At the beginning of the month Sunwiggy and I went to the Hennepin-Hopper wetlands in Putnam county to look for ducks. As taken by the beauty of the wetlands as I was last July, I found that, in fall, it was perhaps even more striking. The shades of gold of the wetland grasses, the sun glittering off the water, the freshness of the crisp autumn air—not to mention the enormous quantity of waterfowl that we saw resting in the water—all of this made the outing almost magical. We saw northern pintail, American black duck, American wigeon, northern shoveler, American white pelican, mallards, Canada geese, ring-necked ducks, gadwall—not to mention American coots by the thousands.
Along with Emiquon, the Hennepin Hopper lakes (a project of the Wetlands Initiative) is one of the crown jewels on the Illinois River Valley. We watched a young harrier gliding over the grasses for at least half an hour, getting good views of him or her from every angle. After a while, the harrier caught a mouse – and then found more appetizing pickings with the flock of pigeons that had been sitting on top of a nearby barn. Suffice to say, the flock shot upwards in an absolute panic as soon as they were spotted. When it’s a matter of bird versus bird, it’s hard to know who to “root for”—but seeing these moments of birds behaving naturally is one of the things that keeps the wonders of birding alive.
After exploring the wetlands for a couple of hours (it felt more like a half hour – I swear, time goes into this weird dimension whenever I’m birding because I can never believe how long it’s been), we stopped for lunch at a Chinese buffet in Peru – I think it was called House of Hunan. It was pretty good. I tend to stick to vegetarian food, so there weren’t a lot of options, but the veggie fried rice wasn’t bad at all. I picked out all the broccoli from a nearby seafood option to round out the meal.
I had planned a day heading slowly west along the river, ending at Morris with time for a stop at Heideicke Lake. With the shortened daylight hours, of course that didn’t happen. We had a brief stop at the LaSalle lock and dam – herring and ring-billed gulls and more Canada Geese, and then stopped at Buffalo Rock State Park, a first for me.
The weather was beautiful, and we saw a lot of nice birds before even heading onto the trail: a bald eagle, cedar waxwings, tufted titmice, a fox sparrow, a white-breasted nuthatch. There was a trail leading to some “effigy” that we thought sounded really cool, but unfortunately, it was blocked off a bit down the line, probably for hunting season. Maybe I’ll go back in the spring to look for the effigy again.
By the time we got to Morris the sunlight was fading, so it was time to sum up with dinner and the drive home.
I feel rather sad because, judging by last year’s Bird Journal reports, that will probably be my last really birdy outing of the season. Last year on November 9 Sunwiggy and I went to Banner Marsh, Emiquon and Chatauqua—some other really worthwhile stops along the Illinois River Valley – and saw an amazing selection of birds, including the plenitude of coots. My Bird Journal entry for that day states: “First stop, Banner Marsh East Point entrance – very peaceful and otherworldly, the water shining with reflections from the cloudy sky and dotted with waterfowl (mostly coots)—seemed like my idea of something from some Artic land, Scandinavia or similar. Perfect start to the day. Kingfisher making quite a racket, and great blue heron perching on a post.... Then on to Emiquon, must have seen at least 1,000 coots, probably many thousands more, overwhelming and even humbling by sheer multitude... EXCELLENT BIRDING DAY.”
That first November trip is like a gift, before the cold sets in, the days get shorter, and hunting season ruins everything. (I have nothing against responsible hunters as individuals but the season does put a real crimp to my birding adventures.) Last year I had no luck with winter birds. Maybe this year will be different? In the meantime, I will try to remember that River Valley Magic and keep my spirits up.