Category Archives: North America

Goals for 2013

It’s that time of year! Here’s what I hope to accomplish, bird-wise, in 2013.

  • I’ll be keeping a BIGBY list again. With 115 birds last year, I surpassed my goal. That total will be hard to beat; I will be happy to get 100+ again in 2013.
  • I will be participating in the Bird-a-Day Challenge once again. My target is to beat last year’s total of 144 birds. I also strive to not stress about it too much. It’s a lot of fun but it messed with my head a bit last year. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • I would like to crack 200 birds in Volusia for the year. My Volusia life list is at 180, my 2012 list was 167 (#1 on eBird), and the eBird total for Volusia in 2012 was 249 (all as of December 30). The Big Year record for Volusia is 278 birds set by Michael Brothers in 2007.
  • I will try really, really hard to review at least 20 books this year. I post my reviews on and last year I was a huge slacker.
  • I’d like to fill in the missing weeks for Gemini Springs on eBird. Right now there are three eBird hotspots for Gemini Springs (I have suggested these be merged, but I am not sure how this process works). I use Gemini Springs and there are just two greyed-out weeks: the second in February and the second in May (from my own checklists, there are 7 weeks missing). The hotspot Gemini Springs County Park has more checklists over fewer months; between May and November there are only two weeks of data. This location appears to be used heavily by a snowbirder! ๐Ÿ™‚ Combining all of the Gemini hotspots leaves just the second week of May missing.
  • I would like to improve my raptor handling skills at my new volunteer place, but I feel moving forward here isn’t in my hands as much as I would like. So I would consider it a “nice-to-have” if I could handle 4 more birds in 2013.

Do you have any goals (bird-related or otherwise!) for the coming year? Let me know in the comments! And best wishes for a fantastic and successful 2013!

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Posted in ACBOP, Bird-a-Day Challenge, Florida, Green Birding, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

Favorite Photos from 2012

Here are some of my favorite photos taken over the course of 2012, in random order. Click on image to see details and view larger on

Black-crowned Night Heron

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull

baby Red-shouldered Hawks
Baby Red-shouldered Hawks

Double-crested Cormorants
Double-crested Cormorants

Sedge Wren
Sedge Wren

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

Green-winged Macaw
Green-winged Macaw (captive)

Barred Owl
Barred Owl

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker

Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher

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Posted in Florida, Gemini Springs, Illinois | Leave a comment

2012 Birding Highlights

I added 19 birds to my life list in 2012. All but two came here in Florida; I saw a cagey Hooded Warbler in Tennessee in October, and then there was a flycatcher on the wrong side of town in Illinois (see below). Besides adding to my life list, I had some great birding experiences over the last twelve months, most of them in my new home state. Here are some of my favorite birding moments of 2012.

The first lifer of the year came on the first day of the year. Arthur and I took a New Year’s dip in the ocean at Port Orange, then settled down for some birding. Northern Gannets were not unexpected; this was a bird we whiffed on multiple times in the Netherlands but hadn’t really sought out in Florida until that day. We were rewarded with mediocre looks which have since been much improved upon.

On March 23rd we twitched a pair of Whooping Cranes in neighboring Lake County. Though these reintroduced birds are not technically “countable,” we enjoyed seeing our first truly wild Whooping Cranes just a short drive from our home.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane in Lake County, 23 March 2012

I had a fabulous time following a Barred Owl family at Gemini Springs throughout much of April and May.

Barred Owls
Barred Owl pair at Gemini Springs, 27 May 2012

In May Arthur and I had the opportunity to help out a family of Cooper’s Hawks. We rescued the fallen chicks after their nest fell apart, and later assisted tree climber extraordinaire Jim as he constructed a new nest platform and reunited the babies to their attentive parents.

four Cooper's Hawk babies
Cooper’s Hawk babies a few days after nest replacement, 26 May 2012

In September Arthur and I enjoyed an educational field trip to learn about Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. We got our lifer birds and also learned a great deal about the work being done to save them from extinction.

Artificial RCWO cavity
Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity maintenance, 28 September 2012

I saw my lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Illinois in October, then added it to my Florida list a couple of weeks later. Both gave pretty good looks but I couldn’t add either to my county lists of choice.

The last lifer of the year came a ten days ago when a Razorbill swam into the inlet at Lighthouse Point. They seem to have been hit-or-miss at the park in the last few days; I hope this will be one of my first birds of 2013. ๐Ÿ™‚ In just a couple of days they will ALL BE NEW BIRDS MWAHAHAHA!

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Posted in Florida, Gemini Springs, Life List | Leave a comment


*Spoiler: I did see a Razorbill.

In case you haven’t heard, Florida is having an unprecidented Razorbill invasion. They have been seen all up and down both coasts, as far west as Pensacola on the Gulf coast. They usually don’t venture further south than coastal North Carolina or so. Florida had a handful of records prior to this invasion.

On December 12th I went to Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet, where Razorbills had been reported in earlier days. When I arrived at about 12PM it was drizzling steadily. I decided to walk out on the jetty without my scope. The rain came on and off, and though I didn’t see any Razorbills, there were birds around. I even saw a sea turtle.

Great Black-backed Gull

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

sea turtle
I think this is a Green Sea Turtle

I headed back into the inlet for a while, where I saw a huge flock of Black Skimmers fly down to land on a sandbar. I added a few other birds to my day list and watched some dolphins playing by a marina. The skies cleared a bit and I walked back out onto the jetty, this time with my scope. When I arrived at the end, birder Michael Brothers was there and informed me that a Razorbill had been seen about a half hour prior. Well, I stepped away just in time then, didn’t I? D’oh. I looked for another 45 minutes before I had to leave. It started raining again on my way back in and I got soaked. Sad, sad Razorfail. A half hour later I went back out on the jetty again with Arthur for a short look, but we didn’t see a Razorbill. We did see a flyover Roseate Spoonbill, though. Big pink birds are always good, even far away and in the rain.

Roseate Spoonbill filter
Roseate Spoonbill, artsy ediiton

Last Wednesday I went out to Ponce Inlet again. Now the weather was spectacular — cool but sunny, with a bright blue sky and relatively calm waters. I collected my scope, binoculars, and camera, and headed out onto the jetty. A large group of Black Skimmers was loafing on the beach. They seemed quite photogenic so I stopped to take some photos, but my camera didn’t react. The card door was open and the card slot was EMPTY. After ransacking the car it became clear I had another case of Razorfail — there would be no photos this day. I consoled myself by thinking that such an error probably guaranteed I would see a Razorbill. I was right.

I set up my scope and looked. And looked. And looked. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Loon, and a large flock of scoters all went by. Good birds, but no Razorbill. After about two and a half hours, Mr. Michael Brothers came out onto the pier. And about 20 minutes after that, he pointed out my lifer Razorbill to me. It appeared in the mouth of the inlet, actively feeding. It would bob up momentarily before disappearing underwater for extended periods. Michael left after a short while, but I stayed on the Razorbill for another half hour or so. After the feeding frenzy, it had an extensive period of preening, giving me very nice looks and letting me snap some terrible iPhonescoped shots. I didn’t take any nice photos but I’m happy I got to spend some quality time watching this special visitor. Good luck, Razorbill.

just an eBird record shot
My lifer Razorbill

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Posted in Florida, Life List, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

The Field Museum’s newly refurbished Hall of Birds

The Field Museum’s fabulous Gidwitz Hall of Birds reopened after a long refurbishment back in September. I visited in October with my family. This was just about three years after our previous visit, and the exhibit looked fantastic.

seabirds with wall projection behind

birds & projection


Paradise Tanager
Paradise Tanager

world raptors
vultures, kites and falcons of the world


The birds were all cleaned up, and the exhibit was modernized with interesting wall projections, interactive screens, and a great short video about birdwatching, featuring local birders and some birding celebrities.


American eagles
Golden Eagle & Bald Eagle

world birds
waders and Andean Condor

owls; notice Snowy Owl skeleton at bottom center

Bird of Paradise
Birds of Paradise displaying

wall projection

new touch screen
new touch screen

video screen shot

A Passion For Birds video from The Field Museum

The birds all looked great, but it’s always more interesting to see them in a natural kind of pose or surrounded by the type of environment you’d expect to find them.

Chimney Swift nest
Chimney Swift nest

Horned Lark at nest
Horned Lark at nest

Piping Plover nest
Piping Plover nest

rest & reflect
benches at the end of the exhibit

The Field is a spectacular museum with a lot of interesting exhibits, but we usually linger in the bird hall the longest. It’s always great to see Sue, too.


Yep, everything about the Field is outstanding!

no comment!

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Posted in Illinois, Museum | Leave a comment

Key West’s Audubon House

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s Brown Pelican detail

The Audubon House in Key West is a bit of an odd attraction. The home was built in the late 1840s by Captain John Geiger, a pilot who became rich by salvaging vessels that wrecked along the Florida Keys. The home was saved from demolition in the late 1950s and eventually became a public museum, dedicated to commemorate John James Audubon’s visit to Key West. That visit took place in 1832, when the artist apparently met with Geiger and other Key West notables. He could not have visited the house, but he may have been on the grounds.

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon House exterior from the garden

It’s a lovely home, restored to how it may have been during its prime in the mid 1800s. The rooms are furnished with period furniture and Audubon prints. The link to John James Audubon may be a bit tenuous, but we did enjoy our visit back in September. It’s always nice to see original Audubon prints, anyway.

Audubon House, Key West
Dining area, ground floor

Audubon House, Key West
Arthur looks at prints

Audubon House, Key West
VIP first guest

Audubon House, Key West
Upstairs bathroom

Audubon House, Key West
More prints

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s American Coot

We had a brief guided tour of the first floor of the house, with a self-guided tour of the upstairs gallery rooms and of the lovely gardens.

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s Florida Keys birds are on display on the third floor

Audubon House, Key West

Audubon House, Key West

If you are planning to visit the Audubon House, be sure to print out this coupon to save $1 on your admission. Hours and prices can be found at the link, too.

Audubon House, Key West
John James Audubon and blogger reflection

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Posted in Florida, Museum | Leave a comment

Just over the border (county birder blues)

On October 19th, while Arthur and I were visiting my parents in northern Illinois, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was reported at the Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook. As this was just about 30 minutes from my parents house, we hopped in the car and headed out for the bird, which would be a lifer for us both. The bird proved easy to find, and though the sun was close to setting, I managed to take a record shot.

just an eBird record shot

I had set a little goal to try to find 100 species of bird in Lake County for the year. I had gotten to 83 in May and by October 19 I still needed two more birds. As we set off for the Northbrook flycatcher, I had it in my mind that I’d be adding not only a lifer, but a county bird, too. Northbrook borders Lake County but as we drove across Lake-Cook Road on our way to the golf course I realized the flycatcher was firmly in Cook County. Three miles firmly. A crazy county-birder thought, yes, but I was a little bummed as we crossed into Cook.

We returned home at the end of October, and on November 2nd I was happy to learn that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen in a Volusia County portion of Merritt Island NWR. Arthur and I headed out late in the afternoon the next day. We didn’t know exactly where to go but thanks to some help from a pair of extremely nice birders who were on the same twitch, we were able to see the flycatcher. Again it was late in the day and the light was poor, but I managed a record shot.

just an eBird record shot

I had been using BirdLog to enter my bird sightings as we walked from the parking area to the spot where the flycatcher was seen. In the end my list had 21 species on it. I asked Arthur to mark the spot where we saw the flycatcher using his iPhone map. ARGH!! I had to split my eBird list. Twenty for Volusia. The flycatcher was .4 miles over the border, in Brevard. Bummer x2.

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Posted in Florida, Illinois, Life List, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

It’s Not Rocket Science

Last week Arthur and I visited the Nature and Technology exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC). We hadn’t been inside the exhibit space for quite a while; access to it had been restricted during construction projects related to the new Atlantis exhibition building. Nature and Technology is across from the Rocket Garden; notice the reflections in photo below.

Nature and Technology

The first part of the exhibit is devoted to early human interactions with the area now known as the Space Coast. Native American history, pioneer life, citrus farming techniques, and other topics are covered via posters and artifact displays.


The historical exhibits weren’t familiar to us from previous visits, and we later learned that it and the rest of the Nature and Technology exhibit had recently been updated. For the nature portion, a short boardwalk runs through several of the different habitat types found on Merritt Island. Each habitat is accompanied by informational signs, materials to mock up the particular habitat, and stuffed animal specimens.

nature walk

While the mock nature walk is fairly standard on first glance, we noticed some unfortunate errors and inconsistencies on the new signage. The first one we noticed was a three-time loser.

Lagoon poster

no, and no

Northern Pintails

MOTTLED DUCKS are not BLUE-WINGED TEAL (photo) are not NORTHERN PINTAILS (specimens). The specimens and photo are all quite lovely; shame they are not marked correctly! The specimen marked (3) is a GREAT BLUE HERON, so just the photo, which depicts a TRICOLORED HERON, is in error there.

The next thing that jumped out at us was a sign which read, well, see for yourself:

Gull ID help

Maybe I am being extra nitpicky by letting this bug me on two levels: 1) there’s no such thing as a Sea Gull and 2) why are they going generic on the signs, suddenly? My first guess is that this is a Lesser Black-backed Gull (yellow legs) but I suck at gulls so that guess isn’t worth much… Help from the Flickr Bird Identification Help Group suggests this is a Great Black-backed. Anyway, here is the accompanying specimen:

Gull ID help

Pink legs, pink beak with black tip — first winter Ring-billed Gull? (Thank you to Flickr user Fool-On-The-Hill for ID assistance)

The non-specifics continued down the nature walk.

Flatwoods poster

At least the accompanying specimens matched the pictures. A RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER and a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK are perched beside their corresponding numbers.

I think it is absolutely wonderful that the KSCVC has such an exhibit devoted to the amazing wildlife found on the property at Merritt Island. I always enjoy the video they play on the bus tours that highlight the refuge, and I especially love how excited everyone is when the driver pauses the video to point out the ginormous actual Bald Eagle nest that can be seen from the bus during the drive back to the bus depot. In the exhibit, the specimens and habitat displays look great. It’s unfortunate that some of the items are mislabeled. Arthur and I mentioned it to staff at the information desk as we were leaving, and our comments were taken very seriously. I don’t know if they will be able to change the signs any time soon, but with our season pass you can bet we’ll drop by the exhibit again and have another looksee.

Bald Eagle
No complaints about this gorgeous Bald Eagle on display

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Posted in Birding Blooper, Florida, Museum | 1 Comment


A delicious, nutritious moth makes a nice meal for a migrating Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photos taken 17 October, 2012, at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake County, Illinois.

delicious moth

delicious moth

delicious moth

Since we’ve been back in Florida, we’ve been spending a lot of time away from home. I haven’t seen any butterbutts in the yard, but I haven’t had much opportunity to look. Hopefully that will change very soon! It’s always a pleasure to see Yellow-rumped Warblers in the yard!

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Posted in Illinois, LCFPD, Migration | Leave a comment

Caching In Plain Sight

We don’t have any back yard nuthatches at our home here in DeBary, Florida. I sure wish we did, because they are so much fun to watch! Boogieing up and down trees, calling out like little squeeze toys, zipping around the yard…

Last month, while visiting my parents in northern Illinois, I thoroughly enjoyed checking out their feeder birds, which included a group of at least three White-breasted Nuthatches. One bird in particular was busy caching sunflower seeds. Often it would grab a seed and fly out of the yard to caches unknown. But a few times it worked on sticking seeds into a nearby stretch of old wooden fence. It was a lot of fun to watch this bird grab seeds

Ghost of White-breasted Nuthatch
The ghost of White-breasted Nuthatch strikes again

and fly the short distance to the fence at the back of the yard, seeking the best possible location to stash its precious seed.

Where shall I cache my seed?

If the seed fits...

Put my seed between them? Are you crazy?

Once the perfect spot was found, the nuthatch had to cram the seed in place. Sometimes this required minor body contortions.

Perfect crevice

More leverage

After caching several seeds in the fence, the nuthatch tried out a new spot. Pressing a hard seed into gnarly bark was a much quicker affair.

Good caching spot?

Classic pose

Brown-headed Nuthatches are the only nuthatch species we usually expect to find here in central Florida. This fall, great numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches have been moving south. This afternoon, a Florida birder reported seeing one in my county (Volusia). I hope to add a second nuthatch species to my county list very, very soon.

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Posted in Illinois, Yard Birds | Leave a comment