Tuesday, May 4, 2010

No yellow-headed blackbirds




Saturday my husband wanted to go to Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, WI, and even though I have no real interest in astronomy, I volunteered to come along for a chance to see some birds, hopefully yellow-headed blackbirds, there at the far eastern edge of their territories in the marshes. Last year my mom and I went to Moraine Hills State Park in McHenry County (IL) to look for them. I had a good time watching my mom fall face first off a boardwalk into some cattails while pointing out a song sparrow, but no yellow-headed blackbirds to be found....

Williams Bay is a very pleasant looking town, and I enjoyed strolling the grounds around the observatory. I'd been stewing over the oil leak in the Gulf on the way up, and felt a little lighter as soon as I stepped out of the car (yes, the irony, we drove to Wisconsin and back, I know) and started strolling around the trees. The morning was bright and fresh and the land itself just felt more peaceful than I've experienced in a while. Does that sound weird? I can't explain it....

There were chipping sparrows--I watched one moving his beak as he made his buzzy, insect-like trill--cardinals singing, a least flycatcher, a ruby-crowned kinglet: nothing unusual, but it was such a pleasant stroll around the grounds, I didn't mind. I saw a red fox skulking in the trees; it ran off as soon as it saw me.

The observatory itself was much more interesting than I expected. There were carvings and architectural flourishes -- winged lions, owls, Phaedrus in his chariot, the signs of the zodiac engraved on pillars. When my husband get the photos on the computer, I'll be sure to share. Even the ginormous telescope itself was fairly interesting.

After the tour of the observatory, we happened upon a marsh while looking for a place to eat, and strolled along the boardwalk. Sandhill cranes flew overhead. I saw a singing rose-breasted grosbeak and a common yellowthroat. Close by, the small lake glittered with the sun reflecting from the water. I do love Wisconsin.

We had a tolerable lunch in Lake Geneva, a tourist town which was already packed with visitors, and then returned to Illinois and Chain O Lakes State Park, where I was hoping to see some Illinois sandhill cranes. I found my first gray catbird of the year, my first yellow warblers (have to be one of my favorite birds!) and enjoyed a pleasant and non-strenuous walk along the Goldfinch Trail.

Finally, we stopped at the McHenry Dam portion of Moraine Hills and strolled the two-mile loop around Black Tern Marsh. I did not see any black terns. More to the point, I did not see any yellow-headed blackbirds!! I did see a nice pair of wood ducks, and some double-crested cormorants, and a nice array of the usual suspects, and watched the drama of a pair of Canada geese chasing a great blue heron right out of their pond. But no YH blackbirds.

Both parks--Chain O Lakes and Moraine Hills--are quite nice if you want to see some marshes, but if I wasn't looking for specific kinds of birds, I wouldn't drive all the way up there to see them. There are some perfectly nice marshes closer to home. I think my "objection" too them -- besides the fact that last year I got bitten by chiggers at Moraine Hills -- is that the parks are so, so tame. The trails are flat, level and paved or graveled! They are filled with bikers and joggers. This is not a wilderness experience, or even pretend wilderness. It feels more like suburbia. Also, the marsh in Wisconsin was prettier.

But probably I'm just bitter than I can't ever find Yellow-headed blackbirds there.

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