Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tiny twitches: Logan County

Today, to liven up the birding experience, I decided to Go Where Few Birders Have Gone Before (according to ebird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's database), and see what species might be found in Logan county, which I have driven through many times, as it is between here and both Springfield and the Chatauqua National Wildlife Refuge, but I'd never stopped to bird it.

I opened up the map and looked for a likely spot in the county to bird, choosing Edgar Madigan State Park (formerly, and on my map still, called Railsplitter State Park), right outside of the town of Lincoln. All this would be brand-new to me, hopefully injecting a bit of excitement into the waiting game of early spring birding. Since I usually prefer to explore a new location with a buddy in tow (in case it's filled with psychos), I invited Greenturtle to come along with me. After all, if it's filled with psychos, who wants to die alone?

Sometimes, if no one goes to a place, there's a good reason.... In this case, the reason might be that the park is right next to a prison. And when I say "right next to," I mean--for a good portion of the trail, you're looking right into the prison's back yard! I tried to get Greenturtle to snap some photos of it, but he wouldn't.

Still, since we'd come all this way, we might as well explore. We parked at the end of the road and took the trail winding alongside Salt Creek.

At the start of the walk, I was wondering if I'd even get enough material to blog about. Greenturtle seemed determined to walk along at a steady clip, and you know how it is with non-birders along. If the birds weren't obvious, I wasn't going to see them. And they weren't obvious. Striding along, I got: robins (I saw many many birds today, 90% of them robins), dark-eyed juncos, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, Canada geese, more robins, a great blue heron, still more robins. I hate to say things that might imply I'm one of those twitching lister types who can't enjoy the everyday birds, but suffice to say that none of this was exciting.

Also, the trail was a bit haphazardly maintained. We got some great views of the penitentiary, though.

Then we came to the bridge. It was out, kaput, not only collapsed over the creek but barricaded with mountains of downed trees to keep people like me and Greentutle from crossing it. I hope they didn't think that would stop us!

It was easy-peasy to jump from stone to stone across the creek, and without even getting my feet wet!

The birding picked up on the illicit side of the bridge: we flushed several wood ducks, saw a beautiful pair of bluebirds (I know, "beautiful bluebird" is redundant), there were song sparrows galore and dozens of robins. The whole area had a Forgotten Glade feeling about it -- open spaces between the trees showed areas where the woods had yet to reclaim its own, and there was a sagging old wooden bench by the creek, and a half a dozen BBQ grills almost sunken into the earth like decrepit gravestones. People used to come here...and now they don't.

We floundered about back there for a while, enjoying the solitude (no, this isn't the part of the story where we are beset upon by escaped convicts, thank you very much), finally picking our way back along the rubble in the creek again, and following the trail until it dumped us out on a road.

A pastoral scene of the type swiftly becoming a memory (replace fields with subdivisions, wind farms, add the stench of confinement hog farms, and there you have the Ghost of Illinois' Future):

There was a scrubby tangled area that many birds love: cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, flickers. Right beyond that was the prison. The air rang with the staccato cracklings of the prison personnel doing target practice -- I thought it would be more interesting if there was some sort of "Running Man" scenario in the works, but with a crush to my imagination, I could see them on the shooting range, clearly blowing away nothing more sinister than targets.

The noise did spook a large herd of deer, however, who dodged across the road with a clacking of hooves on pavement.

And I stand corrected, there might be some psychos in residence after all, because I think we found their handiwork:

Clearly I am not the only person who thinks that skulls are cool. Not that I would decorate a tree with them. Honestly, I would not.

After a while, we reconnected with the trail, where a male cardinal was singing his heart out. I could almost hear him filling his air sacs between rounds of his long, whooping, cheerful song. If there is any justice in this world, this fellow will populate the whole park with his offspring.

In this area, we also saw a crow harassing a red-tailed hawk. Frequently, one can see whole mobs and murders of crows in this pursuit, but this one was doing it solo. Perhaps there will be a Crow Legend for him or her -- the Ballad of the Suicide Crow. Despite the difference in sizes and talon equipment, the crow seemed to be the one prevailing.

On this final leg of the hike, I saw a golden-crowned kinglet, another white-breasted nuthatch, some black-capped chickadees and an eastern phoebe, summing up the day with quite a good list of the usual suspects. Just as we were heading for the car, a pair of youths on skateboards with one pit bull each was embarking on the trail.

So, would I go back? I hate to give a thumbs down to any natural area, but in this case, I don't think I would. The birding wasn't great, the scenery wasn't great, the whole park seems neglected, and the prison so close was definitely a bit off-putting.

For a final disappointment to my day, the "Lincoln Lakes" that I saw on the map and hoped to scan for waterfowl turned out to be part of a Private (e.g., Riffraff and Birders Keep Out!) "Community." Ughh...please people, you are NOT all that and a bag of chips and who wants to look at your pond anyway?

And thus ended one of the more bizarre "Tiny Twitch" adventures in a good long while.

So, where's the weirdest place that you've ever been? And would you go back to it?


  1. Hilarious! But, I'm so glad you had Larry with you! I think a tree decorated with skulls is downright creepy; I'd rather have shoes. This sounds, in its way, as weirded out as the rusted-out trailers on stilts by Banner Marsh. Some neglected places are charming; clearly, this was not one! Mom

  2. It's been a long time since I was down that way, when I visited a friend in that prison you saw. Coming out though, I saw an absolutely huge herd of deer. There were probably 100 of them. When were in the road, so it took me some tine to get by. I didn't pay attention to any birds at that time though.