Sunday, September 26, 2010

Starting to feel like fall, finally

Today I went back to the birdiest spot in McLean county (in my opinion), Comlara Park/Evergreen Lake, and just like last Sunday got a good-sized species list without too much effort. (Effort in finding the birds that is. As far as effort in walking around the park goes...damn that sciatica!)

It is starting to feel like fall. The weather was cool, and the first thing I noticed was that the summer residents of the pines behind the visitor center, the chipping sparrows, have been replaced by red-breasted nuthatches. (Sorry to see the chippers go...but I love the nuthatches!) The day was mostly cloudy with occasional brilliant flashes of sunlight. My mood was mostly melancholy with occasional brilliant flashes of transcendence.

There is a wonderful overlapping of species at this time of year: lingering summer residents (gray catbirds, double-crested cormorants, common yellowthroats, field sparrows), the last wave of the early fall migrants (warblers and vireos), and the first wave of the late fall migrants, a few of which might overwinter: kinglets, brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows).

I felt like I could see just about anything. In addition to the usual suspects were three great surprises: a bald eagle perched on a dead tree by the lake (I'm thinking: no way? A bald eagle? Yup, that's definitely a bald eagle!), a black-billed cuckoo in a shrub, a northern mockingbird flying past. Three "county birds" in one trip. Any one of them would have made me happy; seeing all three feels down-right greedy.

Frequently I have noticed a pattern: if there is a species I am looking for and cannot find, no matter how common it may be (a nemesis bird), once I finally see one (much exaltation), it's like the curse is broken and then I see them everywhere (whatever, there's another one....) In this instance, the blue-headed vireo. Saw one for the first time (it'd been on my wish list forever) last weekend, then again Friday, and now again today! This morning I heard a sample of his odd, yet still euphonious, song.

There were no swallows at the "Swallow Bridge," and none of the sandpipers I saw a month ago, but a plethora of great blue herons and great egrets, for sure, the egrets almost glowing white against the gray-wash of the cloudy day. All of them so still, as if posing for an Oriental painting.

If only this lovely abundance of bird-life could last forever. (Warned you I was melancholy). If only we could stop everything that we're doing to ruin their habitats right now, and save them all....

P.S., I invite everyone to check out the most recent addition to my Blog Roll, Bird Chick. I found her while I was looking for info on the Sax Zim Bog festival (held each winter in northern Minnesota, if at all possible I am going to go next year) and already this has become one of my favorite birding blogs. The author, Sharon Stitler, might even be tied with David Lindo the Urban Birder as my birding hero. Check it out!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Late summer sadness

It was Sunwiggy, my most faithful reader (and my mother, which might explain the fidelity) who pointed out the lapse of time between my last post and this one. Two weeks already and the ever-loquacious Crow still has nothing to say? But all will be rectified now...the Birds of the Heartland brought up to date.

I have had some incredible birding experiences over the past couple of weeks, since Greenturtle and I went to Saint Louis and the Cahokia Mounds, so I'm not sure why I didn't dash away about it as soon as I could. Perhaps because Greenturtle is back in school now, and I have no photographs to accompany. Perhaps, even more to the point, because I don't really like late summer. It depresses me.

September fifth I went to Parklands Merwin Preserve, here in McLean County, in search of warblers. And did I ever find them! Mixed flocks of warblers everywhere, including my first sighting of a Canada warbler, and also a black-throated green warbler bathing in a stream...northern waterthrush, ovenbird, Wilson's warbler, American redstarts, golden-winged warblers, black and white warblers. As I wrote in my Bird Journal, "Probably the most warbler-iffic trip of my entire birding life, a true warberama. At one point admiring mixed warbler flock while all around me the Wren Philharmonic Orchestra performed the Symphony of Scolding."

Yesterday was another superb birding day. I went to Comlara Park and strolled the whole walk from the Visitor's Center, along the shores of Evergreen Lake, across several fields and a couple wooded areas, to the place I call the Swallow Bridge, in honor of the swallows that summer there. I kept walking down to the area I call Cormorant Point (because guess what perches in the trees along the lake at the end of it...hmmm...could it be double-crested cormorants?) Again, there were several nice mixed flocks of warblers, and the lingering summer birds: field sparrows, catbirds (still squalling!), house wrens (still scolding), etc. I got a total of 44 species, a real birding triumph.

And yet.... No dickcissels. No red-winged blackbirds. No meadowlarks. Summer is drawing to a close.

Since I cannot wax eloquent about the birds I've seen, despite how happy they made me at the time, I will instead share some haiku I've composed. Hope you like them.

The blackbirds are gone
And still we did not notice
The moment they left.

Rattling of traffic
Exhaust, motors whining, noise:
Above, pastel skies.

Grasslands in autumn:
A study in yellow, gold--
But no birds singing.

Great blue heron, poised
Mirrored by the lake below:
Finally, a fish!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cahokia Mounds

After leaving the Japanese Festival (see below) Greenturtle and I stopped at the Cahokia Mounds. Way back when, I used to study history, and I still think that archaeological/historical stuff is interesting. From 700-1400 A.D., there used to be a city of up to 20,000 people at the site, the biggest city north of Mexico at the time. Since they left no written record, there are plenty of questions about their civilization...the most interesting one (for me anyway), being, Why did they build the mounds? The Mississippian culture built mounds across the southeast and midwest, and so little is known about them.

Another thing which is still a mystery is why the civilization vanished after flourishing for so long. At the visitor's center is a display stating several reasons and inviting the viewer to speculate which one might be true. "Where's dependence of fossil fuels and destruction of their habitat by offshore oil drilling?" I demanded. Greenturtle pointed to the choice that stated Over-exploitation of natural resources. "Yeah, I guess that covers it," I conceded.

Besides all of this, I really wanted to check out the pond in front of the visitor's center, because once I found a little blue heron in it. Today, there was no little blue...but I did see a yellow-crowned night heron in it! I think I shall re-name it Life Bird Pond.

It was nice seeing lots of families out enjoying the day, taking their kids to do something educational. Going up the mound was kind of a trudge after walking around the Botanical Gardens all day...but the view was great. So hazy, though... Is that pollution over the city?

Japanese Festival at Saint Louis Botanical Gardens

Every year on Labor Day weekend Greenturtle and I try to hit the Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. I've enjoyed Japanese culture ever since I spent my senior year of high school in Maizuru, Japan as an exchange student, during which I learned to enjoy sushi and other Japanese foods, joined the high school kendo team, became fairly fluent in Japanese, and, as the only American in the whole town, enjoyed a mild celebrity that grew tiresome pretty quickly. As one of the less annoying examples, on numerous occasions complete strangers wanted to take my picture, sometimes with them standing beside me goofily making peace signs. Greenturtle likes different things about Japan: Godzilla, manga and anime are probably at the top of his list. And he adores sushi. So the festival is good times for all.

Due to the very mild temperatures, it was an even better experience than usual. We got there in time for Greenturtle to watch the bonsai demonstration (bonsai is on his "someday" list to take up as a hobby), then we strolled the grounds wearing yukata (cotton kimonos) and this was a real "blast from the past" experience for me...because several people wanted to take our photograph! (Yes, we let them.)

Unfortunately, because of the crowds, I saw almost no birds. There was a nice male wood duck hanging out with a flock of mallards in the pond, but since he refused to come out of the shade, we didn't get a good photo. And I could kick myself for not being into birds when I was eighteen! Maybe some day I will get a chance to go back to Japan, this time with binoculars and a field guide in hand....