Category: Top Ten Hikes

Top Ten Birds, Herps, Plants, Trips, and Photos of 2017

I did several top tens as separate blogposts last year. This year I’m going to restrict it to one somewhat longer post.  Let’s get into it, and start off with birds!  (Caution, Snakes at end)


Top Ten Lifer Birds of 2017

I do have three honorable mentions, a lost Cinnamon Teal (Illinois),  two American Dippers (Colorado), and one Hurricane Irma-blown Sooty Tern (Kentucky).


#10 Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)-  I saw these both in Illinois and in Colorado this year.  The Illinois one was on an extremely fun trip, and I’m hoping to get a couple more this winter.

Whooping Crane #2

#9 Whooping Crane (Grus americana), southern IL -Easily the rarest worldwide of the birds I saw this year (with 600 or so in the wild), the Whooper is North America’s tallest bird.


#8 Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), CO- It’s a Burrowing Owl.  Need I say more?


#7 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), IL, KS- Not only is it a bird with an insanely long tail, I saw several over the course of the year.

#6 Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) (no photo), IL – Sure, I didn’t get photos, but I set a county record when they flew over my apartment in Jackson County.  What better way to see  new birds?

#5 Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), IL (photo by Colin Dobson, computer destroyed quality) -A Eurasian gull that often wanders to the Northeast, this was my first mega rarity of the year, and a fun one to find.  Unfortunately I have no photo, so I borrowed this one.


#4 Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) central IL- The second of the two Eurasian wanderers, this one is a little more in doubt (though I’m 99% sure it’s wild).  If accepted, it will be the state’s first or second official record (though there’s plenty of unofficial records).


#3 Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis), western KY- This bird is the rarest- it’s supposed to migrate from Siberia to Australia twice yearly, and how it ended up in a flooded cornfield in western Kentucky no one knows. It did- on Eclipse Day- and I chased it at 7:00 AM.  It is probably the best bird I’ve seen this year, easily a first state record (of any kind) for Kentucky, but it isn’t my favorite, because there’s two birds just a little higher on the scale…


#2 Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), KY/TN/IL- I’ve spent so much time looking for these, that in November I drove 7 hours round-trip to see a few in far southwestern Kentucky/far northwestern Tennessee.  This one posed ten feet from my car.  And then, driving back home in December- a Loggerhead Shrike flies across the highway in southern Illinois.  Shrikes are unusual, rare, and charismatic birds with the tendency to impale other, smaller animals on thorns.


#1 Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) MO/IL – My 300th US bird of the year (debatably- I’m not sure when I first saw Broad-winged Hawks) and my 100th or 101st lifer of the year (again, Broad-winged Hawk- I probably saw them in September 2015, but I can’t say for sure.)  The timing- just after finals- couldn’t have been better!  I then went on to find one in IL.

Top Ten Lifer Plants


#10 Carolina Anemone (Anemone caroliniana), central IL- It’s pretty.


#9  Slender Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes lacera), southern IL- It’s an orchid.


#8  Britton’s Skullcap (Scutellaria brittonii ), CO –  Other than two following plants, this was the most interesting plant I found in Colorado.  It looked like something someone might grow in a garden, instead of on a talus slope in the Rocky Mountains.


#7 Silvery Bladderpod (Lesquerella ludoviciana),central IL-  It only grows on one sand dune in Illinois, which I checked a couple of times until I found it in bloom.


#6 Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)(IL state champion tree), southern IL- This is the biggest tree I’ve seen this year.  It’s absolutely massive, which you can see with my hat as a comparison.


#5 Ozark Milkvetch (Astragalus distortus),central IL – Another rare plant in Illinois, this one I had the distinction of discovering exactly where it grew by using a website.  It’s at Revis Hill Prairie Nature Preserve, one of my favorite spots to visit.  That’s honestly why I put it so high on the list.


#4  Spring Coral-root Orchid (Corallorhiza wisteriana), Missouri Ozarks- This is an orchid that steals nutrients from fungi. It was a somewhat unexpected find in the Ozarks.


#3 Spotted Coral-root Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata), CO- Even more unexpected was this orchid in Colorado, which also steals nutrients from fungi and is much prettier than its cousin.


#2 Orange-fringed Orchid (Platanthera cillaris), northern IL – The most beautiful and rare plant I’ve found in Illinois this year, the Orange-fringed Orchid grows in a spot guarded by giant mosquitoes and hidden from the world.  In that spot, there are thousands.  It was fascinating, and I got to see it with the Fenelon, one of my close friends.  That’s not easy to top… is it?


#1 Calypso (Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis), CO  Evidently it is.  I got to see this with my family.  One of the most unexpected finds of the year, this unusual, somewhat rare orchid is widely praised in nearly every guide to orchids. Much of this praise is for the rarer Eastern form, but the Western form, while less rare, is still the best plant of 2017 for me.

Top Ten Best Trips of 2017

#10 Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge/Four Corners, May 31… I almost put the trip with the Illinois Golden Eagle in southwestern central Illinois on as #10, but this trip, also with V.S., had a lot of unexpected species.  I went for Red-necked Phalaropes, an oceanic vagrant, and ended up finding a state-threatened Black-billed Cuckoo.  It got me over 200 species-wise for the year.

#9 Southern IL/Riverlands, November 11- On this trip I saw my first Red-throated Loon and had a blast birding all day with Chris Smaga and Kyle Wiktor.  I’ve been to Riverlands three times between November 11 and December 15.  The last trip got me the Snowy Owl, but the first trip was probably the most fun, even if the first half of that trip was an unsuccessful Greater Prairie-Chicken search.

#8 Snake Road, September 15- This is the trip where I found the Mud Snake.

#7 Southern IL, August 17-20- When I first moved down to Southern Illinois, I got to see so many unusual plants, animals, and natural areas in that first weekend, culminating in my trip to see the Red-necked Stint and the eclipse.  It’s unforgettable- and it was really hot!

#6  Three Weekend Days in Emiquon, April 10, 16, and 23- One of these was with the Lincoln Land  Environmental Club, one was with Mom, and one was by myself.  I saw a lot of unusual species on all three days, and it was interesting to see all the changes week-to-week.

#5  Lake Carlyle Pelagic Trip, September 30- I met many birders and got to see four lifer birds, as well as the most bird species I’ve ever seen in one day (88?).

#4  Kankakee Trip  with the Fenelon, August 1- Orange-fringed Orchids!  Thousand-acre prairies! Philosophical discussions in the car!  It was perfect.

#3Snake Road, October 13-14-  I saw 80 snakes over these two days.  That’s pretty awesome.  I also got to meet a LOT of herpers.

#2 Ozarks Trip, May 17-19- The Lincoln Land Environmental Club trip- that was so much fun.  We had skinks, a nesting Eastern Phoebe, and a Luna Moth on our front porch.  The ticks were a little annoying, but everything else- weather, sightings, lodging, people- couldn’t be topped… well, I guess it could, by #1…

#1 Colorado, June 5- 14- Family vacation in Colorado.  Snow-capped mountains, family, orchids, all kinds of animals (including 30 lifer birds)- I had so much fun here. I’ve had a great year.

Top 10 Photos (Unranked)

Honorable Mention- the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is an elusive bird and I finally got one good photo:


Inspiration Point, IL:


Western Wood-Pewee, CO:


Meredosia Hill Prairie Nature Preserve, IL:


Orange-fringed Orchid and Royal Fern, IL:


Black-necked Stilt, IL:


Black-tailed Prairie Dog, CO:


Rocky Mountains, CO:


Compass Plant, IL:



————————————CAUTION, SNAKES BELOW THIS LINE!!!——————————————




Black Rat Snake, IL:


Cottonmouth, IL:


Top Ten Lifer Herps of 2017


#10 Broad-banded Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata), southeastern Missouri- This was an unexpected find on a fun trip to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (that’s not an exact location).  Since Broad-banded Watersnakes are almost certainly extirpated from Illinois, Missouri is the closest I’m going to get to seeing one locally.


#9 Bird-voiced Treefrog (Hyla avivoca), Snake Road, Illinois-  A State-Threatened species of treefrog in Illinois, the Bird-voiced has been a species I’ve wanted to find for a long time.


#8 Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum), southern Illinois-  Another amphibian I’ve wanted to see for a long time, this salamander was even on its nest.  Bonus points to you if you find the Smallmouth Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) hiding in the photo.


#7 Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), Missouri – My only rare lizard of the year, this was one of the highlights of one of my Missouri trips. Overcollected for the pet trade, Eastern Collared Lizards are uncommon to find.


#6 Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Missouri Ozarks-  This was in a parking lot, about ten minutes after we got to the location where we found it.


#5 Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki), Missouri Ozarks- About fifteen minutes after finding the Eastern Hognose, this slithered across our path about three feet from my foot. Some people would freak out- I did, but exclusively from joy.


#4 Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi), central Illinois- This is a snake I’ve always wanted to see, and I found it at a special spot to me, which I cannot state because collectors.  It was also up a tree, which I did not expect and which proved a photographic obstacle.


#3 Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus), Snake Road, Illinois- My long-standing nemesis snake decided to randomly crawl out in front of me one fine October day. 58 snakes later, that was still the best snake of the day.


#2 Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), southern Illinois- I’ve managed to see three of these this year in Illinois.  The photographed one was the best of the three.


#1 Mud Snake (Farancia abacura), Snake Road, Illinois- It was a slow day at Snake Road, on September 15, the day after a nice rain… Suddenly, I spot a snake crossing the road at the first marshy spot on the north end.  I figured it was a Cottonmouth… but the red was a giveaway.  This is a snake that people at Snake Road who’ve been looking for 20 years haven’t found. (Don’t judge that sentence’s verbiage too harshly.)

Top Sixteen Adventures of 2016

(Next year’s list is “Top Seventeen Adventures of 2017”, obviously.  2038 will get rather tiresome, I suspect, provided I’m still writing this blog by then!)

God has blessed me so much this year, and I’ve been able to participate in and see so many amazing sights and wonders.  If you’re new to this blog and want to catch up on the most relevant parts of this blog, read on.  If you are an old reader of this blog, read on to see what I’ve ranked as what.  If you went on one of these trips with me, thanks for putting up with all my nonsense and for going along with me, because that really made my days.  If you’ve never been on a trip with me, sign ups are in the comments section below:)

By the way, I do know that we have a month to go, but I doubt I’ll see anything in December that will be put on this list. December is such a busy month that I’m not likely to be able to do anything during it.  If I do have a surprisingly amazing adventure, it will be on next year’s list.

16.  Electroshocking– Honestly, getting to go out and do this was great.  I caught more fish in this one outing than I ever have in my entire life, and I got to do it as part of a wonderful class.

15.  Being detained as a terrorist -This is one of my favorite stories to tell people, as an introduction to my life.  It probably shouldn’t be, but it was quite exciting, even if that title is basically the punchline of the story.  Additionally, I got to hang out with my brother, something which I’m growing to appreciate a little bit more each year.  He actually took the photo above.

14.  Exploring Carpenter Park with Dan and Jesse–  There were so many toads, a few lifer plants, and just great times with great friends.

13.  Twenty-Three Smallmouth Salamanders in Lick Creek Wildlife Area – What’s better than a Smallmouth Salamander?  How about finding twenty-three of them in about an hour of searching?

12. The Great Northern Expedition– If you can’t tell, I have some of my best trips with my dad.  He put up with a lot on this day, and we had a great time, especially late in the day at Nachusa.

11.  Exploring Lick Creek Wildlife Area with Dan and Jesse–  This was the first trip we did as a group, and the three hikes I went on with those two are among the best  I’ve been on.  All trips are better when taken with friends, especially friends who appreciate nature, but who can also drag you out of it for a random conversation about philosophical topics and general nonsense.  This is especially good when you’re exploring someplace you’ve never been before.

10.  The Ides of March – First Common Loon and Western Chorus Frogs, two of the best new birds and frogs I’ve seen this year.  Overall, it was a wonderful day, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, so much so that I split it into two blogposts. Links are here and here.

9.  Michigan Canoe trip–  My shoes may never smell the same way ever again, I may have fallen out of the canoe twice, and my sunglasses have never reappeared since, but this was awesome.  Next time, though, I’m going to get a little more prepared!

8. Seeing 14-plus duck species in Center Park-  If Northern Harriers drew me into birding, this expedition capped it off!  I got to see just about half of all Illinois duck species at once!  Links for both sections are here and here.

7.   Going to Revis Hill Prairie and Scrub Oak- Sand Prairie with Dan-
It was a difficult hike, but a great trip to two of the wildest spots in Central Illinois, and even better because I brought a friend along for the struggle. Several new plants and many strange insects awaited us in these, the absolute wildest of Central Illinois natural areas.

6. Going to Southern Illinois with the Environmental Club-  This trip had orchids, salamanders, friends, and grand adventures.  Plus, I got to see a Logperch! (It’s a fish). Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of the scorpions, copperheads, or anything else scary or dangerous (other than the heights at Fults Hill Prairie).  Still, there’s always next time!  Links for both sections are here and here.

5.  First winter trip to Nipper–  This single trip got me into birding big-time (to the point where I say birding instead of birdwatching).  A single Northern Harrier along the road ended up becoming a hobby which I have spent countless hours doing this year. I also met people I didn’t know who read my blog, and that was back in January!  Honestly, sometimes I forget how many people read this blog, and who all that might be.  And, I got to do this all with my dad!

4.  Going up to Mason County for the first time-  That was a long, lonely trip, but there were so many new  birds and experiences I had that I will never forget.  I saw the rarest lifeform of the year there, the Tennessee Milkvetch, and I found a large number of nature preserves only an hour or so from my house, with tons of exciting plants and animals.  The wild sandlands of Illinois are the best.  Links for the three sections are here, there, and ere.

3.  Going up to Chautauqua and Emiquon with Jesse and Dan-  Trips are always best with friends, especially when we debate philosophical concepts while watching sandpipers on a levee in the middle of a mild thunderstorm.  Trust me, it’s an invigorating experience, and one which brought me plenty of lifer shorebirds and great memories with friends, as well as an interesting experience in accidental trespassing which I hope no future employer sees as a reason to not hire me…
Links for both sections are here and there.

2.   Going to Indiana Dunes- Five Orchids in one day! I’ve seen seven this year, and as it’s November I am unlikely to see any more.  Roughly a quarter to a third of the lifer plants this year were seen on this trip, including a plurality of the best ones.  And, as with several of my favorite trips, I got to go on this with Dad.  Links for all four sections are here, there, and also here, and everywhere.

1.  Surviving this year-  Thanks to God for my survival this year.  Considering this is a website open to the internet and the general public, I don’t plan on sharing all that’s happened to me over the course of this year.  I will say that a close family member suffered from a serious disease.  They are completely fine now, (again-  Thank you, God!)  but between that and the usual hassles that come with being a full-time student, it’s been a rather… interesting… year.  At the same time, I’ve gained so many good friends… too many to list! (And besides that, half of them are all named Josh, Jesse, Dan, Logan, or Jake- It would get confusing:)  I’ve been so many wonderful places and seen so many wondrous creatures.  I really look forwards to next year!

P.S.  Some of the older posts have egregious errors.  Rather than redacting them, I’ve decided to leave them in, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because I think it’s fascinating to see how much the tone has changed from month to month and year to year on this blog.  My apologies for any incorrect information.  Also, there may be photos taken by other people.  Other than ones taken from state websites, I will be removing those for copyright reasons, albeit slowly over the next month.