A Travellerspoint blog

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Will County, IL

overcast 70 °F

This afternoon, I drove to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in search of grassland and scrubland bird species — I also wanted to focus on photography and get some nice pics.

One of the first birds I noticed upon arriving was a very obliging DICKCISSEL, there were dozens of these around today:
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Another abundant bird was the FIELD SPARROW:
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At one point, this male EASTERN BLUEBIRD graced me with his presence:
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Turns out, he was bringing that fly he had in his mouth to chicks in a nesting cavity! Super cool to see this species nesting in a natural tree cavity.
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GRASSHOPPER SPARROW is always super fun to observe:
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EASTERN KINGBIRD:
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One of my target birds for the day, BELL’S VIREO, was found by hearing it originally from the car. I promptly parked the car alongside the road and located this obliging male singing his pretty little heart out:
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BROWN THRASHER:
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Joined by his or her mate:
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Male EASTERN MEADOWLARK. I searched, but failed to find their rarer Western counterpart.
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This male BOBOLINK gave some absolutely gorgeous views.
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This female showed nicely as well, demonstrating the strong sexual dimorphism of the species:
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EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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Its relative the WILLOW FLYCATCHER:
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A few migrant flycatchers, ALDER & YELLOW-BELLIED, were also heard but not seen. Additionally, I heard the crowing of upwards of seven RING-NECKED PHEASANTS but didn’t manage to find a single one. Another good heard-only bird was a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

Male ORCHARD ORIOLE:
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I did see my “life mammal” Long-tailed Weasel right near where I found the oriole, but unfortunately he or she bounded away too fast for any photos. Another mammal that certainly wasn’t too fast for photos, though, was this American Bison, one of the semi-wild population that was recently reintroduced to Midewin. Who knew that Bison could be found roaming just an hour’s drive from Chicago?! Awesome.
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An often-overlooked mammal, the Eastern Cottontail:
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Butterfly sp:
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Midewin was the former home of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, and structures like these can sporadically be seen peaking out of the otherwise-pristine scrubland & grassland landscape.
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A male INDIGO BUNTING to end the day:
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Bird-of-the-day to the Bell’s Vireo, with runners-up to Grasshopper Sparrow & Ring-necked Pheasant. Good stuff!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 971 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:28 Archived in USA Comments (2)

June Big Day

Cook County, IL

all seasons in one day 75 °F

Yesterday, my friends Isoo O, Ethan E, & Eddie K and I joined forces to put together a June Cook County Big Day (for my out of state followers: Cook County is the county which includes the City of Chicago & the surrounding suburbs). We were out to find as many species as possible in one day. Warning: this is a long post!

After staying the night at Eddie’s house (thanks to him & family for hosting us!), our alarms chirped at the sprightly time of 1:56am, and away we went! We were so excited that any drowsiness was absolutely out of the question.

Our day started at the nearby Wolf Road Prairie where our main target was American Woodcock, which we unfortunately missed there. The first bird of our day, though, was a night-singing SEDGE WREN, which I was particularly happy about because it was a bird I was moderately concerned about missing (we had it nowhere else that day). Then, its cousin the MARSH WREN began to join the nocturnal wren chatter and we had two birds for the day! A long way to go, so it was back to the car in no time...

A twenty-minute drive to Miller Meadow North Forest Preserve in Maywood had us in hopes of a screech-owl & maybe other night birds such as woodcock or nighthawk. We also hoped an axe-murderer wouldn’t jump out from behind one of the many gnarly trees there — we truly psyched ourselves out with paranoia, hah! A ten-minute walk to the “owl spot” and we played the call of an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL, which began to softly respond within five minutes. On our triumphant walk back to the car, we tried in vain for woodcock. Another bird we picked up here was a night-singing AMERICAN ROBIN — big days are a true anomaly where birders will rejoice over the most common species, such as robin & starling.

Next stop: Buttonbush Slough in the Palos Preserves area, which offered many superb additions to our list. Foremost on our list of gains there were calling LEAST BITTERN & VIRGINIA RAIL, and a few other species such as TREE SWALLOW were also chirping in the dark. Marshes are good places to check at night due to the nocturnal tendencies of many of their avian inhabitants.

After missing Barred Owl at Ford Road in northwest Orland Park, it was an almost one-hour drive to our first extended stop of the day: Plum Creek Forest Preserve in the far southeast corner of the county. We first stopped at the prairie, where many HENSLOW’S SPARROWS were singing in the crisp pre-dawn hours. It was definitely cooler-than-average for early June.
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Other grassland species vocalizing included many GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, a few BOBOLINKS, two DICKCISSELS, and many FIELD SPARROWS. As dawn approached, we picked up many fairly common but new birds for the day by ear alone, including NORTHERN CARDINAL, EASTERN TOWHEE, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BALTIMORE ORIOLE, YELLOW WARBLER, & RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER. At the Plum Creek Play Meadow entrance, EASTERN BLUEBIRD & ORCHARD ORIOLE were nice to see, with ACADIAN FLYCATCHER, PILEATED & RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS, WOOD THRUSH, RED-EYED VIREO, & TUFTED TITMOUSE among others in the deeper woods. Brief looks at a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO were a definite highlight. Back out near the road in the shrub, hearing a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER was a wonderful addition, although we unfortunately missed the White-eyed Vireo I had there just the other day.

Then, it was back to the Palos area where we stopped at Orland Grassland South in search of a few more openland target species. We missed our hoped-for Vesper Sparrow, but did pick up EASTERN MEADOWLARK, SAVANNAH SPARROW, & this far-away BLUE-WINGED TEAL that I spotted in the pond there:
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After Orland Grassland, it was back to Cap Sauer Holding for breeding woodland bird species. Another one of my spots, this YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, was a definite highlight:
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Another new bird there was this female ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK:
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Additional new species there included SCARLET TANAGER as well as a few more woodland birds. A few minutes in the car, and we were at Swallow Cliff Woods South — one of our best birds there was a successfully-found but heard-only KENTUCKY WARBLER. I did photograph this high-canopy CEDAR WAXWING:
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A really nice find in the parking lot was this singing male PINE WARBLER, one of two! A very uncommon breeding bird for the county which appeared to be on territory.
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GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER:
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Then, we were treated to absolutely incredible looks at a female Common Snapping Turtle laying eggs in a hole she appeared to have just dug. INCREDIBLE! She was as big around as a platter and looked absolutely terrifying. This turtle would easily be able to bite off a hand.
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This EASTERN PHOEBE was new for the day, as well as a few other species such as YELLOW-THROATED VIREO and VEERY which breed at Swallow Cliff.
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The next stop, Pulaski Woods, was fairly slow but did turn up a bird we didn’t find anywhere else: BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. Then, it was off to the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center to check for any waterbirds in the slough behind it as well as feeder birds near the nature center. We did find a GREEN HERON:
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And a RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD male perched in a tree:
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GREAT BLUE HERONS & GREAT EGRET:
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At that point, Eddie’s dad went back home and I took over the driving. Mr Kasper, thanks so much for driving during the morning!!!

Following an unproductive stop at McClaughry Springs Woods, we drove all the way to the Calumet Area, where our first stop was the Big Marsh. A second turtle species of the day, this Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle, was a great non-avian surprise — I have only ever seen this animal once before!
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Other than this CASPIAN TERN and a few other things, it was a pretty unproductive stop. The weather was hot, we were sweaty, and our only new birds were BROWN THRASHER, WILLOW FLYCATCHER, and one I can’t remember at this time (so many birds to remember, hah!):
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Next, we decided to go to the nearby Hegewisch Marsh since we were, amazingly, ahead of schedule, and could find some of the marsh birds we had missed at the last stop. Again, it was hot and pretty quiet, but we did end up hearing our only COMMON GALLINULE of the day, another solid breeding bird for Cook County. A third turtle of the day, this Eastern Painted Turtle, was basking in the sun.
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Moving up the lakefront from the Calumet Area, Steelworkers Park in the South Chicago neighborhood yielded a bird that can be surprisingly tricky for Cook County, and another we only saw once yesterday: AMERICAN KESTREL! We unfortunately missed Blue Grosbeak which has been sighted there recently.
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The next stop was at Rainbow Beach Park a little further up the lakefront where we founded BANK & this CLIFF SWALLOW, in addition to the swallow species we already had.
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Another new bird for the day there was DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT:
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An uncommon Prickly Pear Cactus was a cool find, especially in such a small park along the lakefront.
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SPOTTED SANDPIPERS were a new bird for the day, and we even found a nest of the species!
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SAVANNAH SPARROWS were also great to see:
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Eddie got out of the car on the way out and spotted some RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS flying north along the lakefront, so we turned the car around and headed back to the harbor, where we immediately found a female sitting in the water.
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After a lengthy debate over where to go next on the drive north, we chased a GREATER SCAUP which we immediately found at the North Ave. turning basin of the Chicago River. So cool! A flyover PEREGRINE FALCON was another new species we found there. Here is the scaup:
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The next stop was the Lincoln Park Zoo for the wild male AMERICAN WIGEON which has been hanging out with the domestic zoo ducks. Once again, a success!
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Montrose Point, which was almost a complete bust on our June Big Day two years ago, turned out to be one of the most productive spots of the day, boosting us over 120 species! It was a good decision to start with the fluddle and beach, where I found this DUNLIN:
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SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS & SANDERLINGS were also around:
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Our last swallow species for the day, PURPLE MARTIN, was another wonderful addition to the day:
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As well as many migrants in the Magic Hedge, such as a YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER:
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SWAINSON’S THRUSH:
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EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE doing its best Olive-sided impression on a dead snag:
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Male MAGNOLIA WARBLER. The number of warblers was particularly impressive as we tallied 16 of these winged gems, a large number for June!
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CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER:
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Female BLACKPOLL WARBLER:
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Female BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER:
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NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH — getting particularly late for these:
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BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER:
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This songbird was a mystery to us...
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Until it fanned its tail, proving to be a female AMERICAN REDSTART:
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Following Montrose, we headed to a location where EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE is known to come to a feeder, and once again — it was an immediate success!
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Then, Isoo climbed up on some poles to peer into the yard’s extensive feeder setup, and he found us a pair of HOUSE FINCHES which, surprisingly, were also new for the day.
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A drive on the highway, then more birding! This time, we found ourselves in the suburb of Westchester where yet another quick success yielded our target YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER — these birds nest in the suburb due to the many sycamore trees in the area, for which they have a particular affinity.
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We then met Eddie’s mom at his house nearby and she drove us the rest of the evening — thank you so much!

Between several rounds of severe thunderstorms, we found a few new species at Eggers Grove back in the Calumet area, including a few juvenile GREAT HORNED OWLS, a really nice surprise for daytime!
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As well as this far-off PIED-BILLED GREBE (tiny bird found between the CANADA GEESE) on the lake at Eggers Grove.
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The sunset on the way to our next stop, Killdeer Wetland, was phenomenal.
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We picked up quite a few new birds at Killdeer including these WOOD DUCKS:
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Probably our rarest species of the day was a WILSON’S SNIPE we heard and also saw briefly as it flew over us — unfortunately, too quick for photos. The Killdeer Wetland/Bartel Grassland area is the only place is Cook County where this northern species breeds.

Another specialty bird we picked up here which we missed earlier at Great Marsh was this SWAMP SPARROW. As you can see, it was getting late for photography.
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BROWN THRASHER:
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Although it was a crazy good day, we didn’t pick up a single new bird the rest of the evening after the stop at Bartel. What an incredible day it was, though. We ended with 132 species which is the second-highest June county big day in Illinois, EVER! It was particularly impressive due to the lingering migrants because of the delayed migration this cold, late spring. This day has also, once again, become my second-highest personal big day to date — sweeeeet!

I honestly cannot pick a bird-of-the-day. There is no better time than a big day to appreciate all native birds, from common to rare, so I will nominate all of the native birds we found on the big day as my birds-of-the-day.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 971 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:46 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Final neighborhood bird walk of spring!

Oak Park, IL

overcast 69 °F

Today, I led my last local Oak Park Bird Walk of the spring (I have one more walk I am leading at Miller Meadow Forest Preserve on Saturday June 8).

A male WILSON’S WARBLER high in the trees started off the walk with a bit of warbler neck:
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Female MAGNOLIA WARBLER:
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Yet another YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER was great to see! It has been a great spring personally for finding this species.
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My favorite bird of the walk was a staked-out male CANADA WARBLER that Laura Derks said she had singing in front of her house prior to the walk. Sure enough, after walking to her house, within a few minutes we heard its loud, chipper song! It allowed for some close, albeit fleeting, views:
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RED-EYED VIREO was nice to spot again:
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And a wonderful end to the walk was when a flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS flew overhead. One bird was even kind enough to perch for a few photos:
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Bird-of-the-day to the Canada Warbler with runner-up to the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. A great walk, thanks to all for coming!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 971 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:12 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Plum Creek Forest Preserve

Sauk Trail, IL

overcast 70 °F

Yesterday, I went birding at Plum Creek Forest Preserve in far southeast Cook County in order to scout for a Cook County Big Day I am doing with my friends on saturday.

Although they made me work for them by walking a lot, there were a number of birds around including this EASTERN MEADOWLARK:
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And a male EASTERN BLUEBIRD:
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FIELD SPARROW, many of these:
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Male YELLOW WARBLER:
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EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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RED-EYED VIREO:
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Yet another migrant YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER was really fun to see:
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Male EASTERN TOWHEE:
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A stop in the prairie section of the preserve yielded some great grassland species, including this HENSLOW’S SPARROW — many of these singing, but they were hard to see:
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Male BOBOLINK, a bird I was really hoping to find here:
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GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS were also pleasantly abundant:
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Then, when I returned to the parked car I heard the song of a bird I feared I would miss — WHITE-EYED VIREO! I soon glimpsed this beautiful bird with its namesake white eye in the bushes across the street.
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On the way out, seeing this RED-HEADED WOODPECKER perched in a tree was a wonderful treat:
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Bird-of-the-day to the White-eyed Vireo which was so nice to see as I have actually seldom seen this bird before, with runner-up to the Bobolink. Fun stuff!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 971 Species

Posted by skwclar 06:45 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Another oak park bird walk!

Oak Park, IL

sunny 65 °F

Yesterday morning, after a series of bird walks being rained out by this incredibly wet spring, I finally led an Oak Park Bird Walk! Before we get to that though, I must include some pictures of a very quality yard bird that visited two days ago: a YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER!
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The bird walk yesterday was great!

More YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS were in the area, including this one:
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RED-EYED VIREO:
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Its considerably less common cousin, the PHILADELPHIA VIREO, was nice to see:
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The poppies in my front yard are blooming beautifully:
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And yet another uncommon vireo species, specifically for this late in migration, was a BLUE-HEADED VIREO:
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TENNESSEE WARBLERS:
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SWAINSON’S THRUSH:
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And a crowd pleaser, the female BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER:
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It was a great walk! Bird-of-the-day to the Philadelphia Vireo for yesterday.

Stay tuned and good birding!
Henry
World Life List: 971 Species

Posted by skwclar 10:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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