Friday, March 4, 2011

They're baaaack!

Spring is a very special time of year. (I know it's not technically spring yet, but here in central Illinois it's starting to feel like it. Sunwiggy, on the other hand, reported conditions in the Upper Peninsula to be 12 degrees, snowy and blowy the other day. Apparently she and my father are going to attend some sled dog event and I will try to get a Guest Blog Post from her about it.)

There are so many nice things about the season--like, not freezing to death when you step outside! And, even better, ducks and other early migrants start coming through, so for a few weeks of the year, roughly early March to mid-May, I can get "year birds" unexpectedly, without even trying.

For example, over the week, I started hearing--and seeing--red-winged blackbirds all over town. As I mentioned in a previous post, "Waiting for the Firsts," they are one of my favorite birds, all the more special for being so common (fun though it is to find a skulker or a rarity, it's also nice to have favorites who can be found whenever you need a little cheer. For me, that's red-winged blackbirds, American goldfinches, crows, northern cardinals and house wrens).

This morning on the way to work I swore I heard killdeers, another species that returns early to this area, though I didn't see them. Well, I was sure that Year Birds were probably hanging out all over town, so when I had a chance to leave work earlier than expected, I decided to walk home instead of hanging around for Greenturtle to come get me when he got off work. Because between my place of business and my home is State Farm Insurance's corporate south building, which has a large, and very birdy, pond, along with a length of the "Constitution Trail" bordering fields, streams and even a few trees.

This was a bit of a gamble, since the weather report was calling for rain, and the dark sky--and rain-tinged wind--certainly felt like it. But I love the way the air feels right before a spring storm. I don't love getting drenched, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

The State Farm campus was quite birdy today. (Luckily sidewalks and/or the Trail veer quite close to the best spots.) My first year bird of the day was the common grackle, gathered on the grass in a mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds and starlings. Then, the larger pond was a real duck-o-rama.

The first thing I saw, as I approached, was Canada geese. That's ALWAYS the first species I see when approaching any body of water around here, in any season. I decided there were also some cackling geese in the mix -- a smaller version of the Canada goose, shorter neck, stubbier bill. And then I saw--OMG, hooded mergansers! (I wish I'd had my camera, but all the good stuff swam into the middle of the pond as soon as I approached, so the photos probably would have been all of the "look at this tiny speck in the terrible lighting" variety.) Hooded mergansers are totally my favorite merganser! I guess you know when you're a hard-core birder when you have a favorite merganser! But seriously, what could be more adorable than that circle of white feathers sticking off the back of their heads for their "hoods"? I also saw: northern shovelers (what Sunwiggy and I call Shovel-Ducks), an American coot, mallards, ring-necked ducks, ruddy ducks, and a special treat, four buffleheads. Somehow I hadn't seen any of those for a few years, so they were an extra-special year bird.

Then, the long trudge the rest of the way home, listening to traffic noises, breathing in crappy fumes. As usual in this town, I was pretty much the only pedestrian the whole way, and I didn't see anyone on a bike. To break up the monotony, I did see a group of crows eating garbage off the street, and also saw some killdeer flying overhead, but mostly it was just a "workout." At least I beat the rain--it started when I was just a block from my door, and I barely got wet.

But this brings me to the second part of my post, which is not so happy as seeing ducks, so anyone who doesn't particularly want to bear with me as I get something off my chest, go ahead and stop reading now. It is about Rude People.

On Tuesday, I decided that now that it is finally warming up a bit and the snow has melted and the days are a little longer, I would be reunited with my bike and start riding to work again. I was actually quite looking forward to this--eradicating end-of-winter flab, being kinder to the earth, plus, with gas prices soaring, riding a bike to work seems like a good idea.

But I'd forgotten how rude drivers in this town are. For the record, I am not the only person who feels this way--many people I know have mentioned it. And since I work the typical work day, I have to leave and come home during rush hour traffic, when people are at their most impatient. Suffice to say, instead of feeling invigorated and virtuous from my effort, I felt frazzled and harried. I also learned it is entirely possible to suffer Road Rage on a bike--not that I am proud of this.

To quote Tennyson, I am half sick of assholes, said the Lady of Shallott. (Hmmm...maybe I'm remembering the line wrong?) But for anyone who might be wondering my perspective on common etiquette, here on some examples:

1. At a four way stop, pedestrians and people on bikes also get to cross. Please do not honk at them if they are trying to do so in a sensible way.

2. At a pedestrian crosswalk, when the light is green for the pedestrian and the little walking man signal is flashing, the PEDESTRIAN has the right of way! If you want to turn on the red while they are walking, do NOT honk at them. This applies triple if it's an old lady with a walker. (Yes, not only have I been honked at many a time myself in the above scenario, but I also witnessed someone blaring the horn at an old lady. Can you say rude, tacky, special level of the Inferno for that behavior!)

3. When pulling up to a stop sign or crosswalk in your car, if you cannot immediately go because of a red light or traffic and you see a pedestrian or someone on a bike, DO NOT block the road/sidewalk for them!

4. By the actual rules of the road, people on bikes are supposed to ride on the side of the road alongside the traffic (Though I often resort to the sidewalk out of cowardice, this is technically wrong.) If parked cars, garbage trucks, maintenance vehicles, etc., are blocking the biker's path, you all have to share the road best you can. The person on the bike probably doesn't like it either. PLEASE do not honk at them!!

All of the above happens to me frequently in this town, sad to say. Plus there are no bike lanes, pedestrian bridges, many areas with no sidewalks, really not a friendly environment for those who choose to eschew a car.

I mention this not to complain (though I do like to get crap off my chest!) but because I don't think Bloomington, IL is the only place that suffers a similar mindset. Meanwhile, everyone I know is griping about the price of gas, and half the people I know are griping about their weight. So wouldn't it make sense to make it easier to get around on bike or by foot?

I would also like to say that I have lived in places which have a much friendlier vibe for those not in a car. Not surprisingly, those places had a lot more people on bikes or their feet! Do you think your town is cyclist and pedestrian friendly, or not? Have you been anywhere that strikes you as especially good or bad that way? Should cities be trying harder in this respect--or is this just the strange ramblings of a crackpot Crow?


  1. Oh, I just can't wait until the wonderful birds you're seeing come to the UP...say, in 4 to 6 weeks! Houghton and Hancock are very interested in putting in pedestrian and bike paths, but, between their hills and their winters, I don't know how many users they'll get! Sadly, the rude people who should read your post, probably won't. Sunwiggy

  2. True--obviously a fellow Bird Enthusiast could not possibly be so rude! Although when it comes to me and a life bird, I might accidentally trample a few people in my haste to see it. :-)