Monday, March 29, 2010

U R N our sights (that means you, horned grebe)

In our last installment, my mom and I had traveled to Richland and Jasper counties to see white squirrels and greater prairie chickens, and after having a glimpse of each, had been chased back to our home base for the night, Effingham, by rain. In the evening, the sun came out and the clouds floated away and it became the beautiful day that I'd been hoping for...when there was just about an hour left till sunset.

We decided that since we'd come all that way, we might as well try and squeeze a little birding in. I looked at the map. The only place that seemed close enough to get to before dark was a little body of water just outside the city, Lake Sara. Water means a chance to see water birds, so we decided to check it out.

There were some nice houses around the lake, especially if you like them ostentatious. I wasn't really paying much attention to the houses (things without wings or feathers are only of passing interest to me) but I couldn't help seeing the signs around the houses, not just the discreet "neighbor hood watch" and "no trespassing" signs that one frequently sees--I was starting to get the feeling that visitors really aren't welcome.

In fact, I was disliking the lake altogether when we came to an open stretch of water and saw a bird diving. "It's a grebe," I said. "Yeah, it's a grebe, but not a pied-billed grebe..." "Where, where, where?" "It just dove--OK, it came up over there. It's a life bird!" We were in the middle of the road, peering at the water with our binoculars, and there wasn't anywhere to park, so we had to turn around and make several passes at the grebe, which turned out to be a HORNED GREBE, until we had seen it to both our satisfactions. As we turned around, we couldn't help notice the very large sign: 'U R N in our sights." Above the writing was a scary looking pair of eyes, and between the eyes was a camera.

As we slowed up again for another pass at the grebe (this was on a public thoroughfare, I want to emphasize -- not a private drive, not down some hidden cul-de-sac), a man slowed down as he passed us, peering at us intently, as if trying to remark our features in case he needed to recognize us later in a lineup. Since we had now seen the grebe to our satisfaction, we continued on our way around the lake, not wanting to inspire the locals to a paroxysm of paranoia. We saw a pied-billed grebe, three ruddy ducks and a Canada goose, and finally passed a park -- hooray! At a park, perhaps we could get out and look at the lake without the entire neighborhood dialing 911. But the park was closed until April 1st.

We kept going, to a pull-out by the dam--and another sign, "U R N our sights," complete with the eyes and the camera. We continued our tour of the area (and refrained from making various rude gestures on camera for posterity) and got a nice sighting of a mute swan and a flock of American white pelicans flying overhead for our efforts.

But seriously! If I ever write a book called "America's Weirdest Neighborhoods," Lake Sara, you are going to be in it!

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