A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: skwclar

Twitch: Short-billed Gull

Randall’s Island, NYC

rain 49 °F


Upon hearing that the vagrant Short-billed Gull (a would-be lifer) had reappeared on Randall’s Island, an island at the confluence of the Harlem & East Rivers between Harlem and Astoria, I knew I had to take advantage of the *exactly two hours* I had between an otherwise insane day of back-to-back coachings.

So, I rushed to my room, grabbed my rain gear (for it was pouring rain outside), and called an uber over to Randall’s.

During large rain events, the East River gull flocks roost on the ball fields and today was no exception. It was my first time birding Randall’s Island to observe this phenomenon. These are all RING-BILLED GULLS and I was looking for a gull of similar or slightly smaller size with smudgy head markings and a short, narrow, uni-colored bill.

Well, the Ring-billeds were a-plenty:

Then, birder Tim Healy shouted “I GOT IT!” so another intrepid birder who was there and I rushed over and sure enough, there was the SHORT-BILLED GULL!!! Based off my description of the bird, can you tell which one it is?

Yep! Lifer #1144, and my first lifer of 2023! (and my first since the October pelagic). This species was recently split from the Common Gull, a very close relative from Europe which I successfully twitched for the first time last year in Connecticut. The Short-billed Gull is from the Pacific Northwest — kinda strange I had never seen it till today.

So I grabbed a few quick photos of my bird-of-the-day:

But after about three minutes had to pack it up since the camera was getting wet in the downpour and I had to head back to a coaching (with the head of the Met Opera Young Artist Program of all people, so you can bet I was warming up on the walk back to the bus stop!).

Next up: Winter pelagic on January the 28th. Stay tuned and find out next!

Bird on,
World Life List: 1144 Species (1 new species today: Short-billed Gull)

Posted by skwclar 05:24 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Twitch: Prairie Falcon

Coles County, IL

semi-overcast 33 °F

This morning, Simon picked me up at 5:30 to head down with his family to Coles County, IL to search for our Illinois lifer Prairie Falcon.

On the way, we did a bit of birding in Champaign while his dad was in a business meeting and misssd our secondary target, Snow Goose, but got point-blank views of a BARRED OWL right alongside the car!

Soon, it flew to a nearby tree in the treeline:

So within an hour, we were down at Coles County criss-crossing the country roads near the Magic Stump, a random stump in the middle of a random cornfield that has hosted overwintering Prairie Falcons (the only in Illinois) for the last ten years!

No falcons yet…

We heard what we thought were Snow Geese overhead, but upon further inspection they turned out to be GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE:

AMERICAN KESTREL female that kept tricking us throughout the day because they are also a falcon species:

A “gray ghost” NORTHERN HARRIER:

Unfortunately, despite a LOT of effort, we dipped on Prairie Falcon. You win some, you lose some — and we had a rollicking good time at that. Stay tuned, on tuesday I return back to NYC for my last semester of my undergrad!

Bird-of-the-day to the Barred Owl with runner-up to the Greater White-fronted Geese.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1143 Species

Posted by skwclar 03:02 Archived in USA Comments (0)

January Big Day: the quest for 75!

Cook County, IL

rain 34 °F

One day. Four young birders. One county. Would we break the record set two years ago (by Steve H and Nathan G) of 74 species? Read on to find out!

At 3:45am, the Tolzmanns and I drove over to a where we met Henry M and started our epic big day adventure at a preserve close to home. We dipped on our hoped-for Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls, but did have a surprise flyover calling HORNED LARK in the pitch black, our first bird of the day, and a RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD calling which was our second.

Then, at another preserve twenty minutes away, we finally picked up our EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS for the day where we recorded a pair of calling birds. Still needing Barred & Great Horned Owls, we headed down to Palos at McClaughry Springs Woods where all was quiet, so we headed to another preserve nearby.

There, we picked up a pair of duetting GREAT HORNED OWLS in the pitch black which continued calling during first light, and soon as the morning slowly peered through the branches of the forest, some songbirds started coming to life including AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, DARK-EYED JUNCO, and AMERICAN ROBIN. We walked down one of the paths we had staked out earlier and were able to clean up some great saves for the day including CAROLINA WREN, EASTERN BLUEBIRD, BROWN CREEPER, and PILEATED WOODPECKER.

After another stop which netted us common birds like AMERICAN TREE SPARROW and flyover RING-BILLED GULL, and two really good songbird catches for the winter — WINTER WREN (ironically) and GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET — we headed to Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center where the highlight was this continuing SHARP-SHINNED HAWK I picked up in a tree one hundred yards away. My first Sharpie in Cook County in a number of years, a bird I do not see all too often!

Next stop was out of Palos: a random Chicago intersection where we immediately picked up twenty EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES:

No hoped-for Red-shouldered Hawk at our next stop but we had AMERICAN CROW:

We missed Canvasback, Pied-billed Grebe, and Black-crowned Night-Heron at Channelside Park but picked up a few nice things like BELTED KINGFISHER:




After a stupidly annoying miss on Marsh Wren, we were at about 40 species which could go either way. If we had great luck on the South Side later today, we would still have a shot at the record — but the stars would pretty much have to align for this to happen and we would have to find a way to fill in some of the gaps on our list. At Northwestern we picked up RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:

HERRING GULL, though none of the rarer hoped-for gulls:

After a moment of despair, we finally found the resident flock of RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH which we knew we wouldn’t get anywhere else:

PEREGRINE FALCON at a northside location was clutch:

Montrose was annoyingly slow apart from the pair of LONG-EARED OWLS which have amazingly stayed in the same place since we saw them last. Things were looking slightly less hopeful after Montrose was so dead (we had hoped for Gulls, maybe Pied-billed Grebe, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Towhee — got none of those):

Thankfully, the resident wild ducks that associate with the banded captive ducks at Lincoln Park Zoo came through including WOOD and this AMERICAN BLACK DUCK:

Doesn’t count for the species list but a lifer hybrid for me: MALLARD X AMERICAN WIGEON (female):

GREEN-WINGED TEAL, our only of the day:

I was thrilled to spot another target for the day — a pair of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS which were another species we only got here today!

Despite some worrying precipitation, the downtown lakefront provided a number of nice pickups for the day like REDHEAD:

I was relieved to pick out this Thayer’s ICELAND GULL (note the dark eye) from the more common Herrings:


A brief scan at Jackson Park got us our only CANVASBACK of the day, a great spot by Simon pictured here with more Scaup:

And a BUFFLEHEAD I spotted:

Two southside parks were extremely unproductive (missing Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Ring-necked Duck, and others) with only stuff like repeat RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:

And more Redhead:

But the continuing CACKLING GEESE (note the smaller, stubbier bills than the surrounded CANADAS) showed well at Calumet Park, another important find for the day as they were are only of the day:

Another great pick-up was three MONK PARAKEET pictured here with EUROPEAN STARLINGS. Things were starting to look up as we were at about sixty species by now. The record was within reach!

We dipped on Trumpeter Swan but picked up COOPER’S HAWK and these GADWALL in Calumet:

Big Marsh was one of our most important stops which put us in reach of the record. AMERICAN GOLDFINCH:


We picked up FOX, SWAMP, SONG, & WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS here and Simon’s best spot of the day on the way out was this flyover dark-morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, a very hard county bird and my Cook lifer! This put us at 72 species for the day, tantalizingly close to the record of 74 (75 to break).

The route the GPS took us on to our next stop took as by Harborside Golfcourse which we thought was closed (because we called earlier), but it was OPEN miraculously, and we were ahead of schedule, so we went in in hopes of Northern Mockingbird, Mute Swan, Pied-billed Grebe, and Ring-necked Duck. And we were NOT disappointed!! NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD showed amazingly well, our 73rd bird of the day, one shy of tying the record.


The other guys photographing the Mockingbird:

Then, after scanning Lake Calumet, I saw a white blob two miles away on this huge lake and shouted, “MUTE FUCKING SWAN! MUTE FUCKING SWAN!!!!!!!!” And with that, we had tied the record!!! 74 species and one more to break!

There were a handful of possibilities to break the record at the Bend of the Little Calumet River such as Ring-necked Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Surf Scoter, Double-crested Cormorant…so when Peter and I sprinted across 130th, we waited for Simon and Henry M to cross before starting to scan.

And Peter spotted our tie-breaking bird, #75, the PIED-BILLED GREBE! This diminutive bird netted us the Cook County January big day record, a title I nearly missed in 2021 so this was sweet redemption.

AWESOME!!!!! We were thrilled.

Posing with our record breaker. Simon, me, Peter, and Henry M.

Unfortunately, we dipped on Short-eared Owl later, but we DID get a BARRED OWL hooting in the southern part of the county which was our #76 and last bird for the day! We were even able to record it calling. So awesome, and this wrapped up our day at a reasonable 6:00pm.

So, I was home by 7:45 and enjoyed some celebratory, homemade green tea ice cream. Yum!

Bird-of-the-day to our record-breaking PIED-BILLED GREBE with runners-up to all the important pick-up birds we only got once during the day and were therefore essential to our route & record: SHARP-SHINNED & ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, EASTERN SCREECH, GREAT HORNED, BARRED, & LONG-EARED OWLS, CANVASBACK, CACKLING GOOSE, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, and ICELAND & LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS. Lots of great pick-ups that with slightly a different execution of timing or route could have been missed and lost us the record. What a PHENOMENAL big day!!!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1143 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:53 Archived in USA Comments (1)

New Year Birds!

Cook County, IL

semi-overcast 46 °F


My friends Simon and Peter T wanted to start off the year right with a solid Cook County list of year birds! So, I joined them for the afternoon and we birded the Palos and Bartel region of Illinois.

We started off at Maple Lake where my first photo of the year was of this male RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (though my first bird of the year earlier in the day was a singing NORTHERN CARDINAL!).

This Coyote gave amazing point-blank views feasting on peanuts somebody had spread out in the back parking lot (which is now closed due to some idiot hand-feeding the Coyote hot dogs later that day)

Here is Simon — showing how close this animal was.

Another Cardinal — had to take a photo since it was my first bird ID this year!

And the obligatory “backyard birder” shot of the Cardinal and BLUE JAY together:

TUFTED TITMOUSE is a common bird across the eastern US but a good one for Cook County, so we were happy to get good views today.



At our next stop, Cap Sauer Holding, we had a great bird for the winter: BROWN CREEPER:

And later after a quick bite to eat, we picked up our last target for the day: a distant SHORT-EARED OWL at Killdeer Wetlands which will be my bird-of-the-day since I ended last year with owl sightings and began this year with the same!!

STAY TUNED: my next post will cover Simon, Peter, Henry M, and my attempt at breaking the Cook County January big day record!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1143 Species

Posted by skwclar 03:17 Archived in USA Comments (0)


all seasons in one day

Man, it feels like just yesterday I was writing the recap and compiling data for 2021. This past year turned out to be a whirlwind of a year and it absolutely, without a doubt, flew by wayyyy faster for me than any other year of my entire life.

Somehow, between the cracks of an ever-more-intense musical schedule I am pursuing, I managed to still maintain birding as an important pillar of my life. For the first half of the year, photos are stored my flashdrive which I’m honestly too lazy to open just for a recap post, so I will link blog posts for my first-half highlights, followed by photos from this fall. Hope you enjoy this annual recap of a “year in birding.”

2022 LIFERS (18 in total bringing my life list up to 1143 species)
February 2: Slaty-backed Gull, Central Park Reservoir, New York, NY
February 12: Common Gull, Cummings Park, Stamford, CT
April 13: Mottled Duck, Ketchum Creek, Copiague, NY
May 12: Bicknell’s Thrush, Central Park North Woods, New York, NY
May 24: Black Rail, North Dunes Nature Preserve, Winthrop Harbor, IL
June 7: Eurasian Hoopoe, Chateau Juandis, Bergerac, France
June 7: Willow Warbler, Chateau Juandis, Bergerac, France
June 7: Cirl Bunting, Chateau Juandis, Bergerac, France
June 7: Eurasian Green Woodpecker, Chateau Juandis, Bergerac, France
June 8: Red Kite, Chateau Juandis, Bergerac, France
June 11: Cetti’s Warbler, Villereal, France
June 11: Short-toed Treecreeper, Villereal, France
June 14: Black-winged Kite, Villereal, France
August 18: Pygmy Nuthatch, Schoolhouse Gulch Trail, Garden Valley, ID
October 17: Black-capped Petrel, Atlantic Ocean, NY
October 17: Pomarine Jaeger, Atlantic Ocean, NY
October 17: Audubon’s Shearwater, Atlantic Ocean, NY
October 17: Bermuda Petrel, Atlantic Ocean, NY

2022 RECAP—

January was slow for me, but things really started to pick up in february with my lifer Slaty-backed Gull in Central Park:https://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/909/

Beautiful, incredible sunset views of a Snowy Owl out on Long Island:

And my lifer Common Gull in Connecticut:

March brought a taste of Spotted Salamander migration to New Jersey which was cool to experience:

And the arrival of warblers to NYC in April is always a magical sight.

Central Park was great this spring with a photographed Chuck-will’s-widow.

As well as a lifer Bicknell’s Thrush was absolutely sick.

A few herp lifers up in the Hudson Valley in mid-May were crazy cool, highlighted by a stunning adult Timber Rattlesnake, as well as several cooperative warblers.

Back home, getting my lifer Black Rail (even if heard-only) was mind-blowing.

Summer festivals in DC and France brought fantastic musical opportunities, and of course a few lifers in France!

July was slower bird-wise but punctuated by a fantastic morning of breeding bird monitoring with a new friend, Alejandra.

My annual Idaho trip in August was a grand success, especially picking up a lifer in the form of twelve Pygmy Nuthatches with Poo and Nubs!

And picking up Spruce Grouse and a bunch of other goodies with Kathleen.

September 1 brought an amazing bird walk with point-blank views of a Black-billed Cuckoo for all participants.

Two amazing days of birding in October included the Queens Big Sit with over 90 species from Fort Tilden—

And the New York pelagic where we picked up a NY state first record and my lifer Bermuda Petrel, probably the rarest bird I have ever seen.

Amazing numbers of Great Shearwater on that trip, too:

My November highlights included a trip to Fisher’s Island with my friend Will. Our avian highlight was a clutch vagrant (for the date) Summer Tanager:

And during Thanksgiving break, I picked up my Illinois Rufous Hummingbird — the rarest bird I’ve seen in Oak Park to date!

Finally, the tail end to the year brought an incredible trip up to the Sax-Zim Bog with Bruce, Susie, and Kim highlighted by one Great Gray Owl for all three days, Boreal Chickadee, a Porcupine, and a lot of other neat wildlife!

Bird-of-the-year, hands-down, goes to the Bermuda Petrel which I can’t stress enough is probably the rarest and one of the most excitement-inducing sightings I’ve had to date. It more than made up for several dry spells I had in 2022 in regards to birding. What a mind-blowing experience to be on that one lucky pelagic trip. Runner-up has to honestly go to my lifer Pygmy Nuthatches which aren’t rare for where we found them, but were made special because it was a whole flock of them that surrounded us in the woods, and I got that lifer with very dear friends — Nubs and Poo.

And with that, we are into 2023, and as always, we bird on!! A few lifers I would love to pick up this year include Short-billed Gull, Atlantic Puffin, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Roseate Tern, Pinyon Jay, Himalayan Snowcock, and several alpine European species (I will be spending a month singing in Europe this summer, details TBA!).

Happy birding!
World Life List: 1143 Species (18 life birds this year)

Posted by skwclar 18:33 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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