Saturday, April 10, 2010

Birding slump ended by sandpipers!

The excitement of last month spoiled me -- all those ducks, and then the grand finale with a horned grebe and the greater prairie chickens. So the last week or so, despite seeing American white pelicans for the first time in McLean County, and a barred owl for the first time this year, I was starting to feel like I was in a birding slump.

This morning I actually got up at a decent time for birding, and went out to the sewer plant off of route 51 to see what was there. This isn't as weird as it sounds--there's a nature sanctuary attached, and even a trail to walk around. Birds love mud and water, so sewer plants are a popular spot to bird the world over. It does smell a bit -- although, to be honest, nothing anywhere near as gross as being in the vicinity of a factory hog farm.

It felt a little weird to be there by myself -- for some reason, I've never gone without a birding buddy to the sewer plant. But the sun was out, the day felt fresh and new, and the smell wasn't too bad, so I lugged my scope to the ponds to check out who was there. A nice flock of shovelers and blue-winged teal--and in the back pond, there were several green-winged teal, which was quite a treat, since I hadn't seen them since 2007. (I didn't bird much in 2008 or early 2009--I was too busy working on the first few drafts of my novel, which is almost ready now, but proceeding much more slowly than it would if I hadn't gotten back into birding. But that's okay. I NEED to bird.)

Tree swallows have already staked out their boxes for nesting, and were swooping and sailing overhead as I moved my scope over the ponds. The sound of red-winged blackbirds announcing their territories filled the air. And then I spotted something even more interesting...two greater yellowlegs and a pectoral sandpiper. I admired them for quite some time, my faith in birding and, indeed, of a sense of a benevolent deity, restored. I had started feeling sorry for myself, going out and not seeing much of note, while the ebird database showed that other Illinois birders were seeing cool things all over the place.

After that, I decided to drive over to Sugar Grove Nature Center, just to see what was going on there, bird-wise. I am starting to give up on seeing the pileated woodpecker. At least that meant that not seeing it today didn't disappoint me too much...because it didn't show up today either. Still, it was a lovely walk. In the "swale" area -- a low-lying area that fills up with water in the spring -- a blanket of bright yellow marsh marigolds was in bloom. They are so pretty in and of themselves, and also make me think of my long-ago undergraduate days, when I did not bird and knew very little about nature, but loved seeing those yellow flowers every April, when I walked to the small park a mile or so from campus. (How could I have gone to that park so often, and not looked at birds? I'm sure there WERE birds, but I didn't even notice one. I could kick myself now for all my lost opportunities.)

I saw a couple of nice yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and a male ring-necked pheasant dodging away from me in the long grass. And the area behind the cemetery is covered with bluebells.

I felt a little melancholy on the walk, but it was still nice...the sense of solitude, of wandering the trails however I pleased, enjoying the birds and flowers.

Now, back at my apartment: my neighbors being so noisy, and earlier the racket of lawnmowers circling the building. I wish that all of life could be the sense of looking at a sandpiper...or at the yellow wash of a carpet of spring flowers...or that freedom of walking, so quietly and purposelessly, through the April sunshine.

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