Sunday, May 8, 2011
Wildlife Prairie State Park
Today I decided to give myself a break from warblers and instead go look at some bison and elk. Actually, it was Greenturtle's idea. He loves bison the way I do birds, so we went to Wildlife Prairie State Park in Peoria so he could look at some.
Unlike at Prairie State Park in Missouri, where we stopped last year, the bison and elk are not free-roaming; it's more of a zoo experience, only with limited animals, all of which are native to Illinois. I'm getting to a point where I feel a bit uneasy seeing animals in captivity, but the trip was a nice change of pace, and a chance to get some Peoria County birds.
There were a lot of Canada geese mixing with the herds.
Also a large flock of pigeons.
I can't count this sandhill crane, because it was captive...but still, I think it's a good photo. (I don't like seeing captive cranes, but maybe it was injured and so could not be free?)
Greenturtle and I both noticed that, although all the animals seemed healthy and well taken care of, the grounds and general ambiance of the park seemed shabby and neglected. The state of Illinois has fallen on some hard times, but I hope it won't affect the quality of the parks. But then again, I've been to this park several times, and it's never looked very manicured or scenic. Maybe that's not entirely bad, if it makes for a more natural space...although the grounds were completely over-run by my botanical nemesis, the garlic mustard.
As usual, we walked the Floodplain Trail, which is about a three and a half mile loop and again, not very scenic. (There are warnings at the trail head about how rugged and tough it is, but if you are in decent shape at all, this trail is fine. It's nothing compared to Starved Rock, for example.) It winds through a wooded area and then onto a scrubby prairie. The landscape is popular, at this time of year, with common yellowthroats, indigo buntings, song sparrows and gray catbirds. We also saw some Baltimore orioles, a male rose-breasted grosbeak (singing!) and a red-headed woodpecker.
I was thinking that it was nice being away from McLean County for a while, because I think I have been getting a little obsessed with the year birds. My unkind thoughts at not seeing the black-throated blue and hooded warblers, as I described in my post from yesterday, are an example of what happens when you combine a super-competitive person, such as myself, with a goal-oriented task like birding. I need every bird and I need it now!!! But today I could just focus on seeing "Peoria county birds," and since it was the first time I've birded here all year, even the most usual of suspects became a treat to see.
And then the bird that made the trip worthwhile--my first of year scarlet tanager!
This wooded area was incredibly birdy and it was actually driving me a bit crazy that, since Greenturtle is a non-birder, I couldn't really stop and scan the treetops every few feet, as I would have on my own. I guess these are the compromises we make, since it's nice to have some company sometimes, too. What I didn't see at all: warblers, which is odd, after the warblerama I've been experiencing at home. Maybe I just didn't get a chance to spot them, or maybe there really weren't any, who knows.
Before too long, we came out to the prairie area (it's not a lovely restored prairie like at Goose Lake Prairie, more of just a scrubby field area), and the birdiness ceased.
In this area there was an eastern kingbird (if you look carefully at the second photo, you might find it!)
This really isn't one of my favorite trails, especially this stretch: there's no shade, the sun beats down relentlessly, it's kinda ugly, and I don't see many birds. But today, as I trudged beside the creek, with its thick scraggly trees crowding both banks, I heard the odd, unmelodious and unmistakable song of the Bell's vireo.
I really, really wanted to see this bird. I've seen it once before, in Missouri (at the Prairie State Park, in fact), and heard it at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie here in Illinois. But if I could spot it, this would be the first real sighting in Illinois.
I pushed into the tangle of the thick branches, hoping not to scare the bird to kingdom come. It kept singing and singing its weird little cry. And I did see it! Out it came...such a drab little bird, but who cares? Since I don't like to count a "heard only" bird, I consider it my first true Bell's vireo of the state!
After this triumph, bird-wise, there was not much. I love Canada geese because they are so easy to get a photo of.
I got a couple new species -- field sparrow, white-crowned sparrow -- and then we were back in the zoo area, which was now jam-packed with people. We had some ice cream and took one last look at the bison and elk, now enjoying a nice bath time.
Then it was time to go home. Some days I like to wax a bit poetic or philosophical, but right now I'm too tired for that. This spring all my birding is starting to feel like another full time job! No matter how tired I am, though, at the end of the day I always think of the species I saw, and decide, "It was worth it!"