Friday, April 8, 2011

A Trip to...the Sewage Plant?


Those of you who are non-birders are probably drawing a blank at the title, like, Why is she going to a sewage plant? But as most serious birders already know, birds love sewage plants! As most birds have a poor sense of smell, and many species love open water, sewage plants are often a draw for them...and therefore also for birders, although we may complain a bit about the odors!

I am fortunate that here in McLean County, one of the local sewage plants, about five miles south of Bloomington, does double duty as the Kenneth Schroeder Nature Sanctuary. In fact, on my last birding trip with the local Audubon group, someone mentioned plans for installing a new wetlands behind the sewage complex to make the area even more desirable for birds. This is one of the few positive developments that I have heard about in a while, and definitely a step in the right direction.

I headed to the Sewage Plant after work today because my Bird Journal from last year (and accompanying post "Birding Slump Ended by Sandpipers") reveals that about this time last year, I saw greater yellowlegs, a pectoral sandpiper, and green-winged teal there. So how could I resist seeing what might be there today?

So I set off after work (I swear, the traffic gets worse all the time!) only to discover that the ponds are much higher than they were last year...so no sandpipers or yellowlegs. (All of the "shorebird" types like mud, so high waters and overflowing ponds do not attract them). There were a lot of ducks, however....

As I was creeping forward, spotting scope tossed over my shoulder, another car pulled up along the drive behind me. This is very unusual at the Sewage Plant...could it be a fellow birder? If so, one I am acquainted with? Or is it...a car full of psychos? Not that I have heard of roaming bands of psychos in central Illinois, but you never know.

Even worse than psychos...noisy young people. As they exited the car and headed for the trail, shouting and whooping with youthful enthusiasm, I was thinking, Oh no, they will flush the ducks!!! I planted my spotting scope firmly and went to work, bracing for the moment when the Young People burst out and scared them all off (for, even at a distance, I could hear them shouting...and all did not seem well in Young Person Land.)

Thankfully, they seemed at odds about their trip, and soon departed, ducks unflushed. Believe it or not, I was young myself once, and enjoyed going to the local parks with my friends, occasionally whooping it up, so I do not begrudge others their moment of youthful exuberance. Just not when there are ducks in evidence, thank you very much.

As for said ducks, there were at least thirty blue-winged teal, a pair of wood ducks, a half dozen mallards, about that many shovel-ducks (or northern shovelers, as most people call them)...and, hallelujah, a couple of American wigeons and two pairs of green-winged teals...year birds!!!) And this is why I keep my Bird Journal...both the common loon (see "The 100th Year Bird") and now the green-winged teal, seen almost one year to the day at the same location. So, to all fellow bird enthusiasts out there, are you keeping a Bird Journal? If not...you might want to think about it! Mine is bare-bones, date, place, list of species seen and a couple of comments, and has, in just a couple of years, become both a great resource and a source of entertainment.

After scoping out the ducks, I decided to do a stroll around the trail, especially since the Young People had left and I was all alone (and do I ever crave solitude).

There were red-winged blackbirds calling "conk-a-ree" all around me, and tree swallows by the multitude twittering overhead, woodpeckers drumming (I saw downies, one red-bellied, a pair of flickers, and a sapsucker--the latter have a yelping, almost dog-like, cry)...and a swamp sparrow, the first in the county for the year. I didn't get a picture of the sparrow itself, but I saw it right about here....


I also saw an eastern bluebird and, as soon as I had crossed the bridge, a flock of yellow-rumped warblers. The day was consistently overcast, so I kept wondering, landscape or portrait with the camera? Such a gloomy day is really bad at bird close-ups...but there were a lot of birds to be seen!

Despite being a good nature sanctuary, there are A LOT of honey locusts in the area...check out the thorns!


As I understand it, these are an invasive "trash tree" in this area...also one of the Audubon birders I know, a retired biology teacher, says he used to joke to his students, "This is why there are no monkeys in Illinois...." I don't really know how bad these trees are for the local habitats, but in my experience, birds don't seem to like them much. And they are kinda ugly....

On the other side of the pond, the trail opens up to a field where I saw my first field sparrows of the year! Also more downy woodpeckers.


And a robin shakin' its tailfeathers.


The light was so gloomy that after this, I abandoned my quest for good photos and just looked for birds. As I was about to head back for the trailhead, I heard a brown thrasher singing, and got my last "year bird" for the day!

A good mnemonic for telling the "mimic thrushes" apart is...the gray catbird's song repeats itself once, the brown thrasher's twice, and the mockingbird's three or more times. This was definitely a thrasher--I'd been hoping for one of them for a couple of weeks!

To sum up: gray skies, not too scenic, a whiff of you-know-what in the air...but the birds were good, and that's all that matters!

1 comment:

  1. I adore a nice sewer plant. I saw my first spoonbills at a Texas sewer plant! What lovely birds you saw. Please tell them it's warmed up in the UP, and the ice is almost gone! Oh- and did you see any snapping turtles? They like a nice sewer plant, too. Hope the plans for the wetland go through. Mom

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