Sunday, July 11, 2010

The birds of summer

On my last day in the U.P., I discovered a neat place to bird in Houghton, the Nara nature trail and boardwalk, where my parents and I were treated to the sight of a peregrine falcon terrorizing a flock of tree swallows, amongst other good sightings. Then we went out to my parents' land where we saw a black-billed cuckoo, a life bird for me, thus vindicating my father, who has had a long-standing disputed cuckoo sighting, the controversy being that he only saw the back end of the bird and not its bill so how could he be SURE? This cuckoo sat calmly for us to admire it, bill and all, before taking off into the long northern twilight. It was weird with the light lasting until ten. Between the long twilight and the lichen-sprinkled ground, my last trip finally felt like I had gone North--before then, the heat and crowds had contradicted the solitude and summer chills I associate with Northern birding. As we drove back, the sunset against the bay spread over the water like a flame.

It was very beautiful and I still had not seen any grouse, so I was reluctant to leave so quickly. But then there was the holiday traffic all the way back. Things were almost gridlocked from thirty miles north of Madison, WI all the way to the Illinois State line; what should have been an eight hour trip took ten. It took me days to recover from that.

But this weekend I finally felt able to resume my quest for birds, going to Sugar Grove Nature Center, the Sewer Plant and Comlara Park. Of course everyone likes spring and fall birding best, with the flocks of migrants coming through and the usually milder weather. But I have a secret soft spot for the Birds of Summer. It's easy to write them off as "the usual suspects," and avoid the challenges of summer birding -- blazing sun beating down on the prairies, swarms of mosquitoes dogging one in the woods. But then I remind myself that summer is over so quickly--and the birds stop their lovely songs by early to mid-August.

So off I went, seeing lovely red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, dickcissels, kingbirds, common yellowthroats, swallows, all my summer "friends." At Sugar Grove, I also saw (for the first time that I really paid attention, at least) a new flower, the plains coreopsis (photo above), very beautiful plant.

Yesterday Greenturtle and I went to the Sewer Plant (out of town on Route 51, for those who may be local birders wanting to check it out). I wanted to see if any "peeps" were passing through yet. Last summer Sunwiggy and I saw some really nice ones there, including a stilt sandpiper at the end of July and least and solitary sandpipers and Wilson's snipes in August. Perhaps it is still too early for peeps, as the only similar bird we saw were killdeer. There was a nice wood duck family on the pond and I heard a bobwhite calling in the distance.

This morning I took a solitary walk around Comlara State Park. Part of me was thinking, "Not Comlara's so boring...I won't see anything new!" I was half-tempted to go farther afield, like to LaSalle county, where I know I could see scarlet tanagers and pileated woodpeckers at Matheson State Park. But in the interest of saving gas and avoiding the crowds, I went to Comlara.

It turned out to be a good birding walk. I saw 35 species, my favorites being Baltimore and orchard orioles, double-crested cormorants, two male rose-breasted grosbeaks, a great-crested flycatcher and a savannah sparrow. I saw and heard at least forty house wrens, scolding me from every direction, and gray catbirds, northern cardinals, red-winged blackbirds and American robins were all abundant. I've been complaining about the park lately only because I've gone there at least two or three times a month for the past year and I feel like I have every shrub and incline along the paths memorized. But really, it is a good park for birding because of the lake, and the long trail traversing a good birding habitat--fields, water and trees and shrubs, a lot of "edge" habitat that many birds like. Usually it's not too crowded either.

When I got back to my car, I realized that I had entered the Birding Zone---four and a half hours had passed and I thought I had been gone for three maximum! Well, you know what they say: time flies when you're seeing fun birds.

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