November 22, 2020

Grebes (or not), Finches and Mega Rare Ducks!

Hey guys,
This morning I ventured to the south shore of Chicago to look for an Eared Grebe that a friend had yesterday at Rainbow Beach. When we got to the south beach we ran into some friends who didn't have luck with it, but were going to move to the north beach to look. We scanned the channel, the rocks and the lake for maybe 20 minutes at the south beach before we headed to the north beach. As my brother and I got to the point of the dunes, we asked some friends if they'd had any luck with the Eared Grebe. They said no. Then a minute later they said "Oh, right before you walked up we had a Western Grebe." I just about died, came back to life to look at their pictures and then died again. For the next 45 minutes, we sat and scanned and scanned and scanned with no luck. Then we decided to have a look around the breakwall from the north point at Park 566 with Isoo. Not even 5 minutes later we get a text saying that another friend just had the Western Grebe! We raced over and I bet you can guess how the story went from there. As you correctly assumed, we sat around for another 45 minutes scanning and scanning and scanning. I did pull a flyby female Black Scoter though which was nice, and we had a Common Loon that gave us a scare for a Red-throated, then a Pacific. Then we decided to head north which was a mistake , because at about 9:00 p.m. today I saw a Facebook post from someone who had the bird 7 mines away from rainbow Beach at Whiting Lakefront Park in Indiana. The bird headed, north, then south, then north, then all the way south again. At the South Shore Cultural Center, we got word that a White-winged Crossbill was being seen at a feeder up north of Chicago. The crossbill had been seen for 3 days at the same private feeder and we just had to go for it after a disappointing morning on the south side. An hour later we were sitting in the backyard of the home waiting for the crossbill to fly in. After about 30 or 40 minutes, I hear a piercing call an we all simultaneously look up and we see the White-winged Crossbill sitting in the tree right above us! Lifer, and my 280th species seen in Cook County this year! It hung around for just under 10 minutes at the feeder, and we got some awesome pics of it with a squirrel doing birdfeeder gymnastics. At the feeder, I got a text saying that only an hour away from where I live, a EURASIAN WIGEON showed up! Although not in Cook County, I knew we just had to go. It would be our second lifer of the day, and an insane and awesome bird to get. A little over an hour later we were pulling off the road at the pond with our optics in hand and almost immediately I got on the slam dunk adult male Eurasian Wigeon feeding with lots of Gadwall and American Wigeons. What an awesome way to end the day.

BTW, the alder observation is included as a reminder that redpolls love alder trees, and both Common and Hoary Redpolls are irrupting this year!
The Monarch is included to show that there was still a barely alive butterfly in late November! pretty incredible if you ask me.

Stay safe,

Posted on November 22, 2020 05:06 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 04, 2020

Election Results and our Natural World

If I could start this with an audible sigh, believe me, I would. I've said it in some posts, but I'll say it again with more emphasis here. Please share this post if you think someone would benefit from it. Also if you're reading it, leave a comment with anything I should add to make the post a bit more compelling, it can be literally anything.

As we all know, the US president for the last 4 years has done more to strip America of its natural wonders than any other president ever has. The most recent example is that he opened the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to logging and mining. If you've never been there, I'll do my best to try to explain the amazing piece of land. The Tongass National Forest is the world's largest temperate rainforest. Yes, there is a rainforest in Alaska. Just like most of coastal Alaska, you go from the ocean to tree covered cliffs and mountains with a layer of fog so thick you can't see the tops of the mountains most of the time. Driving to inland lakes and bays, you see glades with bears, Bald Eagles and all sorts of wildlife. In the lakes and bays, you get Humpback Whales, countless Arctic Terns and other seabirds, Steller's Sea Lions on the buoys and all kinds of kelp surrounding the boat. Back in the national forest, you immediately walk through a steamy, wet and lush forest. Huge plants all around, puddles of water on the path, bridges over roaring waterfalls, pools of water at the base of bluffs so deep and so clear, you could sink and it would look like you were floating through a void in the earth. Farther on you get to glaciers across from more lakes. When the glacier calves, it sounds like a building collapsing. The rush of water from the falling boulders of ice is immense. You can see a wave forming and getting bigger as it gets closer. It's almost like a mini tsunami. Walking through the forest on boardwalks over a sort of fen, there is Devil's Snare in with the fungi, sedges and orchids. Black Bears and beavers make their way around and under your feet. You look up and you see a pond with a glacier and mountains as the backdrop. You never want to leave.

Now imagine if that all disappeared. Imagine if those mountains were blasted away by dynamite so that people could have some more precious metals. Imagine if the lakes were polluted so heavily that the beavers left, the fish floated to the surface and there was a stench so bad it pushed even the workers away. Imagine the glacier melting and calving faster and faster as the air around it warmed more due to more pollution. Imagine the glaciers splitting in half as workers riddle it with mile deep holes to gain access to the valuable minerals stuck in the bottom. This could all very well happen due to the actions of the president.

Trump has also began work on the new border wall in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in extreme south Texas. At Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, construction recently started. Hundreds of species of birds including some species found nowhere else in the country may be wiped out. other animals like Ocelots, Indigo Snakes and other animals dependent on the mesquite thicket may have nowhere else to go, and eventually will vanish. At Recasa de la Palma farther east in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, hundreds of historic palms were cut down to make space for the wall. Those palms were home to Red-crowned Parrots, many butterflies and other animals. Now they're gone.

Trump fairly recently opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil fracking. One of the largest pieces of land home to hundreds of species of living things is now fair game to the oil industry. Species of plants not even described may go extinct without us knowing. That's how big that piece of land is. Birds that only breed in the high arctic may take heavy losses to their populations. Animals like Polar Bears, many butterflies and many other animals will be greatly affected. Birds like Steller's and Spectacled Eiders, Red Phalaropes, Parasitic, Pomarine and long-tailed Jaegers, Rock and Western Sandpipers, Ross's Gulls, and countless other endangered, threatened and protected species may have to move farther south and change their entire lifestyles because of Trump's plan to drill for oil in the Arctic NWR.

We have lived in a world of environmental destruction for as long as we've all been alive. Even in the 5 years I've been into documenting and extensively finding nature, I've noticed changes around me. If that much change occurred in just 5 years, I can't even imagine what it'll be like in 50 years. We live in a really scary and uncertain time, right now, our biggest fears should be the fear of the unknown. We could wake up one morning and hear that logging has already commenced in the Tongass NF, or the last Ocelot of Texas was found dead at the base of the border wall. That is the day that we've lost. Let's do everything we can to stop this machine of greed and hunger for destruction.

That's all for now,

Posted on November 04, 2020 15:11 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 0 comments | Leave a comment

First Chase of November

Hey guys,
Today I decided to ditch the plans to look for lots of Tiger Salamanders, Newts and other stuff to go look for a very rare bird. They aren't historically chaseable, and the last IL one was in 2015. A few days ago two of them were found at Carlyle Lake in Clinton County, which is about 5 hours away for me. Then the other day another was found at a retention pond only 2 hours away in McLean County. You may call me a loon for going that far for a bird. You might also think I'm loony for not having said what bird I went to chase today. I went for a loon. I went for a Pacific Loon. The only other one I'd seen was one flying away on the open ocean in Alaska. I think I'm going to count this one as my lifer. #325 for Illinois life!

All for now,

Posted on November 04, 2020 04:43 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 01, 2020

Getting "Finched" and a Great Morning Skywatching!

Hey guys,
Please share this post if you know any birders in the east!

As many of you may know, the east is being invaded by all sorts of finches this fall. We're having the biggest movement of Evening Grosbeak in the last 25 years, thousands of White-winged Crossbills are making their way past hotspots in the north, Red Crossbills are finding every stand of Eastern White Pine in the midwest, and overall, the irruption is beginning fairly early. It was forecasted back in early October that we would be getting good movements of those species, but it wouldn't be known until this week and the last how good it would really be. One way to see the insane movement is to go on and go to the Species Maps page, and compare the maps with the parameters of October-December 2019 and October-December 2020. It is pretty mind blowing. If you have bird feeders, keep them stocked! Both Crossbills and Evening Grosbeak will come to feeders. f you have a stand of Eastern White Pines in your area, check them for Red Crossbills. If you have a stand of Boxelder or Hackberry trees in your area, check them for Evening Grosbeak. Alders are also great for redpolls, both Common and Hoary.

Onto this morning's skywatch. I got up at about 8 o'clock, and went straight outside. After checking the winds last night, I knew it would be good for moving birds. As soon as I got out there I could feel the cold, strong winds from the NW. I hear an up-slurred "whit whit whit whit" call and I look up and bam, there they were, a flock of 13 Red Crossbills flying over! My first county lifer of the day, it was also a state bird too! 275 for county year, 292 Cook Life, and 321 for IL year. About a half hour later, I hear a loud "thirr" call and there it is, the biggest invader of them all, the Evening Grosbeak! That was my second new bird of the day. 276 for county year, 293 for county life, and 322 for state life. Then I went inside to eat breakfast, and I got a text saying that @whimbrelbirder had a Northern Goshawk and White-winged Crossbill at the Ft. Sheridan Hawkwatch. I finished eating really fast, threw my jacket on, grabbed my bins and set my eyes on the sky. Then he told me it was flying north, so I knew I wasn't going to get that bird. About a half hour after that, I spotted a large hawk flying up in the sky. I really hope it is what I think it is, a Northern Goshawk! If it ends up being one, It will be my third new bird for the day, and a lifer! 540 life, 277 county year, 294 county life and 323 for the state. I'll be out again, and I'll upload observations of the birds later.

All for now and stay safe,

Posted on November 01, 2020 17:17 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 28, 2020

Before School Chase

Hey guys,
Last night my friend Ben (@benthehen) found a Little Gull at Saganashkee Slough! I talked to my mom about going before school and she said that she didn't know if she wanted to get up super early to go look. This morning, we got up at about 6 and left! We got there when it was still dark and could see 1,500+ gull on the slough. I pulled a Common Tern which gave me a scare as an Arctic. That was my 270th species for Cook County this year! I made sure it wasn't an Arctic, and kept searching for the Little Gull. After a couple minutes, I found a tiny gull erratically flying around with a bold, black "M" on the wings! That was my 540th world bird and my 320th Illinois lifer. Then, I was trying to find it again when I saw another gull flying along the NE corner. The first thing that stood out to me was the "M" on the wings. I thought it was the Little Gull, but as it came closer I realized it was the size of the Ring-billed Gulls and it had a black collar! Ut was a Black-legged Kittiwake! Unbelievable! I put the birds out on the RBA group chats and soon enough 20+ people were sitting with scopes and cameras looking for the gulls. The Kittiwake seems to have flown off as well as the Common Tern, but many people have gotten to see the Little Gull. We drove over to the Central lot where we saw the Little Gull again, the pair of Red-necked Grebes, a Bunch of Bonaparte's Gulls and a few Bufflehead. Then we had to leave and make the drive through traffic home. Honestly this might've been top 5 birding experiences in Illinois for me!

EDIT I actually came to the determination today that the bird I saw was the Little Gull and not a Kittiwake. It just looked much bigger for some reason. Still an awesome bird!

That's all for now and stay safe,

Posted on October 28, 2020 14:45 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 26, 2020

My Birding Year So Far

Hey guys,
I made a post back in September about how I was practically doing a mini Big Year in Cook County this year. I was at 257 at that point, and now I'm past what I said I was going to be at when I wrote that post. I said I was going to try to end the year with 268. I am sitting at 269 right now, and hope to get maybe 6-6 more year birds. I hope to get Snow Bunting, Common Tern and Red-throated Loon as my easiest targets. As the intermediate targets, which are going to take some work, but are possible with the current irruption we're having so far, and other circumstances are Common Redpoll, Evening Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Glaucous Gull and maybe 1-2 others. Some hopes for November include: Western Grebe, Eared Grebe, Cattle Egret, and maybe 1-3 others. Let's see what we can find!

Posted on October 26, 2020 20:00 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 0 comments | Leave a comment

An Epic Day of Salamandering in Vermillion County IL

Hey guys!
I drove two and a half hours south of Chicago to look underneath railroad cross-ties and rocks for salamanders. Yes, that is the farthest I personally have driven for herps. Yes, it even beats the 8 hours down to Southern Illinois from back in August, but that's only because I didn't drive much. Anyways, I got up, ate pancakes and started driving. Once I was driving down back roads of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, I kept my eye out for dead snakes on the road, like Eastern Hognose or a Bullsnake. No snakes, but I did see a roadkill Red Fox which was sad. Once I finally got to my spot, I got super excited because I had the possibility to get 4 salamander lifers, which would tie me for first place in number of salamander species seen in Illinois in 2020. I got out and was immediately greeted by Carolina Chickadees (one I don't get in Chicago) and a Pileated Woodpecker. I started walking, and once I got down the path to a place where all of my research led me to, I started flipping. I was looking for a Southern Two-lined, but I didn't find one. I continued along the bottom of the ravine, occasionally walking up the hillside to flip a cross-tie or rock. Finally, I hit the jackpot and found the least expected salamander of the trip a FOUR-TOED! I wasn't able to come up with an exact location for them, but I got super lucky and the place I was at happened to be the only place in eastern Illinois to find the species. I got some pics, and I kept on going. I found my state lifer Eastern Red-backed, which put my list for Illinois up to 13. A few more Four-toeds and Red-backeds were next, and then my brother flipped a very big and nice Spotted. The orange head spots were super vibrant. It was the biggest maculatum I've ever seen. Then I flipped a big rock, and a I saw the biggest salamander I've ever seen underneath it. It was my second variant of the Unisexual Mole Salamander, the 'Silvery" Salamander. I think it used to be considered to be it's own species, but now it isn't. I'd say it was a good 9.5-10 inches long. (You can really see the differences between the 'Tremblay's' we have up in Chicago, which are smaller and darker gray as they've had decades to breed with the Blue-spotteds up there. This one was a really light gray with faint blue spotting, which is really cool because it looks much more like the Jefferson which was one of the original parent species that created the hybrid complexes.) After I saw that, I saw a Plethodonid run over the 'Silvery' and I thought it was a Red-backed. I grabbed it and set it down on the moss with the 'Silvery' to take pictyres of when I realized that it had a wide dorsal stripe, reddish "armpits" and red running down the length of the tail. It was a NORTHERN ZIGZAG SALAMANDER! That was lifer number two of the day! I was completely not expecting to see one at all, and it was awesome to see 2 more throughout the trip there. We found another Spotted, which was about the same size as the 'Silvery' we had. That one was super cool. We found more Four-toed, Red-backeds, and then we decided to leave. The only salamander we missed there was Marbled, which would've been really cool to see.

We went to another spot nearby to look for Small-mouthed Salamander, but came up with a couple Eastern Red-backed and another Zigzag Salamander. It was really cool to see the research "circles" where INHS does research on the Unisexual Mole Salamanders. With light quickly fading, we still wanted to get a Small-mouthed Salamander, so we drove over to Champaign to a very well known spot for them. Right off the bat we found them as our third and final lifers of the day.

Then it was time for me to drive home and eat some substantial food, not just an apple and a granola bar. It was an epic trip, and I hope to make it down there again next spring!

Funny thing is, that night when I was uploading all of my pictures here, I noticed that my friend Jared (@wildlandblogger) was there too. I noticed that he was just a quarter mile away from where I was, and at the same time. Bummer we didn't get to both see the Hemidactylums and Zigzags, and it would've been nice to thank him in person for all of the help with our trip to southern Illinois. Oh well, I guess we'll see each other some other time.

That;s all for now,

Posted on October 26, 2020 19:41 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 9 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 23, 2020

It's Beginning to Feel a lot like Rarity Season

Hey guys,
Passerine migration has died down for the most part now, with the exception of some straggling flycatchers and warblers but sparrows are still moving in force. Typically Northwest Winds in Chicago are favorable for moving raptors like Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle along with other birds like Phalaropes (Red-necked and Red), Townsend's Solitaire, Spotted and/or Green-tailed Towhees, Sage Thrasher and other western birds. Northeast winds can also be favorable for Northern Goshawk, any potential Jaegers (Pomarine, Parasitic, and even though it's pretty late, Long-tailed is still possible), and finches like White-winged and Red Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks and Redpolls (Common and Hoary). Those are all pretty good for Chicago, and a certain someone (I'm looking at you @ieobrien) would greatly appreciate any notifications that one of these have showed up in Cook County. Even flyovers matter.

Onto other more random rarities, Starting about this week, until pretty much Thanksgiving, really odd birds tend to show up in really odd places. Whether it's a King Eider on a cemetery lawn or an Ancient Murrelet on Lake Michigan, extremely rare birds like to show up. If you can't bird far away from home, walk to your nearest little park and search the White-throated Sparrow flock for any impostors like a Golden-crowned or Harris's Sparrows. Go to the local cemetery and find the trees with berries, or find the large American Robin flock and comb it for a Townsend's Solitaire or a Varied Thrush. If you live near the lakefront or even a large inland body of water, look for lost water birds like Western, Eared or Red-necked Grebes, odd ducks like Harlequin Duck or Barrow's Goldeneye. (BAGO will be more inland, like on a large pond or lake). Go find the big Canada Goose flock and look for a Brant. Some gulls to look for that could show up on any pond, lake, river or any body of water include California, Mew, Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes and others. Most rare finches will likely be flyovers, so knowing the flight calls of crossbills is pretty important from now until the end of the year. November and December is also a good time to look for odd birds like orioles and other bright and colorful birds. If you keep your bird feeders up, you might get a Bullock's Oriole or a Black-headed Grosbeak. It might seem completely ridiculous to say, but yes, find the chickadees and other small birds and search for warblers from the west like Hermit or Black-throated Gray. If you find a large flock of Cedar Waxwings, search it for a Bohemian. Mountain Bluebird could be hanging out with some robins too, or it could be completely lonely sitting on a post at a prairie/grassland. All of these birds could be seen in Cook County basically from now on. It's also still not too late for a Cattle Egret either. We just need people looking!

There are some absurd sounding birds that aren't 100% impossible, but are extremely unlikely to show up include Northern Wheatear, any southern kingbirds like Tropical, Couch's or Gray. (Tropical/Couch's are pretty much only distinguished by voice, so if you see it, also try to hear it!) Any swallows you see could be Violet-green, and any swift could be a Vaux's. A Great Kiskadee showed up in NE Indiana a couple Decembers ago, so that's another large flycatcher to look out for. A Hammond's Flycatcher showed up in Central Wisconsin last winter, so that's yet another western flycatcher to look out for. Rufous Hummingbird is always one to look out for. PLEASE KEEP YOUR HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS UP!!! Basically if you see a hummingbird in the winter coming to your feeder, it is likely a Rufous. There is the chance for an Anna's or Broad-tailed too. Ferruginous Hawk could be soaring around in the more open parts of the county, or sitting on a light pole out in the fields to the south in Cook. Great Cormorant has showed up in Ohio consistently for a few years, so there's no telling why there hasn't been one in Illinois hanging out on the various piers, breakwalls and jetties. Pacific Loon could show up on the lakefront as well as King Eider, and Ancient Murrelet.

I wouldn't go so far as to say to expect the unexpected, but go out with the mindset that you could find something unusual or super rare for the next few weeks! (Emphasis on could).

That's all for now, and I'll see ya next time,

Posted on October 23, 2020 19:01 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 17, 2020

Remembrance of an Adder

Hey all,
Well this is an interesting story to say the least.
I was sitting in my kitchen a few minutes ago thinking about all of the missed iNat species from my trip to Poland 3 years ago. Basically just all of the things I walked by that were rare or just super cool. Recently, I've gotten into snakes, and tonight I remembered that our group of 30 crowded around a big, brown snake up in the mountains, and thought it was so cool. Then I remembered that the only big, brown snake in Poland is venomous. I ran upstairs, scrolled through all of my pics until I found it and I started laughing so hard! Sure enough, the snake that I got 6 inches from to take this pic of was the Adder, the only venomous snake in Europe. I now know that it isn't smart to crowd venomous snakes, so I just find it hilarious now.

Until the next venomous snake (hopefully a Massassagua!),

Posted on October 17, 2020 03:11 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 16, 2020

An Epic Day of Birding and Herping

Hey all,
Sorry it's about a week late, but I just kinda had to do a post for it. Henry Griffin(@henrygriffin), Oliver Burrus(@whimbrelbirder), Peter Tolzmann(@hazelgrouse4) and I were going to meet up last Saturday in SW Cook County to look for some continuing Red-necked Grebes. My family and I got there a few minutes earlier, and got the grebes right off the bat. Then we moved to a better angle a bit farther down the road at the slough and saw that the grebes were much farther away than 5 minutes before, and were paddling away pretty fast. Then we lost them. I called Oliver and told him that we just lost the grebes. A few minutes later he and his dad pulled up and started scanning with us. After about 15 minutes, Oliver and I were looking at a picture of a Spotted Salamander he flipped at a nearby forest preserve earlier that morning when his dad called his name. He called his name again, and Oliver finally went over to their scope to see what he was looking at. His dad said "Hey Oliver, what's this small gull?" My immediate thought was a Bonaparte's or even a Franklin's Gull. FRGU would be a year bird and BOGU would be a photo year bird. I get on the bird and am looking at it for a few seconds and I had a feeling it wasn't what I originally thought it was. I waited for a few more seconds for it to turn to the sun so it wouldn't be so backlit. Just from the shape alone I had a feeling it was something, but I just needed confirmation. Then it turned and I shouted out "SABINE'S GULL!!" We put it out on the RBA's and soon enough dozens of birders were there looking at the bird. Oliver, Peter and I began to walk around to the other side of the slough to try to get a completely non-backlit look at it. We walked out onto a log and just 100 feet away it was sitting there with the Ring-billed Gulls. Such a cool bird! The best part was that it was the first chaseable and first inland for Cook County ever.

Then Oliver, Peter and I moved locations a bit and were walking to a possible flip site I scouted out from Google Earth. Right before the possible site, just off the path, we were flipping rocks and logs hoping for a Red-bellied Snake or something. Then Oliver said "Oh, there!' I whipped around and there was a NEONATE EASTERN MILKSNAKE sitting on a mossy rock!!! It felt like redemption for the hours I spent in downstate Illinois looking for the "Red" Milksnake, and failing to find it. This little snake looked just like the pictures I'd seen of them. Such an awesome snake. After that we tried to find a Queensnake, but failed at that also. We met up with Henry and went off to the next spot.

Then we were off to another possible flip site, but it actually ended up being terrible. It was walking through a swamp to get to an old, scary looking Mountain Biking course along the I&M canal. Cool to see, but no snakes. We did find Oliver's lifer Unisexual Mole Salamander though.

Out of impulse, we decided to go to the best location to find salamanders in all of Cook County (in our opinions,) to look for more herps. We found 4 species and 31 individuals. Peter, Henry and I said goodbye to Oliver and his dad and we decided to hit up one more place that we haven't really ever explored before.

After that Henry, Peter and I said goodbye to Oliver and his dad to go to one last place before the sun set completely. We only found 4 salamanders, but the ravine that we dropped into was more impressive I'd say.

I'll attach some observations from the day of some cool stuff we found.

That basically concludes and epic day of birding and herping, so thanks for reading!

Posted on October 16, 2020 16:03 by brdnrdr brdnrdr | 10 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment