Life List 800 (no new life birds) To see more of my photography, look me up at birder03 on instagram!
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!
On April 15th, (I know! sorry for the late post!) I lead a bird walk to McClaughry Springs Woods and Orland Grasslands for the Whimbrel Birders Club. The group met at McClaughry bright and early at 7:00, hoping to pick up three targets for this location: the Pileated Woodpecker, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Carolina Wren. These are all very special birds to he the Chicago area because these birds tend to avoid urban areas and are very hard to find anywhere in Cook County. Being one of the most remote preserves in the area, McClaughry is one of the only places to pick up these species. In fact, the waterthrush and the wren are both nesting here! During migration, this forest preserve can be one of the most exciting places to visit.
Just as I pulled into the parking lot, a completely unexpected PURPLE FINCH made an appearance, which was also a lifer for me! Originally, my life list was thought to be at 799, but after realizing a mistake in my list I had to subtract a species from it. So, the purple finch made for my 799th life bird, and a great start to the walk. Sorry for the distant photo.
To make it even better, just as I was doing an intro to the walk, a CAROLINA WREN interrupted me with its loud tea-kettle tea-kettle tea-kettle call. We located the bird just across the street, sitting out on a branch giving the group great views. Then suddenly, this juvenille SHARP SHINNED HAWK darted out of the woods. This is the Cooper's Hawk's (a much more common bird) closest relative; as a matter of fact, they look so similar that they can only be identified by size (the sharp shinned is much smaller). Cooper's Hawks stay year round, but these guys only come through during migration.
After a very productive half hour in the parking lot, we started walking along the creek, searching for our second target, the Louisiana Waterthrush. Although, it has "thrush" in its name, this bird is actually a species of warbler that prefers to hang around areas that contain bodies of water. While watching for the bird along the banks of the creek, we saw this EASTERN PHOEBE, the first flycatcher to come back after winter and one of the largest:
Since there are many times where birders come here and only hear the waterthrush, I decided to play the call for the group. Apparently, the actual waterthrush heard the recording that I was using as an example and he seemed to be calling back by the parking lot. We ran back to find the waterthrush siting in a tree above the creek, giving the group great views and photo ops. This was also my 800th life bird, so it was a very exciting moment for me!
I almost had a panic attack when I then heard "PILEATED WOODPECKER flying in!" Thanks to Oliver Burrus for calling him out. We had picked up all three targets! Many birders come here to try to see all three of these birds, and almost always miss at least one of them. Rarely ever do birders see all three, so we were incredibly lucky to hear and see all three right by the parking lot. The rest of the walk got us WOOD DUCKS, BELTED KINGFISHERS, a very early BLUE HEADED VIREO, followed by a BLUE GREY GNATCATCHER, and much more. This was probably the best morning the preserve has had all year.
Our next stop was to Orland Grasslands. This location is a great birding spot, and its short grasslands and marshes provide habitat for several ducks, shorebirds, and sparrows. Here, we hoped to pick up our target bird, the Smith's Longspur. These longspurs are colorful sparrow-like birds that summer in the subarctic tundra, and spend their winter in the great plains in the center of the U.S. They are very hard to find, but we do get some that stop by at Orland Grasslands on their way north every spring. Frustratingly, most of the birds that we saw were birds we flushed from the grass, making it hard to get photos and positive IDs. One bird that did cooperate was this nice FIELD SPARROW:
A little bit less cooperative (Could not seem to find a place to land) but still nice, were these PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, my first shorebird of the year other than a Killdeer, a type of plover which comes almost 3 months before all the other shorebirds do.
And, not surprisingly, KILDEER were one of the most common birds of the day.
Although getting everyone in the group on every bird was hard, we still all got brief views of SOLITARY SANDPIPER, WILSON'S SNIPE, and, SORA, followed by a flock of 8 HORNED LARK. One of the most exciting birds of the day and another year bird for me was this VESPER SPARROW:
We saw many more birds such as RUDDY DUCK, SAVANNAH SPARROW, SWAMP SPARROW, and RING NECKED DUCK, but failed to kick up a Smith Longspur. Although it may appear like an underwhelming birding spot, this grassland still brought us many incredible birds!
After I officially wrapped up the walk, many other birders continued birding and apparently had 2 Smith's Longspur just as I pulled out of the parking lot. It was frustrating I did not get to see one, but i'm still glad that most of the group did. Overall it was a fantastic walk, and we tallied up 50 species and found all of the day's targets, something I really did not expect. The best part of the day for me (obviously) was finally making it to 800 after being in the high 700s for several months. Bird of the day to the Louisiana Waterthrush, runners up were the Pileated Woopecker and Blue Headed Vireo! Stay tuned, because the most exciting time of the year for birding is coming upon us in just 2 weeks! If you live in the Chicago area and would like to join me on one of my walks, my next one will be to Montrose Point on April 30, 2017. To find out more go to whimbrelbirders.com.
Life List 800 (2 additional life birds as of April 15, 2017) To see more of my photography, look me up at birder03 on instagram!
Finally! Spring Break has arrived! I have not birded outside of the United States since my world trip, (even though Puerto Rico is still a U.S territory) so It was a great opportunity for me to be introduced to new birds and pick up many more lifers. I left with 783 species on my life list, and wanted to reach 800. I guess your going to just have to keep reading to find out if I made it or not! Also, we spent the whole vacation with our friends, the Darers, making the trip overall a lot more fun. Anyway, this post will be broken up into two parts because I went to two different locations in Puerto Rico. Please enjoy!
Part One: San Juan, Puerto Rico
I arrived in San Juan on Monday at 1:00 PM on March 27, much later than planned. Originally, I was supposed to leave Chicago at 4:00 PM the day prior and fly to Newark, then fly from Newark to San Juan and arrive at 12:30 AM. However, my flight to Newark was significantly delayed, which meant missing the connecting flight to San Juan. Thank God, because that sounded like a horrible mess. Instead I was put on a direct flight the next day! As soon as we arrived, the sightseeing began and we headed straight to old San Juan to explore the neighborhoods and sights. The first bird I saw and the 1st lifer of the trip was this GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE!
I also saw a few MONK PARAKEETS. Believe it or not, Monk Parakeets can actually be found on Chicago's south side. Decades ago, some of these birds escaped, and somehow adapted to the climate (don't understand how they survived a Chicago winter). The population grew to over 200 birds over the years, and of all places, the birds chose to nest under the Chicago Skyway! And yes, they have been in the area for 10 years, making them countable. So for the first time ever, I saw the parakeets where the parakeets were supposed to be. Aside from those, there were not many birds to see, but plenty of lizards. This iguana here was one of the largest lizards I saw on the whole trip:
We were lucky to be vacationing with friends, because walking around for 4 hours with no birds would have been dreadful. We topped the night off with a nice meal and a swim back at the hotel.
The following morning, we went to El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest in located in U.S territory. This was the day that I hoped to see my target bird, the Puerto Rican Tody, which is only endemic to Puerto Rico. Overall I found birding in the rainforest very difficult. 90% of the bird there you only hear, and since I don't know my Puerto Rican bird calls, I ended up with a low species count for the day, just 16 species. Another thing that drives me crazy, was how dark it was under the canopy, leading my camera to let me down on several photo ops. So I apologize, some photos may appear dark. Although I did not see much, I still found my target bird for the day, the tiny PUERTO RICAN TODY.
Another new bird for me was this PEARLY EYED THRASHER:
These RED LEGGED THRUSHES proved to be the most common bird during our hike.
Aside form a few species, it was a quiet hike. After meeting back up with our friends, we decided to go to a different part of the park, the Cocha Waterfall. Again, not many birds, but definetly worth the stop. Not only was the waterfall awesome, but the appearence of this NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH also made me very happy. This bird is a species of warbler, and warblers are my favorite family of bird species, only passing through the Chicago area during migration. Also, he put on quite the show!
Seeing the waterthrush feed on the side of the waterfall was definitely one of the highlights of the day. We were just about to leave when another great bird showed up, this PUERTO RICAN TANAGER! As you probably already guessed from the name, this bird is only endemic to Puerto Rico. The bird was constantly moving, so I could not quite get that nice shot, but this is at least what the bird looks like:
Overall, not many birds, but definitely some cool ones as well as some lifers.
The entire 3rd day of San Juan was walking around the old town once again, and looking at more of San Juan's historic sites. Since there is not a lot to write about and few birds, I will close the San Juan section with a collage of photos we took while walking around. Enjoy!
I lied! I did have one really nice and unexpected bird sighting. Im sorry I could not get a photo of the bird itself, but just of this beach is where I watched my lifer BROWN BOOBY (odd name for a bird right?) clumsily diving for fish.
I enjoyed my time on the main island very much, even though there were few birds. The highlights for me were birding around El Yunque National Forest, playing at the beach, and hanging out with my friend Sam. It would be nice to revisit this city in the future.
End Of Part 1 Life List:792
Part 2: Vieques, Puerto Rico
Vieques is a small island located just east of mainland Puerto Rico. More than half of the island is made up of Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, which means great birding is here! The population of Vieques is just 9,400 people, and the island is just a short 1 hour drive to get from one end to the other. Its warm weather, good food, and beautiful beaches attract tourists looking for a relaxing getaway. Relaxing is just what we did for most of the time. Vieques is a short 25 minute flight from San Juan. Also, did I mention that the plane was about the size of a large canoe?
Including us, there were only 6 people on the flight.
Since we did not do much in Vieques but relax, visit some beaches, hang out with our friends, catch pokemon around the hotel and eat good food (I am now addicted to sweet plantains), I figure lets just jump into the birding.
For my birding trip, my dad and I drove to the nature reserve on the northwest tip of the island, hoping to get the 7 life birds I needed to reach 800. The road there was actually so full of birds that it was as productive as the destination itself. Slowly meandering our way down PR994 we came upon several bird such as many COMMON GROUND DOVE:
CATTLE EGRET, who also apparently likes horses:
Female YELLOW WARBLER:
Then came one of the highlights of the day, a pair of endemic PUERTO RICAN WOODPECKERS!
Just as we were approaching Punta Arenas Road, we were treated with two awesome species of kingbirds just a few yards away. Here is a nice LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD, the rarer one of the two species:
GREY KINGBIRD, the more common of the two species:
And finally, we arrived after a very bird drive there.
The road took us through a variety of habitats, including low trees/scrub, wetland, tall trees and beaches. It definitely proved to be a great birding spot. Just as we got onto the road, I spotted a pair of these awesome MANGROVE CUCKOO:
The wetlands further down the road provided several shorebirds. As soon as I stepped out of the car I flushed two BLACK BELLIED PLOVERS, followed by a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, its rapid fluttering wingbeats gave it away. Spotted Sandpipers should show up in the Chicago area in a couple weeks time, and are one of the most common shorebirds there from May all the way through September. This beautiful BLACK NECKED STILT was standing just by the bridge, giving us perfect views. Its long pink legs, give it the name "stilt".
Another shorebird in the lagoon I saw named after it's legs, was this LESSER YELLOWLEGS:
This colorful billed COMMON GALLINULE (or Common Moorhen) was bathing in the wetlands.
This BROWN PELICAN was perched on a dead palm, and was definitely doing some crazy acrobatics!
The incredibly beautiful and endemic ADELAIDE'S WARBLER was present many times throughout the day,
Here is a picture of the road itself:
We topped the day off with some awesome displaying BLACK FACED GRASSQUITS followed by this GREEN THROATED CARIB!
The birding turned out to be much greater that expected! But, the real question is, did I make it to 800?
I never made it. That Green Throated Carib was lifer 799, the final life bird I saw on the entire trip. Even though I did not make it to 800, I was not disappointed at all. I had a great day of birding, and I really enjoyed seeing species I have never seen before, or have not seen them for a a while. I really enjoyed exploring the island with my friend the whole time. I would love to come back.