A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: skwclar

A (Pink-footed) Wild Goose Chase

New Haven, Connecticut

semi-overcast 43 °F

As promised, today I took the Metro-North Railroad into Connecticut (a new state for me!) to chase a Pink-footed Goose that has been frequenting the area around the town of Orange, CT recently. If found, this goose would be a lifer for me! Unlike yesterday’s blizzard, it was a beautiful day to be out and about. The train ride into Connecticut included many river crossings:
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After the train and a quick uber ride, the driver (who drove a beautiful Tesla!) dropped me off in the middle of the beautiful Connecticut countryside at a place called “Treat Farm” where the goose was seen yesterday.
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Not a single goose was around. So, I decided to make the 45-minute trek along country roads to Lake Wanatauk, the other location where the goose has been fairly reliable for the past few weeks. Along the way, I saw more idyllic countryside, met a couple who pointed me in the right direction, and had a few common rural-area birds like CAROLINA WREN:
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And WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH:
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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TUFTED TITMOUSE, a species that has been weirdly conspicuously absent from Manhattan this winter. Hopefully, the reason is a strong seed crop in other parts of their range!
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DARK-EYED JUNCOS, another “winter bird” that is oddly scarce in Manhattan.
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NORTHERN FLICKER, my first of the year:
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HERMIT THRUSH, nice! Perhaps the most uncommon landbird today as Connecticut marks the far northern tip of their winter range.
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MOURNING DOVE:
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Then, I arrived at the lake where there must have been upwards of 1,500 Canada Geese roosting at the far end. This picture gives a view of what I had to scope out:
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Almost immediately, I picked out two strange geese in the middle of the flock: the left bird with its hefty bill is a textbook SNOW GOOSE while the bird on the right is an enigma. It has the extremely stubby bill of a Ross’ Goose, but lacks the clean white head that a dark-morph Ross’ Goose must have. In addition, the outer wing feathers appear to be white in coloration, reminiscent of a blue-morph Snow Goose, so I would say that this is almost definitely the SNOW X ROSS’ GOOSE hybrid that has also been noted to have been hanging out with the flock recently. What a cool bird!
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It wasn’t my target Pink-footed though. I kept scanning; a few MALLARDS and a NORTHERN SHOVELER (center) were mixed in with the geese. Looking for this Pink-footed Goose was turning out to be quite the “needle-in-a-haystack” situation!
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AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS with the geese.
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GREAT BLUE HERON presiding over the flock.
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This MUTE SWAN stuck out noticeably.
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And I will always marvel at the beauty of a handsome RING-NECKED DUCK.
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An inquisitive SONG SPARROW popped up in response to some “spishing.”
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And HOODED MERGANSERS were a delight to see, diving and displaying for the female birds with their namesake hoods.
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This PIED-BILLED GREBE was a nice surprise:
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I birded part of the time with a couple named Stacy & Heidi, and they graciously offered me a ride back to the Metro-North. Thanks a million! Unfortunately, neither I nor any birder I talked to today had seen the Pink-footed Goose — huge bummer! This would have been a great lifer, but as I noted in yesterday’s post, part of being a birder is acknowledging and accepting the fact that there will be misses. They leave something for next time!

Bird-of-the-day to that hybrid goose with runner-up to the SNOW GOOSE. No awards for the missing Pink-footed!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 15:37 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Brooklyn Blizzard Birding

NYC

snow 35 °F

After an excellent voice lesson this morning, I took the 1, 2, and Q trains to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn again to try again for the Razorbill and Harlequin Duck, which were seen yet again by others this morning (in addition to the Iceland Gull. I was really hoping to see them since I had tried and dipped on them last time. The nice thing about birding adventures via subway is that it only costs $5.50 round-trip: a solid deal for seeing quality birds! The one downside is that it was snowing so I had to use my camera with special care today. As soon as I arrived at Sheepshead Bay, it was obvious that I was birding in a blizzard but it was also obvious that my ICELAND GULL had stuck around! Talk about a “white gull in a snowstorm!”
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Due to the snow I had to be more conservative with my photography, but I did manage a few decent shots including the abundant LESSER SCAUP:
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And those gorgeous BUFFLEHEAD and their antics:
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COMMON LOON:
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A pair of NORTHERN SHOVELERS were new appearances from last time’s visit:
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And finally after a good deal of walking around the perimeter of the bay, in flew the one-and-only HARLEQUIN DUCK! It was instantly recognizable and gave close, wonderful views despite the snow. As if it was posing for me!
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I had no luck finding any Razorbills in the bay, so I trekked through an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood to Manhattan Beach Park where I was hoping to possibly pick them up through sea watching. Birds were evident, including a nice surprise: immature NORTHERN GANNET, my first for Brooklyn!
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COMMON GOLDENEYE:
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Distant RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, distinctive with its spiky hairstyle even at a distance:
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Perhaps the most surprising sighting here was of a man who stripped down to shorts to go for a freezing swim! Wow — I’m impressed!
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Despite a thorough effort, no Razorbills were found here either. Next, it was off to Brooklyn Bridge Park to check for the vagrant female Painted Bunting which has been hanging around pier 5 for the last few weeks. I searched and searched for this rarity, spishing often and even tag-teaming with a friendly birder named Catherine at one point — but to no avail. At least two slightly more uncommon sparrow species were present, a couple of SWAMP & this FIELD SPARROW.
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Maybe the bunting will stick around since it has already made such an extended stay, and I will definitely get a shot at Razorbills in coastal Brooklyn in the future so I am not concerned about that species. Part of birding is rejoicing over the successes, but another crucial part is powering through the misfortunes (such as missing the Painted Bunting, etc) — a lesson that can be applied to many situations outside of birding, as well. Bird-of-the-day to the Harlequin Duck with runners-up to the Iceland Gull & Northern Gannet, all quality birds for NYC!

Tomorrow, as long as the eBird reports from today are positive, my birding adventures take me to New Haven, Connecticut to chase my life bird Pink-footed Goose. STAY TUNED!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Sheepshead Bay

Brooklyn, NYC

all seasons in one day 43 °F

After classes today I ventured out birding for the first time since my return to New York from Patagonia! My route took me to the Sheapshead Bay area of Brooklyn where I had a few target birds in mind: Harlequin Duck, Black-headed & Iceland Gulls, and Razorbill, all of which are uncommon to very uncommon winter visitors/vagrants to the city and have been seen in the area yesterday (with the Iceland Gull continuing earlier today). The duck would be a state bird for me; the gulls would be new birds for my NYC list, the Razorbill would be a new bird for my Brooklyn list, and all of them would be year birds for me! My hopes were high to say the least. Where do I research all of the recent sightings? I am constantly checking the Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, & Bronx Bird Alerts on twitter, as well as eBird county rare bird alerts for all nearby counties, and the New York Rare Birds online forum.

After a trek across the city on the 1, 2, Q, and B trains, I walked about three blocks and arrived at Sheapshead Bay, a location I hadn’t birded prior to today.

Immediately, I noticed a huge abundance of ducks and gulls, both on and over the sheltered western end of Sheapshead Bay. RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:
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MUTE SWAN:
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After scanning through some thousands of RING-BILLED, HERRING, & GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS, I found one of my target birds: the ICELAND GULL which was a dead give-away in terms of ID due to its striking solid white plumage (lacking black wingtips) with uniform light speckling, making this a first-cycle bird.
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LESSER SCAUP proliferated:
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A birder let me know a GREATER SCAUP was also mixed in with a flock a little further along the Emmons Ave shoreline so I walked there and picked it out. One common birder misstep is to I.D. male Greater Scaup solely based off the green sheen on the head. This is absolutely false! Lessers tend to show an iridescent mix of both purple and green on the head, meaning if this is the one “clinching” characteristic, a Lesser at the perfect angle could be misidentified as a Greater. This can and does happen often, so here is how you differentiate the two (among male birds): to have a Greater, the bird must qualify in both of the following characteristics — a very clear, straight-line differentiation between the more striated upper wing and the pale sides of the bird (when sitting down) as well as a peak to the head that is clearly toward the front of the head which can give the Greater’s head more of a rounded appearance than the Lesser’s. These characteristics can be seen here in the single bird I had today:
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COMMON LOONS put on a show today:
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AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS:
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This interesting bird mainly resembles an American Black, but has some characteristic iridescent green of its more abundant cousin, making this most likely an AMERICAN BLACK X MALLARD hybrid, or some sort of backcross between the two species.
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At point, someone started chumming (throwing chunks of bread into the water), creating a spectacular feeding (and pooping) frenzy:
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The resident raft of LESSER SCAUPS with RING-BILLED GULLS:
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Although I failed to find any of my target birds other than the Iceland Gull, I took advantage of the evening to try to photograph one of my favorite waterfowl species: the one-and-only BUFFLEHEAD!
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The sunset made the clouds above the bay look absolutely gorgeous. Then I called it a day and headed back to the Manhattan School of Music via subway.
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Bird-of-the-day to the Iceland Gull, with runner-up to the Greater Scaup! 2020 has been off to a great start so far!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

More Patagonia Photos

Torres del Paine National Park

all seasons in one day

And as promised, here is the post with all of the bird & wildlife photos from Torres del Paine National Park that I couldn’t previously post due to a lack of working Chilean adapters for my camera battery. Let’s start with the common birds from Day 1 of the park: juvenile AUSTRAL THRUSH
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SOUTHERN LAPWING:
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MAGELLANIC OYSTERCATCHER:
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Female AUSTRAL NEGRITO:
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Juvenile GREAT GREBE, awesome-looking!
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FIRE-EYED DIUCON:
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Day 2–
DARK-BELLIED CINCLODES:
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AUSTRAL PARAKEET:
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STRIPED WOODPECKER, hard to find here!
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BLACK-CHINNED SISKIN:
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TORRENT DUCK, my favorite bird in the park!!!! Super uncommon and local species, and just an awesome-looking bird in general! Also very fast moving — difficult for photography.
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Day 3–
WHITE-CRESTED ELAENIA showing off!
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BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD-EAGLE:
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CINEROUS HARRIER hunting:
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EARED DOVE:
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LONG-TAILED MEADOWLARK:
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SPECTACLED DUCK, life bird!!
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SOUTH AMERICAN TERN:
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RED-GARTERED COOT:
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LAKE DUCK, life bird!
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UPLAND GOOSE:
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Juvenile RUFUOS-COLLARED SPARROW:
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Guanaco:
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BLACK-NECKED & COSCOROBA SWANS:
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CHILOE WIGEONS:
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LESSER RHEA:
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MOURNING SIERRA-FINCH, life bird:
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Amazing lamb tongue salad at the Estancia Tercera Barranca.
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The moon, incredibly large in the sky here in Patagonia:
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Gray Fox:
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Day 4–
SCALE-THROATED EARTHCREEPER, life bird:
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ANDEAN CONDOR:
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BROWN-HOODED GULL:
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RED SHOVELERS:
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GRAY-HOODED SIERRA-FINCH:
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CHILEAN FLAMINGO with BLACK-NECKED SWANS:
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RUFOUS-TAILED PLANTCUTTER, a life bird:
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FLYING STEAMER-DUCK:
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ASHY-HEADED GOOSE:
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Day 5–
gigantic European Hare, an introduced species here:
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PATAGONIAN SIERRA-FINCH:
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All the rest of the photos from the trip have been included in previous posts, available for viewing either by scrolling down or clicking links to them in the panel to the right. Hope you enjoyed!!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 16:16 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

Day 24: Last day in South America!

semi-overcast 54 °F

In addition to battling a cold and recovering from an incredibly steep hike, LATAM Airlines threw us a “unique” turn of events last night: my flight to Santiago had been pushed back by almost 90 minutes, resulting in an impossibly tight connection for my connecting flight to Houston. So instead of calling LATAM and demanding a rebooking onto the earlier flight, my Mom just bit the bullet and bought me a ticket on the early flight since we didn’t have time to negotiate with the airline via phone. Thanks, Mom! Side note: LATAM Airlines has been problematic: as well as this annoying change in schedule, the flight attendants didn’t offer water or other drinks on every flight I have been on with them — ridiculous!

Also, I figured out that my two “mystery birds” from last post were Fire-eyed Diucon and these DARK-FACED GROUND-TYRANTS. Bummer: I had seen these species before. But the flip side is that I was able to upload some of my photos from my camera so I have photos from both yesterday & today for this post!
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THORN-TAILED RAYADITO from yesterday. You can see it is appropriately named!
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So today, we were back in the car headed for Punta Arenas by 9am. Luckily, we ended up padding enough time onto our travels to make some birding stops along the way! Closer to Punta Arenas, we stopped at what we now call the “Flamingo pond” as all four times we have passed this pond, it has been populated with these elegant CHILEAN FLAMINGOES. Never take a flamingo for granted!
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Young Upland Goose? Or is this an Ashy-headed?
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RED SHOVELERS & SILVER TEAL were present:
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And the striking TWO-BANDED PLOVER!!
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Like usual, many WILSON’S PHALAROPES were present, swirling about to disturb aquatic bugs:
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WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS:
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Look-alike BAIRD’S SANDPIPER — distinguished from the White-rumped by completely clean underparts. Bird identification is all about the details.
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COSCOROBA:
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A nice plethora of waterbirds, a typical view at this pond: UPLAND GEESE, COSCOROBA, CHILEAN FLAMINGOES, and sandpipers.
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LESSER RHEA — a common sight on the Patagonian Steppe that never fails to disappoint.
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Before I knew it, it was time to bid farewell to my mom and my sister, and to Patagonia. As usual, my mom cried.
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They will fly out tomorrow to spend a week’s time in the Lakes District of Chile, while I am currently on my Punta Arenas - Santiago - Houston - Newark journey. I was booked in seat 34C on the flight to Santiago, but upon the door’s closing, I upgraded myself to 29A: a window seat in an empty row. Not to worry, this is a common sight on this airline — a flight attendant even winked at me for doing so, hahahaha!
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Bird-of-the-day to the lovely Two-banded Plover and runner-up to all those Chilean Flamingoes, whom I will surely miss back in snowy New York.
Bird-of-the-trip is a tie, I just can’t make up my mind: Sooty Albatross, Snowy Sheathbill, Andean Condor, Magellanic Woodpecker, and Torrent Duck are all up there. I am so blessed — huge thanks to my parents for this epic opportunity, to Pearl for being the sassiest, funniest sister out there, and to my birding friends who helped me so much on this trip: Aidan, Dermot, Joe, Jim, Billy, Tom, Esteban, and Jürgen.

So that is it for my travels to Antarctica and Patagonia. I am posting this from the Santiago airport! Time for a new semester at the Manhattan School of Music to begin, but you know that my crazy birding adventures never stop! I may or may not be going on a day pelagic trip out of Queens in February — I’ll keep you updated. Until next time, South America! (next time hopefully will be Colombia, Ecuador, or Peru ;)

Please note: one more post with additional photos from Torres del Paine is headed your way!

Good birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1108 Species (138 life birds on this trip)

Posted by skwclar 16:09 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

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