Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pelicans in the parking lot

After visiting the Hennepin Hopper wetlands in Putnum County yesterday (which you can read about in my last post), Greenturtle and I decided to head over to Starved Rock State Park. As Illinois' most popular park, in good weather it is frequently crammed with visitors, the antithesis of the peace and solitude that we enjoyed at the wetlands; but on less crowded days, it's a lot of fun to stroll the canyons and see the waterfalls--plus, with all the stairs up and down the bluffs, a visit to Starved Rock is an excellent workout.

In addition, if we get there around lunchtime and the lodge restaurant isn't too crowded, the food is pretty good. (But I have learned to avoid the snack bar in the Visitor's Center. That food is nasty, at least in my experience.)

There were no cars in the lower parking lot at all...because the whole thing was flooded. We really have had an abnormally rainy spring.

We headed up the hill to the lodge parking lot...while a long stream of cars was heading down in our direction. The obvious conclusion was that, all the lower lots being flooded, people were leaving because there was no place to park up there. And when we got to the top, we saw that this was indeed the case. People were criss-crossing the lot in their vehicles, searching in vain for a place to park, and then retreating back down the hill. So no lunch at the lodge for us, or hikes in the canyons, I thought ruefully.

But just as we were about to head back down, Greenturtle spotted someone leaving. So did another driver, but we were a little closer. Zip! Into the spot! And since the parking was so scarce, the rest of the park wasn't too crowded.

After lunch, we walked down the stairs, where I found, to my amazement, that not only were American white pelicans bobbing along the flooded river, but some of them were actually swimming around the parking area, along with some Canada geese. We didn't get a photo with more than a white blob in the distance for the pelicans, but they were there. The geese, on the other hand, were much closer.

The only other birds to be seen in this area were a cacophonous mixed flock of grackles, red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds at the feeders, robins running across the lawn, a pair of killdeer and a good number of chipping sparrows, so we headed for the trails.

The lock and dam was keeping the flooding limited to only the west side, so the trails were free of the sort of deluge that Greenturtle and I experienced at Humiston Woods last weekend.

Those little white blobs on the water are pelicans. For some reason a large flock of them was clustered by the lock. This was my first pelican sighting in LaSalle county, so I was pretty excited to see them. From the vantage point of the cliffs over the water, I could also see a few cormorants, a handful of ring-billed gulls and some barn swallows.

Since Sunwiggy left a comment that my dad enjoyed the last barge photo I posted, here's another one.

Perhaps because he was in the Navy for twenty years, my dad really enjoys looking at ships. When I was a kid, I used to find this tedious. Now I'd be looking for gulls and other water-loving species. See, that's the beauty of birding. You can combine it with almost anything!

Then we hit the trails proper. Although I've had some great birding trips to nearby Matthiesen State Park, I've never had a particularly birdy outing to Starved Rock. Perhaps this is because we usually come in the afternoon, having spent the morning birding elsewhere, or perhaps the usual crowds scare the birds away. It might also be because we usually cover ground at a pretty good clip at Starved Rock; with all the other hikers around, Greenturtle likes to keep moving. (Since he's a non-birder, of course I compromise...birding in the a.m., more serious "hiking" in the afternoon.)

After the wonderful morning I'd had at the wetlands, I wasn't even that disappointed that all I saw as we walked along were cardinals and a red-bellied woodpecker. Plus, I have this obnoxious habit, whenever confronted with a serious set of stairs, to run up them as quick as I can and then wait triumphantly at the top for my companions to catch up to me. Maybe it's leftover from when I was studying at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, when I was in the Army. I was on the run team and most of our training involved running up and down Monterey's numerous killer hills, as well as a long outdoor staircase on the Presidio that we called the "Stairway to Heaven." Stairway to Agony, more like it.

And don't ask me what birds live in California. For reasons I absolutely cannot fathom now, I wasn't into birding then. Seriously, there are days when I could kick myself!

No birds along this stretch of trail.... We did see a squirrel eating his lunch amongst some May apples.

And a couple of tiny snakes.

The bluebells are still blooming.

It's a little late in the season for them, but we found a stand of Dutchmen's breeches.

And finally on to LaSalle canyon, where the waterfall was in full force. What a difference from when we were here three months ago, and everything was frozen! (My earlier post "Eagles in the Snow" shows the icy waterfall, for comparison's sake.)

Here is the view from behind the falls.

There were many northern rough-winged swallows flying around the cliffs, going in and out of crevices in the rocks. It's so sweet to think they will be nesting there soon!

On the way back, I saw a couple of yellow-rumped warblers and a tufted titmouse, the latter a new species for the day, bringing my total to 48. 48?!?! So close to fifty! And yet all good things must come to an end, a thought made more bearable by reminding myself that I could bird some more Sunday...and that the return route has so many stairs to run up....

A good day at Starved Rock, not too crowded. Although I love solitude, I know several people who find it a little creepy to be all alone in nature. Which do you prefer--finding yourself by your lonesome, or having other people around? Would you call your favorite outdoor spot crowded or vacant?

Either way, I'm sure you'll find some birds there!

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos, especially the ones of you! Wow, I've never seen pelicans in a parking lot, although mallard ducks will float in water wherever they find it. I'm scared to bird by myself because I get lost so easily! I don't mind a few people around. Dad will strike up conversations with total strangers. He says "thank you" for the barge photo. He loves locks and dams, too! Mom