Who doesn’t love a Big Day? Any excuse to get out and count birds in the name of science is a worthwhile cause in my book. eBird has been orchestrating Global Big Day events each May since 2015, an international effort to record as many of the world’s species as possible within a 24 hour period. Last fall, the Cornell-based team launched an October Big Day initiative as an autumnal counterpart for the new spring tradition. With a clear schedule and a near perfect forecast on the horizon for the 19th, I was eager to contribute my own observations to the worldwide total this year. Stephane shared my aspirations, and he reached out to see if I wanted to coordinate our efforts to maximize coverage in Nassau County.
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Late summer is usually a busy time, filled with pre-work preparations and plenty of outdoor exploration as vacation ends and migration begins. This year I was fortunate enough to join a pair of offshore journeys with See Life Paulagics. The first was a two-day cruise from Point Pleasant, New Jersey on the Voyager in mid-August. The latter was a September overnight outing aboard the tried-and-true Brooklyn VI. Both trips visited the deep blue waters off the continental shelf near the mouth of the Hudson Canyon, and both trips, as expected, delivered plenty of great encounters with marine beasties. August 17-18, NJ Voyager Pelagic I have attempted to join two-day “extreme pelagics” on several occasions in the past, and my efforts have seldom worked out as planned. The main name in the game for double-length tours is the Brookline Birding Club, which runs biannual expeditions out of Hyannis, Massachusetts.
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As I worked my way down the slopes from O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, I made a few stops to bird some different habitats. At Duck Creek Road, I connected with another visiting birder who I’d seen up around the resort over the past 24 hours. I spent some time chatting with him as as we explored the woodland edges and open pastures along the road, where we watched Superb Fairywrens forage alongside Red-browed Firetails and tried unsuccessfully to get a visual on a Paradise Riflebird calling in the treetops. We swapped notes on our recent adventures and compared our upcoming plans; he was apparently headed to Papua New Guinea for an extended birds-of-paradise tour. I explained to him that I was headed inland, and I still had some miles to travel before I reached my bed for the night.
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On the morning of July 15th, my day was already a huge success before most Australians had gotten their first cup of coffee. It was difficult to leave the scenic shoreline and cooperative cassowaries of Etty Bay behind me, but I knew there was more excitement awaiting me to the north. With a motel booked for the next two nights in Cairns and my flight to Brisbane fast approaching, my focus shifted to the making most of my remaining time in northern Queensland. There was still no shortage of places, activities, and species that I wanted to fit in before the second leg of the vacation began! Working the Wetlands My first stop on the road back from the Cassowary Coast was Eubenangee Swamp National Park.
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My alarm clock didn’t wake me up on the morning of July 13th. I was stirred from sleep a little earlier than expected thanks to a shrill scream in the dark, the call of a Sooty Owl. Hardly disappointed to have a life bird shrieking just outside my window, I sat in bed and listened to the owl and other nocturnal noises for about half an hour before starting to pull my things together. After roaming the grounds of Kingfisher Park one last time in the predawn hours, I checked out, packed up, and set out for the day.  Wet Tropics Treasures According to most authorities, there are 12 species of birds which are endemic to the Wet Tropics, found nowhere else in the world except for this area of rainforest in northern Queensland.
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I think every nature lover has dreamed of one day visiting Australia. The continent boasts a remarkable level of biodiversity and endemism, with some of the planet’s most famously unusual creatures calling the Land Down Under home. To residents of the Northern Hemisphere, it seems like another world: a mythical realm of marsupials and venom, isolated for so long that the evolutionary arms race has created a truly unique ecosystem. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Outback, Australia is full of fantastic wildlife and spectacular scenery. It has been the clear, undisputed number one spot on my list of “must see” destinations ever since I was a child, but I knew this was not a trip to be taken lightly. A journey to the far side of the world is not easily crammed into a week-long vacation in the middle of the school year.
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Exploring the Dakota’s – Late June on the Great Plains

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Bird Sightings , Birding , Listing , Rarities , Trip Reports , , , ,
During the last few days of June (June 27- June 30), Steve Huggins – a good birding friend of mine from Chicago – and I decided to go on a whirlwind trip of the prairie states out west in search of fun summer breeding birds, including a few lifers. Steve is a well-traveled world birder, boasting a world list of over 4,000 species. He had not, however, seen a Sprauge’s Pipit before, making that a major target of our trip. I had never been to North or South Dakota in my US travels, and after hearing numerous rumors over the years of the natural beauty and incredible birdlife of the prairie pothole region, I was ready to see it for myself. Steve and I left Chicago at 4:30 AM on Thursday, July 27th with the intention of covering some serious mileage.
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Most evenings in Panama, the excitement wrapped up by the time the sun set. There were several other guests who shared my interest in checking out the rainforest in the dark, so the staff arranged a night drive about halfway through my stay at Canopy Tower. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity for some after hours exploration. We slowly drove down Semaphore Hill Road, with Jorge operating a powerful jacklight that he used to scan every visible branch and bush for nocturnal creatures. Birds were few and far between, a roosting Great Tinamou and a Black-and-white Owl calling in the distance, but the mammal show was brilliant. Jorge’s expert spotlighting revealed a Central American Woolly Possum, several Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloths, and two Kinkajous clambering through the treetops. We also spotted a Lowland Paca dashing across the road and a Spectral Bat hunting overhead.
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I awakened well ahead of daybreak after my first night in the Canopy Tower. The local Mantled Howler Monkeys were up shortly afterwards, their wild, thunderous shouts ringing out from all directions around my lofty perch on the observation deck. Slowly but surely, the dawn chorus of birdsong stirred to life as light returned to the landscape. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a more memorable sunrise. The other guests and guides gradually found their way to the top level, and we were treated to a marvelously lively breakfast performance. A mixed flock of migrants had joined the resident birds, providing a great opportunity to watch Scarlet Tanagers feeding alongside Palm Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos calling in unison with Green Shrike-Vireos.
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I’ve spent most of my adult life dreaming about Panama. The country has ranked highly on my short list of priority destinations for years, largely due to its relatively close proximity, accessibility, and rich biodiversity. For birders who seek the natural treasures of the Neotropics, Panama is a fantastic first choice. It boasts more birds than any other nation in Central America, with over 900 different species recorded in the country. It’s a fantastic hotspot for other wildlife, too, hosting a wide variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. From the dense lowland rainforests to the misty cloud forests of the mountains, Panama is full of incredible habitats with rich communities of plants and animals. Whenever my work calendar has provided me with an extended break, I’ve attempted to plan an expedition to experience these wonders for myself. Time and time again, my efforts fell through.
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