Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Montrose Western Grebes 11/11/12

Hi all,

Two Sunday's ago; I woke up late and thought I would have a relaxing day. I got the Bohemian Waxwing on that Friday, and won my competition for Robotics (a school event) on Saturday. I was hoping to relax, but when I read my email that morning, I saw that Lou Muñoz and Fran Morel had seen a Western Grebe at Montrose about a hour before I woke up. This was another bird I needed for my state list, and really wanted to see it. Luckily for my mom (who I would ask to drive me there), it had swum away and was not present at that moment. I went along with my day, and saw that at around 12:00, Jeff Skrentny refound it. It was still there!

I went to Academic Approach for my ACT prep around 2:00, and convinced my mom that we should make a run over there after. We got there soon after I got out of class, and walked out onto the fishhook pier. That was an experience in itself. The winds were ferocious, and I had to lie down on the pier just to get a stable picture. It turned out that the winds were up to 60 mph that day, and we were right on the lakefront in the middle of it. But as we walked out there, I saw Jerry Goldner photographing something in the lake. I began to scan with my binoculars, and found a Western Grebe! Illinois bird #308! But wait. I thought I saw something else, and after it rose on top of a wave, it was a second Western Grebe! Not only did I get my state bird, but also I got two of them. My mom and I walked over to Jerry, and he showed us a few of his shots. I tried to lie down on the ground, and was able to manage a few shots:

As we were watching the Grebe, Jerry called out that there was a Bonaparte's Gull in the fishhook. I looked over, and was able to get a decent shot of it:

We couldn't stay too long, and soon after arriving, my mom and I began the treacherous journey back to land, and on the way back, I took a shot of Jerry photographing into the wind. You can even see the Western Grebes off to his left as little black dots:

This was quite an experience, but then again, what do we not do for birds? Thanks for reading, and I hope I have something good to report on soon!


Friday, November 9, 2012

Chicago Botanical Gardens Bohemian Waxwing 11/9/12

Hi all,

As I posted about yesterday, I was going to look for a Bohemian Waxwing at the Chicago Botanical Gardens today. I went with my mom (Lynne Remington) and Aaron Gyllenhaal. Aaron needed this bird for his Illinois state list (for bird 347), so it was extra important we find it today. The latest report we read stated that it was last seen at around 10:00 AM near the Sensory Garden, making that the first place we visited. We began walking towards the Garden, but saw a small flock of Goldfinches and while briefly looking at it, Aaron found a Common Redpoll. I was pleased to see it, as it was tinged a rosy color, which I had never seen before. I snapped a few shots, but soon rushed away as we had our eyes on the Waxwing.

We arrived at the Sensory Garden at around 12:15, and were told by the congregation of birders that it had not been seen since about 10:00. They said that it seemed to favor the berry bushes in front of them, and that they were going to wait for it to come back. Aaron and I did not want to wait as we didn't have that long to find it, and after thanking them for the information, we went off to look for it around the area. We were going to walk to where we had the Redpoll before for some photos, but on the way Aaron found 6 more Redpolls. They soon flew off, but as Aaron looked in the direction they were flying, he spotted a group of 8-10 birds flying over. We decided they were Waxwings, so we tried to see where they would land. After watching them descend on some willows, we walked over to find them. Waxwings like to feed in big groups, which will attract more waxwings. We figured that these waxwings were going to lead us to more waxwings, and that the Bohemian might be feeding with them.

We walked only a short distance until we found around 70 Cedar Waxwings. All that was left for us to do was to "sort" through them until we found our prize! Unfortunately, the rest of the birders were waiting back at the Gardens, so it was just us over there. As we were sorting, two birders came over and helped us look. After about 10 minutes, some people walking by were curious about what we were doing. I told them that we were looking for a Bohemian Waxwing, which lives up north from Illinois and is very rare. I said it had a red undertail and was much bigger than the Cedar Waxwings around us. As I said that, I looked up to check a bird, and noticed it had red undertail coverts. It took a second to process, but I then shouted, "There it is! Oh my gosh! GOT IT!!!"

The Bohemian was feeding right above our heads, and stayed around for a good 3 minutes before flying off. It allowed amazing views, and practically posed for the small group of people looking at it. Unfortunately the big group of people came over a bit later, and did not see the bird for another hour after we left. This was Illinois State bird #307 and US Life Bird #505. Here are a few of my photos of this amazing Waxwing:

I hope I can track down some Evening Grosbeaks in Illinois soon, as they were my original targets for the winter. I must thank my mom for the speedy driving there and helping us look for the bird. It was an awesome day. Also thanks to Al Stokie for finding this bird.

Good birding and thanks for reading!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Montrose Black-legged Kittiwake 11/3/12

Hi all,

This past weekend, I birded with Ethan, Aaron, and Eric Gyllenhaal of Oak Park (near Chicago). They are crazy young birders who seem to traverse the state for every bird they want/need to see. This past Saturday, the winds looked very promising for lakewatching at Gillson Park, in Wilmette. This is the premier spot to lakewatch in Illinois, as it seems to be the spot that birds pass closest to when flying out over the lake. We were hoping for something rare or uncommon like a Black-legged Kittiwake, a Jaeger of any species, or something better. We did not see any of those, but it was a good day for Scoters since we had 17 of them. We had one close flying female Black Scoter, called out by long-time birder Al Stokie, and 7 identified White-winged Scoters. The rest of them were either dark-winged (Surf or Black) Scoters or just Scoter species.

While there, I was continuously updating my phone to see if the Evening Grosbeak that had been seen the day before in a backyard in Mundelein had come back. But since it hadn't, we were staying a bit longer at Gillson before going to try and find Aaron some Red Crossbills for his **Big Year** (he denies the fact that he is doing one, but he got 306 for the year in Illinois on Saturday). Aaron suddenly called out at random at one point, "Black-legged Kittiwake at Montrose! Sitting in the water, found by Michelle Devlin." After the words Black-legged Kittiwake, I shouted, "Lets go!" and we were off.

We arrived at Montrose after only 25-30 min of driving, and as we got to the concrete steps, we could not see any birders. But Aaron was not deterred, and after setting up the scope, he found something floating in the water. He put the scope on it, and there it was! It was an immature Black-legged Kittiwake, ABA bird #504, and Illinois State bird #306. This day could not have gotten any better. The original looks were not great, but the bird eventually drifted in closer to the shoreline, allowing great photo opps:

At this point, more birders showed up, and we eventually spotted Michelle, huddled on the steps keeping warm. She told us that earlier the Kittiwake was flying only 10 feet above the heads of some fisherman. We really wanted to see it fly, and not even ten minutes after saying that, it decided to get up and stretch. It flew away from us at first, but then turned around and flew right towards us, at eye level. It passed about 20 feet in front of all of us, and allowed amazing looks. This was an awesome way to get a lifer!

Also, while at Montrose, we had a group of about 40 Snow Buntings land on the concrete stairs. They quickly got up and flew out over the lake, and I was able to get a few pictures before they were too far out:

I took a short video of the Kittiwake, which I compiled with some other rarity clips from this past winter. The Kittiwake video starts at :53:

Tomorrow I will be looking for the Bohemian Waxwings that were found at the Chicago Botanical Gardens yesterday with Aaron Gyllenhaal. Perhaps I will also get an Evening Grosbeak or two this weekend!

Good Birding!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on 10/21/12 in Cook County

Hi all,

This weekend was very busy, and following the Burrowing Owl in Chicago, the number of rarities in the Midwest only will increase. I was really hoping for something rare to show up this past week in Chicago, but the main push of migrants was on the weekend. Unfortunately, I was not in town because I had to go up to Northfield, Minnesota to look at St. Olaf and Carleton colleges. While I was gone, a few rarities landed in Illinois, mainly a Golden-crowned Sparrow in deep southern Illinois (Wayne County), and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Willowhill Golf Course in Northbrook, near Chicago. The flycatcher was only about 20 miles from my house and would be a state bird for me.

After arriving in Chicago on Sunday at around 11:00 PM, I convinced my Mom to take me to see the bird after I did some homework. It took about 40 minutes to get there, and we arrived at Willowhill at about 2:30. Looking at the birders there, they seemed to be watching the bird, so I made a mad dash up the hill and got my state Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! This was Illinois State bird 305 and Cook County bird 259. Here are some photos:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

While there, we also saw a few raptors such as this Red-tailed Hawk, which sat up nicely on a pine tree, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk which flushed out of a hedge and right over our heads. It was a really beautiful day to be out, and it was made even better by the new state bird.

Red-tailed Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Thanks for reading!


Friday, October 12, 2012

Montrose BURROWING OWL 10/6/12

Hi all,

I went out birding last Saturday, and it was an amazing day that I will always remember. I haven't updated my blog in a while, but I am making a new resolution to update it more often. I will be posting later this month about my trip this summer to the Cascades in Washington State. Anyways, last weekend looked really good for rarities to show up, mainly because the weather patterns developing over the week were prime material to push western vagrants to the east. I love chasing rarities, so I was really hoping for something like a Rock Wren or a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. But one bird that did not cross my mind was a Burrowing Owl. The last one seen in the Chicago area was on October 28th of 2008. I started birding in May of 2009, so none have been seen in northern Illinois since I became a birder. Before the 2008 record, the last one found up north was in the 1980s. The Burrowing Owl in 2008 was seen at Montrose Point, but was flushed so many times by birders that the local Cooper's Hawk got it. Many people were quite angry with that, since it was such a rare bird and they couldn't see it. But now many people up in northern Illinois got another chance:

Josh Engel and Onesmus Kioko picked me up Saturday morning at 6:40 AM. Kioko is from Kenya, and is currently working at the Field Museum with Josh learning how to prep bird specimens. Josh was leading a trip on Saturday for the Illinois Ornithological Society (IOS), and we were planning to meet at Montrose. We arrived at around 7 AM and began walking towards the beach. Already down there were Jerry Goldner, Rob Curtis, and some other local birders (Jerry had actually found the owl before us but we had no idea, and until he told us, we thought we had found it). Our group made it down to the beach and began walking towards the large Cottonwoods, walking towards the lakeshore. As we got up near the top of the hill, Josh turned to his right, saw a bird in flight, and called out, "OWL!" I frantically scanned to see where he was looking and saw a smaller owl that appeared to be a small Short-eared Owl. I only was able to see it for about 2-3 seconds before it landed on the ground. Josh and I exchanged glances, and he stated, "I think that was a Burrowing Owl." That sure got the adrenaline pumping...

The group began to formulate a plan on how to find this bird, but did not want to flush it, as it was sitting down in the dune grass. I saw Fran Morel walking towards the beach, and got his attention, asking him to come over quickly. I told him we had a "possible" Burrowing Owl and Josh called Bob Hughes to round up all the birders down by the water. Fran began to walk with our group of seven to see if we could view the bird from a different angle. Not even two seconds had gone by before Fran stated to us, "I'm looking right at the bird."I ran over to his side, and right in front of me, about 30-40 yards away, was a Burrowing Owl.

We eventually found a place a bit farther back in the dune to view this bird, ensuring that it was not stressed. We then saw Bob and his assembled group approaching us to look at it, and we directed them around the bird so the bird was safe. This bird was a lifer -- a bird one has never seen in their lifetime -- for some, and a state bird for the rest of the group. We begin to pass around the idea of posting to IBET (the listserv for Illinois), but decided to hold off for a bit. We were worried that if too many people came, the bird might get harassed and perhaps find its way into the talons of another Raptor again. On Saturday, the raptors at Montrose were amazing as well. Including the Burrowing Owl, we had 9 species of raptor:

Burrowing Owl
Short-eared Owl
Northern Harrier
Merlin (I missed it)
Red-tailed hawk
Osprey (I missed it)
Peregrine Falcon
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

Eventually, we figured out that we were able to see the Owl from the Fishook Pier, which made the situation for the owl much better, and made it so we could tell the bird world. The Dune at Montrose is a fragile ecosystem, and the more people walking in it, the worse off it will be. We figured out that we could, indeed, see the bird very well from the pier, and make sure that nobody would walk through the dune at all while the bird was there. We then posted to IBET, and people began streaming in. I estimated that over two hours, over a hundred people came to see this bird, and people continued to visit throughout the day. This was one famous owl to say the least. Personally, it was my 304 bird in Illinois and my 9th species of owl in the state. This was even a county bird for Andy Siegler, one of the most notorious county listers in the state, and who has seen over 395 species of bird in Illinois. Below are some pictures of it, as well as some of the raptors present at Montrose. Also, there are a few photos of the birders watching the owl:

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl
Northern Harrier
Birders looking at the owl
Birders looking at the owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Thanks for reading, and I will have another post soon!


Monday, March 19, 2012

Quito Botanical Gardens 3/18/12

Buenos dias!

Greetings from Ecuador! I am here on Spring Break right now with my family, and today was our first day in Quito. We decided to spend our day exploring La Parque de Carolina which is about a three minute walk from our hotel. Here, we visited the Quito Botanical Gardens. The birding was great knowing we are in a huge city. We only saw 9 species on this trip, but some were very interesting.

We arrived at the Gardens around 9:00 AM and I immediately found a very close and well lit Great Thrush, a very common bird in Quito.

Great Thrush
Upon entering the gardens, I was immediately entranced by the life buzzing around me. There were dragonflies everywhere and I was hearing the very loud chip notes of a Sparkling Violetear perched on a tree limb. I took a few minutes to get some pictures of the dragonflies. It turns out that I found myself two lifers. I emailed Dennis Paulson to see if he knew what they were and he was able to identify them for me:

Rhionaeschna marchali
Sympetrum gilvum
Our main bird targets  were Black Flowerpiercer and Black-tailed Trainbearer. We had success with both, although the Flowerpiercers were very flighty and hard to see well. We encountered the Flowerpiercers about five minutes into our walk.

Black Flowerpiercer
Black Flowerpiercer
From here, we continued on and found a Sparkling Violetear feeding on some flowers, glistening in the sunlight. I was unable to get any photos of it, but while watching, I caught a glimpse of a small gray bird flying over me. I followed it into a rose bed, and was able to refind it. I got some pictures of it and when I got back to the hotel in the afternoon, I found out I had seen a Southern-beardless Tyrannulet!

Southern-beardless Tyrannulet
Continuing on, I found one of the coolest birds of the trip: a Swainson's Thrush. This bird will be back in Chicago in about 2 months!

But in Ecuador there is always something else around the corner. After the Thrush, my mom soon found a Passerine in the top of the trees. I got a glimpse of it, and the first thought that popped into my head was that it was a Vireo. I took some photos and sent them to a few people this afternoon. It turns out it was a Yellow-green Vireo, my second lifer of the trip.

We continued on to find the part of the gardens that had the crops the Incan's had planted back in the 13th Century, but along the way we stopped again for a Black-tailed Trainbearer feeding

While watching this magnificent bird, I noticed two Rufous-collared Sparrows begging for me to take their photo:

Adult Rufous-collared Sparrow
Juvenile Rufous-collared Sparrow 
After we found the Incan portion of the Gardens, we were getting hot and decided to call it a day. Tomorrow I will be off to Yanacocha for some Hummingbirds and who knows what else! Hope you enjoyed this taste of Ecuador!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chicago Harlequin Ducks

Hi All,

On Tuesday, March 6th, I went to 31st St. Beach in Chicago to see if I could find an adult male Harlequin Duck that had been frequenting the area over the span of 3 days. I was able to get there in the early afternoon during a free period in school. Free periods are times where I have no scheduled class and can do whatever I choose to with my time. They have been very beneficial to chasing local rarities in Chicago. As soon as we got to 31st Street, we were able to find the adult male Harlequin Duck feeding about 30-40 feet off of the breakwall and it was allowing some amazing photo opps. Below are some pictures of this beautiful bird:

It was very interesting to see this male, since I had seen a juvenile Harlequin Duck over at Jarvis Bird Sanctuary in January, and again at Fullerton St. in mid-February. This individual is overall very drab except for its head patterning. I was fortunate to get some pictures of this bird which are below.

After viewing this bird, I made it my life's goal to see an adult male Harlequin Duck in Illinois before I leave for college, and now I have completed that goal! Perhaps I need a more difficult goal that will take more time to achieve (A Big Year anybody :D).

Thanks for reading, and I hoped you enjoyed the comparison shots of two individual Harlequin Ducks.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Illinois Young Birders Trip 3/3/12

On Saturday, March 3rd, the Illinois Young Birders took a trip into DuPage County, Illinois to try and find some owls. We started near Naperville, Illinois, but went all over the county on our quest. There was one special bird that our trip leader, Jeff Smith, was going to share with us. It blew my mind when I found out what it was.

He had found a Barn Owl on private property, the first known in DuPage County in over 30 years. This is a remarkable find and perhaps shows that they are expanding their range northwards. For the safety of this bird, I can only say that it was on private property at an undisclosed location. We watched this individual for over 30 minutes and I was able to get a picture of its feet and half of its face. Over half of the bird was concealed, but this was probably because it was 30º outside, and very windy. Below are my two best photos:

At this location, we also had my FOY White-crowned Sparrows:

Jeff then took us out to see a Great-horned Owl sitting on a nest, which according to him, was created by a Red-tailed Hawk.

After this, we went to try and find some Long-eared Owls, but they were at their usual location. From here, the group split up, and the remaining 8 of us traveled to the Morton Arboretum to go look for a Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, and White-winged Crossbills. These birds are known to be in the Arboretum, but did take some time to find.

We arrived at the Barred Owl location in the Arboretum and played a few snippets of tape to see if we could usher a response. After about five minutes, we heard a Pileated Woodpecker respond. We gave up after another five minutes, and walked back to the cars to play a louder tape from Jeff's car. From here, we got a response from the resident Barred Owl. Unfortunately, these birds were heard only, so no pictures were possible.

From this location in the Arboretum, we traveled over to Hemlock Hill to try and find the Crossbills. I had read that they had been feeding on some cones that had fallen to the ground, supposedly offering great looks. We were not disappointed and as soon as we got to the right location, we found 14 feeding on the ground, about 10-15 feet away from us. Standing behind a tree, I was able to get some amazing pictures of them, and some came within 3-5 feet of me. Here are some of the pictures I was able to capture:

How many birds do you count in this photo?

At one point, while observing the crossbills, my mom called to the group that she had found an American Mink. I was unable to hear her and after it dove back into the water, she came and got me. I rushed over to see if I could re-find it. Sure enough, it did resurface and climbed back onto a little island, but as soon as it came out of the water, it ran to the other side, only to dive back in. Here are two shots I got of it running away from us:

Overall, this was a great trip, and I really enjoyed myself. Jeff is an amazing trip leader, and I hope to go birding with him more often. I would like to thank the Illinois Young Birders for setting this trip up, and to Brian Herriott for originally creating the group.

Thanks for reading, and good birding!