Monday, April 25, 2011

Urban bird round-up

Yesterday, in defiance of the weatherman, it did not rain! To celebrate, I decided to go to Ewing Park here in town, hoping to get there early enough that most of the dog-walkers would still be at church. My goal was simple: warblers, warblers and more warblers. And other spring migrants of course. I knew it was still a little early in the season, but having just seen the blue-winged warbler on my watery excursion the day before, I was keen to see more of them.

It was one of those archetypal spring mornings, the faintest hint of chill in the air offset by the gentle sunshine, flowers blooming, the buds on the trees beginning to open into greenery. I wandered around as if awestruck by the light after the previous week of clouds and gloom.

But what I didn't see: birds. Everyone else sees birds at Ewing Park! Seriously, one could get a complex about things like that! There were crows cawing and cardinals singing and a pair of blue jays. I wandered for a while, adding ruby-crowned kinglets and chickadees. Humph.... Obviously ruby-crowned kinglets and chickadees are cute and everything--I mean, who wouldn't like them? And would you even want to meet that person?--but I think it goes without saying that they are just not on the same level as a mixed flock of spring warblers.

I continued to scour the park. I criss-crossed the scrubby area in the middle that is frequently birdy, skulked and lurked along every row of trees and shrubs -- pausing to wonder now and then if the Siberian husky has become the new "it" dog since every other dog-walker seemed to have one in tow (and yes, they are handsome dogs) -- and for my efforts, got another good handful of ruby-crowned kinglets. Also a brown thrasher and a pair of hermit thrushes.

It's strange how thrushes and thrashers, though very similar in coloration (brown on top, white and spotted underneath), have quite different "vibes." Thrushes always seem like such gentle, sweet birds. But thrashers have an attitude. This is partly because of the devious look in their eyes. Also perhaps because, unlike the haunting and melodious songs of the thrushes, brown thrashers sing insistently, repeating everything at least two some people we know, as Sunwiggy has pointed out.

I did hear the buzzy trilling of chipping sparrows, and the plaintive cry of white-throated sparrows (pining for Sam Peabody), and saw a Cooper's hawk soaring overhead. Just as I was getting ready to write Ewing Park off as a waste of time and effort, I saw an orange-crowned warbler on my way out of the park, right before another Siberian-husky walker ambled past. Which was a life bird of sorts. I think I saw one before, but I am always a little hesitant to add a new bird to my Life List unless 100% sure, and it was in its fall plumage. Sometimes I wish birds would carry around little nametags to make it all easier, though I suppose that might take away some of the fun.

Total count for Ewing: 14 species in one hour. Not so hot for a spring morning, so I decided to continue the Urban Bird Round-up with a trip to Angler's Pond, the tangled and overgrown pond by which I work. Though I look over the pond at least once a day (when not raining), I rarely have as much time as I would like, as I cram the birding into timed breaks or the half hour before work. Plus, according to ebird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology database, someone saw a black-crowned night heron there last week. Which kinda annoys me, actually, thinking about how I was mere yards away from said night heron, toiling away in front of my computer, and still missed it completely. (What can I say? It was RAINING!)

I took a good hour here too, prowling into the most tangled and inaccessible corners of the pond, but no night herons did I see. I did see two green herons, a couple of eastern towhees, a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a variety of sparrows, as well as a slew of the usual suspects. I almost tripped over a Canada goose's nest--she lunged at me, hissing furiously. I stepped back quickly, but not before catching a glimpse of the precious eggs revealed in that moment she rose up.

I saw two other geese on their nests--and a pair of proud parents escorting their goslings across the pond. Hooray, the first of the season! Soon the lawn by my workplace will be a veritable nursery of young geese! I can't wait.

Total species for Angler's Pond, 20, again in about an hour.

The birding fury was still upon me, so my next stop was the Constitution Trail that runs along the State Farm Corporate South campus. The large pond was virtually deserted, in contrast to Angler's, which was absolutely crowded with Canada geese, American coots and pied-billed grebes. The State Farm pond is packed with all species of ducks at the peak of migration, so I wonder what the difference is now?

Maybe the grounds are just too manicured. My first impression is always, This is just too sanitary and sterile-looking! Give me some weeds and dandelions and a scrubby overgrown patch... There were some flowering trees, and more chipping sparrows buzzing away, but I did not have high hopes for the excursion. The most abundant birds were, in fact, our suburban friends: American robins, common grackles, European starlings, and mourning doves.

There were some great surprises, though. Flickers, yellow-rumped warblers, more ruby-crowns, more brown thrashers, a pair of eastern phoebes, an Eastern meadowlark (singing so plaintively...I love the purity of those tones), and perhaps my favorite: a Carolina wren! Again, in about an hour, I got 22 species.

By now it was lunchtime, so I went home to refresh myself, and then decided to take one final walk, down to Tipton Pond and back, which I could do on foot, even better. I debated for a moment if I should grab the camera. I hadn't earlier, because I've learned that peering in the treetops with the camera strap around me just increases that affliction known as "warbler neck," and I still have trouble getting good views of those quickly flitting birds with my binoculars, let alone taking their photo. But I wasn't expecting to see warblers at Tipton, and it's nice to have some photos for the Blog. Still, I decided just to wander freely and not worry about it.

As soon as I came in view of the pond, I could have kicked myself. No camera, what was I thinking? There were six mute swans floating around on the pond, an unusual sight here in town. One of them took flight while I was strolling about, and I could really appreciate what large, ponderous birds they are. The swan had to "taxi" along the water for a while, and when it hoisted itself aloft, the sound of its flapping wings was quite loud. For reasons only the swan can know, it flew across the heavily trafficked Airport Road and landed on someone's lawn, while the other five paddled around the pond, looking regal and swan-like.

I got more good sightings here, including blue-winged teal (they've been hanging out for the past two or three weeks), another green heron, and a year bird for me, rough-winged swallows. (As I did not bring a camera, the swallows in the photo above are there to represent swallows in general, not these in particular. The photo above was taken by Greenturtle at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and feature a pair of bank swallows, not rough-winged swallows.)

Total for this park: 21 species.

It was a pretty good day for urban birds, with a combined total of 38 species and plenty of fresh air and exercise. The prize for the Ubiquitous Birds, the ones seen at every stop--American crow, mallard, northern cardinal, ruby-crowned kinglet, American robin, and European starling. If I repeat this project in a month, the kinglets will have moved on, but the rest should still be there.

Today, I would have loved to go back with my camera and hope the swans had lingered, but guess what? RAIN! In the morning, my pre-work bird walk...canceled due to rain! My hoped-for Swan Walk after work--guess what, more rain! And I won't even bother mentioning what's predicted in the forecast well into the weekend....

If you're a listing freak such as me, I invite you to give your town, wherever it may be, a similar experiment. After all, robins and starlings can be kinda dull (at least here in central Illinois), but not if you're wondering if you'll see at least one at every location you visit!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I am pea-green with envy! I know that eventually some of these birds will make their way to the UP, but, for their own sakes, I hope they postpone their trip. We have rain, sleet and snow, driven by wild winds, for at least the rest of the week. By the by, up here in Yooperland, the dog of choice is the toy poodle, followed closely by the chihuahua. They're probably easier to keep exercised during the long winters! Mom