Friday, April 2, 2010

The hounds of spring

This morning I went out to Evergreen Lake again. Do I get tired of visiting the same places, the same walks, week after week? Of course I do. I could never be a one-county birder...or one-county anything else. I am restlessness incarnate; wherever I am NOT is where I want to be. As Emerson said (paraphrase), The traveler's prayer is anywhere but here.

Which is what's so great about birding. The place may be the same...but the birds won't be. I stopped first at the Swallow Bridge (where the John English Nature Trail comes out) and saw...tree swallows darting and swooping over the water. The first I've seen of them this year. I had barely gotten out of my car and already I was grinning like a fool. There were maybe a dozen, with their beautiful iridescent blue backs and snowy white bellies. Swallows are so abundant over the summer -- swooping over fields and ponds and lakes, everywhere I go -- that I start to take them for granted. And then, for the season, they are gone.

And now, back again! There should be a festival, like at San Juan Capistrano, for the return of the swallows is equally beautiful and miraculous everywhere they go.

I lugged my spotting scope over to the lake and scanned for what I might find...a small flock of blue-winged teal and three northern shovelers, along with a great blue heron and some Canada geese. Just as I was getting ready to pack it up, I saw a big, white bird flying in. Could it really be a great egret already? I pulled my binoculars up...AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN! It landed on the water, and I got a very good look at it bobbing about. Of course I've seen white pelicans before, and many of them here in Illinois, but never at Lake Evergreen.

It's that element of surprise, of the unexpected, that makes even the old and predictable so exciting. I wasn't expecting pelicans, but pelicans there were. (My very words, as I saw it flying in, were: Ho. Lee. Shit!)

But that's not all. Everywhere I looked was evidence that the signs of spring are on winter's traces...the fresh green buds of leaves, the first gnats and filaments of spiderweb over the trail...the swallows.

It is the same old boring park I've been going to, and writing about, weekend after weekend. And yet, it's also something new.

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