A Travellerspoint blog

December 2015

Joy to the Warbler!

sunny 44 °F

Sometimes you don't have to go further than your iPad to find a life bird!

Today while I was looking back on the photo below taken on April 19 of this year, I realized I had made a previous misidentification about this photo (which I originally thought to be a Pine Warbler)! It is actually a PRAIRIE WARBLER - a life bird for me because that is the only time I have ever seen that species!

To compare the two species, here are the links to their species pages on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website:

Pine Warbler: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pine_Warbler/id
Prairie Warbler: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Prairie_Warbler/id

Stay tuned, I leave for my Wisconsin/Sax-Zim Bog trip the day after Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
World Life List: 886 Species (1 life bird today from April 19: Prairie Warbler)


Posted by skwclar 17:07 Archived in USA Comments (2)

A Little Birding

overcast 59 °F

A small road trip yesterday and very warm temperatures today has led to my seeing some birds. I haven't found anything rare; however, I thought you might like seeing these photos.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, nonbreeding plumage:


Various waterfowl on Wolf Lake, which straddles Illinois and Indiana:


Male DARK-EYED JUNCO, "Slate-colored" race:






Because I didn't see any particularly rare birds, I won't have a "bird-of-the-day," but some of the highlights were the PINE SISKIN yesterday, a woodpecker trifecta I had today with DOWNY, HAIRY, and RED-BELLIED, as well as an unphotographed WHITE-THROATED SPARROW which is uncommon for this late in the season. I attached the eBird list for today only below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 885 Species (no life birds)

15 species (+1 other taxa)

Ring-billed Gull 1
Mourning Dove 4
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3
White-throated Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 1
House Finch 1
House Sparrow 20
passerine sp. 2

Posted by skwclar 14:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 6: Return to a Chicago Winter

sunny 29 °F

Yesterday, Saturday, December 19, was the sad day on a cruise called disembarkation. We were off the ship in the nine o'clock hour and took a taxi to the Fort Lauderdale airport to fly home.

I managed to squeeze in a bit of birding from the airplane while it was taxiing to the runway. Here are a couple of CATTLE EGRETS:

I saw other birds as well, but they were all common ones. When the plane took off, we flew right over Port Everglades and I was afforded great views of our beautiful cruise ship, the Emerald Princess:

We were high in the sky very soon. I savored the tropical geography of the Fort Lauderdale area because when we left the plane, the Chicago climate - announced to be 29 degrees Fahrenheit - brought us the harsh reality of winter in a temperate climate.

One last look at the Emerald Princess before she disappeared behind a cloud and into the distance:

Bird-of-the-day goes to the CATTLE EGRETS at the airport, the only birds I managed to photograph yesterday. Here is the complete, albeit short, avian list for the day:

7 species + 3 other taxa:

Cormorant/Anhinga Sp.
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Turkey Vulture
Bonaparte's Gull
Gull Sp.
Rock Pigeon
Dove Sp.
Fish Crow
Common Grackle

It was a phenomenal trip. In total, I gained 18 life birds. Bird-of-the-trip goes to the male KIRTLAND'S WARBLER seen on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas with the runner-up going to the pair of BROWN BOOBIES photographed along the ship on one of the cruise's days at sea.

Stay tuned! Next Saturday, the day after Christmas, I will be riding the Amtrak train up to my aunt's and uncle's place in western Wisconsin. Then, we will continue even further northward to bird the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota, arguably the best location for winter birding in the world - famous for its winter grouse, finches, owls, and much more!

Good birding!

World Life List: 885 Species (no life birds yesterday)

Posted by skwclar 13:20 Archived in USA Tagged me people animals birds sky planes Comments (1)

Day 5: Eleuthera, Bahamas

semi-overcast 81 °F

On Friday, the Emerald Princess cruise ship made its second and final port of call on Eleuthera Island, the Bahamas. My sister was under the weather, so she stayed aboard the ship with my mom; however, my dad and I took a beautiful hike on the island.

We hiked the three-mile trek to Lighthouse Beach on the tip of Eleuthera Island for two main reasons: one was that Lighthouse Beach is regarded as possibly the most beautiful beach on the island, and the second is that it passes through a known wintering territory of the Kirtland's Warbler, which is arguably the rarest warbler in the world with only about 3,600 individuals in the wild.

The trail passed by many salt ponds (which would be called "salinas" if we were still on Grand Turk. The first one held this BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (in nonbreeding plumage, so no black belly):


Here is the female:

In order to have a greater chance in finding the Kirtland's Warbler, I used the playback method. This method is discouraged by many birders and conservationists due to cases where it can stress the bird. I; however, set rules for myself and used playback ethically. Since this is not the breeding season, using playback would not be detrimental to a bird's reproductive success. Also, I did not overuse this technique as I broadcast this species' recorded song eight times in a row at locations spaced approximately 100 meters or greater apart from each other. Also, if the bird did appear - I set the rule for myself that I would not play the song anymore. I was determined to find this bird!

Then, I came upon a TRICOLORED HERON (right) and what I thought to be a Cattle Egret (left):

My eyes popped out of my head; however, when I inspected the bill pattern of this bird - which I initially thought to be a common Cattle Egret. It turned out; however, to be my life bird REDDISH EGRET, an uncommon species! This bird comes in two forms, the reddish phase which cannot be confused with another species, as well as this white phase which can be distinguished from other egrets by its elegant pink bill with a black tip. This was a lifer for me!

Here is a close-up on the TRICOLORED HERON it was with:

Another heron species was in the vicinity - a GREEN HERON:

Then, I spotted my life bird COMMON GROUND-DOVE foraging on the trail ahead of me. This was the bird I missed as a vagrant at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago a bit over a month ago.

THICK-BILLED VIREOS, yet another life bird for me, were omnipresent along the trail with their scratchy, unique songs:

Another omnipresent sound during the hike was the scratchy pitter-patter of crabs scurrying away from the trail. They were everywhere!

As I put my iPad away after broadcasting the Kirtland's Warbler's song at what must have been the tenth location, I noticed a small passerine (songbird) fly into a nearby shrub. A second later, as I registered its defining characteristics, I immediately knew it was my life bird KIRTLAND'S WARBLER!!!!! This is the rarest warbler in the world and my 3rd favorite bird of 2015, so you could not even imagine my excitement!!!!!

This was a monumental find because this bird is rarely ever found on its wintering grounds - which includes isolated areas on only a few Bahamian Islands. To give you prospective on how rare it is, this bird only breeds in about 14 counties in Michigan and 1 in Wisconsin. At the beginning of this trip, I gave myself a 3 in 10 chance in finding this bird so I was absolutely elated to see it!!!

Here is a BANANAQUIT, a classic Caribbean species that I was finally able to photograph:

LESSER YELLOWLEGS at one of the ponds along the trail:

Here is the pond that was on the opposite side of the trail from the yellowlegs:

We finally made it to Lighthouse Beach after a long and sweaty, but bird-filled, trek there. It was well worth the effort:

The water was as beautiful and clear for swimming as it looks, and even though it was a bit choppy that made it even more fun and I still saw a few fish. While we were there, an OSPREY and an unidentified pelagic species flew by.

The hike on the way back was quieter bird-wise because it was the middle of the day, when birds typically fall quieter to conserve energy in the heat of the day. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, though:

This was a mystery bird for me while on the trail, but I identified it after the fact as my life bird PAINTED BUNTING, a female. Too bad I didn't see the male because his plumage contains all the colors of the rainbow!

View of Lighthouse Bay on the way back:

There was a sign along the trail describing the avifauna one can see on the way, which included the Kirtland's Warbler. Yep, found him!

On the way back, I took a picture of the location where we found the Kirtland's. This photo represents typical habitat one could reasonably expect to find them in during the winter:

Female AMERICAN KESTREL, a type of small falcon:

My second favorite bird of the day was this GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH, a lifer for me and an uncommon species that has a patchy range limited to the Caribbean. It was another target bird of mine for this trip.

Our ship, the Emerald Princess, stayed offshore during this port of call and passengers traveled to and from her and the island via tenders (the ship's life boats). Here is the view of our ship from shore:


RUDDY TURNSTONE, the last bird I saw on the island of Eleuthera:

Finally, here are some scenery photos from the evening. This is the last view of the island of Eleuthera. Bye bye Kirtland's Warbler!

Late afternoon/evening scenery from the ship:

The evening was rather bittersweet as even though we knew it was our last night on the cruise, we still had a fun, relaxing time and savored the experience. It was an awesome final day on the Emerald Princess! Bird-of-the-day, of course, goes to the KIRTLAND'S WARBLER which was my #1 target bird for the entire trip, and runners-up go to the beautiful white-phase REDDISH EGRET as well as the very uncommon GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH, which were other targets for the trip. The full species list is below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 885 Species (9 life birds, see list below)

23 species + 3 other taxa on Friday:

  • indicates a life bird

Pelagic Sp.
Green Heron
Tricolored Heron

  • Reddish Egret (White Phase)

American Kestrel
Black-bellied Plover
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Royal Tern

  • Common Ground-Dove

Dove Sp.

  • Bahama Woodstar
  • Thick-billed Vireo

Gray Catbird

  • Bahama Mockingbird

Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat


Palm Warbler

  • Black-faced Grassquit
  • Greater Antillean Bullfinch
  • Painted Bunting

Passerine Sp.

Posted by skwclar 12:37 Archived in Bahamas Comments (0)

Day 4: At Sea

semi-overcast 79 °F

Thursday was another day at sea; however, the ship increased its cruising speed due to an ill passenger on board and we pulled into our next port of call, Princess Cays, Bahamas, in the evening - even though we would not be let off the ship until the following morning.

It was another relaxing, laid-back day in the Caribbean consisting of lounge chairs, free smoothies, and warm temperatures. I even spotted a life bird for me: a pair of BROWN BOOBIES. I quickly grabbed my camera and raced down from the 15th floor (Lido Deck) to the 7th floor (Promenade Deck) and managed to take one photo of this interesting species. These birds, like any pelagic species, were always in flight when I spotted them and therefore harder to photograph. I noticed that they were hunting flying fish, which were equally impressive as they propelled themselves at least ten feet through the air before submerging back into the water. Here is one of the Brown Boobies:

While photographing the Brown Boobies, I also spotted an unidentified pelagic bird that was flying above the waves very far in the distance.

It was a great day of relaxing in the beautiful weather. I lounged in the reclining chairs on deck, swam a bit, ate whenever I pleased, and enjoyed the laid-back cruise experience. At one point, I spotted this ship which turned out to be the "Oosterdam" (pronounced "Oh-sterdam") which was the first cruise ship my dad was ever on!

Then, the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas came into view which is the island that contains our next port of call (for Friday), Princess Cays:

This is Lighthouse Point, where my dad and I would hike to while at Princess Cays:

A comedy show and movie under stars concluded a fantastic day. I spotted a total of three birds: the pair of BROWN BOOBIES, which was my bird of the day, as well as the far-off unidentified pelagic bird. The "complete" list is attached below. :-)

Good birding,

World Life List: 876 Species (1 life bird: Brown Booby)

1 species + 1 other taxa on Thursday:

  • indicates a life bird
  • Brown Booby

Pelagic Sp.

Posted by skwclar 12:09 Archived in Bahamas Tagged me people animals birds Comments (0)

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