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Olympic Peninsula: Day 1

semi-overcast 73 °F

Last weekend, my dad and I traveled to the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington state for birding, hiking, and even whale-watching! I will split this trip up day-by-day since I have so many photos. Enjoy!

On Thursday, July 14, we took an early morning flight to Seattle. The views were quite scenic:

Obligatory Mt. Rainier shot on approach to Seattle:

We spent the day making our way over to Port Angeles, WA with stops along the way for birding. At the first stop, my target bird was Mountain Quail, a very uncommon and shy species at which Washington is the northernmost point in their range. This is a LINCOLN'S SPARROW:

Unfortunately, I never found the Mountain Quail; however, we did hear a more common CALIFORNIA QUAIL sing it's classical "Chi-ca-go!" song.

The next stop was Gardiner Beach on the Olympic Peninsula, where we happened to run into birder John Gatchet (who used to live in Wisconsin) who graciously gave us an impromptu afternoon birding tour of the northeast peninsula! Here is a BALD EAGLE and a GREAT BLUE HERON in the same tree:

My first photographed life bird of the trip, a RHINOCEROS AUKLET! This is a species of Alcid, which is a family of marine birds that includes the puffins and are thought to fill the niche that penguins satisfy in the Southern Hemisphere. Alcids were high on my "most-wanted" species list for the trip.


CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, which was my 900th life bird!


We then visited a spit near Sequim that is a fairly well-known place for watching seabirds, as evidenced by this sign:

It has a distant view of Protection Island, where everything from gulls to puffins nest:

We found my life-bird HARLEQUIN DUCK in the water:


Life-bird PIGEON GUILLEMOT, another Alcid species, flying away from me:

Olympic Gulls (hybrid Western X Glaucous-winged Gulls, common on the Olympic Peninsula) with a HERRING GULL:


On one road near Sequim, we successfully found two target life birds for me: Bewick's Wren & Bushtit. Although they were both secretive, I did eventually manage to photograph both species. Here is the BEWICK'S WREN:

And here is the BUSHTIT:


We searched for Varied Thush in this forest, but failed to find it. In its place; however, we had a calling WESTERN SCREECH-OWL and views of some beautiful woodland scenery:

I believe this was an ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, female:

After dinner with John, we checked into our motel and settled in for the night. It was a fantastic first day! Thanks so much again to John for a superb afternoon of birding!

Bird-of-the-day goes to the Bushtit with runner-up to the Rhinoceros Auklet, both being successfully-found target life birds on Thursday.
Good birding,

World Life List: 925 Species (30 life birds on the Olympic Peninsula trip)

Posted by skwclar 08:28 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes lakes beaches people trees animals birds sky sparrow heron gull hummingbird bald_eagle rhinoceros_auklet chickadee junco harlequin_duck pigeon_guillemot wilson's_warbler bewick's_wren bushtit Comments (0)


all seasons in one day 94 °F

Very early this Monday morning, I returned from my choir's week-long tour to Havana, Cuba. It was possibly the most eye-opening trip of my entire life, and the entire choir was changed by this tour.

As the first youth choir to travel to Cuba from the USA, it was an immense privilege for my choir, the Voice of Chicago, to travel to a country with such a vibrant culture and that has had strained relations with this USA for sixty years.

Although this was truly an amazing tour, I will be honest with you, it was not all fun and games. We had 16-18 hour days, sweated through our uniforms during every concert after a full day in the blazing heat, and many, including my, hotel rooms were not in good shape. These hardships; however, made all of us think about our daily lives and I think that we can say that we now have a greater appreciation for everyday things such as air conditioning, plentiful clean drinking water, reliable toilets, etc. that many people around the world unfortunately do not have - which is the case for many Cubans.

This trip was all about experiencing the culture of Cuba, so it will not be bird-focused; however, I did take a few bird photographs and I did get a few lifers.

We spent one day in Florida before spending a week in Cuba, and once we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, we immediately headed to the beach:

In the afternoon, we split up into three groups and took a "gator tour" by airboat:


Beautiful PURPLE GALLINULE, life bird:

Family of LIMPKIN, life bird:

On the tour, I also gained my life bird BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE.

The next day, we flew to Havana, Cuba on a charter flight out of Miami. I luckily got a window seat and it was cool getting our first views of Cuba - a land so mysterious, so unknown - but enchantingly beautiful:

After waiting through many long lines in the airport, we sat on the air-conditioned bus and I spotted my life bird CUBAN EMERALD hummingbird. Unfortunately, I did not see its smaller cousin, the Bee Hummingbird, which is the smallest bird in the world, a Cuban endemic species.

The experiences we had on tour were just phenomenal. From just seeing the country from the bus to numerous cultural exchanges with choirs and musical groups, we really experienced the best of Cuban culture. It was astounding to meet such pure, happy people who enjoy life with such kindness and pride in their culture - and it really made us thing about how we live our lives.

Now I will leave you with these photos, and my only "talking" will be naming birds that I have included. The Cuba tour was a truly awesome experience and it changed my life.

World Life List: 897 Species (10 life birds on the Cuba trip)





Posted by skwclar 13:37 Archived in Cuba Tagged me landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises beaches buildings skylines people children animals birds sky planes Comments (3)

Illinois Beach State Park!

sunny 93 °F

Today I birded with birding friend Al Stokie in northern Lake County, Illinois. Although it felt quite hot at times (it topped out at 93 degrees today!), we had a productive day of birding.

After an hour-and-a-half commute on the Metra, Al picked me up in Waukegan and we headed to the south unit of Illinois Beach State Park in search of shorebirds and assorted uncommon nesting birds.

On the beach, we didn't do well in the shorebird department; however, we did find a pair of juvenile HORNED LARKS, a fairly exciting find!

Nearby, we found a few very uncommon plant species including this Hoary Paintbrush (a relative of the more widespread Indian Paintbrush):

Although we failed to find one of our target birds, the Lark Sparrow, there were some neat birds around as well, including this GRASSHOPPER SPARROW:

Then, we birded the campground nearby and found this very uncommon YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER. This is the only place where this species nests in Lake County and one of the few places in northeast Illinois as it is typically a more southern bird:

Then, we drove to the Sand Pond area in the north unit of the state park in hopes of a Yellow-breasted Chat. That bird was not to be found today, despite the fact that we searched for a very long time for it. We had some nice birds to make up for it, though, including this male EASTERN BLUEBIRD:

And the female:




A very vociferous BROWN THRASHER:

And our best species at Sand Pond was two male BLUE GROSBEAKS, another species that is typically much more common further south in Illinois. Illinois Beach State Park is quite possibly the furthest north breeding location for this species in the state:

A Leopard Frog was also nice:

We ended the day by viewing (with Al's scope from very far away) a PIPING PLOVER sitting on its nest near Waukegan. Since it is in a restricted location with lots of security, Al told me I couldn't take any photos, and they wouldn't have turned out very well anyway because the nest was quite far away.

It was a fantastic day! Bird-of-the-day goes to the two cooperative Blue Grosbeaks, and runners-up to the Yellow-throated Warbler and Piping Plover. The full list for today, a good total of 69 species, is attached below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 887 Species (no recent life birds)

69 species today:

Canada Goose
Hooded Merganser
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Horned Lark
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Posted by skwclar 21:32 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes lakes beaches people children trees animals birds sky Comments (1)

Piping Plover, Part 2!

sunny 76 °F

Today, the last day of my Memorial Day weekend in Michigan with my aunt Mary and uncle Mory, my uncle and I drove to Muskegon State Park again in hopes of getting more photos of the Piping Plovers nesting on the beach.

We saw a deer on the drive there:

Once we arrived, we found the nest of PIPING PLOVERS we had found on Saturday; however, we also found a second nest nearby due to the tip of a worker there. Thanks! The second nest had two adult birds and at least three speckled eggs (that I could see).

Then, we had an amazing photo shoot with foraging adult plovers on the beach. Here is my uncle Mory with his camera. The beach was absolutely beautiful.

Here are my photos, enjoy!

Bird-of-the-day goes to the beautifully cooperative Piping Plovers, a threatened species, as we saw a total of three adult birds and at least five eggs amongst the two nests. Very cool!

The full species list from Muskegon State Park is attached below.

Stay tuned, I am leading a bird walk at Miller Meadows Forest Preserve tomorrow!

Good birding,

World Life List: 885 Species (no recent life birds)

22 species (+2 other taxa)

Mute Swan 1 Flyover
Double-crested Cormorant 6
Piping Plover 3 One nest with 2 adults & at least 3 eggs; one nest with only 1 adult and at least 2 eggs.
Killdeer 1
Ring-billed Gull 9
Herring Gull 1
tern sp. 2 Probably Caspian.
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 1
Tree Swallow 1
Bank Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 2
swallow sp. 4
American Redstart 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 1

Posted by skwclar 10:16 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes beaches people trees animals birds sky Comments (1)

Oak Park Bird Walk & Piping Plover!

semi-overcast 75 °F

Today, before my family and I drove to Michigan, I led a bird walk starting from my house at 7:00am - the final neighborhood bird walk of the spring (although I have three more walks scheduled to take place in Miller Meadows Forest Preserve). It was well attended, with 11 birders in total, and we had a lively time.

The birds were rather few and far between; however, there were a few highlights including this beautiful male COOPER'S HAWK:

Male RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD, a nice sighting for Oak Park:

The best bird of the walk was probably this male CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER which posed nicely over the group:

It was a fantastic walk! 28 avian species were identified, see the list here:

28 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose 17 Flyover.
Mallard 2
Great Blue Heron 1 Flyover.
Green Heron 1 Flyover.
Cooper's Hawk 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 3
Mourning Dove 1
Chimney Swift 3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
flycatcher sp. (Tyrannidae sp.) 1
Red-eyed Vireo 3
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 2
House Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
American Robin 10
European Starling 2
American Redstart 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 8
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 3
House Sparrow 20

Then, my mom, sister, and I loaded up the car and drove to Michigan (my dad will join us late tomorrow). In mid-afternoon, we met my Aunt Mary and Uncle Mory at the house they are renting in Grand Haven (where I am staying this weekend), and my Uncle Mory and I drove to Muskegon State Park in search for a cute shorebird called the Piping Plover, which would be a life bird for both of us. Not only is this a cute bird, but it is a threatened and declining species due to habitat loss, so it would be fantastic to see.

Sure enough, a fenced-off area of the beach adjacent to the second parking lot on the right held a cage-like structure which contained a Piping Plover guarding her nest.

It is a wild bird, and therefore countable for my list, because it can freely move in and out of nest enclosure, which was put there by biologists to further protect this endangered species' nest from predators - especially dogs and gulls. At one point, the plover popped out of the enclosure to forage around a bit, providing for better photo ops:

A few FORSTER'S TERNS, an uncommon species for Michigan, were seen roosting on the beach:

And my uncle and I hiked a trail away from the beach; however, it was largely devoid of birds despite its beautiful sand dune landscape:

Here is the bird list for Muskegon State Park:

16 species (+3 other taxa)

Turkey Vulture 3
Piping Plover 1 One adult bird sitting on nest within enclosure right off of the second parking lot, as approached from the north. It got up once and poked around, possibly foraging.
Ring-billed Gull 8
Forster's Tern 2 Note slender bill, small size, and relatively small area of black on the birds' heads. Seen on beach with Ring-billed Gulls, kind of close to the Piping Plover area.
tern sp. 1 My guess is Caspian based on size, but too brief of a look.
Chimney Swift 3
woodpecker sp. 1 Probably a Hairy, but too brief of a look.
Red-eyed Vireo 3
American Robin 2
Gray Catbird 2
Common Yellowthroat 1
American Redstart 2
Yellow Warbler 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.) 2 Either Blackburnians or Parulas.
Chipping Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 5

Bird-of-the-day goes to the Piping Plover, life bird #885 and my first life bird in quite a while! Runner-up to the Forster's Terns seen on the beach near the plover. It was a fantastic day!

Stay tuned, tomorrow I will do some local birding near our place in Grand Haven in the morning, and I will attend a family wedding in the afternoon.

Good birding,

World Life List: 885 Species (1 life bird today: Piping Plover)

Posted by skwclar 20:29 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes lakes beaches people children trees animals birds sky Comments (0)

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