Category Archives: Life List

Milestone birds

Holy cowbird, I fulfilled one of my 2011 goals already! I planned to work on updating my life list by entering old checklists into eBird over several days, possibly spread out over several weeks or even months. Somehow, though, when I got started on January 1st I really felt an urgent need to finish, which I did on January 3rd. My life list tops out at 543 species. I thought it would be fun to look at what some of my milestone birds were.

World 100: Common Pochard (Flevoland, NL)
World 200: Gray Woodpecker (Gambia)
World 300: Long-tailed Tit (Flevoland)
World 400: Brown Creeper (Lake Co, IL, USA)
World 500: Thayer’s Gull (Lake Co, IL, USA)

My ABA list is at 248. I’m still at that newbie-ish stage of birding and listing where it’s not too hard for me to pick up lifers locally. I think I’ll be able to hit world lifer 550 and Illinois lifer 200 (12 to go) this year.

I also had a look at birds I’ve seen in more than one country. The winner seems to be the House Sparrow, seen in six countries: India, Spain, USA, Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This pathetic list is a testament to my poor list-keeping skills in my early years of birding. Are House Sparrows a good enough excuse to (re)visit much of Europe?

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Goals for 2011

So all of my 2010 birding goals were not exactly met. So what? That’s not going to stop me from making goals for 2011!

In 2011 I shall update my eBird checklists to include ALL of MY OWN sightings – in other words, get my life list in order!

Again with the books! In 2011 I shall read, review AND cycle out at least 20 books (not necessarily the same 20). I reviewed 15 titles in 2010. I have a couple of book reviews waiting in the wings already, plus a couple of ringers (in the form of novelty books) to review.

One thing that was totally not on my goal list last year was anything to do with raptor handling or bird banding, two things I got involved with during 2010. I have some goals in mind for both of these, but a lot depends on opportunities that come up with the groups I volunteer with, which I don’t have much control over. But I would like to try and increase my skills in both. So the following goals are more like nice-to-haves.

In 2011 I would like to improve my raptor handing skills by performing the following tasks: handle birds into and out of travel crates; handle a bird during flight training; and have one of my bird pals eat a meal while on my glove.

In 2011 I would like to improve my bird banding skills. I helped out at a small MAPS station here in Lake County last summer and I hope to do so again this summer. I was happy to have the chance to learn from a relatively large group of experienced volunteers and banders. I hope to get some more hands-on experience this year, by safely removing at least five birds from a mist net (last year I only completely removed one bird!) and by banding at least 25 birds (last year I banded ~20). I would also like to attend a training session at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory in the spring, but given the distance, that might be tough (if it’s even offered).

I’ve got to have at least a couple of actual birding goals on this list, right? So I’m going to keep a BIGBY list in 2011. I hope to reach 75 species on my 2011 BIGBY list.

I am going to take the Bird-a-Day Challenge 2011. I’ll be lucky to make it two weeks into January, but it should be fun to try.

Finally, a blog-related goal. In 2011 I shall not fall over a month behind in blog reading. I can’t believe I missed Blog for the Gulf! 🙁

What are your bird-related goals for 2011?

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Posted in Banding, Books, Life List | 1 Comment

Results: Birding Goals for 2010

Last December I came up with a few birding-related things I hoped to accomplish during the coming year. My targets weren’t too lofty, really: use eBird; read some books; see some birds. So how did I do with my 2010 Birding Goals?

I started using eBird regularly right from the start, but on repeat visits to regular birding spots, I didn’t keep regular lists as the year wore on. In my initial blog post I expressed some frustration in understanding certain nuances of eBird, especially when it came to bringing up reports. Happy to say I got the hang of it enough to be able to find what I’m looking for, mostly, but sometimes it’s still a small struggle to find what I need. I can use it, but it doesn’t come naturally just yet. With a total of just 122 checklists entered for the year, representing an estimated 85% of my birding trips, I’d say the eBird goal I set for myself was met, but just barely.

Another goal I had was to read most of my birdy natural history books. Total failure! What once took up just over a shelf in my office now occupies an entire case plus. I did end up cycling out quite a few books out (see Book Reviews Revisited), but I took in far more. Book shelf space is a small issue, though, and I am happy with some great titles I managed to snag this year, even if I didn’t manage to read everything I wanted to.

Lastly, I hoped to see 200 birds in Illinois AND get my life list up over 500 birds. This was kind of a wonky goal, seeing as how my life list isn’t really recorded very well in the first place. I share most sightings with Arthur, who keeps a list with Birdstack. He has a bird or two on me, but I was using his list as a basis, saying at the end of last year that 13 new lifers were needed to hit 500. Together we got 44 new species which brings Arthur’s life list up to 545. Yeah, something’s not right with the math, I know. I can say with certainty that MY OWN Illinois list for 2010 only reached 165 species, and MY OWN world list for 2010 was 235 species. So, another big all-around fail.

Of course two failures and one just-barely met birding goal don’t mean all that much, really. I certainly don’t feel like the birding I did in 2010 was any kind of failure, especially since I learned a lot (!!) and had a lot of fun (!!). Those are the only goals that matter, anyway, and they will remain year after year.

Did you have any birding goals for 2010? How did you do? I’ll post my own goals for 2011 tomorrow.

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Posted in Books, Illinois, Life List | 1 Comment

More magic at Magee

Friday morning found us back on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. The Biggest Week in American Birding was starting to wind down, but the birds were still spectacular. Late Thursday afternoon we noticed a sudden temperature increase, and the murmurs among festival participants was that Friday would be the day. Indeed, warm southerly winds overnight brought in tons of warblers and other migrants to the preserve, and birders were loving every minute. We were about halfway through the boardwalk path when a Chicago birding acquaintance of ours, Eric Gyllenhaal, quickly passed us. He was talking on the phone, and it was obvious he had some news. He was kind enough to interrupt his call momentarily to tell us: “Check your tweets!” Good advice. [Thank you, Eric!!]

At this time we were completely unaware of Magee Marsh outside of the boardwalk, but we followed Eric’s direction and headed east off the boardwalk. Another tweet came in.

By the time we crossed the road towards the beach, we were among several dozen birders heading towards a thicket of trees separating the eastern parking lot from the beach.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Beach Trail

Emerging onto the beach, we found ourselves among hoards of people heading towards a growing group of birders. Since this was our fourth try to see this bird (in Ohio, even!), I tried to keep my expectations low. I asked a birder heading back to the parking lot if she had seen it. With her enthusiastic “YES!” I allowed my hopes to rise.

When we approached the birders staking out the rarity, a very kind woman beckoned us over and told us where to look. We could see the Kirtland’s Warbler with our naked eyes. In our binoculars he was larger than life.

What a gorgeous bird – such a great thrill to see. He was singing, and foraging out in the open.

The crowd of spectators grew and grew, and we in turn helped new arrivals get their binoculars on what was surely a life bird for most visitors.

Kirtland's Warbler crowd

It was really uplifting to be among so many happy birders. People were laughing, doing the lifer dance, high-fiving, and most of all thanking Kenn Kaufman for the amazing sighting.

The bird stayed on the beach nearly all day, and wasn’t refound the next day. Friday was definitely the day!

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Posted in BWIAB, Endangered, Festivals & Events, Life List, Ohio | 2 Comments

Bank Swallow colony

Before heading home after the Illinois Audubon Spring Gathering in Nauvoo, we headed down to Hamilton to check out a Bank Swallow colony we learned about during lunch. The birds were congregated at a sand and gravel company lot, nesting in a large mound of sand. The activity was amazing and they were a lot of fun to watch. Thanks to Sonny for the tip – these were life birds for us!

Bank Swallows

Bank Swallows

Bank Swallows

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Illinois Audubon, Life List, Video | 5 Comments

Three lifers in two days

We don’t often chase rare bird alerts. When we do, we’re skunked more often than not, it seems. I suppose we are not exactly alone in that regard.

Still, I was intrigued when I read a Harris’s Sparrow had been hanging around a residential back yard in Chicago. He was reliable, coming in to feed throughout the day. Successful sighting reports were pouring in on the Illinois listserv every day for about a week. Oh, let’s go for it. We’ll be downtown Thursday morning anyway…

Harris's Sparrow

Thursday afternoon a Western Grebe was reported at Waukegan Beach, which is about 30 minutes due east from our home. Meh. Friday it reached into the 60s with bright sunshine. Grebe was still there, along with a White-winged Scoter. The forecast for Saturday was three inches of snow. Well. At 4pm it was decided we had to go outside and enjoy the last day of winter, and so we headed east for the lake (Michigan, that is).

Luck was on our side again; as we got out of the car we noticed our buddies Rena and Sonny Cohen heading out onto the pier. When we caught up they got us on the scoter almost immediately.

There was no sign of the grebe, but Sonny & Rena said they were going to try the Government Pier on the other side of the beach. Government who now? We followed them to a different parking lot and we all walked out together. Again the scoter was seen right away. And then there was the other star bird, swimming behind the scoter.

Eventually both birds came in much closer, giving all four of us killer views (despite the photos!). Here’s hoping we can keep up this lucky streak of bird-chasing.

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Posted in Life List, Rare / Vagrant | 1 Comment

The lifer that wasn’t

January 1st we visited a few lakefront sites, starting with North Point Marina and Spring Bluff Forest Preserve. A Northern Shrike had been reported there by other birders, and we were happy to find it, too. It perched along the trail before us and we stopped to observe it a few times as we approached.

Eventually it flew to a small tree further off the trail. As we passed the tree I looked for any prey items impaled on thorns. I didn’t find any but I can see why the shrike might like this tree.

Once we had passed it returned to its preferred perch to resume its watch over the field. I was sure this was a life bird for us but I underestimated the range of the Northern Shrike – I mean Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor). These birds live throughout much of the temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and we actually saw our first one in Portugal in 2007. This wasn’t the first time we saw a bird and thought LIFER! when in fact we had seen the species before, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Ever happened to you?

This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly, hosted by Birdfreak. Check out this week’s submissions – and while you’re at it, why don’t you submit your own BPW post?

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Posted in Birding Blooper, LCFPD, Life List | 5 Comments

Birding Goals for 2010

The new year is coming fast – just about four and a half hours to go here – and I’ve been thinking about setting a few birding goals for 2010.

I’m not really a hard core lister at this point, but one of my goals for the new year is to start using eBird. Every time I try to navigate the site I get frustrated because I can’t find what I am looking for. And it’s slow. I also can’t stop comparing it to the system we used in the Netherlands,, which was so easy and intuitive. Right now I’m trying to make a birding route for tomorrow and I can’t find the birds reported at our local hotspot, aargh! I want to search by location, not species. I guess if I start using it more, I’ll get the hang of it, right? So my first goal for 2010 is to use eBird for recording my sightings, and for exploring data. And I want to answer these questions: Can I find all the sightings by a certain user? Can I see what species were seen on a specific date at a specific location?

Another goal I have is to read these.

At least most of them. More bird-related natural history books are on the way (thanks to bookmooch and paperbackswap) but the shelf is filling up fast. And I’m trying to not hoard so many books any more. The idea is to read them and pass them on. I should be able to manage a book a month, right? Geez. First I have to finish The Beak of the Finch and then I’ll be on my way!

I suppose a list of birding goals should include species targets. We only managed 194 species for 2009. I think we should be able to get 200 in Illinois. Beyond that I’m reluctant to make a goal, although it would also be nice to get 13 lifers as that will get us to 500 total. We’re still missing quite a few local birds and I think we’ll pick up a bunch in Holland when we visit in the summer.

Did you make any biridng goals for 2010?

Happy New Year to all my birding friends and fellow bird bloggers! To a great and bird-filled 2010!

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Posted in Books, Life List | 1 Comment

My top birds of the decade

I was very lucky to be able to travel during my years living in the Netherlands, which means I’ve seen some really neat birds. Even though my interest in birds was not too great during most of those years, my keen enthusiasm for travel was fueled by a desire to explore the unknown, so new wildlife sightings were routinely noted, especially later in the decade. It was hard to come up with this list of my favorite birds from the last 10 (really 6) years. I kept the list short at 10 – if I compiled the list next week I might pick 10 different birds. These are in no particular order.

White-tailed Ptarmigan

When I was a kid we spent a few summer holidays in Colorado, and I remember we would always look for ptarmigans. I don’t think we ever saw one. In April 2004 Arthur and I visited my parents and we all took a road trip to Colorado. At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park we finally saw one. We weren’t yet ‘birders’ but I remember this bird made an impression on Arthur and me.

Common Kingfisher

We saw our first Kingfisher in the Netherlands on 25 August, 2007, during the Vogelfestival (Dutch Bird Fair). It was also Arthur’s birthday, and earlier in the day he had said he wanted to finally see a Kingfisher. His wish came true when we arrived at a bird hide in Oostvaarderplassen and fellow birders quietly pointed out a hunting pair to us.

Little Auk

We used to take walks along the pier at IJmuiden, and spot shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, and Eurasian Oystercatchers. One day in November 2006, we knew from looking at that a Little Auk had been seen there. The bird was easy to spot, because it had its own paparazzi. This was the first time I had seen twitchers honing in on a special bird. I loved it! The bird was pretty great too. A real cutie.

Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah

This bird makes the list mostly because of its cool name. This is one of many neat birds we saw in the Gambia in January 2007. On our guided birding trip we were joined by three hard-core Finnish birders who knew their Gambian birds backwards and forwards. We were so unprepared, we didn’t even know what kind of bird to look for when the guide called out “Green-backed Eremomela” or “Bronze Mannikin.” I knew what to look for when this bird was called out, though, since the name made an impression on me when I was thumbing through our Gambian bird guide. I was so excited that we got to see a male with the long tail feathers, since it was past breeding season and no guarantee.

Black Heron

We saw a lot of awesome birds in the Gambia, many of which were pointed out by our guide during our short birding tour. Our favorite birds, however, were the ones we found on our own. We watched a Black Heron hunting in the Kotu rice fields close to the coastal resort area. They hunt by using their wings to shield out the sun. Fish are attracted to the shade which the heron then hunts. Here’s a clip from Life of Birds showing the bird in action.

Egyptian Plover

This is another Gambian bird, and another one we saw with the guide. This bird is the target species for the Gambia, and it was the first time we went looking for a specialty like this. We got great looks of this really beautiful bird. The reaction of the Finns was priceless, too.

Egyptian Vulture

Here’s another bird with Egypt in the name that we didn’t see in Egypt. When we visited India in spring 2006, we traveled independently and stuck mostly to the popular backpacker sites like Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. One kind of off-beat place we visited was Kota, on the Chambal River. We took a cruise with a boatman in his simple motorboat and were pretty stoked to see a pair of Egyptian Vultures in a scrape on the rocky wall of the river. This was one of the coolest places I’ve seen a bird, ever. We were skunked on our target species, gharial (crocodile-like reptile), but this sighting made up for it.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Another bird I always loved to see in the Netherlands, where they were summer breeders. In late summer we could see them fairly reliably at our favorite local patch, Starrevaart.


Hoopoes are crazy-looking birds and I just love them. We’re lucky enough to have seen them in the Gambia, India, and in Spain, where they visited the neighboring woods of the house we rented for a week in Andalusia. I think we saw our first Hoopoe back in 2003 in Egypt at the temple of Karnak. We had no idea what the wild-looking bird was, but later I recognized it from our European field guide.

White Stork

I have two fun memories of this species. When we spent a week in Andalusia we stayed in a house far from almost everything, and we would drive along a major highway almost every day. On huge utility poles along the highway there were giant stork nests, all active. Some poles had several nests each. It was so neat. The other memory I have is seeing thousands and thousands of migrating storks coming down to the Sinai Peninsula when we went birding at a water treatment facility in Sharm El Sheikh. They just kept coming and coming, it was incredible.

Wow, I can’t believe I only picked one North American bird! We’ve been living here for just over a year and the last months birding here have been a blast. We’ve just barely started to scratch the surface of local birding and I’m looking forward to the next decade of birding which I expect will be primarily in the USA.

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Two lifers at someone else’s local patch

We checked into our hotel late, after 10+ hours on the road. A stand with tourist brochures beckoned me. I showed Arthur a bird park flyer with a photo of an alligator. When the hotel clerk heard us wondering about the northern boundary range of alligators, she said she saw them all the time. They hung out at one of her favorite spots, a place where she and her girlfriend often walked – a city park not far from the hotel.

The Great Swamp Sanctuary is a 842-acre preserve in Walterboro, South Carolina. We headed there the next morning, before another long day of driving home from Florida.

Great Swamp Sanctuary

From the website: South Carolina’s newest nature-based attraction, the Great Swamp Sanctuary in the City of Walterboro offers visitors the ultimate Lowcountry experience, combining history, culture, recreation and education in a singularly southern lowlands setting. Just three minutes from I-95, this environmental jewel is ideally positioned to serve as the gateway to other nature-based centers in the state and as a catalyst for the lucrative ecotourism market.

The park was quiet on the morning we arrived. Light was bad but the walk was not. First, we didn’t see many birds. But there was more to see.

Great Swamp Trail

Life on a tree trunk

Great Swamp Santuary

Great Swamp Trail

One of the paths ended alongside the swamp. There the sanctuary really came to life. Woodpeckers, warblers, wrens, herons. We spent an hour there, standing, looking, marveling. We heard a familiar-sounding call but never saw the bird scolding chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee – our lifer Carolina Chickadee.

Great Swamp Trail

Pileated Woodpecker

Great Blue Heron

It was getting late, and we were at the far end of the small park. We headed back to the car, walking as hurried travelers, not as birders. The huge spider web we had carefully ducked under on the way out was forgotten until we had passed it again – without incident. A large bird flew across the path ahead of us and we were back to birder mode. Arthur found it after a beat and there it was, our lifer Barred Owl.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

We shouldn’t have been surprised, since there’s a photo of a Barred Owl on the sign at the entrance (scroll up), but we were. Surprised and thrilled. We hit the road again after watching the owl for a bit. Never got to see a South Carolina alligator, but that was fine with us.

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