A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about trains

Orland Grassland

sunny 69 °F

Yesterday I birded Orland Grasslands South near Orland Park in southern Cook County, Illinois. I decided to go because the preserve hosts many quality breeding birds, and it was forecast to be a pleasantly cool day in the upper 60's - perfect weather for birding in a grassland area, and an anomaly for June weather which is usually in at least the lower 80's.

It turned out to be a gorgeous day with very good birding. I happened to meet quite a few bird photographers, including someone from Chicago and a few photographers from the west coast with whom I birded extensively.

Right when I arrived at the preserve, I found a pair of Killdeer doing their "broken-wing display" on the trail ahead...obviously there was a nest nearby, but I didn't try to find it because I didn't want to disturb them any further.

Then, the photographers and I found a good number of grassland species including the most cooperative HENSLOW'S SPARROWS I have ever seen:

As well as a singing male EASTERN MEADOWLARK:

It was great meeting everyone!

On the way out, I found a few good things including this EASTERN KINGBIRD:



And, like last post, I'll end this post with a photo of a deer...this time, it was a beautiful young fawn!

Bird-of-the-day goes to the Henslow's Sparrow, which luckily was two photographers' #1 target bird of their trip! Runner-up to the Eastern Meadowlark. Honorable mention to the adorable fawn deer, although that isn't a bird!

The full list from yesterday is included below.

Good birding,

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

30 species (+1 other taxa):

Wood Duck 4
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Killdeer 2 Broken-wing display by both parents of an assumed nest nearby.
Mourning Dove 8
Chimney Swift 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Eastern Kingbird 2
flycatcher sp. (Tyrannidae sp.) 1
Blue Jay 1
Tree Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
House Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 2
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 2
European Starling 2
Cedar Waxwing 4
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Henslow's Sparrow 2 Conservative count, probably 3 or 4 simply in the small patch of grassland I covered.
Field Sparrow 4 Conservative count.
Song Sparrow 1
Indigo Bunting 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Common Grackle 10
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Baltimore Oriole 1
House Sparrow 2

Posted by skwclar 17:51 Archived in USA Tagged me landscapes people children trees animals birds sky trains Comments (0)

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)

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)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]