I know a lot of you birders like to read my blog, but there is also a large amount of non-birders who follow this blog as well. Since I felt like switching things up a bit this week, I decided to make a video dedicated to all the non-birders out there. In this video I break down the basics of birding, from how to identify a bird to how weather patterns play an important role in where to bird. Overall, I did this video for non-birders to get a better understanding of birding!
May migration is finally here! I look forward to it every day and it's the most exciting time of the year for me. During the whole month of May, birds are migrating north back to their breeding grounds after summering in the south, and they all come right through Illinois! One of the most exciting birding days of the whole year is Spring Bird Count (often referred to as SBC) in Evanston. Migration is all about the winds and the weather. Winds coming from the north deter birds from migrating, while south winds provide a tailwind for them, pushing them north to their final destinations in the Northern U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately, all of the north winds and rain discouraged most birds from moving up through Illinois this past Saturday, so SBC was incredibly slow with just 66 species in total, much less then last year's 98. Although we saw far fewer species, we did see a few quality birds. Ornithologist Josh Engel, his friend Amanda, and I went to The Lakefill on Northwestern University's campus for a lake watch. Although we did not see much, the sunrise was still beautiful.
Although the lake watch only resulted in 13 species, we did see this nice COMMON LOON:
We decided to call it quits with lake watching and set off to find other migrants. My favorite spot to look for passerines (warblers, vireos, sparrows, etc.) is the vegetable garden, where a nice LINCOLN'S SPARROW was the highlight. Just then, Josh heard the call of the YELLOW THROATED WARBLER. We set off to find it, and although we had already spotted it the previous weekend, it was nice to see again, and the only one ever seen on the Evanston SBC!
More walking led us to this pair of COOPER'S HAWKS, which were nesting here. It will be exciting to see the young ones once they leave the nest!
Since there wasn't much else on campus, we decided to move on to Perkins Woods. Perkins Woods is a tiny woods about a half a block long located in the middle of one of Evanston's most residential neighborhoods. Despite its small size, it's still be a good place for migrants. As odd as it may seem, we saw this MALLARD here:
Just then, Josh spotted my FOY (first of the year) LEAST FLYCATCHER, followed by this beautiful male ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK!
After a morning of slow birding, we decided to make one more stop to Memorial Park Cemetery before wrapping up. The highlight was a calling SORA and this CHIPPING SPARROW.
For the first time ever, the highlight wasn't the birds! We found this coyote's den right where we parked, and there were 9 cubs coming in and out of it. We were able to get photos and videos from just 10 feet away!
Although it wasn't the most productive SBC, it was still great to see a few nice birds and enjoy birding at my local patches! Big thanks to Josh Engel for letting me tag along!
More Birding At Montrose Point
Later in the weekend, I visited my favorite spot again - Montrose Point. This time I was joined by my friends Jake Cvetas, Oliver Burrus and Eddie Kasper. To me, birding is always much more fun with friends. During our visit, this female (and also my first ever) HOODED WARBLER completely stole the show! He was very photogenic, and dozens of photographers lined up to get pictures.
After walking around for awhile, another birder informed me that the same Yellow Breasted Chat I missed last weekend was seen in the southeast corner of the point. I rushed down there immediately. When I arrived, the bird was not being seen, but thanks to Eddie's sharp eyes we were able to locate the elusive bird. Unfortunately, he flew down into the foliage before I was able to get a photo. Not only was the Hooded Warbler photogenic, but so was this tiny BLUE GRAY GNATCATCHER, one of the most common migrants:
Since we still had over an hour to bird, Mrs Kasper drove us to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which may seem like a good spot to see captive birds, but can be great for wild ones, too! We were hoping to find some warblers there. The first bird we came across was this GREEN HERON:
All at the same time, we yelled "NORTHERN PARULA" when the bird gave its buzzy "bzzzzzip" from a nearby tree. It was definitely surprising and also one of the highlights of the weekend for me! We topped the day with more walking around the zoo and delicious donuts courtesy of Mrs Kasper. Although the conditions did not provide for great birding, all that means is that more excitement awaits. Despite the lack of birds, it was great catching up with my friends and seeing my first Hooded Warbler. Stay tuned, by now all the birds have arrived and the greatest weekend of birding of the year for me lies just ahead!
Life List 801 (+1 Hooded Warbler) To see more of my photography, click this link:
Last weekend, my grandparents came in for a visit from Salt Lake City, UT, which made for an especially exciting weekend for me! Not only are we in the midst of Spring migration, but my grandparents are the ones who introduced me to birding. The last time they came to Chicago was almost 4 years ago when I first took interest in birds. It all started on the 11th of May 2013. We were sitting on the back porch and my grandparents were pointing out birds to me (I remember seeing a female cowbird and a chickadee). Then, they took me to Montrose Point and North Park Village Nature Center where I was able to see many more birds through their binoculars. A few that I vividly remember were the Great Crested Flycatcher, White Crowned Sparrow, White Throated Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, and Rose Breasted Grosbeak. Shortly after they left, a field guide and binoculars showed up in my mailbox. I started keeping a life list and began recording all the birds I saw on iBird (a popular app that gives information on all North American bird species.) I became incessant about flipping through the field guide and looking up birds on iBird, until I could identify practically every bird I saw. Since my grandparents were the ones that got me started on birding, I would like to dedicate this post in honor of them. Please enjoy our birding adventures!
I had just come home from school when my grandparents arrived. After catching up for a little bit, we immediately started birding. Since we only had 1 hour before our dinner reservation, we quickly went to one of my local spots, Harbert Park. Unfortunately, since it was late in the day, we only saw a few birds, but highlights included 2 EASTERN PHEOBE, a flyover PEREGRINE FALCON, and 2 close-up BLUE GRAY GNATCHATCHERS. We topped the night off with a nice dinner and more catching up at a local restaurant called Campagnola.
I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. It was my grandma and grandpa calling me to see if I was up for a quick outing of birding. Of course I was! I got my stuff ready and we headed to the spot where I bird every weekend; Northwestern campus. Overall, we had a fairly unproductive morning, but we did see some swallows, the NORTHERN ROUGH WINGED SWALLOW being most abundant:
After a quiet walk around the libraries, we were headed back to the car when I ran into the Evanston North Shore Bird Club on campus. I knew a few people in the group and went up to say hello. That's when the field trip leader Josh Engel pointed out a rare YELLOW THROATED WARBLER actively feeding on the side of a building! This bird is found in more southerly forests throughout the U.S. Although the bird would have been easy to find in Southern Illinois, Chicago is just north of its range, so it was quite a treat to see one! We also came across more birds in that area including PALM WARBLER, YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER, LINCOLN'S SPARROW and a RED BREASTED NUTHATCH. The Yellow Throated Warbler is now one of the best birds I've had in all of my time birding there!
Later in the day, I played in my soccer game, and we followed that up with a Vietnamese lunch and then games back at our house.
Despite the rain, cold temperatures and strong winds, we decided we should go birding anyway. My grandparents picked me up at 6:25, and we went to the famous Montrose Point, the first place I ever went birding. Walking around Montrose again with my grandparents brought back all kinds of memories from my first birding trip. This was where my grandparents taught me how to bird and now 4 years later, I was back with them to show them the knowledge I had gained. I did not take many pictures because of the rain, but we still had a total of 40 species which included the following: my first VEERY of the year!
We also saw this uncommon BLUE WINGED WARBLER which was a real highlight because my grandparents have never seen one; this is also my favorite bird!
A walk through the dunes along the lake hit us with brutal winds, so my grandparents stayed back while I did a quick check on the beach. Not too many shorebirds, but I did see both LESSER YELLOWLEGS and GREATER YELLOWLEGS! The Greater Yellowlegs is the bird below:
Now here we have the Lesser Yellowlegs. You're probably thinking the birds look exactly the same. As similar as they appear, if you look closely you will notice that the greater has a longer, slightly upturned bill, and overall is just bigger in size.
Aside from the weather, it was a successful morning of birding, though luckily it wasn't over yet! We had scheduled brunch at North Pond restaurant which overlooks North Pond (wonder where the place got its name from :) ). Anyway, North Pond is a very popular birding spot and can hold large numbers of migrants so I was more looking forward to the walk we planned to take afterward than the food. Overall, the food was great and so were the birds. As soon a I stepped out of the restaurant I had a flock of about 40 PALM WARBLER, a bright male YELLOW WARBLER followed by GREEN and BLACK CROWNED NIGHT HERONS!
Since I don't get to see my grandparents often my mom and dad let me skip school Monday morning in order to squeeze in one more birding trip. This morning proved to be the best morning Montrose has had all year! I had 59 species and the point was hopping with birds. As soon as I got out of the car I heard a BLACK THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling. When I located it, there also happened to be 5 species of warblers in that tree, including PINE WARBLER and NASHVILLE WARBLER followed by a WARBLING VIREO. We also saw several of theses common, but still beautiful YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER:
As usual, AMERICAN ROBINS were very common throughout the day.
COMMON YELLOWTHROATS such as this male here are warblers but unlike most of them this bird can be seen here all summer while others summer further north in the Northern U.S or Canada.
Since it was not as cold and windy, we decided to spend more time exploring the dunes area looking for grassland species. The one and only shorebird there was this SPOTTED SANDPIPER:
My grandma birding:
When we got back from the dunes, we walked right into the most productive spot in the point. This ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK brought back memories of when I saw my first one with my grandparents 4 years ago.
A BALTIMORE ORIOLE, which added a splash of color to our day!
Just then, a birder approached me and told me she had just seen a Yellow Breasted Chat, and that it took off north. This, being a very elusive and uncommon bird attracted the attention of many birders. Game on! Just about every other birder there and I went in search of the Chat. While looking, I saw this awesome GRAY CHEEKED THRUSH:
We also saw this similar SWAINSON'S THRUSH. It is much more common and can be distinguished from the Gray Cheeked by its distinct eye ring. Another new year bird for me!
Although we never found the Chat, we did see and uncommon CLAY COLORED SPARROW which made up for it a little bit. Overall, I had great birding and great company! I would say it ranked as the best birding day I have had all year!
May migration is on! Big thanks to my grandparents for coming out for a fun weekend and taking me to all of these birding spots. Hope to see you again soon! Stay tuned for more epic spring migration birding adventures and my Spring Bird Count post!
Life List 800 (no new life birds) To see more of my photography, look me up at birder03 on instagram!