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Cuba

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:
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In the afternoon, we split up into three groups and took a "gator tour" by airboat:
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DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT:
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Beautiful PURPLE GALLINULE, life bird:
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Family of LIMPKIN, life bird:
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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:
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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.
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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.

Henry
World Life List: 897 Species (10 life birds on the Cuba trip)
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GRAY KINGBIRD:
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RED-LEGGED THRUSH, life bird:
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BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD:
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COMMON GROUND-DOVE:
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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)

Day 6: Return to a Chicago Winter

sunny 29 °F

Yesterday, Saturday, December 19, was the sad day on a cruise called disembarkation. We were off the ship in the nine o'clock hour and took a taxi to the Fort Lauderdale airport to fly home.

I managed to squeeze in a bit of birding from the airplane while it was taxiing to the runway. Here are a couple of CATTLE EGRETS:
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I saw other birds as well, but they were all common ones. When the plane took off, we flew right over Port Everglades and I was afforded great views of our beautiful cruise ship, the Emerald Princess:
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We were high in the sky very soon. I savored the tropical geography of the Fort Lauderdale area because when we left the plane, the Chicago climate - announced to be 29 degrees Fahrenheit - brought us the harsh reality of winter in a temperate climate.
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One last look at the Emerald Princess before she disappeared behind a cloud and into the distance:
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Bird-of-the-day goes to the CATTLE EGRETS at the airport, the only birds I managed to photograph yesterday. Here is the complete, albeit short, avian list for the day:

7 species + 3 other taxa:

Cormorant/Anhinga Sp.
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Turkey Vulture
Bonaparte's Gull
Gull Sp.
Rock Pigeon
Dove Sp.
Fish Crow
Common Grackle

It was a phenomenal trip. In total, I gained 18 life birds. Bird-of-the-trip goes to the male KIRTLAND'S WARBLER seen on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas with the runner-up going to the pair of BROWN BOOBIES photographed along the ship on one of the cruise's days at sea.

Stay tuned! Next Saturday, the day after Christmas, I will be riding the Amtrak train up to my aunt's and uncle's place in western Wisconsin. Then, we will continue even further northward to bird the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota, arguably the best location for winter birding in the world - famous for its winter grouse, finches, owls, and much more!

Good birding!

Henry
World Life List: 885 Species (no life birds yesterday)

Posted by skwclar 13:20 Archived in USA Tagged me people animals birds sky planes Comments (1)

Day 1: Idaho!

semi-overcast 87 °F

And it's back to day 1 on a new trip, after returning from my last trip only 4 days ago! This time, my family is off to Sun Valley, Idaho for a 3-week-long vacation while my mom and dad play in the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in which they participate every August.

Warning: this is not a birding post, it is simply a travel post because you will notice that this is a birding/travel blog!!! I promise my post to be more bird-oriented tomorrow. This is my family's 6th year going to Idaho and we always love it; my favorite pastimes here are hiking, nature viewing, photography, listening to the symphony, and of course (starting the summer of 2012), BIRDING! The birding in this part of Idaho is surprisingly rich, even in August, due to the many varied habitats that can be found in a relatively small, central part of the state. Within Blaine County, the county in which we stay, habitats range from marshes and sagebrush plains in the 4,000 - 5,000 feet above sea level range to tall alpine mountain peaks towering 11,000 or even 12,000 feet above sea level in some cases. It truly is a spectacular place.

As usual, our family's complicated schedule has created a unique way we are getting to Sun Valley. My mom and I flew a direct flight to Boise today and are staying in a Hampton Inn & Suites Tonight near downtown Boise. We will make the 3-hour drive to Sun Valley tomorrow and stay there for 3 weeks. My dad and my little sister, Pearl, will fly into the Hailey/Sun Valley airport and join us starting Thursday.

My mom and I caught a 4:20pm flight out of Midway Airpot with direct service to Boise. The flight was, for the most part, enjoyable and I took some photos from my window seat.

Takeoff roll:
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Rotation:
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Up, up, up and away!
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Interesting cloud formation:
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Alpine lake with glaciers and snowfields. I believe this was in the Wind River Range of Wyoming:
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Our descent over Idaho took us pretty close to Sun Valley and I actually spotted a few locations where I have birded before and hope to bird on this trip!

Silver Creek Preserve, a place where I go birding every year, as seen from the sky. This is about an hour's drive from where we stay in Sun Valley.
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The Magic Reservoir, another location I plan to bird on this trip.
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Beautiful descent into Boise:
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Almost there - cue for everybody aboard to nervously cling to their seats for touchdown:
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Landed safely in Idaho!
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After a very expedient baggage reclamation and rental car check-out, we checked into our hotel, refreshed, and then walked to dinner at a nearby outback steakhouse. It was unseasonably "chilly" here in Boise because a storm had just passed through; when we stepped out of the airport, it was a pleasant 70 degrees outside instead of the usually-sizzling 95.

I ordered the largest steak on the menu, a Porterhouse cut:
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And yes, I finished it! It was delicious!
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Stay tuned - tomorrow my mom and I will drive to Sun Valley. I promise for an at least somewhat more "birdy" post!

Good birding,

Henry
World Life List: 855 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 21:47 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains sky snow planes Comments (0)

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