Category Archives: Life List

American Avocet

We walked out on to the pier and looked back at the beach.

Waukegan Beach

Through our bins we saw a thin, long-legged bird standing alone, apart from the gulls and geese. An American Avocet. I mean, OMG, an AMERICAN AVOCET !! best bird of the weekend wooo!!

American Avocet

It stood still on the beach for a time, then scooted across the sand towards our pier, still very far from our group. It fed for a few moments when suddenly a person walking on the beach spooked it. The bird took flight over Lake Michigan.

We all watched it circle away from the beach. It turned back and I think I may have held my breath. It landed on the other side of the pier. It marched towards us until it was just a few feet from the pier. We got to spend some quality time with this life bird.



American Avocet

American Avocet

American Avocet

American Avocet

We attended the Illinois Audubon Society Fall Gathering this weekend, and this Avocet was one of the star birds. We certainly picked the right field trip for this morning! More to come on the fest.

For more bird photos from around the world, visit Bird Photography Weekly.

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Illinois Audubon, Lake-Cook Audubon, Life List | 10 Comments

BPW: Cliff Swallows

On our drive back from Florida last month we took a detour to stop at the Unclaimed Baggage Center shop in Scottsboro, Alabama. On the way we stopped for breakfast in Ft. Payne, Alabama, where we saw a colony of Cliff Swallows.

Cliff Swallows

They were perched on service wires and flying around a man-made stream. The birds also frequently made stops under a pair of small pedestrian bridges that crossed the stream.

Cliff Swallows

Cliff Swallows

These Cliff Swallows were life birds for us and it was a lot of fun to watch their antics.

Cliff Swallow about to take off

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Thanks to Birdfreak for hosting this great blog meme – go have a look!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Life List, Travel, Video | 4 Comments

2 lifers at Disney Wilderness

On June 16th we visited the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee, Florida.

First we did some leisurely birding from the car on the drive in to the parking area.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkeys hanging out by the side of the road

Despite this lousy photo, we did have a pretty good look at this lifer Swallow-tailed Kite as we approached the parking area.

Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite

Eastern Bluebird
An Eastern Bluebird greeted us at the parking area

The Preserve, established in 1992, spans 12,000 acres and includes several different habitats including swamp, wetlands, scrubland and flatwoods. Parts of the preserve are home to the endemic Florida Scrub Jay, but this area of the park is normally off-limits to visitors.

Again it was hot so we limited ourselves to a short walk on the John C. Sawhill Interpretive Trail.

The first sign of life on the trail

Disney Wilderness Preserve

Our second lifer of the day a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which we saw along the trail shown above.

Disney Wilderness Preserve

When we left the trail we signed out of the preserve’s trail register and noticed the only other recent visitor had been on the trails the day before, for just 15 minutes. We lasted about an hour and a half in the heat.

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Our six Viera lifers

Viera Wetlands
Typical scene at Viera Wetlands

At Viera Wetlands last week, out of the 30 species we saw, six were lifers.

The Crested Caracara seems to be a symbol of the wetlands as its image was on several of the navigational signs on the roads. Both times we visited, the Caracara was perched in the same tall tree. Both times, we had good looks in bad, bad light. This photo isn’t too hot, but I think that profile is unmistakable. What a beautiful bird!

Crested Caracara

This Least Bittern was lurking in the reeds but did pop out for some great looks and mediocre photos.

Least Bittern

We saw some groups of Mottled Ducks in a few of the ponds.

Mottled Ducks

The Summer Tanager we saw was beautiful, but the photo I got of it was not.

We saw lots of Black-belled Whistling Ducks flying overhead, but rarely saw them in the water – except for the one pictured below. It was totally posing for us! I think this was my favorite bird we saw in Florida. I love the colors on this bird – black, white, brown, taupe, and that bright orangey-red bill.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Finally, we added Loggerhead Shrike to our life list. We’ve actually seen this bird before, very badly, at the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that we noticed it was not recorded on our list. We had really excellent views of a pair of shrikes flying between two trees just a few yards from the car.

Loggerhead Shrike

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Rollins with Lake-Cook Audubon

We had another walk at Rollins Savanna on Saturday. This time it was another bird walk sponsored by Lake-Cook Audubon (their last walk of the season). It was an overcast and unseasonably cool morning, with rain forecast for the early afternoon. Despite the weather, over 45 birders of all levels joined in the walk. Here are most of us at the start of the walk.

Lots Of Birders

We did lose quite a bit of birders along the way – including us! We walked ahead of the group just shortly after the halfway point in the loop trail, after three hours of birding.

Because the group was so large, we split in two. Even then, we were still birding with a huge group. Here’s our half just shortly after we began.

Birders Birding

By the way, I’m not sure you’ve noticed (ha!), but I really like to take photos of birders. I don’t exactly know why. When we went birding in Holland we never went with a group so I would always get a kick out of seeing photos in online newspapers of birders all looking in one direction through their binoculars or focusing their cameras on the same thing. I just like birding as a hobby so much so I guess seeing photos of people doing it in a big group makes me smile.

On Saturday the Bobolinks that had been so prevalent during our last walk were a bit more subdued. We still saw many males singing, but we didn’t observe any females at all. A few of the males were quite bold, giving us great views from perches close to the trail.

Singing Bobolink


The Meadowlarks, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit more vocal than they were the last few times we were at Rollins. We heard these almost everywhere during the walk, but they kept their distance.

We noticed Eastern Kingbirds at at least three different locations, including what seemed to be two pairs.

Eastern Kingbird

We saw lots of birds flying high over the savanna, including Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, a Marsh Harrier, plus this Red-tailed Hawk being pestered by a Red-winged Blackbird and a flock of Canada Geese.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Goose Flock

In total we counted 37 observed species, including three lifers: Sedge Wren; Northern Rough-winged Swallow; and a fleeting look at a Virginia Rail.

Rollins Savanna

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McHenry Dam outing to end May

On Sunday we went out again with Lake-Cook Audubon, this time to an outing at McHenry Dam, which is part of Moraine Hills State Park in McHenry County. We took the Fox River trail which passes through meadow, marsh, wetland and forest habitat.


There are even two observation decks, including this one that almost looks like a blind!


Arthur and I noted 37 observed species, with six lifers! Arthur also recently started using Birdstack (I started a while back but never finished) to record all bird species we have observed. Our ‘actual’ life list is now at 442 species total.

On one part of the trail, we observed a Common Yellowthroat, one of our six lifers on the outing.

Common Yellowthroat

The next 8 or 10 birds we saw were Yellowthroats, but each time we saw the movement of a bird in the bushes, we looked hopefully through our bins, looking for a new species. But they were all Yellowthroats. Well, they are Common – it’s true!

We also ran back to see this lifer Orchard Oriole that a few stragglers in our group found in a tree.

Orchard Oriole

Besides birds we also saw lots of turtles, a rather large muskrat, and this huge bullfrog.


Another great outing with Lake-Cook Audubon!

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Birdy Glacial Park

This morning we went birding at Glacial Park in McHenry County.

Glacial Park entrance sign

We do most of our MOON survey around the park but until today we had only really seen it in the dark. Glacial Park has a variety of habitats, including marshland, bog, forest, meadow and kame.





Kames are irregularly shaped hills or mounds formed by retreating glaciers. The path we walked near the center of the park was quite hilly and we were surprised to see a few people jogging on the up-and-down path. We got winded just walking it!

We saw a total of 33 species. This was the first time we kept track of all species we saw on a birding outing (holiday birding lists excluded) and I have to say, it was kind of fun. Next time we visit Glacial Park we’ll see if we can beat our “record” of 33 birds seen there. Here are some of our favorites.

Eastern Bluebird
Mrs. Bluebird with a bug

Eastern Kingbird
Lifer Eastern Kingbird

Our top bird of the day was a pair of – wait, can you guess from the photo?

Mystery birds

Check back tomorrow for the answer!

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New additions to life list

Yesterday I added a few birds to my life list, including these three easy-peasy spring migrants all caught within a few minutes of each other in my parent’s back yard last week.


Eastern Towhee

Baltimore Oriole

Why can’t I remember seeing Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Eastern Towhees or Baltimore Orioles when I was growing up here? I certainly haven’t seen them in the last 10 years – our visits home were always in the winter so I missed these guys.

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Two surprise lifers

Common Loons have been reported on several lakes in Lake County (where we live) and nearby Cook County. We made a lame attempt at getting loons late last week but were skunked. The lakes we tried, where birds were reported, are very difficult to access as they are surrounded by private homes.

American White Pelicans have also been reported in the last few days, and today a report came in on a sighting that was almost too good to be true: pelicans and loons on a lake about 10 minutes from our house – with a detailed description on how to access a viewing area. We grabbed our scope and headed out minutes after reading the report.

The birds were sighted on Fox Lake, and could be seen from the parking lot of Mineola Marina, a restaurant and marina facility on the southeast side of the lake.

We arrived at the parking lot under heavy rain. We scanned the water for birds and could see three loons and several pelicans, all very far away, with the naked eye. You might be able to make out a few white spots – pelicans – in this one (click to view full size).

Fox Lake from Mineola Bay

Before getting the scope, we took photos of the closest loon. This is the best photo and a short video. You can hear the rain coming down in the video. The sound like thunder is actually wind – no thunder or lightening here today.


The loons were very hard to photograph or get in the scope as they were constantly diving. Well, that is what they do.

We also took a few photos of the pelicans. They were a bit more slow-moving. In the second photo you can see the fibrous plates on their upper bills, which are grown during breeding season. The plates are shed after the eggs are laid. Pretty wild, huh?

American White Pelicans on Fox Lake

American White Pelicans on Fox Lake

Next we brought out the scope to get better looks.

Looking through the scope in the rain

We tried our hand at digiscoping but it didn’t go too well. We’ve ordered a universal adapter to attach our camera to the scope, but it’s on backorder.

American White Pelican, badly digiscoped

That’s okay, I’m still getting used to handling the scope and tripod on their own. I still reach down towards the tripod when I want to move the scope laterally – the knob for that is much higher up, on the head. D’oh!

The weather couldn’t have been more miserable – the pileup of snow we got on Sunday was melting, making the ground soft and muddy. The sky was a dark grey curtain spilling down a constant stream of rain. True duck weather. But you know what they say – the weather’s always perfect for birding! Especially when there’s a prospect for lifers involved. Both of these were new birds for us!

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Organizing our Life List

We’ve got a photo life list [now defunct – ed March 2012] that we’ve been keeping since 2006. We’ve kept it in blog format but I’ve been thinking of duplicating the information into a standardized online system. It seems like eBird and Birdstack [also now defunct – ed March 2012] are the two most popular sites being used by North American birders. I decided to try both, starting with the oldest bird on our Life List, a Common Black-headed Gull seen in the Netherlands in April 2006.

Once logged in at eBird, I selected Submit Observations. The first step at eBird is to tell where the bird was seen. Since Netherlands is not one of the countries in the very limited dropdown under the Find it on a Map option, I tried Use Latitude/Longitude. I found the coordinates for Starrevaart, the location where we saw the Black-headed Gull, by using, and entered them into the fields on eBird.

The next step on eBird is to enter the Date and Effort involved in the sighting. I think casual observation makes the most sense when entering old data into the system, so I chose that option.

I got stuck at Step 3, Observation Info (What). Despite asterisks on previous pages indicating required fields, this page has no asterisks but it seems at least the State Checklist is required. Again the Netherlands is not listed in the short dropdown so I could go no further to enter my sightings.

eBird country selection dropdown list
eBird country selection dropdown list

I understand that eBird is backed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and that it is aimed primarily at North American birders. However it sure is handy to keep all observations in one program and I can’t see how anyone can record anything outside of the Western Hemisphere in eBird. If I am missing something, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

After the experience with eBird I had low expectations for Birdstack. After logging in, it is not immediately apparent where to begin entering a new observation. I started with Create a new location since that’s where I got stuck with eBird. The country dropdown at Birdstack is much longer and I could pick Netherlands. Now we’re talking!

Adding observations here is much easier. I started typing common Black-hea… into the Species observed field, and the full name of the bird appeared.
I’ll keep working with Birdstack, but I’m so surprised that both Birdstack and eBird are so much more clunky than what we used in the Netherlands, a wonderful site called All sighting entry fields are on one page. To enter the Black-headed Gull, I click on Add > New sighting and then enter all pertinent info on one page, including the location. No need to set up ‘locations’ first.

Next on the Birding-in-America agenda: figuring out how you people twitch! I can’t get into using listservs. What else is there? In Holland, we didn’t just use to enter our own sightings. We also used it to find great places to go birding / twitching.

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