A Travellerspoint blog

Twitch: Lesser Goldfinch

Cook County, IL

overcast 37 °F

TUESDAY, MARCH 8:
During my five-day stay in Chicago over spring break, I was able to bird once — Parker and I made a bee-line for Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Palos to chase a continuing Lesser Goldfinch which was a first record ever for Illinois!

There were plenty of songbirds around, including AMERICAN TREE SPARROW:
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And a number of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES:
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But despite our (and over a dozen other birders’) efforts, we were unable to locate the Lesser after over an hour of searching. So, Parker and I continued on to a few more reliable Palos birding spots — Saganashkee Slough held a MUTE SWAN:
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As well as a fair amount of diving ducks very far out — picture here are RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, RING-NECKED DUCKS, GREATER SCAUP, and Greater/Lesser Scaup:
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COMMON MERGANSERS:
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Next stop was the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center where in Long John Slough behind the center I had HOODED MERGANSERS along with more Ring-necked Ducks:
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And right in the corner of the slough, I heard quite a ruckus, and despite twigs obscuring my view, I figured out that it was the pair of TRUMPETER SWANS mating!
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We left Palos and had one more stop before calling it quits: Miller Meadow Forest Preserve. Here I checked the fluddles for Wilson’s Snipe but came up empty, instead finding the more ubiquitous CANADA GEESE and MALLARDS, along with my first-of-the-year KILLDEER! I’m sure had I waded into the marshy north meadow I would’ve flushed a few Snipe, but I didn’t have that kind of time.
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Nobody had the Lesser Goldfinch for the rest of the day, but annoyingly, others did find it the next day. So bird-of-the-day goes to the Trumpeter Swans, by far the most quality species found today.

I’m back to New York now but probably will not be doing much birding until warbler season starts in late April due to an incredibly busy performance schedule.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Jamaica Bay & Bryant Park

New York, NY

semi-overcast 51 °F

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2:

As I am on spring break now, of course I have to carve out some time for birding! So with the warmer temps today, I thought it would be the perfect day to head out to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Queens, one of the most scenic places in NYC. It is quite a commute to get there — three subways and a bus — but the birds and scenery are always worth it. I was hoping to see the large flocks of wintering Snow Geese, a continuing, semi-rare Eurasian Wigeon, and if I was very lucky, maybe one of the resident Barn Owls!

Upon arriving, I did my usual route: a clockwise circuit of the West Pond followed by checking the lookouts at Big John Pond and East Pond. West Pond had a lot of waterfowl, including GADWALL:
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MUTE SWANS:
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HOODED MERGANSER:
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BRANT:
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And the winter-resident SNOW GEESE did not disappoint! There was a massive flock that kept noisily shifting between Jamaica Bay and West Pond. Awesome!
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Passerines were also present, the best of which was a heard-only ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, though this GRAY CATBIRD was more cooperative:
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As was this SONG SPARROW:
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Try as I could, the Eurasian Wigeon was nowhere to be found so I just had to settle for its AMERICAN cousins (drake American Wigeon center):
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DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS with CANADA GEESE:
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On a clear day like today, there is a beautiful, albeit distant, view of the downtown Manhattan skyline from Jamaica Bay:
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Looking out into the actual bay, I picked up a few new species for the day like this distant RED-THROATED LOON:
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And a COMMON:
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As well as a HORNED GREBE (center), the first one I’ve seen in New York in a long time!
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NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD:
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RUDDY DUCKS:
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Next, I headed across Cross Bay Boulevard to bird the other side of the Wildlife Refuge. Looking into the owl box, I was most shocked and thrilled to see the beautiful, heart-faced silhouette of a BARN OWL peering back at me! Wow!!!! This is an endangered species in the state and it is harder to find these guys here out east, by an order of magnitude, than out in Idaho where I’m used to seeing them. Absolutely amazing!
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Can you make out its silhouette in this picture? This is how it looks for real — I may have missed the owls had I not yanked the exposure way up like in the previous shot.
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A beautiful female HOODED MERGANSER was swimming on the pond below the owl box:
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Then, I discovered why the owl was being so cooperative: it was protecting its territory from a pesky Eastern Gray Squirrel! I tweaked the exposure here again so you can see the owl better. It was not happy with the squirrel’s presence, and in the first photo you can even make out a second owl squeezed inside too!
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AMERICAN BLACK DUCK:
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Male BUFFLEHEAD:
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Female:
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Flyover FISH CROW — this midwesterner always gets a kick out of this primarily east coast species (though its range has been greatly expanding, including into parts of Illinois and even Michigan):
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With the exception of the no-show Eurasian Wigeon, I had seen about all there was to see in Jamaica Bay, so I decided to make the commute back into the city to try to photograph an American Woodcock at Bryant Park before sunset. These poor birds always get stuck in this particular park this time of year, as indeed it was also the last bird I chased in Manhattan prior to the pandemic in 2020, almost exactly 2 years to this day!

I arrived at Bryant Park around 5:15 and immediately set out to search for the Timberdoodle. Upon arrival, it took me about thirty seconds to find a woman pointing her camera into the bushes, and sure enough, right where folks said it was, there was a derpy little AMERICAN WOODCOCK hanging out at the corner of 40th & 6th Ave in Bryant Park. Awesome — I will never tire of these guys!
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Bird-of-the-day to my New York lifer Barn Owls with runner-up to those impressive flocks of Snow Geese. Next week I will be heading home for five days and I will surely find a bit of time for birding, so stay tuned!

Good birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:27 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Alley Pond Park

Queens, NY

overcast 60 °F

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23:

I didn’t have class till 2pm today so this morning I took the train and bus deep into Queens to bird and herp Alley Pond Park. It is home to woodland birds such as Red-shouldered Hawk and Tufted Titmouse and I figured that after the mild temps and rains last night, I might be able to find some of the resident Spotted or Two-lined Salamanders, also.

I started at the far northern end of the park where there was a pond hosting a good bit of waterfowl such as this GADWALL:
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AMERICAN COOT:
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MUTE SWANS:
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NORTHERN SHOVELERS:
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AMERICAN COOT, AMERICAN WIGEON, PIED-BILLED GREBE, and MALLARD:
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A nice FOX with a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:
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GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET:
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And the surprise of the day came in the form of five RUSTY BLACKBIRDS foraging the edge of a vernal pool in which I was searching for salamanders.
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Never found any herps today other than a few heard-only Northern Spring Peepers, so I guess it was too early in the season after all! (despite rains last night and 60-degree temps). Bird-of-the-day to the Rusty Blackbirds with runner-up to the Pied-billed Grebe.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:26 Archived in USA Comments (1)

February in Central Park

New York, NY

overcast 48 °F

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16:

Today, I had a mainly free afternoon and temps were forecast to be milder (upper 40’s), so I trekked over to the north end of Central Park in hopes of finding a Great Horned Owl, among other birds.

I got off the bus by the Harlem Meer where NORTHERN SHOVELERS abounded:
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The average photo of a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET is the same as the worst photo of one, I’m convinced.
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Didn’t do much better with this YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER:
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The Pool had its usual supply of MALLARDS and oddly enough this male WOOD DUCK which seems to have paired up with a female Mallard.
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And the reliable hen GREEN-WINGED TEAL who always manages to hold her ground among the aggressive Mallards of the Pool:
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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Then, I saw the Hawk take off and immediately two other large birds came straight for it, proceeding to harass it in the air over the Harlem Meer. You can see here, the bird on the left is the Red-tailed, and the bird on the right is my Manhattan life bird COMMON RAVEN, a nice little surprise for which I knew I was long overdue! Many folks don’t realize how large Ravens are and this is obvious when right next to a Red-tail in flight.
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A second one joined too — here is the pair in flight with their characteristic fieldmark, the wedge-shaped tail, very conspicuous.
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Unfortunately, I and and all the other birders were never able to spot the Great Horned Owl though that’s not a big miss as I’ve seen them in Manhattan dozens of times prior to the pandemic. Bird-of-the-day to the Common Ravens!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:35 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Twitch: Common Gull

Stamford, CT

sunny 59 °F

Today I had an impossibly small window of time, from 11:45am to 4:00pm, between work shifts, to chase a would-be life bird in Stamford, Connecticut: the ironically-named Common Gull. This species is a common coastal species indeed, but only in Eurasia — it is a somewhat-regular vagrant to North America. Worth noting is that this species was recently split from the Mew Gull complex to form two species: Common and the Short-billed Gull, which is the species I chased unsuccessfully two months ago in Brooklyn.

Anyway, I had a super short window of time to take the train to Stamford, find my way to Cummings Park either by uber or bus, find the bird, and reverse the process in order to make it back in time for my 4:00pm work shift on the Upper West Side.

Luckily, my outbound train was on time and while onboard, I discovered that a bus to Cummings Park would depart 4 minutes after my train arrived in Stamford. So, after an on-time arrival, I hurried to buy a ticket but frustratingly the ticket machine rejected all of my credit and debit cards. So then I just ran to the bus and hoped by some miracle I hadn’t used all my coins on an NYC bus last night. Luckily, I only came ten cents short and the bus driver waved me on.

So after a train, bus ride, and an eight minute walk, I was at the park and had just over half an hour to find a rare gull that hadn’t been spotted for almost an hour and a half at that point. I immediately noticed a wealth of RING-BILLED GULLS to pick through on this beautiful, almost 60-degree day.
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There was also a group of HOODED MERGANSERS in the harbor. I chatted with a friendly woman who alerted me of the recent Connecticut birding news and asked me about my studies, as well as a few other birders with whom I exchanged pleasantries.
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Well, I soon had to order my uber back to the train station in order to make it back on time, so I rather dejectedly made a final scan of the parking lot for gulls…and three minutes before the uber arrived, I spotted one different gull. I immediately thought “maybe Lesser Black-backed?” but the mantle was just not quite dark enough for that species.
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So I checked the bill on the bird and sure enough it was a pure greenish-yellow color with no ring or other conspicuous markings, which clinched the identification: it was my lifer COMMON GULL!!! Wow!
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Another field mark visible here is the white crescent which are the white tips to the rear end of this birds’s gray mantle (backside).
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Note when compared to this Ring-billed Gull that the mantle is darker and actually the bird is slightly larger than a Ring-billed, though that second comparison is tougher to see here.
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Just a beautiful bird all around! I was thankfully able to get one other birder on it before it flew off, and I told several others about it right as I was stepping into my uber back to the train station. Talk about a near-miss! Bird-of-the-day absolutely goes to the Common Gull, with runner-up to the Hooded Mergansers. I sure am pleased with how 2022 has gone so far!

(Made it back to work in time, too!)

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 23:08 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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