A Travellerspoint blog

Chautauqua Ramblings

Chautauqua, NY

semi-overcast 79 °F

Recently, I dedicated two separate half-days to birding (and a touch of herping as per usual).

A few weeks ago I walked one of my usual circuits outside of the Chautauqua grounds and found a few common birds like EASTERN KINGBIRD:
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GRAY CATBIRD:
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Immature EASTERN BLUEBIRD:
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The nearby golf course had a lot of other animals including this black Eastern Gray Squirrel:
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Groundhog, which are exceptionally common around here:
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And a creepy-looking fox replica, reminding me I must finish memorizing my role in the opera, The Cunning Little Vixen!
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American Bullfrog, distinguished from the similar Green Frog by the lack of dorsolateral folds:
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On the way back from the golf course I discovered an unsettling sight: a swath of a woodland patch had been freshly bulldozed with a fawn White-tailed Deer was present, mourning the loss of its home. As I grow older, I like humans less and less and all other animals more and more.
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Everybody’s gotta go!
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Further evidence of the devastation of vital habitat was this Raccoon mama and pup walking up a rivulet that traverses the bulldozed area. Even the smallest patches of woodland, wetland, and other natural areas are crucial to the survival of native species and provide needed areas of refuge for our resident fauna.
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It was a nice outing nevertheless. When I was back I wanted to test out the macro-photography abilities of my iPhone and was decently satisfied with this photograph of an Attulus-genus jumping spider sp. Kind of cute.
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So, my next outing was yesterday with a new friend, Alejandra L, who is a local breeding bird atlas surveyor. She graciously allowed me to tag along on one of her surveys on the other side of Lake Chautauqua and picked me up at 5:30am outside the Chautauqua gate. The pre-sunrise on the way was beautiful:
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Once we arrived at our survey area, a rural area with interspersed ravines, woodlands, pasture, and agricultural fields, we quickly began birding after a quick bug-spray and almost immediately found evidence of breeding birds. Our first piece of evidence came in the form of this juvenile COMMON YELLOWTHROAT:
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Which was fed by a parent. Evidence of breeding includes: copulation, feeding juveniles, juvenile/immature birds present, carrying nesting material or food, and observing a nest, among other things. Birds singing on territory or pairs defending a territory suggests, but does not confirm breeding — so the goal for these surveys is specific in that specifically confirming the breeding of as many species as possible is paramount. Alejandra has managed to confirm over 100 species breeding in her New York atlas blocks so far this summer which is quite a feat, accomplished only by many diligent field hours.
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Great to see this clean LEAST FLYCATCHER:
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FIELD SPARROW:
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Male DARK-EYED JUNCO — so interesting to me these are a breeding species locally!
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And an ALDER FLYCATCHER, confirmed by its singing! Another species I love to see on its breeding grounds as these don’t breed anywhere near Chicago or NY.
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KILLDEER:
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GRAY CATBIRD — breeding confirmed by carrying food:
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And breeding confirmed for RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD with this immature:
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Male EASTERN TOWHEE:
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AMERICAN GOLDFINCH:
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SONG SPARROW with a photobomber, can you identify the intruder?
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Good job! Nonbreeding CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER!
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And thankfully there was a kind man named Jim who let us onto his awesome property that included a grassland with BOBOLINKS, including a few juveniles — meaning breeding confirmed for this uncommon and local species! Super cool!!
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On the way out I found a carpet that seemed to be matted down specifically for snakes, and lo and behold, underneath there was a total of FIFTEEN snakes — DeKay’s Brown and many Common Garters, as are pictured here:
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And a link to a quick youtube video of the two of us reveling in our serpentine finds:
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Absolutely awesome! Definitely the highlight of both of days, despite seeing some great birds. It was a record flip for the both of us, and Alejandra has done her fair share of herping, too!

Male RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD:
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BARN SWALLOWS:
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An Immature PURPLE FINCH, another wonderful more northerly-oriented species to confirm for the breeding bird atlas!
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CEDAR WAXWING:
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EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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A fantastic morning of summer birding thanks to a wonderful new friend, Alejandra! Meeting other great people in this field certainly gives me hope for humanity even after seeing habitat torn up like that which I was bemoaning earlier.

Bird-of-the-day to the Bobolinks with runner-up to an unphotographed BLUE-WINGED WARBLER observed at the end of the walk. A very solid 62 species for the morning, decent for mid-July! Stay tuned — Alejandra and I hope to bird together once more before my time here in Chautauqua ends on August 13.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 00:21 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Hiking around Chautauqua

Chautauqua, NY

semi-overcast 79 °F

Yesterday I set out on a long loop hike which took me through the Chautauqua Institution, the golf course, the woods, up by an cell tower, and back. I saw a good amount of wildlife despite venturing out in the heat of the afternoon and managed to amazingly only pick up a single tick! Was expecting more due to the thick habitat I traversed.

There was one of the resident MERLINS waiting for me right outside of the dormitory — awesome that they nest around here:
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I then headed to one of the nearby Ravines which is known to have Slimy & Red-backed Salamanders, and within a few flips, I had this lead-backed phase of an Eastern Red-backed Salamander. This phase is more common than the red phase around here, I think, though both can be found.
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As well as a tiny little Northern Slimy Salamander which I was happy to photograph since the two I had here last summer got away from me!
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There were plenty of CANADA GEESE groups out on the golf course, as to be expected.
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And a fawn in the woods with parents nearby:
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An adult and a juvenile female HAIRY WOODPECKER, as evidenced by her incessant begging:
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And its smaller cousin, the DOWNY:
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At a tiny seep in the woods I managed to find a Dusky (Desmog) Salamander sp and I have it narrowed down to Northern or Allegheny Mountain Dusky. The former would be more likely as the latter tend to have scalloped back patterning, but both species can be extremely variable. Anybody on here have insight into Desmog salamander ID? Niche, I know.
EDIT: This is a Northern Dusky, thanks to Simon for the ID due to its laterally-compressed tail shape.
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There were plenty of Green Frogs around in weird places today. I think it’s been a drought around here so these frogs are searching for even the tiniest possible wet patches in which to reside. I hope it starts raining more for these poor amphibians — even the Dusky Salamander was found in the smallest of seeps.
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The resident pair of OSPREY at the nearby cell tower was there, as usual:
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As well as a SONG SPARROW carrying food:
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The most frustrating event of the day happened when I lifted a piece of cover and my lifer Red-bellied Snake escaped into the tall grasses before I could catch it for photos. Dang! This has been a species that has constantly eluded me so to have one escape like this slightly soured the mood for the day.

Anyway, it was still a great hike with bird-of-the-day going to the Merlin and runner-up to the Ospreys! Raptors sweep the awards!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:02 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Back to Chautauqua!

Chautauqua, NY

all seasons in one day 79 °F

Last saturday I finally made it back to Chautauqua, NY as a young artist with the Opera Conservatory program.

A few days ago I went exploring the woods out behind the Chautauqua Cemetery (in the daytime, mind you!) and found a beautifully tranquil stream to bird and herp.
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Soon, I snapped a quick photo of a male CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER; however, right after, the last remaining battery on my camera died. The thing is, since I electrocuted the château back in France with my faulty adapter for the camera charger, I was not able to charge the camera there. Furthermore, I had packed my camera charger in my checked bag which was subsequently lost by Air France (again!) on my way back from Europe. As a result, it had been almost two weeks since I was able to charge my camera.
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Unfortunately, of course that was right when my favorite warbler, a HOODED, zoomed right in to my pishing. At least it came close enough for an identifiable iPhone photo!
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To my delight, I found the stream to be inhabited by a sizable population of Northern Two-lined Salamanders, a species that was a lifer for me just last month (also in NY state)! This was a nice bright adult individual:
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I also observed the juvenile, gilled form (released after a quick photo):
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There were plenty of Green Frogs to be had, as well as this nice warty American Toad. Maybe the toad means there are Hognose snakes around? Fingers crossed.
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It was a nice excursion. Bird-of-the-day for monday goes to the Hooded with runner-up to the Chestnut-sided Warbler; it is always great to see these species on their breeding grounds and it is amazing to see them (as well as all the amphibians!) hanging on in the fragmented slivers of woodland remaining in the Chautauqua area.

Just yesterday we had our annual Sing-in — it was wonderful to finally hear our full group of 37 singers performing anything from Handel da capos to musical theater classics. I sang a Mahler lied titled “In diesem Wetter.” Thanks for the photo, Anna Maria!
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The boys after a successful sing-in:
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And today finally my tardy suitcase arrived! The driver told me he has delivered lost baggage to Bellinger Residence Hall at Chautauqua in the past.
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And right outside Bellinger, a MERLIN was perched up in a nearby conifer! Super cool — I have been seeing it around a lot these days so I suspect it is nesting nearby. According to a local ornithologist, they are becoming increasingly-common nesters in western New York! Super cool to see this woodland species adapting to more suburban-like habitats. It will serve as my bird-of-the-day for today, despite the crappy iPhone pic!
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Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 00:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

“C’est fini!”

Périgord, France

all seasons in one day 105 °F

The last week of my program in France contained five performances meaning that birding opportunities were, for the most part, limited.

On June 16, I was trying to track down a calling GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER when one flew right on overhead:
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This GREAT TIT was nearby too:
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Happy singers after a successful concert! It was hot — 105F to be precise — and without AC, our nights were a little brutal trying our best to be well-rested for these concerts.
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The beautiful village of Montpaisier.
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Later that evening, some girls complained there was a bug in the bathroom and what do I find in there but a beautiful moth! How could you be scared of this?
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Another day and another concert, this time at a beautiful, 15th-century Abbey!
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Here we are posing at the Abbey with the sweet director, Glenn Morton.
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Rain on sunday broke the insanely hot weather.
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Another RED KITE made a beautiful pass over the pool:
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And an EURASIAN KESTREL hovered nearby, on the hunt:
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This EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE would always perch on this railing by the pool as its nest was nearby.
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COMMON WOODPIGEON flyover:
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Monday brought a beautiful sunset.
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On tuesday we all had an excursion to the town of Bergerac in the afternoon. I had had my fill of shopping last week so I ventured off by myself, birding the riverfront. I started off with this BANK SWALLOW at its nesting site on a bridge over the river:
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The river itself!
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A few BLACK KITES in aerial combat:
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COMMON WOODPIGEON:
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Juvenile EUROPEAN SERIN, my bird-of-the-day:
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A very cooperative GREAT TIT:
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And an EURASIAN WREN, nearly identical in song and appearance to our Winter & Pacific Wrens. Eurasians seem more adaptable in habitat, though.
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I was stoked to see this LONG-TAILED TIT, a bird I had only seen once before at the London Wetlands with my dad in 2014.
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Male COMMON BLACKBIRD:
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I had to swap out my camera battery in order to get a photo of this EURASIAN MAGPIE and I just barely accomplished it before it flew off:
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BLUE TIT:
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EURASIAN TREE SPARROW:
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Of course I had to reward myself with Gelato after the two-hour walk in the afternoon heat:
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Another walk closer to home in the evening made for cool photo ops of the local graveyard.
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Bird-of-the-day for sure to the European Serin!

Our final concert of the week, right at our Château, was a wonderful way to wrap up an enjoyable 2+ weeks of studying French operatic repertoire.
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We were treated to a most stunning sunset afterward during “aperitifs.”
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And a multi-course dinner featuring lobster, duck, and fruit tart with chocolate and infused Sichuan pepper. Absolutely incredible.
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On thursday, I was up bright and early for Glenn to drive me to the train station so I had to snap one last pool pic.
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And after a long travel day involving a van, train, bus, and 3 flights, I was back in Chicago! I ended up coming 1 species short of my goal of 1140 on my life list by the end of my France trip.
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And back home to the elderly 14.5 y.o. Daisy!
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More to come! My next adventure has already started as of the posting of this — I will reprise my annual 7-week opera residency at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. I will be singing the role of the Forester in Janacek’s opera “The Cunning Little Vixen” with orchestra which I am stoked about because this role perfectly fits my voice. This period of the summer never features frequent birding, though I will still write from time to time. Then, it is off to Idaho in mid-August!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Lifers on my trip to France: Eurasian Hoopoe, Willow, Melodious, & Cetti’s Warblers, Cirl Bunting, Eurasian Green Woodpecker, Red & Black-winged Kites, Short-toed Treecreeper

Posted by skwclar 15:29 Archived in France Comments (3)

June 11-14: more lifers!

Villereal, France

sunny 98 °F

JUNE 11-14 — still very behind in posting due to a crazy performance/music preparation schedule.

With the vocal program, Classic Lyric Arts, in full swing, I was birding a bit less yet of course still having some sightings. Unfortunately, manual focus also was accidentally jammed into place so it took a few days before I could properly troubleshoot a solution, so my photos will momentarily be even crappier for the time being. Here is a far-off EURASIAN MAGPIE in flight. This is also the only bird on my list for China as I remember seeing one at the Capital Airport on a layover in 2014, interestingly enough.
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Despite my “busted” camera, I was able to net a lifer in the form of a very vocal CETTI’S WARBLER! Warblers here (technically a different taxonomic family) are, for the most part, drabber than New World Warblers.
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A few RED KITES circled above:
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And I found my life bird SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, a wonderful species of deciduous trees here in southwestern Europe that greatly resembles America’s native Brown Creeper. Manual focus was acting up being 180mm of zoom so hence the horrible photo.
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EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE:
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And a EURASIAN HOOPOE had fledged! Amazing! What an ungainly creature.
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I realized one of its siblings was still in the nest above, mustering up the courage to fledge:
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And courage it needed due to an archnemesis, the farm cat Minette (French for pussy cat), roaming around the property. If it were up to me, Minette would stay inside, but alas she spent her days hunting fledgling Hoopoes — I’m not sure if any ended up surviving…
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The point is keep your cats inside no matter how cute they are! Domesticated cats do not belong in the wild.
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The next day we all had a lovely excursion to the nearby medieval town Ici-Jacque which featured a market.
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Dessert after lunch was so incredibly delicious once again. A fruit tart with a scoop of raspberry ice cream!
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Beautiful view of a storm that brought hail to nearby locations apparently:
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The dinner of short ribs on June 13 did not disappoint.
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And the European Toad was back!
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Thankfully, a few days later I figured out the Camera issue and all was back to normal. GREY HERON, Europe’s Great Blue Heron look-alike:
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I spished up this MELODIOUS WARBLER from the shrubbery! Wonderful! Note the eyeline and rather large orange bill.
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Another absolutely fantastic lifer right in the neighborhood was this BLACK-WINGED KITE! Such a cool, smartly-plumaged raptor.
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They look great in flight, too:
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Flyover CATTLE EGRETS — note the yellow bills.
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Horses!
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COMMON WOODPIGEON:
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A distant EURASIAN JAY:
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EURASIAN KESTREL:
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A great trip so far!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species
3 life birds: Short-toed Treecreeper, Cetti’s Warbler, Black-winged Kite

Posted by skwclar 13:02 Archived in France Comments (1)

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