Today I woke up at the crack of dawn (since dawn doesn't really do much until around 7:00 at this time of year, that's not as impressive as it sounds)for another day of Winter Birding. Once dawn had fully cracked, the day was beautiful--at least to look at through the window: sun shining, the sky that eternal blue that only a winter day can bring, a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. (Very slight dusting, thankfully.)And then I walked outside -- ka-bam! The temperature was somewhere between 10 and 20 degrees (thermometers I passed varied from 9 to 20), with a stiff wind.
But out I went. Sometimes I'm not sure if birding is the best thing ever or a form of insanity. Cold or not, windy or not, I HAD to go out, to get more "year birds" (species I've seen for the first time this year). Please don't ask me why I need these birds TODAY. I just do. I sometimes compare myself to Courtney Cox's character on the TV show Friends, Monica. If you've never seen that show, suffice to say that Monica is ultra-competitive, has to be the best at everything, and is very intense about whatever she's doing. Now I am certainly not the best at birding--I can think of so many birders here in my own county who are better at finding and ID'ing species -- but that doesn't stop me from trying. Obsessively. All the time. OMG, who invented listing, it's both a joy and a curse!
My goal today was at least four new species for the year. My first stop was Centennial Park in Heyworth (a small town here in Mclean county, IL), because a fellow ebirder reported seeing good stuff there last weekend. I'd never been to the park before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.
Soon after I got there, a woman with a dog told me that the (great blue)heron had left (darn! that was one of the species I was hoping for)but that there was a hawk in a nearby field. I thanked her and kept walking. The park is a typical city park, not too bad but not worth the drive from out of town, probably. Kickapoo Creek winds through it, so I kept my eyes "peeled" for a kingfisher. I didn't see one, but I did find an exceptionally cute brown creeper before I left. I just love seeing those little birds at any time--they are so cute, and they do creep up the trees. Plus, it was a Year Bird!
After that, I stopped at Heyworth again to look for Eurasian collared doves. I have seen them there before -- but not this year. Second time I've dipped on them. I didn't see any birds at all, in fact, except house sparrows, making me wonder what happened to all the town's birds. I thought, briefly and with some nostalgia, about the first time I saw the collared doves there. It was in September 2009, and I had corralled my father into looking with me. It was warm! We saw a great-crested flycatcher in the cemetery, a "life bird" for my dad. Then the sheriff stopped and wanted to know what we were looking at.... "Eurasian collared doves," I said. "Do they taste like chicken?" asked the sheriff. "I don't know, I've never eaten one," I replied. My dad said that he'd just been waiting for the police to wonder what we were up to with our binoculars, but I assured him, "Looking at doves is not a crime!" Well, that was a nice day, unlike today, which was cold, windy, and deprived of doves.
Still hoping for more year birds, I went onward, stopping at Sugar Grove Nature Center on my way home. I've already been there twice before this year, but I just know I'm not seeing all the birds I could! I went into the visitor's center, looked at the birds at the feeders through the windows--goldfinches, house sparrows, Eurasian tree sparrows. A couple of starlings flew in. Ho-hum...been there, seen that! I'd really been hoping for white-crowned sparrows--I knew they were in the vicinity. I'd seen one in December, and someone else reported them on ebird last weekend. But no white crowned sparrows in sight.
However, the whiteboard in the room stated that people have seen wild turkeys on the trails, so I went for a short (45 minute) stroll. Oh, it was COLD. I was practically speed-walking, since a wild turkey is not hard to miss. I saw some cardinals and dark eyed juncos. No turkeys. And by this point, my internal monologue was going, "This SUCKS! It's cold and I'm suffering and for what??? There are no birds!" As I reached the visitor center area again, though--hallelujah! White crowned sparrow! And so my walk sucked no more.
After returning home and a quick snack, I made my husband drop me off at Ewing Park here in Bloomington on his way to the eye doctor, because I still had two species to go to make my "quota" for the day. Unfortunately, the park was full of very loud dog-walkers. (And I don't mind dogs at all--just ask my husband, and he'll doubtless tell you that my fixation on dogs -- can't have one just yet, but really want one! -- is second only to my birding obsession--but the dog's owner is a different story.) One of the dogs was named Lulu. I know this because her owner kept yelling, "Lulululu...here girl! Lulu! Lulululu!" As for Lulu herself, although she didn't come when called (well, I wouldn't either...not for him!) she was perfectly polite.
I was surprised that all the birds didn't scatter with that commotion, but I saw some chickadees, mourning doves, and various woodpeckers...including a yellow bellied sapsucker! Yes, another year bird, hooray! And I even saw it sucking some sap! (I know, it has a funny name. The first time I saw one, my nearest and dearest were skeptical because they didn't think it was real. Kind of like the snipe. Yes, snipe are real!)
On my walk home along the Constitution Trail (an extensive biking/jogging/walking etc. trail that winds across Bloomington)I finally saw a belted kingfisher along a still-open stretch of the creek. And there's my fourth species of the day! Ford's in his flivver, and all's well with the world!