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3 days of summer birding!

all seasons in one day 80 °F

This post is for three awesome days of birding in my first week of summer: Thursday, June 2 - Saturday, June 4.


A pair of rare Hudsonian Godwits, a large species of shorebird, had been reported at a random puddle in a farmer's field near the town of Grayslake, about an hour north of Chicago. Since this species would be a life bird for me, I made the long commute up to the Grayslake area. Thanks to my aunt Betsy for helping out with picking me up at the Metra stop!

On the Metra ride up there, I spotted a male INDIGO BUNTING along the railroad tracks while we were waiting due to a delay. The weird turquoise appearance of the photo was due to my taking this photo through the Metra's window.

When I arrived at the puddle, there were plenty of birds around, including this rather uncommon GREEN-WINGED TEAL:

The godwits; alas, were nowhere to be found.

Bird-of-the-day for Thursday goes to the Green-winged Teal, with runner-up to the Indigo Bunting.


Jonathan, my birding friend from Indiana, came by with his dad at 8:00am to pick me up for an exciting day of birding. Our first planned stop was Grant Street Marsh in northwest Indiana in hopes of Least Bittern & Yellow-headed Blackbird; however, we made an unplanned stop along the highway to view some beautiful MUTE SWANS on Wolf Lake, including a family with cygnets:

A CASPIAN TERN also flew by:

Grant Street Marsh was rather quiet as we failed to find the bitterns (very unlikely) and didn't try hard for the blackbirds.

Although we had originally planned to spend most of the day at Indiana Dunes State Park, Jonathan's father, Ed, graciously allowed for us to change our plans and head south to two preserves called Kankakee Sands and Willow Slough, which are both large, beautiful preserves that are right next to each other.

As soon as we rolled down the window at Kankakee Sands, we were serenaded by many grassland birds including a few very cooperative GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS:

And many, many DICKCISSELS:

At our first stop, we hoped to find Western Meadowlark and Lark Sparrow, and although we failed to find these birds, there were some others around including HENSLOW'S SPARROWS, an unseen calling YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and this male YELLOW WARBLER:

Once we were on the road again, I heard a strange noise from the woods so we stopped (thanks to Ed, Jonathan's dad and the person who drove the entire day, for enduring many "STOP!"s by both Jonathan and me!).

"Bob-a-white!" The noise was a singing NORTHERN BOBWHITE far in the woods, the first time I have ever heard that beautiful quail actually sing. Unfortunately, we never managed to see this species as they like to stay hidden far in the cover of dense bushes and shrubs.

"STOP!" A bit further along the road, I spotted this first-year male BLUE GROSBEAK, a nice find and our only one the entire day:

Then, a pair of birds flew up into a tree alongside the road and actually started mating! It was a pair of very, very uncommon LARK SPARROWS, with Indiana being one of the easternmost places in the world to see them. These were life birds for Jonathan.

Further along the road, we spotted a GREAT HORNED OWL flying away from us into the woods, and a beautiful RED-HEADED WOODPECKER also entertained us nicely:

After turning onto a gravel road, Jonathan and I heard a strange warbler's song over the din of the wheels of the car moving over the road, and we both simultaneously shouted, "Stop!"

Then it sang again, more clearly this time: "Churr-ee! Churr-ee! Churr-ee!"

Sure enough, it was my beautiful life bird KENTUCKY WARBLER, a species I have been wanting to see for years!

In that same area, we also had BROWN THRASHER, WILD TURKEY, and a calling but sadly unseen YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT.

Further along the road, we ran into a pocket of birds which included LEAST FLYCATCHER, EASTERN BLUEBIRD, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and this female SUMMER TANAGER. We were racking up quite a day list!

Further along, a group of WILD TURKEYS strutted away from the road:

And we were treated to some of the best looks at a pair of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS we had ever had:

One minute after we were talking about a place where we could possibly find Bell's Vireos, I heard a very warbly song alongside the road and the car stopped. Amazingly, it was a BELL'S VIREO! This was a life bird for Jonathan.

This BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON flew over, our only one of the day:

At Willow Slough, we parked near a dike in search of Marsh Wrens and Virginia Rails. Sure enough, we heard the MARSH WRENS fairly easily and spotted this Beaver swimming away from us:

Unfortunately, we never got a Virginia Rail.

Next, we headed to an intersection where Upland Sandpipers have been reported, which would be a life bird or both of us, as well as Western Meadowlarks, which would be a life bird for Jonathan.

On the way there, we found this PECTORAL SANDPIPER, thanks to Jonathan's dad for pointing it out:

Once we arrived at the rural intersection in the middle of nowhere where the sandpiper & meadowlark had been reported, Jonathan's camera unfortunately died.

Soon enough, an UPLAND SANDPIPER flew over, singing its telltale "wolf whistle!" It was a life bird for both of us! This is a very rare and declining species, so we were thrilled to find it.

It landed far away, here is a distant photo of it:

Then, we heard a pleasingly melodic song and after spotting this squat yellow bird on a nearby wire, Jonathan had his life bird WESTERN MEADOWLARK, a needle-in-a-haystack find among so many Eastern Meadowlarks we had on Friday! This was also a neat find for me because I have never seen one outside of Idaho, and they are quite uncommon east of the Mississippi River.

After dinner at a good restaurant in a little town called Brook, we went out birding again and spotted these PURPLE MARTINS:

Returning to the same intersection, we heard the Upland Sandpiper again and were once more treated to great looks at the Western Meadowlark. The sunset was phenomenal:

Then, we headed over to Willow Slough to see if we could find Whip-poor-Will, owls, and any nocturnal animals. We saw a family of raccoons in a dead snag:

And we soon came to a place where at least six or seven EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS were calling all around us. It was an ethereal experience, and we even spotted one bird's "eye-shine" (when illuminated by our flashlight) on the road ahead of us:

Cruising slowly down the roads of Willow Slough, we also observed two opossums, a mother Common Snapping Turtle laying eggs, at least forty Bullfrogs were calling at one spot, and we heard two calling BARRED OWLS. It was a very cool nocturnal birding session.

Thanks so much to Jonathan's dad, Ed, for extending our birding time and driving the entire day! We did at least eight hours of birding, and picked up nearly ninety species overall, and Jonathan found six life birds while I found two.

Bird-of-the-day for me will be a tie between my two life birds, the Kentucky Warbler and the Upland Sandpiper. Runners-up go to the mating Lark Sparrows and the super-cool Eastern Whip-poor-Wills at night. It was one of the best days of birding so far this year!


After returning home around midnight after owling, I woke up less than seven hours later to lead a morning bird walk at Miller Meadows Forest Preserve. It was a well-attended walk and we saw quite a few birds - overall, it was very enjoyable.

We started off the day with this commonly-heard but rarely-seen WARBLING VIREO:



Flyover GREAT EGRET, a nice find for Miller Meadows:







And a nice White-tailed Deer poked its head above the weeds toward the end of the walk:

It was a good morning of birding! Bird-of-the-day for Saturday goes to the male Bobolink, which displayed his lark-like song & flight pattern right over our heads. Runner-up to the flyover Great Egret, a nice surprise.

It was a fantastic three days of summer birding, only made better by beautiful weather! It is so nice that school is over, oh my gosh I was so busy this past year and now it is finally summer!

Good birding,

World Life List: 887 Species (2 life birds on Friday: Kentucky Warbler & Upland Sandpiper)

Posted by skwclar 15:15 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes people children trees animals birds sky night trains Comments (3)

2 Rarities to End the Year & 2015 Recap

sunny 26 °F

This post will be split up into two parts; the first part being the usual narrative & photos of the day and the second being my birding recap of 2015. Hope you enjoy it, and have a happy New Year!

Today my Uncle Mory and I birded a few places near La Crosse in western Wisconsin in search of two target birds: Lewis' Woodpecker and Northern Saw-whet Owl.

In the morning, we drove to a farm in Galesville, WI where a rare Lewis' Woodpecker has been reported recently. This is a species native to the Rocky Mountains of the western USA and this is only the fourth time one has ever been recorded in Wisconsin.

Upon arriving, we immediately found the LEWIS' WOODPECKER with its diagnostic Christmas colors - red and green - which is an uncommon color pattern in birds. This bird was the most aggressive bird at the feeders (even though it didn't actually take any seeds while we were there), frequently chasing off Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees. Here are my photos of the bird:

We then headed to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge where I found these distant flocks of waterfowl on the little open water remaining in the area.


CANADA GEESE with a few TUNDRA SWANS mixed in:

We then drove to a nearby state park where there were a few other birds. Here is an adult BALD EAGLE:

Small flock of HORNED LARKS on the road in front of us:


After a delicious lunch of chili and relaxation back at their house, my Uncle and I drove to a place called Breidel Coulee Road in hopes of finding Northern Saw-whet Owl, a tiny owl species that has been reported there recently.

On the way, I spied an even rarer bird flying over a distant field which then landed in a tree across the field. It was a GOLDEN EAGLE, a very very uncommon bird for Wisconsin! Distinguishing field marks from an immature Bald Eagle are that this bird has a "golden" look to the back of its head (characteristic of a Golden) and lacks the characteristic white breast patches of a juvenile Bald. It was also a HUGE bird with a gigantic wingspan, slightly bigger than a Bald Eagle which supports my identification.

A flock of CANADA GEESE flew over:

Then, I heard some strange warbling sounds to my right and saw a huge flock of 41 (!) WILD TURKEY on the edge of the nearby woods. Here is only a small part of that flock:

Despite driving along Breidel Couldee Road for almost 45 minutes and periodically stopping and playing the Northern Saw-whet Owl recording, we could not coax one to come out and therefore missed this bird. The rare Golden Eagle; however, more than made up for this miss in my opinion, especially since I had heard my life bird Northern Saw-whet Owl earlier this year with Eric Walters back in November.

It was a great day of birding with two Wisconsin rarities found in one day! The bird-of-the-day for me will be the Golden Eagle since I found it without knowing I would even see one, and runner-up to the already-known Lewis' Woodpecker, even though it is a slightly rarer bird for Wisconsin. The full bird species list for the day is attached below.

PART 2: 2015 RECAP
"The Year of the Owl"

First, I would like to give a massive thank you to everyone who has helped me have these unbelievably wonderful birding experinences, especially Mom and Dad, as I could not do it without them. As I am posting this, it is literally 11:55pm and with these last few minutes of 2015, it saddens me that another absolutely fantastic year is drawing to a close. This year I gained 179 life birds for my world life list including 12 owl species and 2 former nemesis birds, the Resplendent Quetzal and the Great Gray Owl.

Since this year was a stellar year for finding owls with 12 species in total, I will first list the owl highlights of the year and then I will list other avian highlights from the year.

  • *January 1: Snowy Owl w/Uncle Mory at Buena Vista Grasslands, WI
  • *May 22: Barred Owl heard calling on our former Michigan property
  • *June 4: Great Horned Owl (GHO) photographed at Morton Arobretum, IL
  • *July 29: Great Horned Owl (GHO) photographed on Mt. Baldy, ID
  • *August 7: Lifer Long-eared Owl @ Silver Creek Preserve, ID
  • *August 9: Northern Pygmy-Owl heard w/Ryan Anderson near Stanley, ID
  • *August 13: 3-owl evening in ID with Poo W-P & Maria Allen, we have GHO & my lifer Barn & Short-eared Owls
  • *August 14: Conquer nemesis bird Great Gray Owl w/Kathleen, Poo, and Maria and hear lifer Boreal Owl same evening in ID
  • *August 15: Western Screech-Owl lifer w/Ryan Anderson near Hailey, ID
  • *August 16: GHO & Western Screech-Owl w/Poo Wright-Pulliam near Hailey, ID
  • *August 17: GHO flies across road on way to airport before flying home from ID
  • *August 22: GHO seen on Illinois Young Birders field trip near Kankakee, IL
  • *September 23: Photograph Barred Owl for first time at Morton Arboretum, IL
  • *November 1: GHO w/Suzanne Coleman at Fort Sheridan Preserve, IL
  • *November 15: 3-owl evening w/Ryan Anderson at IBSP, IL with GHO, E Screech, and lifer N Saw-whet Owls
  • *November 29: GHO found and photographed for first time ever in backyard (IL)
  • *December 29: Amazing Great Gray Owl photo ops w/Uncle Mory & Bruce at Sax-Zim Bog, MN
  • *December 30: Great Gray & Snowy Owls in MN & WI w/Uncle Mory & Bruce

Non-owl highlights:

  • *March 21: Lifer Long-tailed Duck at Monroe Harbor, IL
  • *March 29: 1st day of Arizona trip, best birds are Hepatic Tanager & Arizona Woodpecker
  • *April 3: Elegant Trogon seen w/Dad in Madera Canyon, AZ
  • *May 6: Rare hybrid Lawrence's Warbler photographed in backyard, IL
  • *May 9: Rare Snowy Plover (lifer) and dazzling array of warblers at Montrose Point, IL
  • *May 23: 2 of my then-favorite birds, Cerulean & Hooded Warblers, photographed at Yankee Springs SP, MI
  • *June 2: Connecticut & Hooded Warblers photographed in Chicago area, IL
  • *June 19: Touring Field Museum, IL bird skin collection w/Nick Minor
  • *July 11: Finding Northern Parula & Summer Tanager w/new birding friend Jonathan B
  • *July 15: First day of Costa Rica trip, BEST trip of my life!
  • *July 16: Finding 72 species in 1 morning w/guides Alexa & Mario in La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica
  • *July 19: Finding new favorite bird, RESPLENDENT QUETZAL, w/Mario @ Curi Cancha Reserve, Costa Rica
  • *July 27: First day of Idaho trip where the highlights are the OWLS, see above
  • *September 27: Costa Rica class reunion at my house, IL
  • *December 13: First day of trip to Florida & Emerald Princess cruise
  • *December 18: Finding Kirtland's Warbler on Eleuthera, Bahamas w/Dad
  • *December 26: First day of trip to Wisconsin & Minnesota where highlights are the OWLS, see above
  • *December 31: Finding 2 rarities w/Uncle Mory, Lewis' Woodpecker & Golden Eagle, on last day of year

Bird-of-the-year goes to the RESPLENDENT QUETZAL I saw on July 19, with that species automatically going from nemesis to favorite bird due to its sheer...well...resplendence. This bird was seen with my fantastic guide Mario Córdoba and a select group of the Costa Rica class in the Curi Cancha Reserve near Monteverde, Costa Rica. Runner-up for that award goes to the GREAT GRAY OWL, my other past-nemesis which is now my second-favorite bird. This bird was seen by me on three days this year: August 14 near Stanley, Idaho with fantastic birders Kathleen Cameron, Poo Wright-Pulliam, and Maria Allen, and also on December 29 & 30 at the Sax-Zim Bog in northeastern Minnesota with Uncle Mory and Bruce Bartel. Thank you to all of these people, and again to Mom and Dad, for helping me see these astoundingly special birds.

Happy birding & owling and I hope 2016 brings you peace and plentiful birds (and owls):

World Life List: 887 Species (179 life birds in 2015)

24 species + 3 other taxa today:

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Wild Turkey (41!)
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Raptor Sp.
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Woodpecker Sp.
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Passerine Sp.

Posted by skwclar 20:50 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes lakes people animals birds snow night Comments (0)

12th Owl Species of the Year!

sunny 63 °F

Welcome to another episode of Sunday evening birding!

This evening I went birding with birder Eric Walters in northeast Lake County, Illinois. We covered State Line Beach, Spring Bluff Forest Preserve, and the North & South Units of Illinois Beach State Park with our primary target being the diminutive Northern Saw-whet Owl. This was the last of his surveys of this species for the fall, as he surveys for this species in Illinois multiple times each October-November.

I rode the trusty ol' Metra up to Winthrop Harbor which was about an hour and a half train ride:

We started at State Line Beach, where the bird activity was low but Lake Michigan looked beautiful at sunset during this clear, pleasant day in the upper 50's/lower 60's:

We then continued to Spring Bluff Forest Preserve, where the activity was slow at first but then things started picking up. A pair of SANDHILL CRANES flew overhead and I photographed them on their descent into the marsh with "landing gear down," against a background of the sunset:

We then located them in the marsh:

200-300+ CANADA GEESE also flew over on their way to their evening roost:

One sub-flock within the larger flock held a much smaller goose that turned out to be my life bird CACKLING GOOSE! It is in the lower line of geese and appears to be the eleventh (much smaller) bird from the right:

The identification for this goose is positive because it is the only goose that is under half the size of the Canadas, as the above photograph illustrates. Then, we heard the begging screeches of two young GREAT HORNED OWLS, as well as the low-pitched calls of an adult. Here is one of the "young-uns" against the sunset:

This was an awesome sensory experience because as I was watching this owl silhouetted against the beautiful sunset, Canada Geese were trumpeting overhead and a not-so-distant pack of coyotes were howling vociferously. Soon, the sun was completely down and the beautiful crescent moon became obvious:

At that cue of nightfall, Eric and I surveyed various locations in Illinois Beach State Park for our target - the Northern Saw-whet Owl - a beautiful species that is a tad smaller than a Robin. The survey method is parking the car, opening all of the doors, and blasting the Northern Saw-whet Owl's various recorded calls into the wilderness; then, listening for responses from real birds between and after the calls are played. We soon picked up another GREAT HORNED as well as two EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS, both species being fairly common year-round residents across the state. Then, at our second-to-last survey location, Eric pointed out to me a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL responding to its recorded call by giving its ascending "Weerp!" call three times. It fell silent when a nearby Screech Owl started whinnying, but it was certainly a positive identification because we both heard it clearly! We could never locate either of the owls, but hearing "counts" just as much as seeing! This is what the location looked like where we heard the Saw-whet:

It was a fantastic evening and certainly a nice break from the hectic nature of this school year! Thanks so much to Eric Walters for letting me tag along on his final, and successful, Northern Saw-whet Owl survey!

Bird-of-the-day goes to my life bird NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, of course, and runner-up goes to my other life bird today - CACKLING GOOSE!

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is my 12th owl species this year, which is rather unprecedented as I have never gotten nearly this many owls in a single year! So I guess this continues my streak of "owl luck" this year! In addition, this is only the second time ever I have gotten three owl species in one evening!

The full species list from the evening is attached below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 867 Species
2 life birds today: Cackling Goose & Northern Saw-whet Owl

24 species today:

Canada Goose
PEREGRINE FALCON (1) (from train)
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Eastern Screech-Owl
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
House Sparrow
House Finch

Posted by skwclar 19:25 Archived in USA Tagged me sunsets_and_sunrises people trees animals birds sky night trains Comments (2)

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

sunny 69 °F

I took advantage of this beautiful Sunday with temperatures in the 60's and clear skies to bird the beautiful Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Highwood, Illinois with a birding friend Suzanne Coleman. We had a fantastic time - thanks to Suzanne for driving me around also!

Fort Sheridan is a stunning preserve bordering Lake Michigan with rolling hills covered in grassland, deep wooded ravines, and a beautiful view of the lake - which was as smooth as glass on this perfect weather day.

According to some birders we met when we arrived, over 200 raptors had migrated over the preserve during the day but, sadly, before we arrived. Fort Sheridan is renowned in the mid-late fall for its productive raptor flights, which use the Lake Michigan shoreline to guide them southward. Raptors are among the few bird species that actually migrate during the day; most migrate nocturnally! Sadly, the only raptor we saw - since it was getting late in the afternoon - was this distant RED-TAILED HAWK:

Then, we did a bit of lake watching and hoped to find our lifer Snow Buntings which have been reported here recently along the shoreline, but alas, the most interesting find was this immature HERRING GULL:

We found a pocket of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS, my first of the season, in a wetland away from the lake:

We also found many SAVANNAH SPARROWS such as this one:

At one point, these four MALLARDS flew over, possibly migrating:

And we spotted a larger raft of 60+ ducks in migration over the lake; however, we could not identify the species:

The sunset was beautiful, and it was soon growing dark. Suddenly, Suzanne spotted something moving on the trail ahead of us. Can you spot it in this photo?

AMERICAN WOODCOCK! A stocky bird in the sandpiper family with a funny name, this is only the second time I have ever seen this species! This and the above photo were taken with flash, but don't worry, these are the only two flash photos I took so as not to disturb him.

And just as we were about to leave, I spotted this GREAT HORNED OWL perched on the distant treeline:

It was a fantastic evening of birding with Suzanne! Thanks again to her!

Bird-of-the-day goes to the AMERICAN WOODCOCK which I have only seen once before, and runner-up to the last bird of the night: the GREAT HORNED OWL, continuing my lucky streak of owls this year! The full species list from the evening is attached below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 865 Species (no life birds today)

25 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose 11
Mallard 4
duck sp. 60
Great Blue Heron 1 From Metra
Red-tailed Hawk 2
hawk sp. 1
American Woodcock 2
Ring-billed Gull 4
Herring Gull 1
Mourning Dove 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 2
American Crow 3 From train
American Robin 5
European Starling 1 From train
American Tree Sparrow 7
Fox Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 12
Song Sparrow 2
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Eastern Meadowlark 2
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 5

Posted by skwclar 19:55 Archived in USA Tagged people animals birds sky night Comments (0)

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