Oliver’s Birding Blog | Florida 2019

Feb 14

After months of waiting, the day finally came when we drove to Southern Florida, a 20-hour drive from Chicago. Just about 4 hours into the trip, I spotted a field covered in white specks. They were Snow Geese; thousands of them! I immediately started looking with my binoculars outside the passenger window for Ross’s, and amazingly, in the few seconds I had to view the flock, I found 6 Ross’s Geese flying with the Snows! The rest of the day was quite slow, although a Bonaparte’s Gull flying over a lake in Kentucky was cool.

Feb 15

The day started with a quick ten-minute search of birds around our hotel in Macon, GA, which turned up the only Chipping Sparrows of the trip as well as the first Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees! After 4 hours of driving – with not very many birds – we decided to stop at Silver Springs SP in Marion County, Florida, where we got our first taste of Florida birds. The sounds of calling Tufted Titmice and Northern Mockingbirds radiated throughout the forest, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted through the trees, meanwhile Tricolored and Little Blue Herons fished in the crystal clear stream that flowed beneath the boardwalk. It was also quite exciting to find Brown Anoles scurrying throughout the park as well as many butterflies such as Phaon Cresent, Cloudless Sulphur, and Juvenal’s Duskywing! On the last leg of the drive, we were treated to more Florida birds such as White Ibises and Cattle Egrets. We finally made it to my grandparents’ house in Estero, FL at around 8:00 PM. Almost immediately, I had the first mystery “bird” of the trip. I heard a clicking sound; it sounded just like a Virginia or King Rail. I was delighted! However, something didn’t add up. The habitat wasn’t quite right for a rail, and it sounded a bit too quiet for one. But it couldn’t be a frog? Could it? I was determined to find out more, so I posted a short recording to the ABA Facebook group “What’s This Bird?”, I also texted my friends. At first, most seemed to think that it was, in fact, a King Rail. But after some discussion, the consensus was that it was just a Southern Cricket Frog. Oh well, at least it was a lifer frog!

Southern Cricket Frog audio

Feb 16

Still recovering from the long drive, we decided to spend today around my grandparents’ house. I did some birding in their neighborhood and found some Mottled Ducks swimming a nearby pond as well as a kettle of vultures which also happened to have a single Wood Stork and a few Anhingas with them. The local Loggerhead Shrikes & Northern Mockingbirds were out and about today, and a surprise Broad-winged Hawk was seen near the entrance to the community.

Feb 17

Sanibel Island

We headed out early to go to Gulfside Beach on Sanibel Island. The recent reports of Snowy Plover there had me excited – as I missed SNPL last time I was in Florida. The very first birds seen at the beach were about 30 Black Skimmers flying over the ocean – the first lifers of the trip (another bird I somehow managed to miss last year). I scanned the beach for shorebirds, but only saw a few Willets resting on the beach about a quarter mile in the distance. As I walked towards the Willets, I saw hundreds of Sanderlings, some Black-bellied Plovers, many Ruddy Turnstones, and a VERY close Snowy Egret & Lesser Black-Backed Gull. However, no Snowy Plovers. I continued scanning, when a small Calidris sandpiper (A.K.A peep) came into view amongst the Sanderlings, with black legs and a drooping bill – it was a Western Sandpiper! Although I saw this species last time, I never had a chance to photograph it, so it was pretty exciting to snap some pics of this species! Unfortunately, just after seeing the sandpiper it was time to go, I had dipped on Snowy Plover yet again!

We next headed over to the famous J.N. Ding Darling NWR. When we got there, we decided to take a hike on a short boardwalk through the Mangroves. Birds were calling everywhere, although the dense mangroves made it all but impossible to see them. Suddenly, a bright yellow bird popped out in the open just feet from me. It was a Prairie Warbler, the first of the trip, and another bird I have never been able to photograph before! We walked back to our car and started driving the Wildlife Drive. At the Observation Tower, we found lots of birds including Dunlin, Wood Stork, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, and a singing Prairie Warbler! We got back in the car and drove about 50 feet until we spotted a group of photographers. I got out and asked what they were photographing. They pointed to the ground – amazingly a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was hunting just 10 feet away! I got eye level with the bird and started shooting. Somehow, of the over 100 pics I got, only a few turned out really nice. Next, we stopped at a short boardwalk where we were treated to Horseshoe and Mangrove Tree Crabs. We ended our Ding Darling adventure at Caulsa Shell Mound Trail, where we found an Ovenbird running on the ground at the beginning of the trail, and 3 North American Racers (a type of snake) throughout the path.

As we were leaving the island and crossing the Sanibel Causeway bridge, my 8-year-old brother joked, “look, a Magnificent Frigatebird!”. I raised my bins to play along with the joke but I was amazed to find that it actually WAS a frigatebird flying about a half mile away! We pulled over at a closeby parking area so I could get some documentation shots. Soon we saw another frigatebird, and another, and another. It seemed as though they were everywhere! One flew right above us giving great looks and a fair photo op!

Feb 18

Babcock-Webb WMA

The alarm clock rang at 5:00 AM today (which felt early because I’m used to central time). After quickly getting my stuff together, my dad and I headed out to Babcock-Webb WMA, in search of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (I’ll refer to these as RCWO in here), Brown-headed Nuthatches, and perhaps we would get lucky and find an uncommon Bachman’s Sparrow. We arrived at 6:30. Immediately, I heard Common Gallinules and hundreds (if not thousands) of Red-winged Blackbirds right at the pay station! Babcock-Webb is a vast place, 37 miles of roads and over 80,000 acres in total! Good thing I knew where to find the woodpeckers, otherwise, I would have no shot at them. We immediately headed to the RCWO spot along Oil Well Grade because I knew they only came out early in the morning for about ten minutes every day. We stopped when we spotted trees with red bands around them (meaning they contained man-made nest boxes) and at the sign titled “RCW”. It was now 7:00 AM, when they usually start to come out, yet after twelve minutes of intensive searching, we had found/heard none – just hundreds of Pine and Yellow-rumped warblers. Finally, at 7:12 AM, a woodpecker flew directly over me and landed on a nearby tree! I put my bins up to confirm, and sure enough, it was a RCWO! I quietly told my dad to come over and watch the bird while I ran to get my camera. As I was running to the car, I spotted two more RCWO on some trees in the distance. I grabbed my camera and ran back to my dad finding yet another RCWO on the way back. Now with my camera, I happily found out that the original bird was still there, allowing for a decent photo. Suddenly, the activity seemed to halt, even the warblers were quiet. We searched for more RCWOs, but none were to be found for the rest of the day. Soon, we met a few other birders looking for RCWOs. Unfortunately, we were the only people to see them. Now to search for my ultra-nemesis bird, the Brown-headed Nuthatch. I have looked for this bird four times in the past and missed it every time. The time was now 7:35, and we had to leave by 9:15. So, we started driving slowly through the refuge. A quick stop at a marsh netted us our only Lesser Yellowlegs of the trip, as well as lots of waders such as herons, egrets, and Wood Storks. Just before the intersection of Oil Well Grade and Truckers Grade, a Limpkin gave us some nice views, letting us get within 20 feet of it! We stopped every half mile or so at prime habitat for Brown-headed Nuthatch. Frustratingly, all we could find were more and more Pine and Yellow-rumped Warblers. This is one of the only times I have ever been annoyed about too many warblers, lol. Hope seemed to be fading for the nuthatch. We had been searching for an hour and fifteen minutes and drove 7 miles with no luck; the best bird during that time was a brief look at a Snail Kite. We decided to hit one more spot before leaving- a patch of pines next to the shooting range. We scanned for 10 minutes, but had no success. We started to drive out of the refuge and stopped at a little pull-off where Boat-tailed Grackles were displaying. I was upset; I had yet again missed my nemesis bird. My dad suggested we go back and try one last time, as we still had 5 minutes until we had to leave. I wasn’t going to say no. So we went back to the area around the shooting range. I then heard a delightful sound – the sound of what I thought was a Brown-headed Nuthatch. I quietly played the nuthatch call on my phone to double-check, and sure enough, it was! I was so excited, but I still wasn’t going to be content without seeing the bird. About a minute later, a nuthatch flew overhead and landed on a tree a couple hundred feet away. Suddenly, another flew in a bit closer, and one more started calling. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Corkscrew Swamp

After leaving Babcock-Webb, I kept my eyes open for a Snail Kite on I75 around Punta Gorda so that I could get a better look for my year list. Amazingly, I found one, hunting in the marsh in the median of the highway! We picked up the rest of my family and headed to another famous birding spot, Corkscrew Swamp Preserve. Both times I’ve been to Corkscrew, the birds did not meet my expectations, but the swamp is beautiful, and the plants there are worth the trip alone! The roads just south of Corkscrew can sometimes have Crested Caracara (that would be a lifer for me), so I kept an eye out for them and asked my family to notify me of any hawks. Mystery bird #2: Suddenly, my sister said, “LOOK! Hawk in the tree on the right!”. I put my bins up and was confused. I could not figure out what it was. We couldn’t stop because it was a busy road, but my dad pulled a u-turn so I could try to get a pic with my camera. I managed to get a few photos. The GISS resembled a Red-tailed Hawk. However, something didn’t look quite right. I posted the photos again to What’s This Bird and the discussion was really interesting. The bird I saw happened to be a “Florida” (umbrinus) Red-tailed, apparently a darker (A.K.A. rufous) morph.

Shortly after seeing the hawk, we arrived at Corkscrew. The first half of the boardwalk was slow, maybe eight species. However, the birding picked up on the second half of the loop, with a well hidden Barred Owl. This was another bird I’ve seen but wasn’t able to photograph until today. Next, passerines started showing up, “Northern Parula! White-eyed Vireo! Gray Catbird! Black-and-white Warbler! Common Yellowthroat!” We had finally come upon our first pocket of passerines! Continuing down the boardwalk, my mom, sister, and 4-year-old brother walked ahead as my dad, my 8-year-old brother, and I stayed to look for more birds. We ended up getting a good look at a Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, among others. We decided to get back to the visitors center and see if we could find the Common Ground-Doves and Painted Buntings that are usually there. We saw the dove but no buntings in sight. When we met up with the rest of my family, my mom had notified me that they had seen a pair of Painted Buntings about a quarter mile back on the boardwalk at some feeders. I decided to give it a shot, and luckily they were still there as well as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird! I walked back to the visitors center, which to my annoyance, had 2 Painted Buntings and an Indigo Bunting right at the feeders!

Feb 19

Delanor-Wiggins Pass SP

We didn’t have anything planned for today, so we thought we would try going to Delanor-Wiggins Pass SP. On the way there, I spotted a Glossy Ibis with some White Ibises. Somehow, this was our only Glossy of the trip! Although we didn’t find anything too special at Delanor-Wiggins, it was nice to see Black Skimmers and another Magnificent Frigatebird. The rest of the day was spent getting ready for Miami and the Everglades.

Feb 20

Northern Everglades and Crandon Park

We left Estero and headed for Homestead. There were many birds in the endless marsh (A.K.A. Everglades) along I75 – perhaps the best was another Snail Kite. Word had gotten out that a Thick-billed Vireo and a Western Spindalis had been found at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. I pleaded with my family to take me there, and they were okay with it! We got to Crandon Park at 1:45 PM. As soon as we entered the park, we saw Black Spiny-tailed Iguanas, the fastest lizard on earth! And even though they are an introduced species, it was pretty cool to see! I knew the birds were at the northern end of the park but didn’t know precisely where. Luckily we ran into another birder. He said he had just seen the Thick-billed Vireo and had last seen the Western Spindalis an hour ago. Thankfully, he walked us to the spot where he had seen both. Suddenly, I heard a strange bird song, not like one I had ever heard before. I said, “Oh! Is this it [the Thick-billed Vireo] calling right now?” I asked. The birder confirmed that it was the Thick-billed Vireo singing! About fifteen minutes after the birder left, the Thick-billed Vireo was singing non-stop in some very thick brush. I was getting annoyed; the vireo was SO close, but yet it wouldn’t pop up in the open! Then, hundreds of elementary school kids walked by. For the next 15 minutes, I couldn’t hear any birds amongst the noise. I thought I had lost the vireo. I wasn’t going to give up though. I tried an area where it seemed a bit quieter, but I saw no birds there. By the time I got back to the original spot all the kids had left, and birds started showing up. First, an Eastern Phoebe began calling then the THICK-BILLED VIREO started singing again! This time just off the trail, looking frantically for the bird, I finally located it in a small bush. The bird was super friendly. At times it would get too close for my camera! Everyone in my family got great looks at the bird as it hopped around, and sung! I then tried to find the Western Spindalis but had no luck. After that exhilarating experience, we went back to the car to finish the drive to the hotel. Today would undoubtedly be a day I’d never forget!

Feb 21

Southern Everglades

This was a day I was looking forward to for a long time. Today was when we would explore Everglades NP. I had two targets here, Black Rail (BLRA) and Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow (CSSS). The former being a very cryptic bird that can sometimes be heard giving its distinctive “kee-kee-derr” call early in the morning (1 hr to 45 mins before sunrise) along ‘Research Road’. And the latter being endemic to the Everglades which can only be reliably found between sunrise and 3 hours afterward, about 0.6 miles South of the Mahogany Hammock turnoff on Main Park RD. This Seaside Sparrow is much easier to hear than see. I’d describe its call as hoarse Red-winged Blackbird, “TCheeee”.

My dad and I left our hotel in Florida City at 5:00am to head to Research RD in search of the BLRA. As soon as we got to the spot, we immediately started hearing Common Gallinules and Killdeer. A little later, I heard the grunt calls of a (this time real) King Rail. We walked up and down the road listening for BLRA to no avail. Eastern Meadowlarks & Northern Cardinals started singing, the marsh birds grew quieter, and sunrise was soon. We needed to get to the spot for our top target of the day, the CSSS!

We entered the habitat of the CSSS at 7:15am. Almost immediately, I spotted a small dark sparrow fly low across the road, and start giving a series of high-pitched chip notes. I had my suspicions that this was a CSSS but wasn’t confident so we continued. We parked at a small pull-off for Sweet Bay Pond and walked north along Main Park RD. About 3 minutes after we started searching, we heard a very distinctive “TCheeee”; “CAPE SABLE SEASIDE SPARROW,” I quietly exclaimed! We soon realized that two birds were singing, and although both birds were quite far away, I still managed to get an identifiable recording! We continued hiking up the road, after about .25 miles of walking I caught a sparrow briefly fly up then fly back down out of the corner of my eye. The bird sang and was another CSSS!

Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow audio

While filling up on gas on the way on our way back to the hotel, I noted 2 Common Mynas (the first of the trip). Although they are non-native, they still count. With the rest of my family now with us, we were ready to continue our Everglades adventure! Our first stop was Anhinga Trail, at the start of the boardwalk, a very friendly Double-crested Cormorant sat on the railing as we walked by. Soon we saw a fascinating looking Florida Gar; a Purple Gallinule hopping across the lily pads; an Anhinga that acted like a watersnake; and a very surprising Western Kingbird that flew overhead. Walking farther down the boardwalk, we found Florida Red-bellied and Peninsular Cooters (Turtles); of course, lots of American Alligators; and another Purple Gallinule. We then went down the Gumbo Limbo that split off from the boardwalk into the woods. We were surprised to hear a Barred Owl calling in the distance. Another highlight was two Julia Helicornians (a type of Brushfoot butterfly), flying gracefully throughout the woods.

About a tenth of a mile in, we decided to turn back and head to our next stop, Long Pine Key Nature Trail. Situated in a Pine Rockland habitat dominated by South Florida Slash Pine, Long Pine Key is a beautiful place. On the way in, we spotted a Large Orange Sulphur (butterfly) along the roadside allowing for a picture. On the nature trail, we saw no birds. However, the plant diversity made up for that, everywhere you looked, it seemed, you could find unusual plants! We then headed off to Flamingo, keeping an eye out for Swallow-tailed Kite, which had just arrived in the Everglades 2 days before. As we approached the West Lake parking lot, my dad yelled, “SWALLOW-TAILED KITE”. Luckily, I caught a glimpse of the bird just as it passed over our car. We promptly pulled over to see if I could get a pic, but unfortunately, the bird was gone. We then stopped at West Lake to see if maybe the bird would come back, and sure enough, it did! Although it was far away, I still was able to obtain a couple of photos. We got back in the car and started driving again, but we didn’t make it far until I spotted several Swallow-tailed Kites, right overhead. As we pulled over, I got lots of pictures. Although they were backlit, a few ended up being okay! After a couple of minutes of watching the kites, we started driving again. Within few minutes, we were in Flamingo. In the marina, we found West Indian Manatees as well as a very close Little Blue Heron and Brown Pelican. I then went over and scanned the bay for shorebirds; however, the only birds I saw were Ospreys, Black-bellied Plovers, and Laughing Gulls. A quick search of the Eco Pond for waders prooved to be unsuccessful, although we did find White-eyed Vireos and Prairie Warblers. After a long day in the Everglades, everyone was ready to go, and we started heading back along HWY 41 back to Estero. Along the way, I spotted a bird that resembled a kite, at first, I assumed it was Swallow-tailed, but it didn’t have the right tail, so maybe Snail Kite? But the plumage was off. As we got closer to the bird, I realized it was a White-tailed Kite! The third kite species of the trip! Later, as we drove through Big Cypress Preserve, my dad yelled, “Crested Caracara, on the side of the road!”. I luckily got a brief look at the bird as we drove past! A pretty cool bird to put an end to a great day!

Feb 22

Today was spent packing for the long ride home. However, around the entrance to the community, I spotted two Swallow-tailed Kites!

Feb 23

Today was the first day of the drive home. Birding overall was slow; however, the first Northern Harrier of the trip was seen flying over a field in South East Alabama.

Feb 24

The last day of the trip, again birding was very slow, another new bird was added for the trip list though, a Hermit Thrush in the brush outside of the hotel.

A final note, I missed Roseate Spoonbill on this trip. Last time it seemed as though they were everywhere! Perhaps this year just isn’t good for them, or maybe I’m just not good at finding them anymore.


An Introduction to iNaturalist

Hey all, sorry for not posting in a while (you can expect a lot more posts in the future).

What is iNaturalist? iNaturalist is a platform somewhat similar to eBird, a citizen-science project dedicated to documenting life on Earth. Although, there are a couple of significant differences between iNat and eBird. First,  is that eBird is only for birds, iNat is for literally every living thing. Secondly, with eBird you need little evidence (at least for common birds) that you really saw, say an American Robin, whereas iNat requires you to have a picture/audio of the organism (if not, you can still put in a blank observation, but it won’t reach research grade). Although, I actually find iNat easier to use than eBird.

Why use iNat?

Whenever you submit your observations to iNat, you are actually contributing to science! All the Research Grade data is periodically uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (or GBIF for short). Anyone can download iNat data whether for personal use or scientific research!

Another one of my favorite things about iNat is how easy it is to learn new subjects. Within just a few months of using iNat, I learned how to ID a lot of the plants in the area and a bunch of beetles, arachnids, & other insects. Also, you can help others learn by identifying observations for them!

The Website

The iNat website (inaturalist.org) is fantastic, with easy access to all of your observations as well as cool graphs on all of the projects and an easy to use observation uploader. Below are some screenshots of the features of the website.

Identify observations for others.

Participate in projects.

View your life list.

Explore observations from around the world.

The App

INaturalist’s mobile application is a great way to record your observations quickly, it’s as easy as taking a picture, clicking “suggest ID,” and clicking submit. Some screenshots on how to use the app are below.

Look out for a post soon about the upcoming City Nature Challenge.

Oliver’s Birding Blog | Camp Colorado

Yes, I did publish this a bit later then I intended to but better later than never!

Day 1 – we met at 3 PM at the YMCA of the Rockies to begin camp. While we were waiting for everyone to show up, we found Black-billed Magpies and many Violet-green Swallows & Broad-tailed Hummingbirds flying overhead! When everyone was at the meeting spot, we headed inside to discuss the week ahead and listened to an excellent presentation by Bill S. about the ecosystems and habitats of Colorado. While Bill was talking, a Gray-headed Junco flew into the room, bird #1 that got inside the meeting room.

Day 2 – Today we headed to the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park in search of American Dipper, Black Swift, and other montane species. At first, birding was very slow. But the waterfalls and streams at this spot were spectacular. On the way back into the Y, one of the campers spotted some pigeons sitting on a front porch of a house, we stopped to check if they were Band-tailed and sure enough, they were! We then did some birding around the Y, along with the common species, we found a few Cassin’s Finches and a few campers saw a Lesser Goldfinch. Today, we also did a bird banding program at the Y, where we were able to watch Tree Swallow nestlings get banded as well as get a close-up look at a Broad-tailed Hummingbird! The evening program for the day was a fascinating presentation on bird banding by Ashli G. And again today, a Broad-tailed Hummingbird zoomed into the room, bird #2 that got inside.

Day 3 – We went to Endovalley today, the day started out at the West Alluvial Fan where the day started off with an American Three-toed Woodpecker landing 30 feet away at eye-level and started there for 30 minutes! We walked farther down the trail, and when we eventually reached the waterfall, we were treated to a very close American Dipper! Next, we headed over to an aspen grove where Jennie talked about the effects that Elk have on the Aspen population. We walked down the trail until we found a stream, a few campers (including me) decided to wade in the cold stream, by the time I got out I could barely feel my feet! Today was the first day of workshops, I decided to take the point count workshop by Joel S., although we got rained on, I still learned a lot, and it introduced a new type of birding to me! Tonight, we listened to an excellent presentation by Joel S. about his research on Rosy-Finches!

Day 4 – Today was the Alpine day! It was the day we would go to look for White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. As soon as we got to Medicine Bow Curve (the ptarmigan spot), we were treated to an early Rufous Hummingbird, a lifer for many of us! As we walked down the trail, we found another good bird, a flyover Pine Grosbeak! Then someone said, “I’ve got ptarmigan,” we all came rushing over to the scope, not the most excellent views ever, but nonetheless it was a White-tailed Ptarmigan! We then went to the Lava Cliffs to look for the second target bird of the day, the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (a near endemic to Colorado). Immediately, we found one foraging on the snow, again not a good view, but we got the bird, but just as we were about to leave, a bird decided to fly much closer than the previous one, close enough to obtain an identifiable photograph! We headed back to the Y for more workshops, today I did the field sketching workshop, again by Joel S., we went out to a Cordilleran Flycatcher that a few campers (including me) found the day before. We spend a little over an hour watching the birds behavior and sketching it. Tonight was the only owling night of the trip, we came up empty-handed as far as owls go but it was worth a try.

Day 5 – PAWNEE! Yep, today was the Camp Colorado Challenge, a sort of mini-big-day where we would try to find as many birds as possible. It was a 2-hour drive to Crow Valley Campground, the first stop of the day, as soon as we entered Pawnee, we found many Common Nighthawks and Western Kingbirds flying around. We walked around the campground a bit, observing a flyover Bullock’s Oriole; a perched Common Nighthawk; and an exciting bird for the west coast birders, a Blue Jay. We ate Breakfast, then moved on, first hitting a reliable spot for Mountain Plover. After just a few minutes of looking, one of the leaders shouted, “MOUNTAIN PLOVER, flying over the field,” most campers got on the bird, but the views were terrible; however, we did eventually get a few in the scope, although they were again, awful views. We then started driving to a spot for longspurs, on the drive there, we saw many sparrows, and although the majority were Grasshopper, I’m sure a few were better ones, but we didn’t have time to stop for any of them. Also on the drive, we found a more Mountain Plovers (including a fledgling), this time we had much better views, but we were stuck in the vans, another notable bird was a Yellow-headed Blackbird. While we were observing the Yellow-headed Blackbird, we looked out at the pasture and were amazed to find 29 more Mountain Plovers, some were reasonably close allowing for excellent photographic opportunities! When we finally arrived at the longspur spot, we immediately found more Mountain Plovers, Lark Buntings, and Grasshopper Sparrows. It took a while before we saw the McCown’s Longspurs, but we eventually did, in fact, 16 of them, some leaders and a couple campers even heard a Chestnut-collared; unfortunately, I was not one of them. We began driving to another part of Pawnee where we were hoping to find Cassin’s Sparrow and get any grassland birds we didn’t have yet, on the way we picked up many more Grasshopper Sparrows, and other grassland birds. We made a brief stop at Crow Valley Campground then continued on to the other part of Pawnee and spent a couple hours there, but we did not find another new bird for the day. The last stop before heading back to the Y, was Fossil Creek Resivior, when we got there, we saw some Western Grebes in the water, but mixed in the Western Grebes were 2 Clark’s Grebes! A lifer for me and most of the group! On the walk back to the vans we found a Bullock’s Oriole and a Cedar Waxwing. When we got back to the Y we did some more birding, a few of us decided to hawkwatch, and those who did were treated to some good looks at a Prairie Falcon, the only one we saw on the trip! We wrapped up the day by heading inside and tallying up everything we saw, we ended up with 90 something species (sorry, can’t remember the exact number), 54 Mountain Plovers, and 100’s of Grasshopper Sparrows (a record high for Colorado)!

Day 6 – Sadly, this was the last full day of camp. Today we would head to the foothills where we would meet up with Ted F. the guest leader for the day. We started at Rabbit Mountain, and almost immediately, we heard a Canyon Wren calling! And then someone called out Golden Eagle, then Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay; also, a Rock Wren, Blue Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole, Lark Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee were seen at nearly the same time. Good birds were everywhere, and I didn’t know where to look first, luckily most of the birds seemed quite content on staying in the same spot, so I was able to get on all of them. The rest of the hike was surprisingly slow, but I was finally able to find my lifer Lesser Goldfinch. We then headed to Old Saint Vrain Road in search of more foothill specialties. It was a cool place with a cliff on one side and a river on the other. As we started walking down the road I spotted a small bird hopping around in the shrubs on the cliff, I raised my binoculars, and it turned out to be a Virginia’s Warbler! We walked further down the road finding more good birds such as Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and a few Lazuli Buntings. We headed back to the Y where for the rest of the day we talked about camp highlights and hung out as it was our last day. One more time, while we were talking about camp highlights, another Gray-headed Junco hopped into the room, the third bird to do so during camp, lol.

2nd annual WBC Big Day

This was one of the weirdest birding days of my life. We seemed to get almost every target but missed many very common birds (for example, White-breasted Nuthatch). Perhaps the funniest was that we got Yellow-crowned Night-Heron but missed Black-crowned, lol.

We started the day off at Spring Lake. As soon as we got there, we played the Common Gallinule call. They instantly responded! Also at Spring Lake, we heard an amazing 4 Virginia Rails!

Next, we headed to Lost Mound, where upon arrival, we were treated to 4 Eastern Whip-Poor-Wills calling as well as a few peenting woodcocks. We walked down the road a bit and heard our first flycatcher of the day, Alder. We also heard Lark SparrowGrasshopper Sparrow, and a few Field Sparrows. We decided to drive a little more throughout the park to look for Northern Mockingbird, Western Meadowlark, and Blue Grosbeak. We stopped at a spot that looked promising. Immediately, we heard Common Nighthawks calling overhead. After a little listening, we heard a Western Meadowlark calling in the distance as well. But no mockingbird or grosbeak. 🙁

We then proceded to Mississippi Palisades SP. As soon as we got out of the car, we were swarmed by millions of bugs. The entire time they would get in your eyes, ears, and mouth, making birding very difficult. Despite the bugs, we did manage to find our main targets, Cerulean Kentucky Warbler and Louisana Waterthrush.

Feeling defeated from the Palisades, we worked our way back to Spring Lake where we managed to find a Least Bitern, a lifer for a few in the group!

After Spring Lake, we took the long drive over to Dixon Waterfowl Refuge. Although birding seemed slow, we actually had the second highest list of the day, with a total of 44 species. The best birds seen here were the easy to spot Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

We got word that the King Rail at Montrose was still being seen as well as the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at LaBagh, so we wanted to get to that area ASAP. But first, we needed to hit Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie for certain grassland species. At our first stop in Midewin, Explosives Road Prairie, we were thankful to find Nothern Mockingbirds here (as it would have been a disappointing miss because we didn’t get them at Lost Mound). We also found a few Dickcissels and some Bobolinks which were new for the day. On the way out, Ben S. spotted a bird sitting on the fence. We took a look at it and it turned out to be a Blue Grosbeak, a species we were only expecting to find at Lost Mound but missed them there, so we were very happy to get them here! Then we headed to Hoff Road, where all we wanted was a Bell’s Vireo. After walking down a trail for about 5 minutes we heard one.

Immediately after hearing the Bell’s Vireo, we ran back to our car and got to Montrose ASAP. Upon arrival, we spotted a large crowd of people (that’s how you find good birds at Montrose, just look for a crowd of people with binoculars lol). That something turned out to be the King Rail. It was a friendly bird, walking within feet of people sometimes. Other then the King Rail, Montrose was pretty slow; however, we did pick up a few migrants for the day.

Next, we went to LaBagh Woods, to look for the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.  A couple birders showed it to us, definitely the rarest bird of the day!

Our next stop was Waukegan Beach where we found Common TernRuddy Turnstone, and Piping Plover almost immediately! We walked down the beach picking up Semipalmated Sandpiper and Sanderling.

After Waukegan, we stopped at Illinois Beach SP – south for Brewer’s Blackbird. After the long walk down the beach, we finally reached where the Dead River meets Lake Michigan and where the Brewer’s Blackbirds are found. We didn’t even have to look for them, the Brewer’s Blackbirds flew right in front of us, giving great looks, a nice way to end the day!

Total species seen: 131!

Rallidae slam (excluding Yellow and Black)
Near flycatcher slam (missed Least, Olive-sided, and Yellow-bellied)
Swallow slam
Near cardinal slam (missed Summer Tanager although I am almost certain I had one)
May Icteridae slam (excluding Rusty)

Oliver’s Birding Blog | Carpentersville Dam and Brunner Family FP

Today, I was leading a walk for a different birding group, the Tuesday Birders. Unfortunately, I twisted my shoulder this morning and did not want to lug my camera around so that is why I did not take any photos.

We started at Carpentersville Dam, looking for various passerines, although we failed to find any kinglets, we did see American Tree & Song Sparrows, a single Bald Eagle, and tons of Red-winged Blackbirds as well as a few Common Grackles. Next, we drove to Brunner Family FP (a place I had been to only once before), and as soon as we started walking, we found Horned Larks (a year bird for me), Eastern Meadowlarks, a Northern Harrier and lots of Killdeer! When the trail ended, we decided to walk into the nearby forest, and as we were walking through it, we spooked a Great Horned Owl, which flew to a nearby tree giving nice looks! We started walking back, and all of a sudden 3 Tree Swallows flew up, one of which gave us excellent looks, according to eBird, they were the first Tree Swallows seen in Northern Illinois this year! Spring is coming fast! We also witnessed an exciting fight between a Northern Harrier and a Red-tailed Hawk (the harrier won)! As we headed back to our cars, I spotted a Northern Shrike sitting atop a tree (I have seen way too many shrikes this year, by the way) which then flew off and scared up a bunch of Horned Larks! A great way to end a great day!

Carpentersville Dam (8:00 to 9:00 AM)
Canada Goose
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Bald Eagle
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Sparrow 
Brunner Family FP (9:10 to 11:30 AM)
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Meadowlark 

Lucas’ Birding Blog: February 26

On February 26th, Isoo O’Brien, Ben Sanders and myself spent the morning birding Deer Grove Forest Preserve and Crabtree Nature Center. Initially, we started off by birding for about an hour at Deer Grove Forest Preserve – West, an area of healthy, primary, oak forest with a high canopy. We started here in search of Pileated and Red-headed Woodpecker. While we found neither, lots of common birds were calling throughout, which was nice to hear. I tried my hand at taking field notes for the first time, but the cold and wind caused my hand to be fairly unsteady, making drawing nearly impossible. Due to this, I decided to focus on things that only involved writing, such as documenting song and behavior. After leaving Deer Grove, we took the short drive to Crabtree Nature Center. Upon arrival, we walked to the nature center to investigate the feeders. On the way, we witnessed a lone flyover Sandhill Crane, which was my first of the year. Once we arrived at the nature center, we realized that the regular feeding flock was absent, so we walked over to the blind overlooking the lake. On the lake, we saw a flock of Common Mergansers, a small group of Ring-billed Gulls and some Canada Geese. Then, Ben received a text from a birder giving us the location to find Red-headed Woodpecker in Deer Grove. This was exciting because this was one of our targets on the day, so we immediately departed to go back to where we started. This time however, we went to Deer Grove – East, which is much more of a prairie and marshland area and much less forest. We found our sole Red-headed Woodpecker foraging in the bare trees of a freshwater marsh in the center of the prairie. Witnessing the beautiful black, white and red patterning of the Red-headed Woodpecker for the first time since last May was quite a treat. These incredible woodpeckers are interesting to watch as the forage and fly from tree to tree. After this sighting, we headed back to the car and we finished off the day.

Necedah Overnight


A Quest for The Whooping Crane (and others)


(tentative) July 21st and 22nd

Leader: Oliver Burrus

Important Details


Meeting Time |(tentative) 12:00 PM, July 21st

Meeting Location | Necedah NWR - Visitors Center

See more details below


Necedah NWR may be best known for their re-introduced population of Whooping Cranes, however, most people overlook the many other marvelous birds that call the refuge home. On this special overnight trip, I will guide you through the refuge in search of not only Whooping Cranes but birds such as Bobolink, Golden-winged Warbler, Black Tern, Common Loon, and Trumpeter Swan! Starting at the Necedah NWR Visitor Center, we will scout for the big day on Sunday. After we familiarize ourselves with the trails, we will head over to a few special spots in my neighborhood where we may find Clay-colored SparrowVesper Sparrow, and Cerulean Warbler among the scores of Red-headed Woodpeckers and breeding warblers! Next, we will try (no guarantees as this is quite late in the year for them) for the rare Kirtland's Warbler in Adams County! After hopefully viewing all the spectacular birds mentioned above, we will go over to Buckhorn SP (there is a small entrance fee) where we may find many woodland birds such as woodpeckers, White-breasted & Red-breasted Nuthatches among many Eastern Towhees and Black-capped Chickadees. For those who want to camp (accommodations can also be found nearby in Mauston), we will camp at Buckhorn and will have a chance at Eastern Whip-Poor-Will. The next morning we will meet here at 4 AM to listen for owls. After owling for an hour, we will carpool and drive over to  Boghaunter Trail where we are likely to encounter Golden-winged Warbler, Bobolink, and Sedge Wren! After Boghaunter Trail, we will walk up on the Observation Tower where we may find hundreds, if not thousands of waterfowl. Then, we will take a very short drive to the Visitor's Center in search of FlycatchersTrumpeter Swans, among others. Next, we will explore the roadsides of the refuge searching for pockets of high bird activity, stopping at each one. Our final stop will the Sprague-Mather Flowage area where we may find ShorebirdsWaterfowl, and breeding passerines along the Lupine Loop Trail.



11:00 AM to 12:00 PM - Meet at Necedah NWR - Visitors Center.

12:00 to 1:00 PM - Explore the trails around the Visitors Center (scouting for Sunday).

1:30 to 2:30 PM - You will get a private tour of my neighborhood where we stand a good chance at Vesper and Clay-colored Sparrows, Red-headed Woodpecker, breeding warblers (including Cerulean), among others.

3:15 to 5:30 PM - a wild Kirtland’s Warbler chase in Adams County.

6:15 to 7:30 PM - Bird Buckhorn SP.


SUNDAY ( Necedah NWR big day)

4:00 to 5:00 AM - Meet here at 4 AM and we will patrol the nearby areas for owls and other nocturnal birds.

5:15 to 8:00 AM - Bird Boghaunter Trail (early morning here is the best time).

8:15 to 9:30 AM  - Watch for waterfowl at the Observation Tower.

9:35 to 11:00 AM - Walk the Visitors Center trails.

11:00 AM to 2:00 PM - Stop at strategic spots along roads (I know a few secret spots).

2:15 to 5:00 PM - Bird the Sprague-Mather Flowage area.

5:00 PM - The end of this journey.


Click on species name for info


  1.  Possible Locations
    • Observation Tower
    • Visitor Center Trails
    • Sprague-Mather Flowage
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Sprague-Mather Flowage
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Sprague-Mather Flowage
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Visitor Center Trails
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Sprague-Mather Flowage
  1.  Sorry, can’t tell, you will see if you come.
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Observation Tower
    • Along the roads within the refuge
    • My neighborhood
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Visitor Center Trails
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Everywhere
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Boghaunter Trail
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Boghaunter Trail
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Boghaunter Trail
  1.  Possible Locations
    • My neighborhood
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Adams County
  1.  Possible Locations
    • My neighborhood
  1.  Possible Locations
    • My neighborhood
  1.  Possible Locations
    • Boghaunter Trail
  • Among many, many others

For a full list of species seen at Necedah please see: https://ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L249738/media?yr=all&m=



This trip is limited to 12 participants, so sign up soon as it is on a first come first served basis


Oliver Burrus

Oliver Burrus

I am a seventeen-year-old naturalist and aspiring data scientist from the Chicago suburbs and central Wisconsin. My first love is birds, but over the years and with the help of iNaturalist, I expanded my palette to pretty much anything living.
I love sharing my passion with others and have actively contributed to the community by creating and maintaining a birding club and multiple blogs, running the Chicago City Nature Challenge, making high-quality identifications on iNaturalist, as well as attempting to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for nature with everyone!

View Full Profile →

November Illinois Falcons Trip Report

Today, we started bright and early at Swallow Cliff Woods with hopes of spotting some continuing crossbills! We scanned the coniferous trees for quite a while, finding nothing more than a few goldfinches. And although we never did locate any crossbills we did encounter a nice flyover Rough-legged Hawk. We moved on to our next stop, Saganashkee Slough, where we found lots of gulls and waterfowl including a couple Common Loons! After a quick but thorough scan there, we drove over to Big Marsh, we observed almost no birds there, so we threw some rocks on the thin ice (which make an impressive sound, in case you did not know) and promptly left. Our next stop was Wolf Lake, we examined the entire Illinois side of the lake finding not much more than hundreds of coots and a few Mute Swans. So far this is probably not sounding like the most exciting trip ever, but that all changed when we headed over to Steelworkers Park! As soon as we pulled up, we started to find birds including a very close Sharp-shinned Hawk! It seemed like good lake watching conditions, so we watched for about thirty minutes finding a possible Long-tailed Duck, tons of mergansers, and even a Black Scoter! We had noticed that many of the birds were landing near Rainbow Beach, which was too far to ID from Steelworkers, so we went there.  Upon arrival at Rainbow Beach, we found some sparrows and a few waterfowl species but nothing too exceptional. We walked a little and ended up finding a large raft of ducks (mainly Redheads, Buffleheads, and scaup) in the raft of ducks was a one Horned Grebe that scared a few of us because at first glance it looked like a Western. Next, we headed over to Montrose Point. We extensively searched the dunes and the beach where we found Lapland Longspurs, American Pipits, and some very photogenic Dunlins! My last stop for the day was lunch, where we ate and recapped our birding for the day!


Iowa Bobolinks First Walk!

The first Iowa Bobolinks birding walk was held on Friday, November 10, 2017. Five daring participants arrived around 10:00 am, braving the blustery 23ºF morning.  Two of the participants were attending their first birding trip ever! We hiked the Shellsburg Prairie Forest Trail loop and, despite the winds, spotted 11 species! Including: 10+ House Finches at the trailhead, 9 House Sparrows, 4 Blue Jays, 3 American Crows, multiple Black-capped Chickadees that greeted us as we entered the timber, 1 American Robin, 3 Downy Woodpeckers, 2 Bald Eagles, 4 Chipping Sparrows, 7 Songs Sparrows, and a close-up look at an adult Cooper’s Hawk as it flew over the prairie. The walk was also highlighted by the multiple owl and/or hawk kills along the forest trail. Examining the fur blanketing the ground led us to deduce the victims were a few unfortunate rabbits.

Whimbrel Birders Club FIRST ANNIVERSARY!!!!! 10.21.2017

Hi fellow birders! Simon here! Today was the first anniversary of Whimbrel Birders Club. Ranging from ages 8- Mid Forties today, Whimbrel Birders Club really is a bird club where age is no barrier! With a grand total of 22 species at Nelson Lake and 29 species at Fermilab, we did not meet the first walk’s epic 60 total species! Scoping out the very same locations in the Batavia, Illinois area, we first met up at Nelson Lake, at the Dick Young Forest Preserve with throngs of waterfowl flying in and out. Oliver’s dad, waited for the expected guests at the cars while Oliver and Ben Sanders walked out to the overlook to get an early jump on ducks and geese. Peter, my brother, and I walk up and immediately begin to scan with our binoculars. The following birds were seen in the 10-minute wait for my mom, and Oliver’s dad to come along:

  • Hundreds of Canada Geese
  • 3 Snow Geese ( 1 White, 1 Dark, and 1 Mystery)
  • 30 Northern Pintail
  • 1 Northern Shoveler
  • 30 Blue and Green-winged Teal.
  • 15 American Wigeons
  • 10 Gadwall

Mallards, Herons and Egrets, Gulls, Nuthatches, Sparrows and hundreds of Grackles.

In the midst of the multitude of birds, Benjamin Sebastian arrived. He sadly misses the 3 Snow Geese. We birded for a few more minutes before hopping into our cars to drive to the second location, Fermilab. When we got there, we drove past the Bison Prairie, the research station, and finally, to the first lake to resume our expedition.  At Lake Law, the only birds there were some Canada Geese, 2 Sandhill Cranes, 8 Great Egrets, and a bonus CANVASBACK! W walked the trail to see no new birds, but to see a surprising amount of giant bullfrogs! We joked around saying that there was an accident with the particle accelerators, and it mutated them to a gigantic size! We met another birder, and she told us where to find a lingering Short-eared Owl, and some Greater White-fronted Geese. We got to a second lake, to find nothing but a few Double-crested Cormorants. There was a potential Neotropic Cormorant, but it turned out to be just a Double-crested. As we walk back to the cars, we decide to play a little prank on Lucas Rot, who couldn’t make it. We were inspired by the talk of Greater White-fronted Geese to text Lucas that we were in awe by the presence of a “Lesser White-fronted Goose!” First, we texted him a bad picture of one off of the internet, then a photo of me “petting” it using Ben Sanders’ Snapchat.  Then we sent him another bad photo of the species, but with a little bonus, a Barnacle Goose! Of course, we weren’t really seeing either goose. It went on for a while. We hardly looked for the Short-eared Owl, but did see a Blue-winged Warbler! We kept texting until we got to the area where the Greater White-fronted Geese had been seen, but they were not present. We scanned the Canada Geese to look for any other birds. Many Eastern Bluebirds came in and out with Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. Suddenly, 20 geese erupted from the flock, and we got a closer look. What do we know, they are all GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE!!!!!! They fly off but then come back to land back in the field. We are now saying, “Now, find the real Lesser White-fronted Goose!” We finally tell Lucas that we didn’t see a real Lesser White-fronted Goose. We were going to wait, but we didn’t want him to post it to rare bird alert, and get us all expelled from the ABA. All fun and games! We ended the day with a bang due to a flock of Wild Turkeys! Honored to be on the first anniversary of Whimbrel Birders Club walk, it was a great day!