Saturday, May 7, 2011
Tiny birds are at it again
Yesterday I was almost driven mad trying to find and ID warblers, as I detailed in my last post; and yet overnight I must have forgotten about those torments, for no sooner than I had gotten out of bed and had a cup of tea, but I wanted to run out and do it all over again.
I decided on Ewing Park, my neighborhood 'hot spot,' which often has good birding...but even more often is jam packed with humans, and their dogs, on a nice weekend morning. I decided to chance it because, when I headed out, the weather wasn't quite "nice." It had rained overnight, the grass was still a bit sodden, and the clouds overhead seemed to promise more of the same.
And I was in luck! The park was almost empty for a change. Empty of people and dogs, that is. The birding didn't start out so great, though. I got a redstart and a yellow-rump right off the bat, and then as I wandered further into the park, I heard a distinctive, Wheep! cry that means great-crested flycatcher. I spied said flycatcher, flying off as fast as it could. Within a matter of minutes, it was "wheeping," faintly, from the far end of the park. When I get a "year bird," I like a better view than that. Oh well, better luck next time.
As I walked along, the sun came out, but the birds were still slow in appearing. Lots of sparrows (white crowned and white throated), cardinals and catbirds. I saw a Carolina wren, one of my favorites, but where were the warblers?
As I lurked and skulked in the shrubbery searching for them, I ran into yet another fellow birder and his son. I was impressed that he remembered me, as I had not seen him in a couple of years. He was doing a spring bird count and commented that the morning was kind of slow. But: "I saw a black-throated blue over by the bridge," he said.
I hadn't come in that way, so I'd missed it! A black-throated blue is one of the most spectacular warblers of all, in my opinion. I hied my way to the bridge and scoured the shrubbery, but to no avail. The black-throated blue had departed. A bit later the birder came back that way, and asked if I had seen the hooded warbler that a mutual acquaintance had sighted in this very park.
By now, to be honest, my mood was very low. Black throated blues and hoodeds all over the place, and I keep dipping out on them. My fellow birder was perfectly polite and appropriate, so if he reads this next bit, my apologies. My inner response was entirely due to my own neuroses and anger management issues, and nothing whatsoever to do with him. I was seething inside. My train of thought was something like, "The next person who asks me about if I saw a fill-in-the-blank hooded warbler is going to get the next warbler I DO see stuffed somewhere very uncomfortable for both bird and birder!" This is what I said, "Ummm, no, I didn't see it."
Right about then a mixed flock appeared in the tree tops and as I looked at been-there seen-that Nashvilles, black and whites and redstarts, Fellow Birder announced, "I had a blue-winged there for a minute, but I lost it." A blue winged would have been a "county bird" for me!
At this point, I back-tracked and left him to enjoy the flock. They were moving on anyway. This is just another examples of how neurotic warblers can make me. I don't mind not being the best birder around...and a good thing too, since I'm not! I don't mind other people seeing cool birds, as long as I get some good sightings too. But birding, like anything else, can be a mirror for the birder as much as an external pursuit. And at that moment, I was starting to feel unlucky. Inadequate. Pissed upon by fate. I was so bummed at my continual "dips" (birds I'd missed) that I was almost tempted to just go home.
Almost. Instead I walked further into the park, towards the site of the now-absent black-throated blue. And just as I did so, another mixed flock descended: black-throated green, chestnut-sided, golden-winged (hooray, year bird!), and a LIFE BIRD: the worm-eating warbler. And not only did I see it, I got a really good long look at it too, so that I could feel 100% satisfied that it was himself and no other.
And then the Mystery Bird appeared, the twin to the warbler that I thought looked most like a Kirtland's yesterday. Yellow beneath, gray above, black streaks on flanks and belly. This time I got a better look, and noticed the wing bars, and also some sort of business on the face. Seeing it two days in a row, at two different locations, convinced me it could not be a super-rare warbler, though I was still at a loss as to what species it really was.
My second turn around the park produced a much better sighting of the great-crested flycatchers (a pair of them), another year bird, Swainson's thrush, and a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks, my beloved "cherry pies."
When I got back to my car, I flipped through the warbler section of my new Stokes' field guide, and finally identified the Mystery Warbler to my satisfaction. Not a rare Kirtland's, alas, but the much more common female magnolia. I hadn't thought that it might be a female! But there she was.
I include this story as a cautionary tale about why I have learned not to get too excited about "rare" sightings. I've learned that if I just make good notes (mental and in my bird journal), the rare bird will often turn out to be something else in due time. It's a learning experience, so as long as I refrain from ebirding it, no harm done. Plus, it's human nature, I guess, when hoping for scarlet tanagers to find one in every red bird glimpsed through the foliage...until the much more common northern cardinal emerges.
The Kirland's/female magnolia mishap is not even the most embarrassing identification challenge I've had. Sunwiggy and I swore that we would take this to our graves, but I'm lousy at keeping secrets (so consider yourself warned and don't tell me any!) and besides, we're all anonymous on this blog anyway. So here goes.
When Sunwiggy and I were brand new birders, we headed off for Comlara Park to try our hand at birding alone. It really was one of our first non-Audubon group birding trips, and we were still at that stage where every single species was new and exciting. As we pulled up to the parking lot on a balmy early autumn day, we saw some small, stout, reddish looking birds hopping around on the gravel. What could they be?
I pulled out my Audubon field guide (long since abandoned for the new Stokes), which is organized by color, and started flipping thorough the "red" section. And voila! "I think we have some pine grosbeaks!" I announced excitedly. We oohed and aahed at these "grosbeaks" for a while, realizing that they didn't look quite the same...and besides, the book said that those birds were denizens of the Far North. Chances of spotting them in September in central Illinois: nil. But they were so pretty! What could they be?!? As I kept flipping through the pages, ah yes, there they were: house finches. It's been a long time since I could mistake a house finch for a pine grosbeak, so I guess there is hope!
After Ewing, I made a quick trip to Angler's Pond--more nice warblers, including a better look at a golden-winged, but nothing new. After errands and lunch, I still wanted to bird, so I went out to Comlara.
It hits me every time I go there now: those windmills that were erected at the park's perimeter over the winter are so darn ugly! The next thing to hit me: my favorite trail was closed.
As I approached, the sign said it was closed to give privacy to a pair of osprey that had decided to nest in the park, the first time in seventy-five years that they have done so in McLean County. That is exciting! I respectfully stayed off that trail, though I did look at the platform nest by the lake, put up in hopes of just this occasion. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Osprey were not at home.
I got another year bird, the cliff swallow (they breed there, so it's pretty easy to find one), and a couple of barred owls, but mostly the park was quiet. I would say it was the time of day, but I saw a lot more at Parklands yesterday at this same time, so who knows? Despite the eyesores those new windmills present, it's still the only place in the county I can count on seeing cliff swallows and double-crested cormorants, so as long as I live here, I'll keep coming back.
One life bird and four year birds for the day...oh, those Other Birders would probably get three or four times that number on an early May day, but for me...not bad at all.