Monday, June 13, 2011

A little lost at Weldon Springs

Yesterday was one of those days, you know? I had my T-shirt on backwards, and didn't even notice for, like, three hours, that the snowy owls were facing to the back and solid blue to the front. Luckily I didn't go out in public like that! I mean, I sorta did, I went hiking and bird-watching at Weldon Springs, but since it was a solitary walk, no one noticed.

I'd woken early, and got to the prairie area by seven thirty---yay, me! I felt like a "real birder," getting up so early. One of the things I like about the earliest time of day is that everything feels so fresh and new. Indeed, in contrast to the wretched heat and humidity that we've suffered here in central Illinois the past two weekends, it was actually a bit chilly out that early in the morning, a welcome change.

I just love prairies. If I didn't, living in the flatlands would probably be unbearable. But I do.

The morning chorus was filled with all my favorite friends: I heard the songs of common yellowthroats (witchedy-witchedy-witchedy), eastern meadowlarks (seeyou-seeyear), field sparrows (an indescribable trill of pure notes), dickcissels (dick-dick-dickcissel!), bobwhites (bob WHITE!), eastern wood pewees (peeeeweeee), and house wrens (a long, broken, burbling chain of pure attitude). Meanwhile, barn and tree swallows chittered overhead. I saw all of the above, except for the bobwhite...and that was OK, since I saw one at Weldon Springs a couple of weeks ago.

I must confess, after moving from McLean county in central Illinois to neighboring De Witt, I feel a bit bummed that my favorite birding locales are just a bit farther away; but on the other hand, some new favorites are right in my back yard, and ready to be explored!

I'd been to Weldon Springs maybe half a dozen times before I moved; and while the prairie trail is fairly new to me (I'd been on it twice before "the move"), it does have its charms, including an old cemetery:

And the remains of an old farmstead:

Right before I got to the old farm buildings, I saw a couple of female red-winged blackbirds hanging out by the creek:

One of the things I really like about this trail, is that in contrast to all my McLean County favorites (Parklands' Merwin Preserve, Comlara State Park, Sugar Grove Nature Center/Funks Grove), there is no traffic noise. A couple of airplanes passing overhead, but besides that...nothing. Just me and the bird song. It felt heavenly.

I saw a trio of turkey vultures perching atop an abandoned farm building, probably waiting for the morning sun to rise far enough to warm their wings, and raised my camera to take a photo...only to find that the battery needed recharging! My first proof of "backwards day!"

At least I'd already gotten a few nice flower photos. For example, is this prairie parsley?

Prairie parsley is the closest fit in my Illinois Wildflowers book, but I am not as good at plants as I am at birds, so if you know, please help me out!

The other plant that gave the prairie such a pleasing expanse of yellow seems to be an invasive, non-native yellow sweet clover.

It was a pleasant stroll across the prairie, and lacking any potential year birds (last year around this time I saw a vesper sparrow here, but no sign of one today) or photo opportunities, I was thinking about a series of haiku based on bird songs.

For example,

Master of the grass,
Head flung back, beak open, proud:


Hiding in shadow,
Small bird with such a big voice:
Pewee calls his name.

Hmmm...maybe I will work on these for a while. I still think it's a great idea!

After the prairie stroll, I wanted to explore a bit, and found the backpack trail that I remembered from a couple of walks in the past...more like a distant memory...once with the JWP Audubon group, and once with Sunwiggy.

The trail was easy to find, but really buggy, so I kept a good pace. I heard a wood thrush and a yellow-billed cuckoo calling, but who wants to stop and look for them when mosquitoes are eating one alive?

Moving on quickly...the trail forked... It forked again. That's unusual, how many branches are there? And what's up with this abandoned looking road? And wait a minute...since when does a creek run through the park?

It shouldn't surprise me that I got a little turned around on that trail. As I recall, the leader of the Audubon group did...also Sunwiggy and's just darn confusing! An ostensible loop trail, it has way too many forks, and no signs along the way stating "you are here!"

Luckily, I have enough backwoods skillz that I soon realized I was heading in circles, and cut across a field towards a distant pavilion, and the parking area where my car was, before things got too weird. As I kept telling myself, "This is not a big park, I can't possibly get lost!" And in the long run, I didn't. In the short run, it kinda felt like I was.

Right before I stumbled out on the parking lot, I realized my shirt was on backwards and made amends. If I were superstitious, I would find a correlation here...but I'm not. Or am I?

And this was how I got lost, and found again, at Weldon Springs. Also saw a great crested flycatcher back in the confusing part, totally worth it!


  1. I love your description of the house wren's song. All of those birds, except the redwinged backbirds, would be year birds for me. Can't wait for my visit! I didn't know Weldon Springs had all of that, the old farm and such. I do remember getting lost, but I get lost everywhere I go. Like your haikus! Wearing your clothes backwards will protect you from evil Little People (fairies, not midgets), so it's not really a bad idea! Mom

  2. OMG, if anyone had the luck to wander into a band of evil midgets while birding, it would be us!

  3. The yellow flower is not Prairie Parsley, it is Common Parsnip...a highly invasive non-native plant. It also has a photo toxin in it....if you get it on your skin and expose it to sunlight it will blister your skin worse than poison ivy

    1. Thanks so much, Anonymous! It shouldn't surprise me that my "mystery" plant is invasive and non-native...just like everything else in my county! Anyway, these yellow flowers are tricky, so I appreciate your reply.