While I wasn't birding, by looking at ebird's top 100 list, it seems that everyone else was.... I've slipped in both state and county rankings, even while birding two days in a row and getting two life birds... So vexing!
Today was my last birding trip with my mom before she moves up north, at least for a while. Our original plan was to start out at the Mackinaw State Natural Area by Mackinaw, IL, in Tazewell county, where we have seen good warblers in the past, and where I've been told one can find worm-eating warblers in the spring. But, alas, today our entry was blocked, by a sign stating that all but turkey hunters were forbidden. OMG, that park has more hunting seasons than any other place I know -- they hunt doves, squirrel, deer, and now turkey. OK, it's true I don't hunt, I don't even eat meat, but SQUIRREL??
So, we decided to head on to Banner Marsh, since it was our last birding day and all. I'll never forget my first "Banner Marsh day." It was a few years ago, in February, a bitterly cold day that we had decided to go birding. After very brief stops at Sand Ridge State Forest and Chatauqua, my mom and I decided to explore a bit and stumbled upon Banner Marsh, in Peoria and Fulton counties, entirely by accident. We drove up to the Bell's Landing entrance, and at first we thought we were seeing chunks of snow and ice on the pond. But on second glance, no...they were swans. Mute swans, huddling against the cold.
We saw mute swans today as well--they're a reliable sighting at the Marsh--but not much else. The wind was terrible. We did see a sora, after hearing it announce itself with its cry, the second time for me and the first time for my mom, so it was a worthwhile stop.
Then we tried exploring for a bit, looking for the "Copperas Creek Road" which is recommended by both Sheryl DeVore's "Birding Illinois" and the Peoria County's Audubon chapter website. We had been unable to find it, and here's why: if you're driving through the town of Banner, it doesn't say "Copperas Creek Road," it's "Fulton County Rd." There is a separate sign that says "Copperas Creek Landing." That's where to go.
Well, we went, and it was worth the while, since we got life-bird ALDER FLYCATCHER, identifying him by his song (I had to check it when I got home, but definitely alder flycatcher). Did not see a pileated woodpecker, as we'd been hoping for. And we agreed...what is it about these Illinois River Valley places? I don't want to be the snotty urbanite (not sure what I am, really, having lived such a variety of places in my life), but the twang of the invisible banjo always seems to be lingering in the air in those river valley towns. I suggested that perhaps that's just prejudice because they seem so poor, they could be lovely people. But I'll admit, I am NOT a timid person, and I would feel a little strange birding alone there.
The wind picked up, the skies got grayer, and we decided to cut our trip short. At the last minute, as we were heading back to Bloomington along Route 66, we decided to stroll around Sugar Grove Nature Center/Funk's Grove, and good thing we did. Warbler heaven! I saw a yellow-breasted chat, an ovenbird, black-throated green and golden-winged warblers, plus my first ruby-throated hummingbird and Swainson's thrushes of the year. Still not enough to be number one in the county on ebird, a place I held until recently.... But a lovely, fortuitous walk.
Now, it is gray and cloudy outside, I am pleased with the birds I saw today and yesterday...who can complain about two life birds in one weekend? And meanwhile the tragedy in the Gulf continues. I don't want to think about it. I don't, I don't. I just want to see warblers and be at peace. It doesn't matter what I think.
I am reminded of W.H. Auden's poem "Leap Before You Look" (he's my second favorite poet, after William Butler Yeats). The actual line goes, "A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep/Disturbs the bed on which we lie, my dear."
Today, I thought:
A sadness ten thousand fathoms deep
Disturbs the bed on which we lie, my dear
Cry if you must
But we have to leap
Pleasures we find too trivial to name
While sea and earth is poisoned there
Bird if you must
But we have to care
A dark and oily toxin from below
The spoonbills and pelicans and egrets kill
Drive if you must
But we need the will....
The beaches and marshes slowly dying now
The gannet that has dived its last
Live if you must, for surely we must
But our laughter has forever passed.
Thank you W.H. Auden, for that inspiration... And I had a nice day, but now, Lord, give me vodka or give me strength. It's too much to live with, really, it is...