Monday, July 26, 2010
Too hot to bird
Last week, after my qualified success in Suburban Birding around Tipton Park and the Constitution Trail, I decided to expand my horizons in Green Birding by checking out the accessibility and birdability of some other local places.
Tuesday I rode my bike along the Constitution Trail, the biking/running, etc., rails-to-trails effort that winds through the Bloomington-Normal area. Normally I consider the Trail to be one of the finer points of the area. My goal was to ride out to the end of the line, so to speak, where the trail peters out in the cornfields between Normal and Hudson, and then do mini-bird surveys at regular intervals going back. I thought I would get a nice mix of habitats, such as they are: agricultural fields, city parks, the downtown area. There's a tree nursery along the trail where large quantities of crows frequently hang out, and then I would be back in the area that I enjoyed birding the previous Saturday. I knew that after work on a hot summer's day was hardly ideal timing, but I was feeling restless, so I decided to consider it a dry run.
The best laid plans of mice and men aft ang agley, or however Bobby Burns put it. First off, the trail wasn't just busy. It was jam packed! True, some quite athletic, scantily clad people were busy jogging and roller-blading, so I got a few nice sightings...but as far as birds go, zip. I did hear some catbirds and cardinals. When I got to the end of the line, it was closed off, so I couldn't go out to survey the fields, as I'd intended. And along the trail proper, I didn't know what kinds of birds would pop out with the crowds and commotion.
Also, it was hot. Very, very hot. Not good birding weather. I did check out a little park on my way back, Hidden Creek, and it looked like it would hold potential during migration, but all there was to see or hear in the humid dankness of the early evening were some crows.
I don't want to speak badly of green birding/urban birding...but I would have seen more, and had a nicer time, if I'd used the fossil fuels to go out of town. I did realize a couple of important things: with urban birding, timing will be even more important than out in "nature"--after work, when everyone else is out enjoying their free time and the birds are less active to start with, is not the time to try it. Also, birds are only part of the reason I go birding---I also like--no, make that need for my mental health--periodic trips to places where I am free of crowds and traffic. Where I might see a few other people, but I'm hardly dodging them every few feet. Where I can close my eyes and not hear the constant noise of passing cars, voices, the thrum of the bass from someone's radio. So if I want to be "green," I need to get in much better shape, invest in a better bike, and plan it for the right time.
Saturday I decided to go slightly out of town the non-green way, in my car, to the local Sewer Plant, where last year Sunwiggy and I saw some awesome shorebirds: a pair of Wilson's snipes bathing themselves, a stilt sandpiper, many least and solitary sandpipers. We also saw a positively enormous snapping turtle with green muck plastered all over his shell. I figured, okay, it's not the best time of year to bird, but the peeps are coming through!
Well, there must have been more rain this year because the water was much higher...the muddy margins of the lagoons where we'd seen all the shorebirds was completely underwater. I didn't even find any of the killdeer I saw a couple weeks ago. Just some red-winged blackbirds, dickcissels and barn swallows.
Plus, it was hot. Not just hot...it felt like a sauna. I was drenched from head to toe in my own sweat within ten minutes. The birds weren't active. They were probably too busy not getting heatstroke. I was disappointed, of course...a wasted trip, and no sandpipers at all.
It was officially Too Hot to Bird.