20 de noviembre de 2023

Inside the Whirlwind

Although I’ve been to Israel six times before now, this adventure was always going to be special. My father and I arrived in late July, and I hung around until the rest of my family left mid-August. The traditional gap-year of studying in Israel of many Jewish Americans my age is an exciting experience. After the settled routine of high school, substantial developments that previously occurred every month or so in life flashed by. Public transport, debit cards, dorm life, independent learning. Everything seemed new even before the war hit, I didn't make a post before it simply because I was so busy doing so many different things. Since then, I haven’t written for very different and obvious reasons.
My reason for being able to write about what’s going on is that this is also to a degree supposed to be a life blog, as I wrote in the first post. Ironically, I was meaning to write a paragraph about how surprisingly safe Israel is in this post, but can now confirm that Israel is indeed very safe, except during a war when it can be in fact quite dangerous.
By Saturday night, we knew the toll was already unprecedented: 200 killed and 30 taken hostage, and Israel immediately declared war. This is a country that traded 1,027 terrorists for a single captive soldier a few years back, with many high-profile terrorists being freed. And then the number of identified bodies began to steadily rise to over 1,300 killed and 240 taken hostage…
Where I was, the first sign of war was the announcement to take shelter, the subsequent sound of the Iron Dome interceptions and a rumor I heard that there were reports of some kidnappings overheard via walkie-talkie. I spent some time on a nice lookout overlooking a large portion of the country, walking two fighter jets gaining altitude below me and wondering how serious this was. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk flying overhead was obviously an afterthought.
With family and friends in the war, even though there haven’t been so many volunteer opportunities, I still didn’t go birding for a few weeks afterward simply because I didn’t feel it was proper. Fighting against a force that wants to kill everyone who isn’t a radical Islamist takes up one’s thoughts, but the news articles of fellow “infidels”, all of whom Hamas would love to throw off a tall building, protesting against Israel made me somehow feel even worse.
So I haven’t been thinking about those weeks in terms of the birds I haven’t seen, but in the past weeks I’ve slowly been going back out into the field. Sadly for hopes of large flocks of pipits, larks, and harriers, there are no fields. The small range running north and south from Jerusalem reaches its peak around here, at a height of nearly 1,000 meters. Built on the top of a hill, the surrounding habitat is vineyards, large bushes, pines, and rocks, and in and near the campus are several areas of artificially watered “forests”.
While I was still with my family in a Jerusalem apartment during the second half of the summer, I didn’t do much birding, but I did revisit the Jerusalem Bird Observatory a couple of times, as I volunteered there in 2022 at this time of year. Those quick outings produced my long overdue lifer Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eastern Orphean Warbler, and Common Reed Warbler. Although a quick glance at a field guide may lead one to conclude they will never learn how to tell the difference between many birds here, once one sees them in the hand and their identifying details are revealed, the subtle differences jump out even at a distance. More on that in the next post, which will hopefully come in substantially less than three months, and with the topic focusing on birds this time.

Publicado el 20 de noviembre de 2023 22:43 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

09 de agosto de 2023

Out in the Rural Frontier

Rural habitat is where the action is. Very few birds live in urban settings, because that is not where they really belong. Most people live in urban settings, so we usually think of bird habitat as being the park across the street, the forest preserve 20 minutes away, a nearby reservoir. Asked for good places to find birds away from cities, most people would bring up known destinations like Cape May and High Island as well-known national parks such as Glacier Mts. and the Everglades. In truth, most birds live on anonymous hills and in nameless forests, and the percentage of individual birds that live within the confines of an eBird hotspot is very small. Although we are biased towards birding in urban areas and hotspots, the reality is that there is always more work to be done in terms of birding previously unbirded places. This type of research could lead to knowing certain species’ exact ranges, migration routes, and more. Most people though, given an empty day to fill with birding, obviously stick to known spots instead of bushwhacking through unknown territory.
Coverage area is one of my favorite subjects, which is why I was excited at the birding prospects while working at a camp in Nowhere, Pennsylvania which is where I would be spending the next month. Too eastern for prairie species and too far away from the Alleghenies for large numbers of nesting warblers, I was still pretty excited on the first day at hearing a singing Blackburnian, and seeing a flyby kingfisher. Over the next few days, the omnipresent song of Chipping Sparrows began bouncing off of my ears, and I found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest with young as well as many breeding pairs of Eastern Phoebes. My first morning outing after less than five hours of sleep produced a mystery medium-sized heron that I decided was probably a Green Heron (too stocky and dark for BCNH), 2 Hooded Warblers (one of my target birds!), 3 Purple Finches, 3 Savannah Sparrows, and six total warbler species.
The next morning, I was walking around the cabins when I suddenly noticed a pair of stocky herons flying over me going east. Except these were oddly patterned – they had white throat stripes! American Bittern? Here? As they flew a circle around the camp property, I observed the sharply angled wings, dipped neck, and even heard a “kowlp” sound from one of them. Number 4 and 5 AMBI for Warren County, a bird that was not at all on my radar! This was probably the odd heron that I had seen the day before. I was happy with the looks I had, and even happier upon hearing a Wood Thrush singing from somewhere inside the forest.
Several days later, I got permission to walk on the road in the early morning. The highlights were 7! different male Chestnut-sided Warblers all singing loudly, 3 Common Ravens, 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches, a badly seen Blue-headed Vireo, at least one Eastern Meadowlark in the large roadside fields, a heard-only Veery, 2 Indigo Buntings (both males), 2 American Redstarts, etc. etc, 46 species in all. I also had surprisingly high numbers of Gray Catbirds (8), Eastern Phoebes (7), and House Wrens (7).
On my next walk, I got caught in the rain but this time managed to resight one of the bitterns flying over the fields until it disappeared over the treeline. Before the rain hit, I also saw a Red-shouldered hawk fly across the road, hundreds of grackles flying out from their roost, 3 Cedar Waxwings, and a Bobolink on a distant pole all the way across the fields. The rain continued throughout the next few days, resulting in exactly zero fluddles. At least the weather was a likely cause for a small group of Purple Martins on the 26th. The nesting habits of Purple Martins may be unique in the birding world, as large populations have adapted to entirely depend on human-made nesting boxes (not for lack of alternatives, but because of convenience). There was also a Wild Turkey peacefully eating rocks on a forest path that was very much not a pheasant (for real this time). Presumably they eat gravel to help with digestion but I prefer the humorous image that it's because they like the taste. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew over in bad lighting, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak sat in the top of a tree, Merlin picked up a calling Hooded Warbler repeatedly, and I had good views of a local family of Eastern Bluebirds. The next day had 28 species in contrast to 38 yesterday, but for someone used to birding in Chicago during the summer it was nice to get a male Purple Finch, an Eastern Towhee, and a Pine Warbler all in a June morning.
Coming into July I was hoping for a lifer of some sort like a Yellow-throated Vireo or Acadian Flycatcher, but after looking at eBird recording, a hawk that was making whistling calls repeatedly as it hopped through thick evergreen branches was a Broad-winged! I’ll take it - another target bird on the list. On July 2nd when I heard an irritated Red-shouldered Hawk trying to escape a mobbing jay, the difference was quite clear.
During a short out-of-camp-camping-trip I woke up after less than three hours of sleep to thick fog covering the campsite. Sleeping bags randomly laid askew faded into the distance, the trees appeared a misty wooden wall, and the invisible whispering of campers who were unable to sleep and had now given up was the only sound I could hear. Getting ready for the day and hiking in the beautifully spooky atmosphere without being able to see 40 feet in front of me was a new experience, but it cleared away all too soon, and birds slowly became identifiable even if they chose to sing to hide instead. A Mourning Warbler and a Winter Wren traded long songs from unbushwhackable bushes, a Veery sang, and two Wood Thrushes sang from the other side of the fog. It was good habitat but there was good habitat back at in-camp-camp including the camp lake’s first waterfowl (Canada Geese of course) and I saw the kingfisher pair together for the first time. On what would be my last walk I finally spotted an overdue invasive species that I was hoping I wouldn’t see, a House Finch.

Eventually, my sheer disregard of sleep began to catch up with me. I usually rarely nap, but began to take several naps each day because of how exhausted I was. Given my low energy level, I decided to not go on any more morning walks for the last week or so, and boarded the return flight to Chicago with 72 species. Although I went on more than a couple night walks in hopes of hearing an owl I never got any, and disappointingly no fluddles ever formed in the fields despite much rainfall. Despite that I found some great birds and birdwise much better than expected.

It was nice to bird the same area over and over as I got a good sense of the variety and abundance of many species. I found large breeding populations of Mourning Dove, Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, House Wren, American Robin, House Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler etc.

I also found smaller populations of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Wood Thrush, Savannah Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, Northern Cardinal etc.

Notable probable nesters in the area included American Bittern, Red-shouldered Hawk, Hooded Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Bobolink, Killdeer, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Meadowlark etc.

After being in camp from June 15 until July 18th, I flew back to Chicago for a week to join my father before we both headed to Israel with the rest of the family.

Publicado el 9 de agosto de 2023 10:21 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

06 de agosto de 2023

The Last Rodeo, Part 2

Even with everything slowing down, I decided to check up on Lighthouse on the 2nd to look for shorebirds and breeders. The continuing Mourning Warbler was singing before sunrise in the South Ravine, a Spotted Sandpiper was feeding on the public beach, and I got nice looks of a Canada Warbler in the Woodlot. While walking in the dunes, I saw a pair of orioles fly into a short tree in the south ravine. One of them was an adult male Baltimore Oriole, the other one looked like a female. But after the whole pheasant saga, I decided to take a closer look at the second bird. It clearly wasn’t a male, as its body was a sort of dull yellow or dull orange, although I wasn’t paying much attention to that. It definitely wasn’t bright orange. Whatever the color was, it seemed to extend to the back where there wasn’t any streaking, but the main thing was that it also clearly had an all-black head. Was the female supposed to look like this? Something looked off-after looking up a few images I saw that not only do they have streaks on their back but they never have an all-black head. Looking up from my phone, both orioles had disappeared, and could not be refound after 50 minutes of searching. The only oriole species with a non-bright orange body and an all-black head is the Audubon's Oriole, which only lives in Mexico and southern Texas with only one vagrancy record in southeastern Indiana. Needless to say, I wasn’t at all convinced that was the bird I saw and even if I was I would have needed pictures. Besides, the bird didn’t have a noticeably long tail, and it appeared to have dull yellow instead of bright yellow. Eliminating every species wasn’t really an option, so clearly I needed another look.
Two days later on Sunday , I returned with a couple of oranges and hung them from branches. No orioles came to them, but I did find the likely continuing Canada Warbler and saw a Warbling Vireo which hopefully will breed. I did see orioles, but all Baltimore-I found a pair’s nest by the field trees and watched them go in and out of it. This is the kind of thing I don’t stress over as I only got a few seconds look of what was probably a weirdly plumaged female Baltimore Oriole but just thought that it was interesting, it always pays to stay alert and check everything
Snowy Egrets were seen all over yesterday, the closest one being seen by many from Techny. Coming off the back foot as I usually am on Sundays and hoping to move the front one, I left Lighthouse with 23 species after around an hour and joined several others in the quest for the egret. It had been reported to be flying between Techny North and Techny Basin (which is to the south) every few hours, so the best thing seemed to be to stay put. But after a few minutes of futile searching, I decided to make a stop at a nearby pond that did not have it either, and then returned to the original spot. As I was walking back to the others, I spotted a small white heron flying from the south that had yellow feet! It landed on an exposed branch near a Great Egret and great look and pics were to be had of its diagnostic yellow “slippers”, black bill, and head plumes.
On June 7th I again went to Lighthouse in one of my many futile attempts to find good terns/shorebirds there, but the only decent bird was an overdue personal site first Great Crested Flycatcher by the field trees. It was quiet - too quiet, so Ieft for Techny where I caught up with a late Semipalmated Plover and a group of 9 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Returning four days later, a FOY (first of year) Dunlin had blown in with the strong N winds, along with lots of swallows including a locally uncommon Bank Swallow. The still late-staying plover was joined by a late Solitary Sandpiper mixing in with the Spotteds. The fact is that I’m not a fan of shorebirds unless they are giving good looks on a beach; trying to identify small brown birds on faraway mudflats at the very edge of my binoculars’ range peering through heat waves has very little appeal for me. Which is why when a Yellow-throated Warbler was reported at Crow Island Woods, I chased it even though I knew I had little chance of success. I didn’t find it, but went to Lighthouse hoping the weather would force something in. While the only action of the beach were a pair of cormorants decidedly not having a fun time flying into the wind, there was a large mix of swifts and swallows flying around the small field south of the parking lot which had 1 Cliff Swallow - my 112th Lighthouse bird, giving me the third-highest personal site list.
While walking on a street toward a senior class dinner the next afternoon, I saw two doves perching on and flying around the streetlights. Mourning Doves have pointed tails, these doves - hold one second - had squared tails. Closer inspection, including some from the second floor of the restaurant, resulted in good looks of my FOY Eurasian Collared-Doves, a bird common in southern and central America with random small populations scattered throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods.An introduced and rapidly expanding species that has found a niche in urban habitat, its abundance throughout Chicago in a decade or two is practically a sure thing, but for now it is pretty noteworthy. While eating and looking at the weather on website windy.com (can’t recommend it enough, for birders and non-birders) I saw a very violent and odd combination of wind patterns that seemed to suggest a waterspout would appear offshore. Weird weather brings weird birds, so of course I decided to be at Gillson ASAP after a quick stop at Lighthouse. One fruitless stop at Lighthouse later (how have all these other birders seen so many shorbs there?) My last birding expedition at Gillson came to a close (without seeing a waterspout) but watching a BC Night-Heron hunt was worth being in the gusty weather conditions.

And so it ends; after 10 years of living in the Chicago area, after having arrived as an amateur birder, I leave for camp in NW Pennsylvania a more experienced one. Lots of other changes are easily apparent; the chaos and friends of elementary and middle school, the friends of high school, the family all along the way, the current goal set last summer to live in Israel and work in International Relations…and still there is more to come. Things to do, Time to do!

Publicado el 6 de agosto de 2023 09:49 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

02 de agosto de 2023

The Last Rodeo, Part 1

May 30-June 14 was probably the last time I’ll ever spend such an amount of time in the Chicago area. I had several target lifers in mind, especially ones not easily findable near New York. At the top of the list was Connecticut Warbler, as late May is the best time to find this bird in NE Illinois and NE Illinois is one of the most accessible and reliable places to find it. Originally I thought I would have to abandon Lighthouse morning trips for LaBagh Woods, but it gradually became clear that there are a few sections that have a chance, such as the North Ravine, the field tree area, and most of all The Woodlot.
Upon arrival Tuesday morning before sunrise there were 3 Common Nighthawks flying around the lighthouse! A welcome yearbird and clearly newly arrived migrants from further south. A good sign of things to come, a hunch proven by a small skittish brown bird in the North Ravine! A bit of stalking the bird up the path resulted in views of a small gamebird with a long tail with pinned feathers and barred flanks. The brownish color meant it was a female Turkey as males are brightly colored-another first for the site, not to mention an impressive bird for Evanston!. A gut feeling told me to double-check but I pushed it away; the bird was too small for a bobwhite and the location was all wrong for a pheasant. I took pictures anyway, just to be safe and to document a good record, before it ran off into some thick vegetation where I could not refind it. With a Blackpoll and a nice male Canada Warbler seen well by the playground added to the morning’s list, I then headed to the Woodlot where Merlin picked up a singing Mourning Warbler, one of the tougher migrant songbirds to find. Not only was I able to repeatedly hear its invisible song emanating from 15 feet away from me, but I was able to get eyes on a second one in a bush by the field trees! (N of the parking lot, S of the large field.) I went back to where I had the first one to confirm there were two and this time was able to get a brief sighting of that one as well! With a great morning already in the bag I went for the second round (my schedule each morning is usually beach-dunes- s ravine- n ravine-playground-woodlot-field trees-lighthouse area-repeat once-leave). This time, as I headed to the North Ravine, Merlin picked up a Philadelphia Vireo which would be a very overdue lifer for me and one of the bigger misses during my Small Big Year. I listened to what sounded like a slowish version of a Red-eyed Vireo song, knowing that Merlin is not very reliable when it comes to distinguishing such similar notes. Even if it was reliable, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with using such a nondiagnostic field mark, especially as variation in song can be widespread within a species. However, after having lots of fun staring at a tall tree from various angles for about 5 minutes, I finally laid eyes on a plain faced vireo up on a branch, followed by a second bird seen a few trees further north up the ravine. In keeping with the pattern of the day I went back to where I’d found the first one to be greeted with great views of the yellow centered on the throat and chest as opposed to the flanks (as would be expected for a Warbling Vireo). #315!

The next day I returned with the goal of refinding the goodies and maybe finding a few more. Shorebirds kept up their streak of not showing up but there were 3 Caspian Terns as opposed to one 24 hours earlier. A nighthawk flew in from the lake as I was walking through the South Ravine, and Black-crowned Night Heron flew over headed north minutes later.

I was walking around the small community garden in the far northwestern section of the playground area when I heard an unfamiliar chirping call, and a minute later Merlin told me it had heard a Dickcissel. Usually whenever it makes a mistake it doesn’t keep on insisting that it’s hearing the bird, but it kept flashing yellow…and the chirping call was still going, coming from the tall trees north of lighthouse beach property. A bit of scanning indeed produced a male Dickcissel interacting with some House Sparrows on nearby branches. Like the turkey this bird is much more regular in the south of the county and is pretty rare around these neighborhoods, being the 12th record for Evanston. After getting a video of the bird calling, I headed over to the woodlot, where I was able to hear one of yesterday’s two Mourning Warblers. While checking the field trees I heard yet another overdue lifer, Alder Flycatcher, and was able to get some brief views. The song is quite similar to the Willow Flycatcher but replaces its “fitz-bew!” with “fijjew!”. While I didn’t get great looks I was more than happy to put it down at #316 as hearing an Empidonax is arguably better than seeing one, hopefully more on my stance on heard-only birds in a later post. I also added Chestnut-sided Warbler to my Lighthouse list, and had a nice Wilson’s and Magnolia as well.

After two surprisingly productive mornings, I left Lighthouse the next morning with the realization that migration madness was over. Aside from an early nighthawk by the lighthouse the only highlights were a pair of Kingbirds and an Ovenbird by the field trees, finishing the session with a measly 29 species. After school though, I decided to finally check out a promising location in Northbrook, a mudflat-ringed lake surrounded by tall fences and roads on the corner of Lake Cook and Pfingsten. With the power of Google Street View I devised a way to access it. By parking in a nearby lot and walking south down a bike lane on Pfingsten, I was able to see the majority of the distant mudflats. Due to my scope being put out its misery earlier this week, I had only my binoculars and the only shorebird identifiable for me out of the three or four shorbs I saw was a Killdeer. Still looks like a place with high potential during shorebird migration for anyone with a good scope, and going there Feb-Apr could also result in a few good waterfowl.
Late that afternoon, I heard news that somebody had just found Illinois’ second Gull-billed Tern at Montrose! I jumped out of my chair, grabbed my phone wallet and keys, and dashed to my car. Heart beating far faster than must be beneficial, I frantically drove off intending to turn the 30-minute commute into as instantaneous as possible. It was to no avail as minutes later I received word that the bird had flown off, and not only that, but to the south which meant I couldn’t quickly pull off for a chance at a flyby. As I headed home, somebody sent a picture to a group chat of a pheasant that had become a regular at an Evanston feeder, to which somebody speculated that my photos of the turkey a few days ago sure looked like a pheasant. As soon as I saw that, a nice tidbit of information popped into my head: Female turkeys, unlike most gamebirds, are not small brown versions of the males. They are even bigger than the males, darkly colored, with a short tail and a diagnostic wattle. This was clearly a Ring-necked Pheasant, which although needed for my life list was almost certainly an escapee given the nearby (lack of) habitat. An embarrassing mistake, and to add insult to injury a species taken off the lighthouse list. For someone who grew up in Boston I never should have so incorrectly and confidently reported a turkey especially where it would show up on the rare bird alert, it is genuinely hard to even write this post. Birding regrets are tough but there’s always the next chase to find the next bird and the next identification to (hopefully) get right.

Publicado el 2 de agosto de 2023 18:19 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

24 de julio de 2023

Late May Adventures

Immediately after the senior trip, I went to Boston with my father for several days to go to the Bar Mitzvah of a family friend. After eating lunch downtown, we walked through a small park and I saw 2 Ovenbirds, a redstart, 2 yellowthroats, and 2 white-throated sparrows all feeding on the tiny lawn. Presumably this is an example of urban parks receiving good bird activity because it is an habitat island in a sea of skyscrapers. A walk by the Charles River with my father and great-grandfather yielded a singing Warbling Vireo as well as a Black-crowned Night-Heron patiently waiting for a fish to come within range. I also saw young Canada Geese and Mallards, a sign that migration is ending and breeding season is beginning.
With that in mind, I decided to make two attempts at a Big Day before the peak of spring migration window was gone for good. The 22nd started out alright at Montrose with a pair of turnstones, and a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, but only 8 warbler species meant I would have to depend on Linne Woods in order to break my personal day record of 77 set earlier this year on May 8.
After school ended around midday I headed to Linne and there wasn’t so much activity: A hummingbird perched on a snag over the river, a Wood Thrush sang out of sight, but not much was going on there on anywhere else, looking at eBird. The one good report from the day was from Ronan Park where someone had reported a Philadelphia Vireo and an Acadian Flycatcher, both would-be lifers. After more than a half hour of searching with no luck, I called it a day and finished with around 65 species.
In contrast to the 50 species seen yesterday morning, I had 60 at Montrose on the 23rd. A Greater Yellowlegs seen by many on the protected beach early and an American Tree Sparrow near the clump were flagged as rare by eBird, and this time I had 11 warbler species. Skipping breakfast to go to Laramie Park yielded a Lincoln’s Sparrow and with cautious optimism I once again headed to Linne around noon. The hummingbird was in the same exact place it was yesterday and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched high in a tree, but there was nothing crazy and getting to 90 at this stage would require some work.
A quick stop at Memorial Park Cemetery did not yield the hoped-for breeding pair of Great Horned Owls but I did see a Red-tailed zoom over. Time is of the essence on a Big Day, even if it is a Small Big Day, so after a few minutes of looking for the owls I left for Perkins in hopes of a large warbler flock. While I was finally able to see a Wood Thrush after 3 heard-onlys last year and 3 this year, I wasn’t able to spot a single warbler (sensing a theme here?). I didn’t see any martins at Montrose this morning so I made a quick stop at Gillson, and then dashed to Northwestern for Cliff Swallows to finish off the swallow sweep. While driving to Montrose (where I no longer had to make a detour by the harbor for the martins), I received a text message that there was a Whimbrel on the protected beach! These are notorious for Midwest chasers due to their irritating habit of rarely sticking around for more than a few minutes, I considered parking on Sheridan and heading to a nearby beach in case it decided to fly off further north along the lake but decided to risk it and drove straight to Montrose. As soon as I parked I ran over to the pier as fast as I could and found a group of happy birders looking at the gull-sized shorebird, success! After admiring its ridiculous curved beak for quite a few minutes I decided to rack up a few more birds for the day. (3 more Whimbrels were reported at Montrose over the course of the next week so it was a great spring for them.) While walking in the Hedge, I ran into a few other people who were looking for a Connecticut Warbler somebody else had seen there a few minutes ago. This was one of my most wanted birds for the spring so I joined them for a while, but all we were able to come up with was a Mourning Warbler. A good bird, but I was now way behind schedule. I had no idea where the Osprey nest at Skokie Lagoons was, and a check of the lagoon closest to the parking lot didn’t have it. Techny North didn’t have much going on in the shorebird department but a pair of Bobolinks and a Black-crowned Night-Herons were good finds. With 88 and the sun setting, I headed to Air Station Prairie hoping for a Green Heron or rails. Neither showed, and in the absence of any realistic mark to shoot for with darkness setting in I decided against owling at Perkins and headed home, tired and hungry with 88 for the day, and ready to do it again as long - as it would be far far in the future.

The next trip on the calendar was a family trip to Toronto. Not a whole lot around the neighborhood, but on the way back we did stop at Niagara Falls. One of the beautiful spectacles of Niagara Falls is the majestic numbers of dead fish gracefully defenestrating themselves from the river into the bubbling torrents below. (This is one of the lesser well-known reasons why Niagara is such a popular tourist spot),
Anyways, it is gull heaven. While I did not see any of the Bonaparte's Gulls that apparently nest in the area, I did see what I estimate to be an incredible 5000 Ring-billed Gulls as well as 200 cormorants. Presumably checking each bird during the colder months could get a nice variety, but late May is not quite prime time for gulling. During a stop to meet cousins in Indiana, I added a Great Crested Flycatcher heard from their backyard to my state list, and with that headed back home that night ready to catch the last few days of migration.

Publicado el 24 de julio de 2023 00:41 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

23 de junio de 2023

Lighthouse Beach

This past winter, I went looking on eBird and Google Maps for a place where I would be able to popularize an underbirded place and find a few unusual birds there on the side. Originally, I decided Navy Pier would be my patch but parking would have been difficult and it was too far, so I went on Google Maps and slowly went north from North Ave Beach along the lakefront, looking for an eBird hotspot with potential. The habitats that I was specifically looking for were open beach and underbrush, ensuring good chances for shorebirds and insect-eating passerines. I eventually decided on Lighthouse beach, and eBird reports from there confirmed it. I began birding there in midwinter and had a look around by foot, and it looked even better than I was expecting. Although multiple trips out of state and some other things got in the way of birding there consistently in the peak of migration, I found some great birds and highly highly recommend it as a patch to anyone else looking for one.

Lighthouse is mostly known in Chicago birding circles as a good place to lakewatch in the winter and fall, with most checklists in spring and summer just a casual visit. While it does have a great view of the lake, it is after plants start growing in the spring that its variety of habitat really starts taking form. Below I’ve included a Lighthouse Beach “guide”, mostly as a joke because birding in a small area is self-explanatory and only partly as advice.

Beach and breakwall: The beach and breakwall can be great for gulls in the winter, and diving waterfowl can be found flying along the lake or feeding in large rafts offshore. When it is shorebird migration season (May-September) it’s probably best to arrive five or ten minutes before sunrise before there is a risk of them being flushed by joggers. Also, there is a small fenced off private beach south of the public section that is one of the few protected beaches in Cook County. Occasionally a large flock of gulls and terns forms there, and should be checked for something different.
A note about people on the beach: Dogs are banned from the beach, although dog walkers are notorious for ignoring rules that concern shorebirds. After telling off every dog walker I saw each morning, numbers dropped drastically and on May 12 and 14th I saw no dog walkers at all. As of this writing , there are cameras that have been put up at the beach that take pictures of dog walkers and mails them a heavy fine, so the rules are finally being enforced. However, once the weather starts heating up, beachgoers sometimes go there early in the morning, and you might not want to be seen near the beach with binoculars. Take a walk through the north end in the meantime and wait for them to leave.

Birds to look for include scoters, loons, and non RB or Herring larus gulls in the cold months, and uncommon terns, plovers, and sandpipers in the warmer ones.

Dunes: Barely visible from Google maps, there is a small patch of dune habitat immediately west of the beach. While walking through there every visit confirmed for me that it is too small to rely on good prairie species to show up, it is a good place to lakewatch.
Multiple Sedge and Marsh Wrens have been found here so there is definitely potential for something good to show up.

Birds to look for include Horned Lark, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Eastern Meadowlark, and sparrows, depending on the season.

South Ravine: This section immediately west of the dunes is made up of low shrubs and several trees with a shallow rise on either side. This area is good for wrens, thrushes, and sparrows, especially at the far northern tangle. Sometimes weird things can turn up here, like the time I found a Virginia Rail walking in dense grasses or the Great Horned Owl I saw twice getting mobbed by crows.

North Ravine: In contrast to the South Ravine, shelter and food for birds is more seasonal with very little cover in the winter and an abundance of it in spring. This area is good for flycatchers, vireos, and warblers, and there is plenty of space for breeders. In addition, this is the only section with thick forest directly off the lake.

The Woodlot: This area is the best spot for passerines at Lighthouse. Although it didn’t look much when I was scouting in the winter, by the spring it became a dense thicket of shrubs marked with tall trees with plenty of cover for migrants. This spot west of the playground turned up birds like the site’s first Orchard Oriole, Wood Thrush, Mourning Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and many others. Any habitat this good so close to the lake is a true migrant trap, and it showed.

Lighthouse Area: Don’t skip birding near the actual Lighthouse, which can provide refuge for raptors and nighthawks during migration. The shrubs north of the greenhouse can be good for sparrows in the winter, and the area is also a good place to watch for migrating passerines.

May 14th thru 18 was the senior class trip: One day there by coach bus, three days to spend in Gatlinburg near Smoky Mtn Ntl Park, and one day back. Aside from the shenanigans, the tomfoolery, and the general incredible experiences throughout, I did see a few notable birds along the way.. Most of our activities were outdoors so I ended up birding in some pretty unusual situations. Highlights of the trip included my first ever adult Broad-winged Hawk while ziplining, a pair of Bald Eagles plus a Belted Kingfisher while jet skiing, a Pileated Woodpecker by our AirBnB, a Wild Turkey by the roadside, and an Osprey that flew over me after zorbing. While driving to Tennessee I also had an additional eagle flyover, a Wood Thrush singing at a random Indiana rest stop, and many Turkey Vultures, plus on the way back were several Black Vultures.

Publicado el 23 de junio de 2023 22:06 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

22 de mayo de 2023

A Very Overdue Update

I've decided to make a few changes to the blog because recently I've noticed that all of the days are becoming repetitive. For example, this morning I went to Lighthouse Beach, I saw this and this and this and this. That afternoon I went to this place, and saw this and this and this. I would like to make the blog as interesting as the birding is for me, so I've decided to make posts that aren't formatted day by day but might instead be focused on one specific rare bird or a trip to one specific place. However, I did decide to include the days that I did get down to writing which are included below.

May 1 While I didn’t go birding in the morning due to weather, I did chase an avocet in the afternoon. I didn’t go for the one at Montrose a week or two ago, so I drove to Techny, where John Leonard pointed it out to me-my third time seeing one. There was also a Great Egret on the opposite bank, which is a place that can be filled with several types of herons in the summer.

May 8 Recently I’ve been making a point of telling every dog walker I see at Lighthouse that they are not allowed to be on the beach. Some of the brilliant excuses from arrogant dog walkers I have talked to include: “It’s on a leash.” “My dog is very friendly.” “The rules of the beach do not start until 8AM.” “There are no people on the beach.” None of these idiotic jumbles of nonsense stop a shorebird from viewing a dog as a potential predator (which it is) and being forced to fly further north and rest somewhere else. For example, yesterday 4 Willets were found at Lighthouse Beach by Richard DeCoster, but they were forced to fly off when they were chased by unleashed dogs. Right now the best I can do is extract untrustworthy promises from the dogwalkers that if they see small birds running up and down the beach they will keep their dog away from the shoreline.
Today saw the arrival of a pair of Spotted Sandpipers that were frantically feeding with a Killdeer on the beach near the breakwall. The most notable aspect of the morning was a stream of gulls and terns flying north all morning, which inspired a lakewatch for Common/Forster’s terns. There weren’t any, but several Red-breasted Mergansers were flying north, and there was plenty of activity in the playground thicket including a FOY Eastern Wood-Pewee.
It was supposed to rain pretty hard this afternoon, but it turned out to only be a slight drizzle, so I headed to Linne Woods. Light rain can keep insect-eating passerines incredibly active, and especially so by rivers, such as the one that runs through Linne. As soon as I got out of my car, I noticed a very large warbler flock by the parking lot. While searching for the blurs of motion among the leaves, I noticed a brown bird fly up onto a low branch and saw that it was a Louisiana Waterthrush! While it is getting a bit late for them, Linne is perfect habitat and they have been seen quite routinely during early May in past years at Skokie Lagoons and LaBagh. It flew down and I wasn’t able to refind it, but I was able to find a Golden-winged Warbler in the same flock!
What would happen for the next three and a half hours was that I would walk for several minutes without seeing much activity, and then I would find a warbler flock to pick through, and then move on again. It turned out to be a great afternoon-my best ever, actually-I had 19 warblers, 63 total species, and 77 for the day, all of them personal all-time records! Some of the highlights of the long and rewarding walk included a late Golden-crowned Kinglet, 3 Blue-headed Vireos, 2 Blue-winged Warblers, and a Prothonotary Warbler that showed beautifully by the river bank.

May 9 Today didn’t have as good of a migration movement as yesterday, but there was still plenty of activity at Lighthouse to keep me busy. One of the sandpipers was continuing from yesterday, and some of the rough-winged swallows that likely nest under the breakwall were flying around. The South Ravine was mostly quiet except for a few Yellow-rumps and Palms, the North Ravine had a Hermit Thrush, and a large flock of Blue Jays flew over. I then went to the playground trees and found a late Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a pair of Baltimore Orioles. The past few days have seen the best birding centered on the thicket, and today was no exception. A Northern Parula was foraging on the highest branches of a tree while a Black-and-white climbed up its trunk, a Northern Waterthrush, hiding somewhere in the log pile, was singing loudly. On my second circuit, I found a Clay-colored Sparrow feeding on the sidewalk that runs north from the parking lot! I later saw it singing high up in the thicket and it fed in the field with Chipping Sparrows (I try to make two rounds every morning that I visit Lighthouse Beach: Beach - dunes- south ravine area - beach - north ravine area - playground - thicket - field - lighthouse area-repeat). It’s possible that it could stick around as there’s plenty of the unmowed lawns that they like, during quarantine one stuck around for three days at Timberidge Park across the street from my house, when I didn’t realize that this was an uncommon bird.

Around midmorning I went to Emily Oaks Nature Center, but it was too crowded with people, so I headed to Linne Woods instead. I had limited activity over a limited amount of time, though I did see an Eastern Phoebe which I did not see yesterday. Later that afternoon I went to Techny because several overdue yearbirds were consistently being seen there. My already half-broken low-quality scope fully broke while I was walking to the mudflats, but honestly that was just a matter of time, at least I won’t have to deal with it anymore. I did see the previously reported Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers, but it seems that nothing new had dropped in during the middle of the day, which is what I was hoping for.

Later that night, as I was in my room submitting a checklist for the 4 Black-crowned Night Herons that flew over my school as I was leaving, I heard an unusual sound coming from outside. I have heard Great Horned Owls from inside my house before so I opened the window and it became clear that I was hearing the song of an Eastern Whip-poor-will!!!!! A ridiculous yardbird and one of the best birds I’ve ever self-found! This is one of Cook County’s “Code 3” birds: Species that can be found every year but are not easy to find. The whip-poor-will stopped singing after a minute, and it was also my first time hearing its famous song. Wild.

Publicado el 22 de mayo de 2023 23:10 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

04 de mayo de 2023

Migration Magic Begins

APRIL 23 Good birds were reported at Montrose yesterday, so I headed there early Sunday morning. Not much was going on, but I finally caught up with the Carolina Wren that has been hanging around Montrose for the past couple of weeks. A bird that I worked very hard for during 2022 in my Cook County Small Big Year and always came up short. With the right conditions Montrose can literally be filled with birds, and today I had White-throated Sparrows every ten feet.
Later that afternoon, as I was deciding where I wanted to go birding, I received a message that an Evening Grosbeak had been photographed at Montrose! Last winter was a great one for them in the Midwest, but for one to be found in late April is crazy! It had been found at 9, a few hours after I left that morning, and the observer said that it flew to the north and she lost track of it. Nonetheless, I dashed back towards Montrose…and came up empty. A few other birders were in the area, but it wasn’t refound. Even where birders being a constant presence, rare birds can still slip under the radar.
Later that afternoon, I had another time slot in which I could go birding, so I headed to Fargo Beach to find a previously reported Willet. It’s a huge pain to find a parking space in the Loyola Beach area, but even after finally finding one and heading to the beach, it wasn’t there. There was about 20 feet of shoreline, so I assumed it made its way to a place where it would have had more room to forage, which is why I then headed north to Clark Beach a few miles north. Although dogs are allowed on the beach, it was pretty cold and there was a chance that the Willet would be there. It wasn’t, and it wasn’t at Lighthouse Beach either, and I had to give up the search and go home.

APRIL 24 I returned to Lighthouse this morning, where every tree now seems to be familiar. Despite my lack of luck so far, I’ve been getting an adrenaline rush every time I check the beach as soon as I get out of my car because shorebird migration is starting and any species there would provide great looks. Also looking at the hotspot plenty of shorbs have historically been reported there, and there are no dog walkers until 30 minutes after sunrise (Btw, no dogs are allowed on Lighthouse Beach. Ever. Unless, of course, you think you are very important. I’ve been explaining to dog walkers that they are not too important to go to Gillson Beach, which is just a few blocks north).
Anyway, while walking around the dunes I heard a couple of crows calling very loudly, and saw that they were mobbing a Great Horned Owl that was trying and failing to blend in with pine branches, which is a bird I’ve never before seen in the open in broad daylight. There was also a FOY House Wren in the north ravine, my first good migrant to show up there.
Throughout midday people were reporting many Broad-winged Hawks flying south, so I went to James Park in Evanston to hawkwatch but no dice. As I was walking back to my car, deciding where I was going to go next, I came across a checklist at Montrose with pictures of Eurasian Tree Sparrows! I rushed down to Montrose (again) for a rarity reported in the middle of the day (again) was photographed (again) but birders lost track of it (again), and I missed it (again). Exactly one year ago, I got Snowy Plover, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Eastern Whip-poor-will, American Avocet, Blue Grosbeak, and Yellow-breasted Chat in a single day at Montrose. That was an unforgettable experience, and was caused by south winds after migrants were piling up down south. We haven’t had good migration weather in a while, so it’s certainly plausible that a similar event could happen this year.

APRIL 25 I didn’t go birding Tuesday morning, but observers across the Cook County lakefront were reporting good shorebirds, especially Willets. Willets are usually hard to come by in Cook County, but today the lakefront was full of them! They were even reported at Techny, despite their preference for shorelines. I went up there and found all 4 of the previously reported birds, as well as an overdue Eastern Meadowlark. I then checked Evanston beaches from Elder Lane to Clark Beach but couldn’t find a single shorebird, likely because it was the afternoon.

APRIL 26 So it was off again to Lighthouse, to see if any shorebirds would linger from the day before. There weren’t any, but there was some good activity, with 4 kinglets and a phoebe, and a late Common Loon flying north.
I then got a call and I had to leave early. While I was driving to school, I saw that Scott Judd had a Black-legged Kittiwake sitting on the Clark Beach pier!!! This is a bird that belongs on the open ocean, and usually when it's found in Illinois it’s a quick flyby in bad weather! On a usual day I would have had the time to go see it, but today Ijust didn’t have the time. I assumed that it wouldn’t stay there long, but right before I got out of school I saw that Matthew Cvetas had chummed it in, after which it flew out of sight. I got to Clark Beach and went straight to the pier, but couldn’t pick the kittiwake out of the swarm of gulls. I checked Northwestern to get a better view of the lake but it wasn’t there either. Walking back to the breakwall one last time to check resulted in a distant view of a smallish gull with a striking black collar and eye spot. It was the kittiwake! I eventually got great views at 30 feet in perfect light. A bird I never thought I’d see in Illinois, and certainly not a bird I thought I’d see well!

APRIL 28 A California Gull was found at Montrose yesterday, so I went there today before sunrise in hopes of seeing this hard to identify bird. Simon Tolzmann pointed out the bird to me from the pier, and I saw the black patch on the wing, the mottled back, smudgy eye, and sharp black and white upperwing pattern, all of which separated it from the nearby juvenile Herring Gulls. It flew around several times, and I got great views of this lifer! Imani the famous Piping Plover was also feeding on the protected beach, and a Greater Yellowlegs made an appearance before flying off towards the lake.
That afternoon, I headed up to Lighthouse Beach, where crows were forcing a Great Horned Owl (presumably the same one as last time) to fly from tree to tree in a futile attempt to get some much-needed sleep. A Field Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow were in the brushy section north of the dunes, and a pair of Winter Wrens were in the thicket near the playground. The biggest surprise today was a Savannah Sparrow in the North Ravine of all places. They’ve been coming through, but aren’t usually found on the forest floor. I picked up 32 species, pretty good for an afternoon.

APRIL 30 On Saturday night I turned my phone on for the first time in 25 hours, and saw that a Lark Sparrow had been found at Northwestern University and continued through the rest of the afternoon. This is a bird that I missed by a few minutes at Clark Beach last year, and subsequently went birding five more times chasing this bird, but was never able to find it. Lark Sparrow topped my nemesis list…until today, when I refound this bird feeding with two Savannahs in the grasses by the large boulders that line Northwestern’s lakefront! Lifer 312, and incredible views of an incredible bird! I also found what is likely to be my last Common Loon for a while that was sitting offshore, but missed the kittiwake at Clark Beach that has been appearing on the breakwall every now and then before flying off to who knows where.
On my way to school I checked a fluddle that might turn out to have potential, and turned up a Solitary Sandpiper! While this shorebird usually doesn’t require as high quality mudflats as other shorebirds, hopefully other species will show up there.
That afternoon, I headed to Montrose to chase the Clay-colored and Grasshopper Sparrow that had been seen that morning. I surprisingly missed Clay-colored last year, and Grasshopper Sparrow is the last remaining regularly occurring sparrow that I need on my life list. I didn’t find the Grasshopper Sparrow, but the Clay-colored was high up in a tree singing giving good views. Out in the dunes, strong winds out of the west created a large cloud of midges (small insects) for hundreds of swallows to feast on, and an early Eastern Kingbird was taking advantage of the easy pickings as well. A pair of FOY Northern Waterthrushes were in the sanctuary, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere.

And that wraps up April, with 152 species for the year and 117 in Cook County. Ever since I’ve gotten back from Phoenix there has been little to no winds from the south, and as soon as we get favorable conditions the floodgates will happen and millions of migrants will stream in,
….and may the birding gods be ever in your favor.

Publicado el 4 de mayo de 2023 19:34 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de abril de 2023

Catching up on April

APRIL 16 -Phoenix
Throughout the past two weeks I've had multiple cormorant flybys by a nearby canal that I haven't been able to identify. The two regular species of cormorant in the Phoenix area are Double-crested and Neotropic. Double-crested is larger than Neotropic, with a long bill and short tail, while Neotropic has a small bill and a long tail. The former also lacks white on the face, and has orange above the beak with a rounded border.
My last morning in Phoenix began with the usual irritating unidentifiable flybys, but then one flew low and landed on a pipe crossing the canal-Life bird #309!

APRIL 17-Skokie
On Monday afternoon I went to check out the patch that I've chosen for the spring, Lighthouse Beach (More about Lighthouse in a later post). In sharp contrast to previous visits in the winter where I only picked up a few ducks and gulls and maybe a passerine or two, I had 16 species and three new yearbirds. Caspian Terns were patrolling the beach with the usual gulls, two Towhees scratched the leaf litter, an incredibly overdue for the year Northern Flicker flew into some brush, and I had 4 Hermit Thrushes, a good number for a place of this size.
Heading back home, I made a quick stop at Perkins Woods and unsuccessfully looked for Rusty Blackbirds, and then later dipped on a Yellow-throated Warbler that was found at Harbert Park.

APRIL 18 Today was playing catch-up with migrants at Montrose Point. Montrose is hands-down one of the best places to bird in the Midwest, as the peninsula acts as a rarity trap and there's seemingly a little bit of every habitat. All this combines to give Montrose the 29th most bird species of any eBird hotspot in the United States, with 346 species and counting.
While nothing there was that special today, I did see several swallows flying around the dunes and pier, Horned Grebes in breeding plumage, and a Winter Wren in the clump. Cormorants were flying by the lake nonstop, there's a sizable nesting colony that nests on an offshore structure.

APRIL 19 Today was the first day that I've gone birding before school this year, something I’ve been looking forward to all winter. No yearbirds today at Lighthouse Beach, but there was good sparrow activity, five Herring Gulls standing on the breakwall, and a Kestrel that landed on the lighthouse and then took off a minute later, a probable migrant and a good sign for the coming weeks. The biggest surprise though, was an opossum on a tree branch ten feet off the ground!

APRIL 21 The past few mornings I haven't gone birding because my allergies have been terrible, but I started feeling better yesterday afternoon, so I went to Lighthouse Beach to see if some migrants had stayed over from the past few days.
It ended up being an incredible morning, even though there was virtually no migration the night before! There was tons of activity on the lake, as flocks of red-breasted mergansers, gulls, cormorants were flying around. It cumulated with a huge loose raft of mergansers north of the beach and south of Gillson Park. Meanwhile, the dunes finally got some good birds, with a Winter Wren sheltering in the grasses, and some Northern Rough-winged Swallows flew around the dunes for a few minutes. While there was little to no activity in the northern ravine, the southern ravine was full of songbirds, especially sparrows. A sapsucker was drilling a tree trunk on the southwest side, while a pair of Blue Jays were flying around making as much noise as they could. A Red-tailed Hawk sat on a branch until it was escorted out of the area by hordes of blackbirds, and the best part was that I think that this was the most species recorded in a Lighthouse Beach checklist since 43 in a fallout on May 15 2020!

Counting the numbers of easily gettable species, if I had a morning of a similar quality in early or mid May, I would have logged 48, while a truly spectacular morning would have pushed me to 71. Of course, on that same morning, other places would also have high counts, but this place is criminally underbirded and I just want to change that.

I've been trying and failing to get pictures onto this post, might have to use another website but we'll see, anyways I just want to finally get this out.

Publicado el 25 de abril de 2023 20:50 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

14 de abril de 2023

The Last Spring

Hi!-my name is Yonatan Simkovich, and I am a 17 year old birder living in Chicago. I was first introduced to birding by my great-grandmother at four years old in Boston, then learned about the world of serious birding from Paul Quintas after moving to Illinois. I got my license about a year ago and began uploading ebird checklists, and now can say that I have a half-decent understanding of how to find birds in Northern Cook County, something I didn't have when most of my birding was walking around my neighborhood before school during migration. I'm writing this from a family trip in Arizona and figured that after procrastinating for a year I should just start writing. I have one last spring migration before going to Israel for two years and then New York for college, where I won't be able to bird as much.
But why go birding? Birding is essentially a treasure hunt that can be conducted in your backyard. There is a large birding community that one can learn from and can spread information with, and often are the friendliest people you will ever meet. Success in birding has to come from your own effort, but that makes it all the more rewarding. There is no other type of animal that consist of such variation (owls to hummingbirds) are widespread (birds can be found in any habitat, at any time) and are awe-inspiring (albatrosses and tanagers). And finally, it's a great excuse to see the sun rise over Lake Michigan on a cool spring morning with no one else in sight.
Another note-I take pictures when I'm able to, but my "camera equipment" is an iPhone held to a scope or binoculars. When a bird is still I can usually take good photos, but generally even if I am able to get a few pictures of the bird they likely won't come out very well.
I intend to regularly post - I enjoyed putting off this post for due to laziness but I also enjoy writing.

Publicado el 14 de abril de 2023 22:56 por yonatansimkovich yonatansimkovich | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario