took some photos from the back of the ship. Here is the island. Take note of one of the salinas at which I birded on the right side of the photo:
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I even spotted this small shark from the ship. Glad I didn't spot him when I was snorkeling!
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And my best spot of the day was this MASKED BOOBY, a life bird for me, that must have been over a mile away from the ship. This is a pelagic (largely sea-faring) species, so I was super excited to spot it!
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It was a fantastic day on the beautiful island of Grand Turk. I identified 36 species of birds in total, including 5 life birds for me (see full list below).

Good birding,

Henry
World Life List: 875 Species (5 life birds, see list below)

  • indicates a life bird

36 species + 1 other taxa:

Gadwall
Blue-winged Teal

  • White-cheeked Pintail
  • American Flamingo
  • Masked Booby

Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Osprey
American Kestrel
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone

  • Stilt Sandpiper

Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Dove Sp.

  • Smooth-billed Ani

Northern Mockingbird
Cape May Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Bananaquit

Posted by skwclar 11:57 Archived in Turks/Caicos Islands Tagged me landscapes lakes beaches people animals birds boats Comments (0)

Day 1: Emerald Princess!

semi-overcast 82 °F

Yesterday I returned from a fantastic Caribbean cruise aboard the Emerald Princess. I will make one post for nearly every day (like I did for Costa Rica last summer), so here is day 1:

After taking an evening United Airlines flight from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale and staying in the Renaissance hotel near the cruise port, my dad and I woke up bright and early to bird the best birding hotspot nearby, according to eBird.org, Evergreen Cemetery:
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Although it was not as productive as I had hoped and I missed my three main target birds (Short-tailed Hawk, Painted Bunting, & Prairie Warbler), there were definitely birds around and I got two life birds (although they were common ones). Here is a GRAY CATBIRD - ironically, a house cat was a mere six feet below this bird at the time!
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My first lifer was this WHITE IBIS, which is a very, very common species in Florida:
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Then, a sizable and noisy flock of parakeets flew overhead and I snapped this photo. If anyone has any ideas as to the identification of these birds to the species level, it would be much appreciated - these were in a larger group of about 35 birds that were flying around, mobbing a juvenile COOPER'S HAWK and calling raucously:
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Here is the juvenile hawk they were mobbing:
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It was definitely Florida alright! Reptiles abounded, and many geckos (not pictured), turtles, and iguanas were seen in and near the cemetery:
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This ANHINGA was a rather interesting find, and the first time I have managed to photograph this species:
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Later, I found another (or possibly the same one) in its classic wing-drying position. These birds actually swim in the water for their prey (fish) but they have to completely dry their wings before they take flight. Very cool to see!
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EASTERN PHOEBE:
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MUSCOVY DUCKS (like this one perched on a tomb stone), although a feral/introduced species and exceedingly common, are countable for my life list:
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Tiny BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER:
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This NORTHERN PARULA may have been the most uncommon find at the cemetery:
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This COMMON GALLINULE was another nice species to see:
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Pretty soon, my dad and I were getting tired and hot (not being used to the warmer weather) so we headed back to the hotel pool and met my mom and sister there for a swim. Then, it was time to leave for the cruise ship and after a very easy check-in process, we were boarding the gigantic Emerald Princess ship! For this cruise, my mom, dad, and Pearl roomed together while I roomed with my uncle John, who joined us for his 35th (!) cruise.
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At sail away time, sitting with my family in a prime location at the aft of the ship and enjoying an icy cola, I spotted a few birds as the boat slowly started its journey.

Nonbreeding adult LAUGHING GULL:
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OSPREY:
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Another LAUGHING GULL:
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ROYAL TERN, life bird!
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Because the ship departed behind schedule, I did not get to see any pelagic species because it was time to get ready for dinner by the time we started getting far enough away from the shore; however, this delay did allow us to enjoy some great views and witness a beautiful sunset:
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Here is the area of the ship where we were sitting:
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It was a fun day and fairly productive for birding all things considered. Although this cruise was certainly not a birding-centered vacation (relaxation-centered, which I needed after a busy semester), I did see many neat birds and had some really cool experiences.

Bird-of-the-day to the ROYAL TERN, my most uncommon life bird of the three I gained. The full species list for the day is attached below.

Good birding,

Henry
World Life List: 870 Species (3 life birds, see list below)

  • indicates a life bird

34 species + 2 other taxa:

  • Muscovy (Feral) Duck

Domestic (Feral) Duck
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Anhinga
Magnificent Frigatebird

  • White Ibis

Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Cooper's Hawk
Common Gallinule
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull

  • Royal Tern

Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Parakeet Sp.
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Grackle
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Posted by skwclar 11:34 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains bridges buildings skylines people animals birds sky boats Comments (0)

Cruise!

rain 62 °F

After seeing "Home Alone" (soundtrack courtesy of the CSO) at Symohony Center (see photo of my sister below), my family and I will be flying down to Florida tonight for a morning of birding tomorrow and then a Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Princess ship to Grand Turk and the Bahamas. I may get a chance to post tomorrow, but will not be able to while on the cruise so I will make one big post when we get back.

Good birding!

Henry
World Life List: 867 Species (no recent life birds)

Pearl getting ready for the movie at Symphony Center:
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Posted by skwclar 12:26 Archived in USA Tagged me people children Comments (0)

Gillson Park Lakewatch

overcast 42 °F

This past Sunday afternoon, my friend Isoo an I met up in Gillson Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline of Wilmette (north of Chicago) to watch migrating waterfowl, gulls, and possibly other water birds. Although the diversity of the birds isn't quite what we expected, the sheer numbers of birds flying by were extremely impressive with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 ducks migrating southward while we were there!

I am still reviewing many of many photos which are mainly distant, blurry images of migrating ducks so I will only post a fraction of these photos.

Here is a sampling of what the sky looked like at one time, although this doesn't even come close to what the experience was like in real life. In this picture, there are REDHEADS as well as GREATER and LESSER SCAUP:
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This is a nonbreeding-plumage FRANKLIN'S GULL which was among the best finds of the day, as this is an uncommon species that only passes through during fall in very small numbers:
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This group of migrating ducks has 6 LESSER SCAUP as well as 9 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, a very uncommon species for fall and our best duck species of the day!
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Back on land, an agitated group of chickadees and robins brought my attention to this immature SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, the best views I have ever attained of this species:
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When I got home, my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I heard a GREAT HORNED OWL calling from behind my backyard, the first owl I have ever had in Oak Park! My family and even some neighbors got to see this guy as he called multiple times from his perch:
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It was a fantastic day! Thanks so much to Isoo and his dad, Chris, for driving me to Gillson Park!

Good birding,

Henry
World Life List: 867 Species (no recent life birds)

Posted by skwclar 06:00 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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