Monday, January 28, 2013

Varied Thrush!

Hi all,


Today, my dad, brother, and I went to chase a Varied Thrush that was seen in Evanston. If you read the last sentence of my last post, you would know that I had this bird on my brain. Since I, like most kids, have school, I could only chase it late in the afternoon. I was a bit worried as the finder, Jason Kay, said that the bird was most often seen in the morning.

After a long drive from school to the thrush, battling Chicago traffic, we finally got to it. We walked up to Jason's house and talked with him. He said that people have been seeing it from the alley, so we went back there. The second I stepped out into the alley, I saw Andrew Aldrich and Shawn Pfautsch waving me over to them. I walked right to them and they had it perched up in the top of a tree. It stayed that way for 20-30 minutes. It later took off and didn't come back, though we didn't see where it flew too. We decided to make like the thrush and get out of there :p

While we were there, we heard an interesting report from one of the neighbors. She said that the thrush comes to her backyard sometimes, but with a friend. She said that there is a male AND female Varied Thrush in the neighborhood! If you are going for the thrush, be on the lookout for the female, as only the male has been photographed so far. The neighbor did say that she sees the male much more often.

Tips for finding it: First, tell Jason that you are coming. His email is: He will give you the address. Once there, go to the alley. It is easy to see the feeders from there. I would recommend to watch the trees more than the feeders though, as the thrush spends more time in the trees. It can be completely still and fairly hidden in the trees, so scan carefully. Again, Jason recommended the mornings, so I would follow his advice. Good luck for all of those that try for it! And of course, the biggest thanks goes out to Jason and his hospitality.

86. Varied Thrush

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Evening Grosbeak!

Hi all,

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. Last weekend, I got 8 year birds.

Saturday (1/19):
We went to Thatcher Woods for a Winter Wren Jeff Hardt had been seeing. We missed it, but we did get:

77. Brown Creeper

78. Northern Flicker
79. Golden-crowned Kinglet
80. Great-horned Owl

There was also a bunch of deer.

Monday (1/21):
We wandered around the Chicago area as usual. Douglas Park had the Red-shouldered still and the passerine flock was there again. We then went to Little Red Schoolhouse for Tufted Titmouse. We got our target immediately.

81. Tufted Titmouse

We then went to Wolf Lake. On the way, a flock of four birds passed over the road. At first I thought they were strange Mourning Doves but when I thought about it for a second, I immediately realized they were Monk Parakeets.

82. Monk Parakeet

We then went through the Calumet Area and got nothing of note. We then went to Montrose and got the target immediately, and a bonus bird!

83. Canvasback
84. Ruddy Duck

Now that catch up is over, we can continue normally.


On Sunday, we were going to lead an Illinois Young Birders Trip (ILYB) along the lakefront for gulls and ducks. Freezing rain was predicted, so we rescheduled the trip for next weekend. We still decided to run a shortened version on Sunday. Saturday was our scouting day. We missed all of our targets except we got a Thayer's Gull at Monroe Harbor. It was disappointing. I got no new yearbirds.

Sunday came around and we met up with 5 or so families at the parking lot on Northerly Island. While waiting for everyone, we saw a flyover Kestrel and we watched a Crow catch some sort of rodent. After everyone came, we took the bread and our scopes over to Monroe Harbor. We started to chum. We got a few gulls to come in. The conditions weren't too good as there was too much ice. Next weekend should be better.  When chumming, I looked at my email and saw that Michelle Devlin had an Evening Grosbeak at Rosehill Cemetery!!!!! I also read that she had White-winged Crossbills, but they flew off. I wanted to go to Rosehill. I NEEDED to go Rosehill. We stayed at Monroe for 15 more minutes, in which we got a Thayer's Gull and a northeastern-type Herring Gull. I, honestly, was barely paying attention. My mind was flashing back to the memories of how almost every Evening Grosbeak in Illinois this year either flew over or stayed a few minutes at one location. We got into the cars at last. I was extremely excited. We got to the cemetery and parked in the area we were fairly sure that we needed to be in. None of us bird much at Rosehill, so we didn't know where anything was. We wandered around for 10 minutes and I heard someone say that they had it. I looked up and saw them pointing towards some birders. I then booked it for about 150 feet, nervous as ever to see this bird. When I got within 50 feet of where they were, I slowly walked towards them. Step by step. Second by second. After an eternity, or 15 seconds, they seemed the same, I reached the birders. I immediately recognized them as Michelle Devlin, Fran Morel, and Al Stokie. Fran quickly told me where it was. I put my bins up and it was there. A beautiful specimen. I took in the moment. I savored it. Once satisfied, I put my bins down and put my camera up. I got a few quick shots. I then said my "thank yous" and talked a bit. The grosbeak eventually flew back one tree. We followed it. It then flew back a bit more. We followed it. We watched it. We enjoyed it. Then, for some reason, it dropped from 50 feet up in a tree to 2 feet from the ground in an evergreen bush. It then hopped out onto the ground and fed with a Cardinal. Soon, it flew back up. Then, it flew 50 feet south. It landed in the top of a tree and stayed there. That is where we left it. It was starting to sleet, so we left for home.

85. Evening Grosbeak

I will be able to bird after school now, so the next time I post could really be at any time. I am anxiously awaiting and hoping that the address of someone with a Varied Thrush in their backyard will be put out. Doug Stotz had some Red Crossbills in a cemetery near our house, so we might look for those tomorrow.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Diversity

Hi all,

    In terms of birding, winter is characterized by the low number of species. The empty woods ring in silence. Birds scour the land for any decent sized puddle of open water or reliably filled bird feeder. They flock around it, as it is their only sustenance to get them through this trying time. Well, that is usually true. The past two winters have been fairly warm and snowless. Open water is everywhere. Birds don't need feeders. This has allowed many birds to attempt to stay throughout the winter. The winter diversity is higher than usual. This is to my benefit, as it lets me get birds now so I don't have to worry about them later. A warm spell has recently come through and much of the little ice formed earlier has melted. Birds that I needed for the year were being reported everywhere.
    My dad, brother, and I decided to start the weekend off right with some owling. When we left our house, it was fairly windless. It seemed to be a good night. When we got to our first location, we realized traffic noise would be a problem. We didn't get any owls there. Throughout the night, as traffic got less, wind got more. We left the area after 2 hours of owling. We came up empty. As a last ditch effort, we went to a location closer to our house. We got one owl, even though we only heard it.

61. Eastern Screech-Owl

On Saturday, my dad got off of his job at 12:30 so we left about 1:00. Our first Illinois stop was Calumet Park, which had some gulls, but nothing interesting. We then went to Wolf Lake for the Tundra Swans that have been hanging around. We quickly found the 4 and got a bonus Swamp Sparrow. My favorite part of seeing the swans was hearing one call. It was one of the first times I have heard this call in real life, so it was pretty cool.

62. Tundra Swan

63. Swamp Sparrow

Next, we went to Egger's Woods for a Northern Shrike found earlier in the day by Sam Burckhardt. While looking for it, we heard a couple sparrows chipping. Ethan started pishing and a Field Sparrow popped up! It quickly flew away. I wanted to document it so I chased after it. I eventually flushed it into a little tree. Another sparrow flew in and it was also a Field! I got quick documentation shots and then they flew off. No shrike, but the sparrows sure are nice.

64. Field Sparrow

Sam also had multiple good birds at O'Brien Lock & Dam. What I really wanted was the Merlin he found. When we got there, it was almost dark. We drove through to the other side of the landfill that is right next to the dam. We doubled back after that. About half way back, Ethan spotted a falcon low to the ground perched on a little metal pipe sticking out of the ground. It was obviously the Merlin. It quickly flew and we couldn't relocate it.

65. Merlin

We headed back home excited for Sunday, as we had the whole day to bird.

Sunday started off at the reliable Douglas Park. One of the first birds I saw was a Canada Goose with a small bill. Notice how the lower mandible sticks out from the upper:
About 10 minutes later, I got to the sanctuary. Almost immediately, the adult Red-shouldered Hawk flushed. I continued on as it flew to places unknown. My dad then called me saying he had a Cackling Goose south of Ogden  When he was on the phone with me, part of the group of geese it was with flew. I joined up with him and looked for the goose to no avail. We went back to look for the goose where the part of the flock landed and eventually found it. It was sleeping for about 15 minutes but then put its head up for photos. We left soon after.

66. Cackling Goose

We went back to pick up my brother from our house. We then went to Binny's Beverage Depot for the long staying Northern Mockingbird. The second we drove up, we found it on a light fixture off of the side of a building with vines on it. The mocker eventually flew to the top of the store and sat there.

67. Northern Mockingbird

From there we went to the South Pond/Lincoln Park Zoo area. We started at the Black-crowned Night-Heron breeding colony at South Pond. We quickly found 1 adult and 3 young. We then moved over to the duck pond in the zoo where Mallards and a few Wood Ducks winter as it will never freeze and they will always have food. I quickly found Wood Ducks and confirmed one as wild (no band/not pinioned). The best area for passerines in the zoo is the Bear exhibit. We eventually found the flock that is always around there. The highlights were 4 White-throated Sparrows and a nice Fox Sparrow. After not finding anything new for a while, we left.

68. Black-crowned Night-Heron
69. Wood Duck
70. Fox Sparrow

We then went to Monroe Harbor for the loon that has been hanging out there and to see if we could pick out any gulls. We first went to the yacht club where the loon was seen the day before. Ethan spotted it in the middle of the harbor. I then scanned the gulls on the breakwall with my bins and pulled out a third-cycle Lesser Black-backed. The loon came closer to the shore so Ethan walked towards it. While he was with the loon, I managed to spot an adult Thayer's Gull being chased by a merganser. I then went to meet up with Ethan. Along the way, I encountered Shawn Pfautsch and his mom who were also looking for the loon. I was quickly able to get them on it and the Lesser Black-backed Gull. The loon disappeared around the yacht club building towards the docks. When we got to the docks, the loon was ridiculously close. It was amazing!

We then went to the other end of the harbor where we met up with the Williamsons. We walked closer to the gulls and we started chumming. A different, this time adult, Lesser Black-backed Gull came in. Ethan briefly saw a Thayer's too. There was at least two Thayer's on the breakwall. Also there was this interesting bird Ethan posted about:
We then left Monroe extremely satisfied.

71. Lesser Black-backed Gull

We then went back to the Calumet area. We started off at the Bend of the Calumet River. Compared to the 1st, it was bad day here. I did manage to pull out a Great Blue Heron wading into the river. Even on its bad days, the bend is still one of the best places in the county for duck diversity.

72. Great Blue Heron

We went back to O'Brien Lock & Dam to see if we could see the Merlin again or if we could pick out one of the wintering White-crowned Sparrow. While we failed on relocating the Merlin, but we got 3 young and 1 adult White-crowned Sparrows. Also we got a bonus pair of Hooded Mergansers and a Fox Sparrow.

73. White-crowned Sparrow

I wanted to then drive around the Lake Calumet area for shrike and Bald Eagle. We succeeded on the eagle as we had an adult soaring over Big Marsh. There wasn't much else around there.

74. Bald Eagle

Our last stop for this successful day was Bartel Grasslands for Short-eared Owls. One of my first birding memories is watching 20+ of these majestic creatures bounce over the grasslands at Bartel as the sun slowly set. Today, there was a repeat of this event because there was at least 6 going around. There was also 4 Northern Harriers as a bonus. The owls seriously seem like oversized bats to me. I loved watching them flop around in the frigid air. Any owl experience is amazing.

75. Short-eared Owl
76. Northern Harrier

This weekend was extremely successful. 76 is an amazing number for January. It will be cold for the upcoming week which will usher in ice at Monroe, making it even better for gulls. Good birding!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The "L"

Hi all,

On Saturday this last weekend, a Red-Throated Loon was spotted at Monroe Harbor just by the Shedd Aquarium. My dad was not able to take me to it. Since this bird is so hard to find in Cook County, I decided to take the "L" down to it early Sunday morning. For those who don't know, the "L" is Chicago's version of the subway. I had my dad drop me off at a stop a mile away from our house at about 8:00. The train ride took about 30 minutes. I had to walk a half mile until I got to Monroe. When I got in eyesight of Monroe, I saw it was almost frozen. Since the loon was seen outside of the harbor, this didn't worry me. It actually made me happy. In Monroe, the more ice, the more gulls. I quickly assembled my scope (I put the actual scope in my backpack with my camera and bins so they won't get stolen) and scanned. I saw that gulls were coming in off of the lake. A Double-Crested Cormorant hanging out with the geese on the ice was the only good bird I could pick out. I walked out to where the loon was seen. I stopped at the first place I could see the lake and checked every duck I could see. No loon. Red-Throated Loons rarely stick anywhere, so my chances did not look good. I was worried. I walked a bit further and I could see a larger bird with an obvious white flank about 100 yards out into the lake. I immediately knew this was the loon. I set my scope on the bird and just watched. A couple minutes later, the loon started to swim towards the breakwall. This bird covered ground quickly. I had to jog to catch up with it at one point. It stopped 10 feet from the breakwall. It was 50 yards from me. I watched it more and once satisfied, I walked over to where the Long-Tailed Duck has been hanging out at Burnham Harbor. I found it fairly easily. I then walked to Northerly Island to try for the resident American Kestrel that I still needed for the year. I quickly found it and went back to the loon. Once there, I noticed Stephen Pack, a fellow Oak Park birder. We watched the loon as it slowly drifted in. I went to look at the gulls. I was scanning them when I looked down for a second to see the loon 20 feet from the shore. I fumbled for my camera and snapped many shots. Joe Lill also showed up and got it. The loon has been a nemesis of his in Chicago for a long time, so I am glad he got it. A few minutes later, the loon rocketed out into the lake and started feeding 150 yards off shore. I left it there. I went to check the gulls. After scanning through 300 of them, I could only pick up two Thayer's. I decided at that point to head back home.

55. Red-Throated Loon

56. American Kestrel

When I was leaving, I texted my dad. He told me that he had a Killdeer at Columbus Park. I met him where he dropped me off in the morning and we went to Columbus. I quickly got the Killdeer.

57. Killdeer

Monday was the last day of winter break for me, so I wanted to get a good bird. I wanted a Pileated Woodpecker. I got specifics from Doug Stotz and Linda Padera and my dad and I went to Salt Creek Woods. When we got there, we immediately saw a Hairy Woodpecker, the first of 6. We continued down the trail. I stopped to pish and my dad spotted a gorgeous adult Red-Headed Woodpecker digging away at a branch above the path. It soon then flew to a dead limb of a tree with a large hole in it. Nesting???? We continued until we got to a spot that I felt looked very good. I was right as we heard the Pileated respond from deep in the woods after we played our first tape. We walked in and it soon flushed. I got flight views and brief views on a tree. When we were walking back to the path, it flushed again and flew right over my head. A Sharp-Shinned Hawk also flew over then. Everything was going so fast, which is when I love birding the most. That feeling of not knowing where to look is rare in winter birding, and it is always a treat when it does happen. Pileated Woodpeckers are indescribable  No picture could ever do it anywhere close to enough justice. They are, for lack of a better word, epic. They are one of my favorite birds and I don't see them nearly enough. We wandered the woods longer picking up many more woodpeckers, but nothing uncommon. We ended with 5 woodpecker species with Hairy being the most numerous. This place is amazing and I want to go back many more times this year.

58. Red-Headed Woodpecker

59. Pileated Woodpecker
60. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

I won't be able to bird until the weekend, so my next post will be then.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Winter Wall

Hi all,

So for the past couple days, I haven't been able to get out birding much, but I have managed to get some new species. After 45 species on the first day, there are not any areas left that would hold over 5 more yearbirds for me. Now, I have the rest of January and all of February to pick up the odds and ends that I still need. After a few more trips, I will hit what I call the winter wall, which is when I will have gotten all of the standard winter birds possible, and I will just have to wait it out until migration to get new birds again. I return to school on Tuesday, so it will be even harder to get out. But without further ado, here is what I have gotten recently.

January 2:

The day started off at home where I was able to get some standard feeder birds that I missed on the 1st. I watched the feeders until about noon when we left for other birding. I got:

46. House Finch
47. Blue Jay

We first went to the Burnham Harbor/Monroe Harbor area for gulls. Doug Stotz reported a Lesser Black-Backed and a "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull at Burnham along with the previously reported Long-Tailed Duck. When we arrived at Burnham, there were no special gulls, but the Long-Tailed was an easy find. We then traveled across the street to Monroe Harbor where we chummed a bit. Nothing good came to the bread, but I managed to spot an adult Glaucous Gull out on the ice, but it was way too far for photos. Somewhat satisfied, we left.

48. Glaucous Gull

Next, we went to Jarvis Bird Sanctuary for a Carolina Wren that has been hanging around for a while. My dad almost immediately found it singing. Though it was never seen by us, it was a cool bird to hear.

49. Carolina Wren

After that, we went to Montrose. My original target for Montrose was a Glaucous Gull, but we already got that. My brother managed to spot a long-staying Double-Crested Cormorant, which was the only notable bird there.

50. Double-Crested Cormorant

Michelle Devlin reported a Red-Shouldered Hawk along the North Shore Channel earlier that day, so we wanted to check it out. We walked along the west side of the channel and got nothing for the first half, but I then spotted a Cooper's Hawk soaring above the trees. The only other good bird was a Hairy Woodpecker.

51. Cooper's Hawk

We then went to Gillson Park as my brother needed some zebra mussels for a school project. While he was getting those, I walked through the park and got no birds. When we left, we decided to check out a mockingbird that was seen right along our way back. The only good bird there was a Red-Tailed Hawk. This was a dreary way to end an overall good day.

January 3:

 Feeders all day, no yearbirds

January 4:

 Feeders all day, but did get 2 White-Breasted Nuthatches and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

52. White-Breasted Nuthatch
53. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

January 5:

Feeders most of the day, but my dad and I did get to go to Douglas Park, where I monitor for BCN. The instant we got in eyesight of the park, I noticed an adult Red-Tailed Hawk flying around. We wandered around for a while as usual. My dad and I soon separated. He checked an area south of Ogden Ave. while I checked the sanctuary. It was snowing fairly hard at this point, so I left my camera in the car. I noticed that the crows were messing with a hawk of some sort. I looked at the hawk, but there was too many branches in the way and it was too far away to tell much. I thought the hawk looked odd, but I passed it off. I walked around looking for passerines finding that the typical huge flock was not there, only remnants. I looked up and saw the Red-Tailed Hawk being harassed by crows. I slowly was walking around the hawk as to not flush it when another hawk came bursting out. This hawk was a beautiful adult Red-Shouldered Hawk. The Red-Tail started to chase it, and the crows followed the Red-Tail. The Red-Tail soon stopped its chase and the Red-Shouldered started to soar above my head. I then called my dad to get my camera because I didn't have keys to the car. The Red-Shouldered flew to the north part of the park. I got my camera from my dad. He decided to drive to the area where it flew to and I decided to walk. The exact place I saw it cut through the trees was where it was perched. I grabbed some quick photos and called my dad to tell him where it was. The second he picked up the phone, a crow started to harass it and it flew north again. I tried to keep on it, but lost it. That was when I last saw it. It is probably still there but it is hard to see if it is sitting still.

54. Red-Shouldered Hawk

That is it! I hope you enjoyed this post and will have another one out Monday evening probably.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The First Day

Hi all,

So, as many of you know, today was the first day of my Cook County Big Year! Before I tell you all about my day, let's get some more technical things to get out of the way.
1. I will count heard-only birds on my list.
2. If I see a bird that is outside of Cook County, even if I am standing in the county watching it, it will not count.
3. If you want specific directions to a bird, feel free to email me. But, if I say that the bird's location is secret or that it is on private property, please don't ask for directions.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let's begin:

The day started off at a secret location in which I got my first bird of the year, a Long-Eared Owl! After we left that place, my yearlist was:

1. Long-Eared Owl
2. American Crow (They didn't bother the owl, don't worry)

Then, we went to Burnham Harbor. There, we targeted gulls and a long staying Long-Tailed Duck. We got both! My list after that was:

3. House Sparrow (I know, impressive bird :p)
4. Common Goldeneye
5. Herring Gull
6. Ring-Billed Gull
7. Mallard
8. Canada Goose
9. American Coot
10. Red-Breasted Merganser
11. American Tree-Sparrow
12. Long-Tailed Duck
13. Redhead
14. Thayer's Gull
15. Common Merganser

After here, we went to Skokie Lagoons. Along the way, I got to do my first real roadside birding. That yielded:

16. Rock Pigeon
17. European Starling
18. Red-Tailed Hawk

When we got to Skokie Lagoons, there was a lot of human activity in the form of a canoeing club taking up some of the last open water in the area. This lead to limited birding. The Barrow's Goldeneye was not found. My list did grow though:

19. Downy Woodpecker
20. Bufflehead
21. American Goldfinch
22. Northern Cardinal

Next, we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, or CBG for short. On the way, we found:

23. American Robin

At CBG, we quickly found what we were looking for, the redpoll flock that has been hanging around. We also quickly found our target bird, a Hoary Redpoll. After that, we wandered around a bit in the gardens but didn't muster up any new birds and decided to leave. Here is how my list looked when we left:

24. Dark-Eyed Junco
25. Black-Capped Chickadee
26. Common Redpoll
27. Pine Siskin
28. Cedar Waxwing
29. White-Throated Sparrow
30. Hoary Redpoll

We then wanted to check the lagoons one more time and got:

31. Song Sparrow
32. Mourning Dove
33. Belted Kingfisher

We returned back to the lakefront after that to chum for gulls. We started at Navy Pier. Our chumming proved ineffective but we did get 3 Thayer's Gulls. I got nothing new until we just about pulled out of Navy Pier.

34. Pied-Billed Grebe

With only a couple hours of daylight left, we went to LaRabida Harbor. That harbored (see what I did there):

35. Lesser Scaup
36. Greater Scaup
37. Gadwall
38. Hooded Merganser

We then went to the Bend of the Calumet River, where I got:

39. Mute Swan
40. Northern Shoveler
41. Northern Pintail
42. American Black Duck
43. Ring-Necked Duck

The last place I got yearbirds, or any good birds, was Wolf Lake. The issue was that it was closed. I was able to quickly get out our spotting scope from our trunk and I found what I was looking for! One even had a neckband.

44. Trumpeter Swan
45. Hairy Woodpecker

That is it! This is probably one of the more report heavy posts I will do this year, so don't worry, there will be more stories to come!