Sunday, October 31, 2010

Great day for urban birds

Today I overslept (ah, blissful sleep--every year when the days grow shorter, I find myself wanting to hibernate. The joy with which I can leap from my bed to bird on a beautiful June morning is definitely in short supply) and when I finally yanked myself out of bed -- the morning whoopings of my cockatiels certainly helping -- and sat with my first cup of coffee, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go birding. I was tired, bored with all my usual routines, and would I even see any "year birds" if I went? I felt presented with two choices: drive out of town, using precious resources (tar sands! oil spills!) and maybe not enjoy myself that much, or try to do "green birding" in town, and almost definitely not enjoy myself that much.

Sometimes I feel like I'm talking out both sides of my mouth, both in real life and on this blog, one moment swearing to be "greener" and lamenting the devastation to our precious Earth, and the next driving three counties away to look for birds. Although I'm tempted just to trot out my favorite Walt Whitman quote, the one I use whenever someone catches me doing a 180 -- "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes." -- but the truth is, the personal sense of disconnect does bother me. I want to be kind to the Earth, to not squander its resources AND to indulge my restless, nature-seeking impulses. And Friday afternoon I had quite a nice time riding my bike and walking around town, as you can read below.

But yesterday, when I tried to bird by bike, I turned back after about a half mile. The wind was vicious; I felt like no matter how my feet pedaled, I was getting nowhere; my eyes dried out and started to sting and water. I wondered how on earth it was possible to be simultaneously hot and cold. It was no fun.

Thus my dilemma this morning. But I have a saying. It's like that quote by Cicero, that one can find on free bookmarks sometimes: "A room without books is like a body without a soul." Only my saying is less poetic: "A day without birding sucks."

So I compromised. I decided to stay in town, but to go ahead and drive there, since the pond I wanted to visit, White Oak Pond, is several miles away along busy roads, and once again the day was chilly and windy. So off to White Oak Pond I went. I'd only been there once before, last November, with Sunwiggy, and it was not inspiring: a very cold day, the wind-chopped water the same dingy gray as the sky above, and not one single bird anywhere in sight. Not a Canada goose. Nor a starling. Nothing.

Today was less cold, although there was a definite bite in the air (at last!) and when the sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds, I wished I'd brought my jacket. (I was dressed for a typical summer's day in Sunwiggy's new homeland of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, that is, jeans and a thick hoodie sweatshirt over a long-sleeved T-shirt, but no jacket. Also, I discovered, after I got there, that the hoodie was encrusted with bird droppings from when I was letting my cockatiels perch on my chest while I watched TV yesterday. To top it off, I stuffed the pouch of the hoodie with my wallet, keys, field guide and little notebook before I strolled around, thus making myself look like a marsupial who has mistaken a bookbag for its baby. And I wonder why Greenturtle thinks that birders have no sense of style.)

But, despite these sartorial and temperature shortcomings, there were birds! Most obvious, the Canada geese, about 100 of them. Second most obvious, a lovely mute swan (year-county bird!) I had just started on looking for everything that was not Canada goose, when I noticed a big bird of prey soaring overhead. My first thought was a red-tailed hawk...but it didn't have a red tail. And it wasn't flying like a red-tail. It was an OSPREY! I couldn't believe it, but I got a very good look at the face markings. (How I wish Greenturtle and his camera had come along, but he is stuck at home studying every weekend.) It flew across the pond a couple of times, such a beautiful bird, and then flew away.... What a privilege to see it. It's moments like that, when I wonder was it Fate or serendipity that made me sleep in and decide to drive to this pond, for the second time ever, at just this moment...so I could see this beautiful bird?

Before I could wax too poetic, I caught a glimpse of some medium-sized white birds in the water. My heart went pitter-pat, wondering , "Ross' goose?" but no, it was just a trio of domestic white ducks, trumpeting their identity with loud QUACK QUACK QUACKS. Fair enough, they were still cute, and I'd just seen as osprey!

Continuing to scan the throngs of water birds, I saw a pied-billed grebe...and a gadwall!!! The gadwall has been, for me, a state nemesis bird. Every other Illinois birder, it seems, has seen one...but not me. I saw one once, on the magical mystery birding tour that Sunwiggy and I took of the King Ranch in Texas, but since then--a gadwall free life. Until today! Hooray!

As I was strolling to get a better view of some coots, Fate confirmed that yes, this was my day, because I found, lying unattended on the grass (and I do wish to stress the UNATTENDED part)...a ten dollar bill. There was no one in the vicinity, and indeed the bill looked a little weathered...a clear example of finder's keepers.

Some days Urban Birding is truly rewarding!

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