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I didn’t go to The Gull Frolic this year. I decided not to when the invitations went out to Illinois Ornithological Society members last November. I was then looking forward to my trip to San Blas and the thought of coming back to stand on the lakefront in freezing temperatures after spending the early part of January in warm and sunny Mexico did not appeal to me. And anyway, my head was still full of images of Great Black-backed Gulls I had seen in New Brunswick and Grand Manan.

So this post features some of the Great Black-backeds and other species seen as we made our way from St. John to Grand Manan by ferry.

The photo below is actually a small section of a larger image. I was trying to focus on the White-Winged Scoters we were seeing from quite a distance. Or as Ann has now corrected me, they were Black Guillemots! We had some Scoters too. But this is sometimes the problem with processing photos half a year or more later.

Black Guillemots

More of the White-Winged Scoters. Oh they’re not, let’s fix this right now. They are Black Guillemots. I don’t know what happened to the Scoter. Maybe it’s in the third photograph on top — how far away we were at one point…

White-Winged Scoters

More Great Black-backed Gulls – and there’s likely a few Herring Gulls in the group shot, but it’s more like a warmer version of a Gull Frolic.

These Red-Necked Grebes were distant but delightful nonetheless.

Sooty Shearwaters don’t photograph particularly well at a distance.

A glimpse of a rugged landscape.

Great Shearwaters were abundant and easier to photograph than the Harbor Seals in the first two photographs below.

I thought this post needed a little color.

A few more Great Black-Backed Gulls.

Some of that lovely rugged stuff that grows on rock.

And an adult Herring Gull.

I will be back with the other half of this day’s photos. The focus will be on land birds. It took me a week to process the 740-or-so images on my recalcitrant pokey travel laptop. But I guess these days I can’t complain about how long it takes me to do anything.

San Blas Bookends

It’s been a longer haul than usual, and I apologize, but I find myself finally ready to start writing some posts from my trip to San Blas, Mexico, which occurred officially between January 6 and 14, 2020. I arrived a day early to take advantage of the weekend, since the tour didn’t begin until Monday. The myriad images in this first post are actually from the very first and last days of the tour. That leaves several days in between with more photographs to sort through.

The trip started in Puerto Vallarta. I went for a walk the morning of the 6th and came back for lunch to sit around the pool area which had its own visiting Green Iguana. Click on the images if you want to see any of them more clearly.

The birds in the immediate hotel vicinity were… a Eurasian Collared Dove, later in the afternoon, an Inca Dove, Great-Tailed Grackles. Then there was a nice Black-Chinned Hummingbird feeding on the red flowers.

Eurasian Collared Dove
Inca Dove

On my way to the beach in the morning, I encountered a tree full of Orchard Orioles, Streak-Backed Orioles and Yellow-Winged Caciques, the latter two species, for all practical purposes, endemic to the region. There were also Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers everywhere. And of course, Yellow Warblers. Now you know where they go for the winter. In any event it was a good start for birds seen practically every day.

At the beach, there were some people things going on…

And the reminder of countless daily Magnificent Frigatebirds…

In the afternoon of Monday the 6th, the group met up to go on a short walk with our guide, none other than the incomparable Steve Howell, who is also the author of the impressive field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. We were fortunate to see our first Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, below. The Western Flycatcher, Grayish Saltator and Rufous-Backed Thrush were introductory birds we would see often throughout the tour.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Western Flycatcher (a/k/a Pacific Slope Flycatcher)
Grayish Saltator
Rufous-backed Thrush (an endemic)

Now to the images from our last morning of birding. I am starting off with sketchy-but-the-best-I-could-do-at-quite-a-distance images of the bird that inspired my decision to go on this trip altogether. The Black-Capped Vireo, below, is a beautiful little vireo I missed on the trip to Southwest Texas last spring. I decided to see if I might be able to meet it on its wintering grounds, and this trip to San Blas seemed to be the best opportunity.

I did get a much better first look at the vireo on the Friday of our trip, thanks to Steve who knew I really wanted to see it. I was sick after breakfast the day before so I missed an entire day of the trip, but this made up for it. In any event, I decided not to try taking a picture of it the first time in case I might send it flying a lot sooner than the wonderful view I had.

Other vireos from that last morning I will likely never see again are below, the Plumbeous Vireo, and the Golden Vireo, which is an endemic to Mexico.

Steve found us another pygmy owl, this one, the Colima, also an endemic species.

Colima Pygmy Owl

These are not in any kind of order… we spent some time at the beach that last day.

Royal Tern and (mostly) Heermann’s Gulls

We had seen Magpie Jays off and on flying about but on the last day, this was a rare treat to be able to actually capture one doing its thing. The last Magpie Jays I saw were much closer, hanging out at the breakfast table at the hotel in Nicaragua, which is also very much what jays do, I suppose, depending on their habitat.

We had several Grey Hawks on the trip, but this might have been the only juvenile.

Juvenile Grey Hawk

I still have to tally up all the new species I added to my “life list” but I’m pretty sure this was the first time I have seen a Western Tanager. This one appears to be a young male bird.

One more endemic – the Rusty-Crowned Ground Sparrow. Such a long name! It’s quite flashy-looking for a sparrow, though.

We were taunted by Orange-Fronted Parakeets and other psittacidae throughout the trip, but it was extra special to see these two perched and looking at us.

Orange-fronted Parakeets

I haven’t seen a Masked Tityra in a while. Nice to get a good look at this one.

Masked Tityra
Social Flycatcher
We saw plenty of its cousins, the Great Kiskadees, but Socials are special to me, in particular because now I will always remember their song as “tortilla, tortilla, tortilla” – thanks to Steve.
One more from the Orange-Fronted Parakeets

So I hope to be back with more to report a little sooner. My travel laptop seems to be cooperating, and it probably likes the attention it doesn’t get the rest of the year. I’ve gotten over whatever it was that attacked me, although I think it took maybe a full two weeks to feel totally sound. Work, choir, the birds at home, everything is back in full swing. Thanks for stopping by!

Waking Up Was Harder This Morning

Spring so desperately wants to happen. Or so I wrote when I was starting to put together this post four days ago. But then we had to spring the clocks forward, as if shifting more light to the end of the day would hurry up spring faster. However, we have been held back by what seems like the longest winter ever, and that one-more-day philosophy takes over. I may be too tired to know what I’m writing here, but I think the bright sunshine and the angle of its light now helps to wake me up, wakes the birds up, and the trees are probably musing among themselves, the time is coming.

I’ve managed to walk along the river a few times in the last couple of weeks, whether on my way in to work or those rare times when I manage to take a break and go for a walk. The weather has made it more difficult. I got out today for half an hour or so. The wind made it quite chilly, but wherever I could find a patch of sun, there was hope, if not many birds.

In any event, below are some pictures I took of Red-Breasted Mergansers last week. They’ve been hanging out in the river lately, like they did last year. One evening before I got on the train, I counted over 100 within my view outside the station. The pictures below are from one morning last week when there were four males trying to attract one female. She got into the act at one point chasing off one of her suitors. Click on the images for a better view.

Here’s the guy she decided upon. I love her mascara.
Here is a Common Merganser for comparison.

Herring Gulls have been following the mergansers hoping to snatch the ducks’ catch.

I was really surprised on an earlier walk to see a River Crow! A Herring Gull was surprised to see him too and tried to knock the Crow off his perch, but of course, the Crow was triumphant.

On my way back to the office, I looked back to see the Crow cawing about his victory.

I’m hoping for a Return of the River Crow. I miss hanging out with the Lakefront Crows terribly, and it would be just so neat to have a River Crow following. So now every time I go out, I carry peanuts, just in case.

The moon was beautiful a couple weeks ago, so I took a few pictures after I went swimming (there are always better moon views in the gym parking lot). It was exactly a month after the night of the blood moon when my former Prius C was totaled. The shock has almost completely worn off, and I’m very happy with the new car. It’s easier to give people rides, so there are more conversations. And I am about to find out how much easier it will be to fill up the hatch with birdseed. What more could I want?

Freezing at the Frolic

Last weekend I attended the Gull Frolic in Winthrop Harbor, for the usual reasons: something birding-related to do during the winter and an opportunity to see some people I haven’t seen in a long time.

So yeah, it was cold. And windy. And there were a couple gulls that weren’t Herring Gulls. And some ducks here and there. One turned out to be rather rare – a female Long-Tailed Duck, formerly known as Old Squaw. Maybe there were more gull species later, but I had to do my Saturday food shopping and cleaning and get up early Sunday to sing in the choir, so I left in the early afternoon.

Herring Gulls with a Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull
Greater Scaup
Herring Gull and Thayer’s Gull

There was a lot of ice on the lake, which you might be able to see in some of the longer shots. And it was cloudy overall. Sunshine might have made me feel a bit warmer.

So I’m amazed I got any shots at all. I remember only trying to hold onto the lens and stay focused, come what may. Removing my gloves now and then to sharpen the focus and then giving up. But the camera caught enough of the action and I’m thankful for that. I find the gulls entertaining, even if they’re practically all Herrings!

However windy and cold it was last weekend is nothing compared to today’s wind storm that has been going on since this morning and will continue into the wee hours of the night, with gusts up to 60 miles per hour. Every once in a while the wind positively roars. I don’t know how the birds in the yard managed it but they eventually emptied the feeders today. Battening down the hatches and thankful we are safe and sound. Looks like the wind is ushering in very cold weather again. Oh, but the days are getting longer, right?

Gull Frolic 2017 – More Frolic than Gulls

find-the-thayers-challenge-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8476Quipped attempts to describe Illinois Ornithological Society‘s Saturday’s 16th Annual Gull Frolic were “Duck Frolic” and perhaps “Herring Gull Frolic.” To paraphrase the observation of Amar Ayyash, our local gull expert extraordinaire who organizes the event, when the weather is good for people, it’s bad for gulls. In other words, there wasn’t enough ice on the lake to draw the gulls in to the shore. We can be fairly positive the rarities were somewhere out in the middle of Lake Michigan, if not totally on the other side of it.

Even with only a few species present, I have to review and refresh my sparse knowledge of gulls again because often this is my only chance to see anything other than a Herring or a Ring-Billed.

So disinterested were the birds in us, at one point there was more bread floating around in the water than gulls.

The first bird I photographed was a male Common Goldeneye, below.

goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8084And as for other ducks, there were a few here and there, although none too close.

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Female Greater Scaup and Redhead

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Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye

Above, a female Bufflehead on the left and more Bufflehead and a Greater Scaup on the right. Below, Mallard and Bufflehead flying.

The Common Mergansers were perhaps the most numerous. Two shots of a close female below and more flying.

Other waterfowl present but not photographed were American Coots, a few Long-Tailed Ducks I did not see, and a very distant group of White-Winged Scoters.

Gulls were quick to seize the opportunity to stand on whatever little ice there was. Among the Herring Gulls below there is one Thayer’s, if you like a challenge.

hegu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8684Of the two Thayer’s Gulls spotted, I was fortunate to get a shot of the one below when it finally decided soggy bread was worth bothering with. There was a flyover Great Black-Backed Gull I did not see because I was inside attending one of two lectures given by Jean Rice regarding her study of shorebirds in St. James Bay. At some point a Kumlien’s Gull appeared, but I was not seeing it. Maybe the camera saw the Kumlien’s but if I’m not aware of it, I prefer not to go back over all my pictures to find one. Perhaps an expert can spot this gull in the grouping at the very top of my post, but I suspect there is not enough information in a static shot.

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Below is one of only a few Ring-Billed Gulls.

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So I decided to survey the gulls present and make it an exercise in photographing different Herring Gull plumages. The darker they are, the younger.

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First Year Herring Gull

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Adult Herring Gulls

I was happy to see this shot of a female and male Common Merganser in my pictures.

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We appear to be continuing with warmer weather, which is neither here nor there as far as birds are concerned, but the wintering avians are starting to think and sound a lot like spring. And no matter how bad things seem to get, spring will always feel like renewal.

Espanola Island: July 16, 2016

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7489Espanola Island is a small island in the southernmost tip of the Galapagos Archipelago. As one of the oldest islands, it is estimated to be between two and three million years old, and was where we spent our last full day of the trip. In the morning, on the rocky, windswept Punta Suarez side of the island, we were greeted by nesting seabirds, and fortunate enough to see the courtship rituals of Waved Albatross and to some extent the Blue-Footed Boobies, although most of the latter’s nesting seemed to be over.

If you click on the pictures below you can see some of the “waved” pattern on the Waved Albatross’s breast. The bird in the second photo has a band with a number on it.

Below is one of several videos I took of the courtship behavior. It was impossible to capture any one entire interaction as they seemed to go on and on for a long time!

Some Blue-Footed Boobies were displaying but were too far away to capture on video. I suspect we were several weeks too late.

Nazca Boobies also nest here.

There was a Wandering Tattler in this tidal pool, along with a Sea Lion.

Beautiful Swallow-Tailed Gulls were present too. Below is a close-up of the red skin that forms a ring around the eye.

swallow-tailed-gull-07-16-2016-7277swallow-tailed-gull-07-16-2016-7750This was my last opportunity to try and capture a Red-Billed Tropicbird.

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And the Galapagos Hawk made an appearance.

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Nothing like another Magnificent Frigatebird.

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Espanola has its own species of lava lizard.

And the finch find of the day was the Large Cactus Finch.

Also present, the Marine Iguanas, a Hermit Crab and a Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron

In the afternoon we visited the other side of the island, Gardner Bay, which has a wide stretch of beach and a lot of Espanola Mockingbirds begging for water. It was hard to resist them but we were not allowed to give in to their demands. You can see and hear them begging from my roommate in the video below.

A couple more Blue-Footed Boobies.

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7934I love the blue accents on the rest of this bird.

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7358Below, our last dinner sculpture and the final day’s plan to visit Santa Cruz Island in the morning before our flight back to the mainland.

I am going to the Gull Frolic on Saturday and will likely report back from that with some photos. The forecast is for warmer temperatures than last year, but it is always windy and somewhat chilly on the lakefront near the Wisconsin border. I am thankful the forecast for rain has been postponed until Sunday.

Galapagos Part 2: Genovese Island

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Short-Eared (Galapagos) Owl

Life has been getting in the way a bit more lately: my apologies for the delayed post. Every time I go back to these photographs I think it will be easy, that I must have been done with them, and then I find out that is not the case. Then I was looking forward to a weekend without much planned thinking I was going to do a lot of work at the computer and it just didn’t happen.

I think WordPress takes matters into its own hands when I haven’t posted for a while and generates some kind of phenomenal amount of hits, then sends me a message our of the blue saying my blog is really popular. This has happened to me twice lately. I get the hint. Okay, back to work.

These photographs were all taken on Monday, July 11, 2016 as we visited what is called Prince Phillip’s Steps in the morning, on Genovese Island, and Darwin Bay on the other side in the afternoon. Galapagos Dove and Nazca Boobies above.

This was the only island where we could see Red-Footed Boobies.

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Some Nazca Boobies had youngsters. There seemed to be a problem trying to feed too large a fish to the fledgling.

This Swallow-Tailed Gull below seemed to be having the same problem. I suspect there may be an upset in the availability of smaller prey. But at least they weren’t trying to feed plastic.

The Swallow-Tailed Gulls are quite striking. You will likely see them again in future posts. We even got treated to a pair that was copulating.

It was a real treat to spend time with the Short-Eared (Galapagos) Owl below. Leave it to a Galapagos Mockingbird to bother him. As always, feel free to click on the pictures to get a larger view.

I think I spent the entire trip trying to get a decent photograph of a Red-Billed Tropicbird. There is likely a better flight shot down the line in a future post. In any event we got to see a lot of them on Genovese and even discovered one nesting (below).

nesting-red-billed-tropicbird-gal16b-lisa-spellman-7285Magnificent Frigatebirds also call this island home.

And we got to see what to my uneducated eye is the difference between the Magnificent and the Great Frigatebird: a blue-green sheen to the plumage of the latter.

And of course we had Darwin’s Finches! Four different species on this island. The first, below, is the Large Ground Finch.

Then, the Large Cactus Finch.

And we also had the Sharp-Beaked Ground Finch.

Also, below, the Gray Warbler-Finch.

Not to be confused with the Yellow Warbler.

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Yellow Warbler

We also saw a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron trying to sleep.

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Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

And I think this was the only time we got to see a Galapagos Fur Seal.

galapagos-fur-seal-7-11-16-7360Not to be confused with the ever-present Galapagos Sea Lion.

More Sally Lightfoot Crabs…

Back at the catamaran, we were treated to another fruit sculpture and received our marching orders for the next day.

I’ll try to be a better blogger and come back sooner. If nothing else, just to escape the landslide into November 8th.

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Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now,  and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…

Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.

Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.

These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.

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This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.