A Travellerspoint blog

Fall bird walks, shorebirds, and herping: happiness

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 85 °F

It has been a productive week for birding and nature watching, that’s for sure! On saturday I led the second bird walk of fall which had a couple nice things. RED-EYED VIREO:


My year-bird RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH for Cook County was the obvious highlight of the walk. These guys are certainly invading into the area — an August presence of them is quite notable too and hopefully is a harbinger of an irruptive-species winter to come!

The two young Kennedy boys on the walk loved seeing this COOPER’S HAWK. Love it when young people join the bird walks.

Later in the day, I was off to Montrose Point yet again to chase another new bird for the year, BAIRD’S SANDPIPER! And upon arriving to the beach, there it was! Super cool! An under-appreciated beauty.

Our two expected plovers at this time: SEMIPALMATED (left) and KILLDEER (right). Note the plumage differences.


Another quality shorebird, this immature RED KNOT, had stuck around for quite a while as of saturday!

Bird-of-the-day saturday to the Baird’s Sandpiper with runners-up to the Red-breasted Nuthatch and Red Knot.

Today, I led another bird walk on this beautiful morning. It started off slowly and we were entertained by a squirrel with some corn on the cob:

Another RED-EYED VIREO, they seem to be moving through:

SWAINSON’S THRUSH are making their way back south again, as well.

And the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH was present in the same place as last saturday! Cool!

One irritating bird was a flyover cuckoo that we saw fly into a tree but could never relocate. Dang! Would have been nice to get eyes on that for the birders.

Since it rained last night, I headed to the Palos area for herping after the bird walk! Salamanders tend to be most active following rains when a lot of their burrows are flooded. I started at a location where Tiger Salamanders have been reported in the past, but I came up empty. There were only two Unisexual Mole Salamanders at this location. This is an all-female type that interbreeds with Blue-spotted males to produce more all-female offspring. They were introduced to Cook County from southern Illinois but do not appear to be affecting the native (& state-endangered) Blue-spotted population too badly.

EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE at that location:

So then I continued on to my main herping spot for the day where I was hoping to pick of Blue-spotted and possibly Spotted or Newt. Blue-spotted, there were!

And then I found an absolute MONSTER of a Spotted Salamander. This guy must have been eight inches long, and as it was only the third Spotted I have ever seen, I was just about shaking with excitement. These are such cool creatures and to have one this huge living in our county’s woodlands just blows my mind. What a cool find.

More Blue-spotted.

And I just kept lucking into Spotted after Spotted today! It was like a miracle. This location (which I am DEFINITELY keeping secret since these guys are commonly poached for the pet trade) held nine Spotteds today including tiny ones ranging all the way up to the eight-inched beast. Super cool salamanders, maybe my favorite species.

This preserve has a number of dried-up streambeds this time of year. In southern illinois, Cave or Long-tailed Salamanders would inhabit this type of habitat but I really did not expect to find any of the northern species hiding in the rocks along the streambed. Boy, could that have been farther from the truth! In one single flip, I found four salamanders of three species: Spotted (yellow spots), Blue-spotted, and 2 Eastern Newts (the gray ones!). Next time I return to this preserve, I am definitely gonna spend most of my time following these dried-up streambeds. Too cool!

Another streamside flip held this Eastern Newt eft that was a simply incredible shade of yellow-orange. Wow! This is one of two places in the county to find Newts so I was stoked to find three of them today! Another awesome species.

One of the gray newts for comparison.

So, an incredible day of herping after a great bird walk! Creature-of-the-day definitely goes to that one monster Spotted Salamander.

Stay tuned for more birding (and herping) adventures!
World Life List: 1119 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

First fall bird walk & two days of epic shorebirding

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 96 °F

Yesterday I led the first bird walk of “fall” (as songbirds start moving through in mid-August; fall migration is overall a little more thinly-spread than the outrageous push of birds in May). It was the hottest day of the year (later in the day the temperature would flirt with 96F), and we could already feel it on the early morning bird walk. An AMERICAN GOLDFINCH greeted the group on the Purple Coneflowers out front:

Birds proved to be extremely few and far between. We only tallied 16 species for the walk but saw a few other interesting sights such as this cool spider:

And a magnificent Eastern Tiger Swallowtail:

Later in the day, I caught wind that there was a pair of Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the Montrose Beach, so of course I hopped in the car to chase!

I parked along Marine Drive, walked the long, HOT way in, and went straight to the area of the beach where I joined my friends Simon & Peter among others in reveling in a pair of EXTREMELY close BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS! They were so close and tame that they fed within five FEET of us at times at the wall alongside the public beach. I would never expect to get such a killer look at this species which is usually found in Illinois by scoping hundreds of yards out into a rural sod farm.

Just look at that absolutely thrilling plumage — such a crisp, detailed mix of patterns and sandy-brown hues — just a GORGEOUS bird in total! Probably my favorite shorebird.

They briefly flushed along with the other shorebirds in the area, but circled back to land nearby.

A solid bird to find any day, a WILLET!



Here again with the contrasting reddish back of a LEAST SANDPIPER in the background. In this photo you can easily contrast our two most common peeps: Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, which can prove tricky to identify from a distance.

Here’s the Least again:


Simon pointed out this cool Common Thread-waisted Wasp, a lifer insect for me! (though most probably would be, lol!)

And soon enough, the Buffies were back for more crushing views.

Bird-of-the-day yesterday goes to the Buff-breasted Sandpipers with runner-up to the Willet.

Today, I was back out chasing shorebirds again! I had two targets which had been seen at Techny Basin North this morning: Stilt Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover. I arrived to Techny in the one o’clock hour and promptly began scoping out the basin again under the blazing sun of what turned out to be another killer-hot day.

I immediately noticed the presence of a smattering of shorebirds in the muddy basin including this SOLITARY SANDPIPER:

A nice find was this PECTORAL SANDPIPER.

A solid amount of shorebird reshuffling occurred when this RED-TAILED HAWK swooped through.

Then, after a good amount of scoping the flats with my camera, my eyes fell on one of the target birds today: STILT SANDPIPER! Basically a dowitcher with a shorter bill, I was super stoked to get this bird for Cook County this year.

And then along with a KILLDEER, I found the other, rare target for the day: AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER! This is the second time I have seen this species this year, but today was a much better look as the other sighting was in May from the absolute opposite side of the Volbrecht Road Fluddle in southern Cook. Cool birds!

I called it a day and headed home. While I was stopped at a red light on Cumberland Ave though, I got a text from Isoo saying that there was a Wilson’s Phalarope at Montrose. So given the verrrry uncommon nature of this species in Cook County, I made a U-turn, headed back to I-90, and was on my way to Montrose yet again.

After parking quite a ways away and having yet another sweaty walk to the beach, a really nice number of shorebirds were present including this WILLET.


And then, my eyes rested on a sight I will probably never see again: BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (top), RED KNOT (left), my target, the WILSON’S PHALAROPE (right), and LESSER YELLOWLEGS (bottom). INCREDIBLE! The first three species are extremely uncommon for the area so I was just stoked to see them all foraging together.

And some close-ups of the target phalarope! Victory — 3/3 targets today!!!

And one of the continuing RED KNOT from last week (!). These shorebirds would never stick this long if it was a regular year and the beach was open!

And more shots of the continuing BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS!!! Another example of an extremely uncommon species that would be a touch-and-go sighting if it was any other year.

Here it is with a preening KILLDEER.

And a couple of SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS to wrap it up.

Bird-of-the-day today to the Wilson’s Phalarope with runners-up to the Stilt Sandpiper, American Golden-Plovers, Red Knot, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. GREAT shorebirds to choose from!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1119 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:27 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Montrose — Day 3!

Chicago, IL

sunny 80 °F

Once again, a rare bird alert prompted me on an unplanned drive to Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, today in search of a rare shorebird called a Whimbrel. Only one or two of these tend to show up in Chicago every year, so considering this was the second this season, and it stayed all morning, I gave it a shot.

After parking along Marine Drive (the entrance into Chicago lakefront parks is still barricaded to cars, thanks Lori Lightfoot ????), I hiked in and immediately headed to the protected beach area where the WHIMBREL was standing!!! An amazing, easy year bird, and I believe the first I have seen since 2013 in Panama(!!!!!). This species is actually a type of small curlew — you can see its resemblance to the Long-billed Curlew which I got as a lifer in South Dakota this summer.

A gull briefly flushed the bird.

But it circled back around to the protected beach. It obviously needed a break from its Arctic - Central American migration.

Yesterday’s star bird, the RED KNOT, was still present — here it is with the out-of-focus Whimbrel in the foreground.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS once again roamed the protected beach.



At one point, a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON juvenile hunted in Lake Montrose — here it is with more Semi Sands.

And the last star bird for the day was another nice WILLET. Great to get so many quality shorebirds, a type of bird which I would describe as my “Achilles’ heal” of birding — good to get practice identifying these guys, especially the smaller peeps (Least, Semipalmated, etc).

Bird-of-the-day to the Whimbrel with runner-up to the Red Knot. Very quality shorebirds to choose from, especially in a county with so little shorebird habitat. Love shorebird migration!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1119 Species

Posted by skwclar 22:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Two Days of Montrose Shorebirds!

Chicago, IL

overcast 79 °F

Yesterday I was up at the crack of dawn to join Isoo O’Brien for a morning shorebird scan at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. We arrived soon after six to find a smattering of “peeps” in the fluddle on the beach — LEAST SANDPIPER:


MALLARDS in the dawn sky:

Then, Isoo spotted the most common migrant “large shorebird:” a WILLET, my 201st bird for Cook County this year! Cool.

A few “flying cigar” CHIMNEY SWIFTS flew over.

Isoo actually had school today starting at 9am, so he bid adieu a bit before 8 and I covered the dunes and Magic Hedge by myself. It was almost startlingly quiet, but I did manage the world’s most horrible photo of the single migrant warbler I saw today: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH:

It was a great morning to get out! Bird-of-the-day to the Willet — every new year bird for Cook County this year helps me stay in the top 20 birders of the year. Good stuff!

Today, I wasn’t expecting a birding trip, but when Isoo texted the rare bird alert that another Red Knot had shown up at Montrose (I missed the last one), I was in the car in no time, on my way to Montrose Beach, despite it being early rush hour.

I arrived around 5pm and immediately noticed an abundance of shorebirds including these beautiful SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS:

And lo and behold, in the middle of the fluddle on the beach was a larger, gray shorebird with a medium bill: RED KNOT! This one is an immature bird given the scaly appearance on the back. Amazing year bird — only the second one of this species I have ever seen!

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS proved to be the most numerous shorebird with about 30 of them foraging around.

The two SEMIPALMATED species — PLOVERS in front, SANDPIPERS in back!

The knot continued to give absolutely crushing views in the evening light.

As did a LEAST SANDPIPER — the other “peep” species found today (the other one being Semipalmated).

This SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER had a longish bill, faking me out for Western Sandpiper for a bit, but the consensus drawn by my friends and I is that the bill is within the range for Semipalmated.

A quick walk through the Magic Hedge was cut short by a creepy man who kept following me, despite me reversing direction multiple times and clearly being uninterested with him. Unfortunately, the Magic Hedge is prone to “cruisers:” predominantly gay men actively looking for, and following, anyone who may stumble into the area after, say, 11am on any given day in the summer. Disgusting...(not that they are gay, but that they follow/target people)

Bird-of-the-day to the Red Knot with runner-up to the Semipalmated Plovers. Stay tuned for more fall (yes, fall!) migration fun including even more shorebirds, and the onset of a full season of Oak Park Bird Walks.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1119 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Two days of birding, three year birds

Cook County, IL

semi-overcast 86 °F

Continuing my quest to stay in the Top 20 birders in Cook County this year, I chased year birds the last two days. Yesterday I headed to the Calumet area in search of Northern Bobwhite, Monk Parakeet, and Least Bittern.

I started at Eggers Grove Forest Preserve for the Bobwhite. It was seen fairly recently by the bike path across from 118th so I tried that area as well as birding the nearby slough. Herons proliferated, including GREEN:



And a couple adult Night-herons:

AMERICAN COOT, a good bird for this time of year, with WOOD DUCKS, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (right), and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (left):

Unfortunately, I once again struck out on the Bobwhite. So, I was off to Big Marsh via 100th St to check for Monk Parakeets. A drive-by was all it took as I heard their characteristic chatter under the Skyway Bridge without even stopping the car! Year-bird!

Next stop: Big Marsh Park for Least Bittern. Several CASPIAN TERNS were flying over the marsh:

And at one point I saw a tiny, reddish-brown heron flush up and over the marsh for four seconds: my FOY (first of year) LEAST BITTERN! No photos, but a clinching, satisfying look. A calling COMMON GALLINULE was also nice here. Two year birds in one day was great! Bird-of-the-day yesterday to the Least Bittern.

Today, Tian and I left at a leisurely 9:20am after breakfast to make the quick drive up to Franklin Park to find EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES which inhabit the area of Palmer St & 5th Ave, and upon arriving to that intersection, I found them before even stepping out of the car. Cool! A good addition to my list, and I spent such a time photographing them that a nearby homeowner came out and said, “Homie, why you taking pictures of my house?” Rofl!

Later, while Tian and I were chatting in the backyard, a cuckoo flew into the elm across the alley so I ran to get my camera. After ten minutes of watching it swoop through the leaves, presumably hunting caterpillars and the like, I managed a single identifiable photo: it was a YELLOW-BILLED! The expected species, but super cool for Oak Park nonetheless — only my second ever seen from my yard.

Bird-of-the-day to the Eurasian Collared-Doves with runner-up to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

ANNOUNCING FALL OAK PARK BIRD WALKS! Email me at trumpetswan@comcast.net to reserve your free spot:
Wednesday, August 26 @ 7am
Saturday, August 29 @ 7am
Wednesday, September 2 @ 7am
Saturday, September 5 @ 7am
Wednesday, September 9 @ 7am
Saturday, September 12 @ 7am
Wednesday, September 16 @ 7am
Saturday, September 19 @ 7am @ Thatcher Woods
Wednesday, September 23 @ 7am
Friday, September 25 @ 7am
Wednesday, September 30 @ 7am @ Columbus Park
Saturday, October 3 @ 7am
Wednesday, October 7 @ 7am
Saturday, October 10 @ 7am @ Miller Meadows
Saturday, October 17 @ 7am @ Miller Meadows

Good birding,
World Life List: 1119 Species

Posted by skwclar 13:58 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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