Saturday, April 10, 2010

Giving Moraine View a chance


Moraine View State Park is supposed to be one of the best birding locations in McLean county. The McLean County birding website (link at right) says so. Sheryl DeVore's excellent and informative book "Birding Illinois" says so. And yet...I have to disagree. I go there periodically, once or twice a month, just for variety, and I never see the quantity and variety of birds that I do at my favorite county spots: Comlara Park, Funk's Grove...even the sewer plant.

That doesn't mean I don't see ANY nice birds there. It is the only place in the county I have seen black-crowned night herons, osprey or soras, for instance. But usually, I only see a few birds. I went there yesterday for my Friday afternoon birding (I know that Friday morning birding would be better, but I get the afternoon, not the morning, off). The weather was nice, the wildflowers were blooming, and I had a nice walk. I saw some lovely golden-crowned kinglets. Kinglets always trip me out. How can anything be THAT TINY? That was really the only interesting bird sighting. Really, there were few birds of any kind.

Besides the birding being more rewarding elsewhere, there are several other reasons why, despite being mentioned as one of the county's best spots, I am not all that fond of Moraine View:

One, it's quite small and not very good for hiking. The best habitat -- the Tanglewood Trail/Willow Marsh area -- has a tiny hiking trail; even on a great birding day, it takes very little time to go through it. The longer hiking trail -- in the Tall Trees backpack camp area -- is not very good for birding. So usually, I go to Moraine View if I don't have a lot to time to bird, so I won't have to pull myself away before I've seen everything I want to. I like to hike AND bird.

Two, it's more crowded than other area parks. Probably because it's so small, it feels really crowded, a definite minus for misanthropes like myself. Because of the small area and the large number of people, I often have to listen to people's radios, boat motors, or loud potty mouths yelling to their buddies as I bird.

Three, it's not very pretty. And I hate the windmills that have been erected all around the park. Not even taking into consideration that damage they may be doing to migrating birds heading for one of the few green areas in the county...they're ugly and noisy. When I close my eyes and listen for birdsong, I can hear those damn windmills grinding around. Hey, I'm all for alternative energy and I don't even pretend to know what the best solution is, but if Illinois is not careful, it will be a state filled with nothing but fields of ethanol corn studded with big eyesore noisy windmills...not good for birds...and not good for me! In other words, just like the area immediately surrounding Moraine View State Park.

Four, I have never had a single bad experience in any McLean county natural area...except for Moraine View. Last Memorial Day weekend, while my husband and I were camping in the backpacker area, some assholes snuck into our campsite in the night and stole a bunch of our stuff. It wasn't even valuable...our lamp, our water jugs, a small cooler with my breakfast bagel in it. And last December I was actually HIT by stray buckshot while walking in an area that was supposed to be off-limits to hunters. (Luckily I was not hurt. The buckshot was falling from the sky after the hunters took aim at a pheasant, not coming to me directly from the gun. But still!) I am not a fan of hunting season to start with -- I don't care so much about the deer, but I hate the idea of people killing birds -- plus it makes it dangerous for non-hunters, even if they are in an area that is supposed to be okay. And Moraine View's hunting season drags on forever! Those are the only two REALLY negative experiences, but there have been other times when the caliber of people around -- cursing, intoxicated-looking, etc. -- has made me a little uncomfortable. All of this stands out because I have NEVER had such negative experiences anywhere else!

Despite these minuses, I don't HATE Moraine View and I want to see it prosper -- the more natural areas in the county, the better! And to be fair, most trips I've made there, and most of the people I've encountered, have been fine. So I keep giving Moraine View a chance to live up to its reputation...plus it's the only place in the county I've seen black-crowned night herons, and if they like it, it can't be that bad.

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