Sunday, June 26, 2011
A midsummer's "bird off"
If you were reading this blog last January, you may recall the part where I challenged my old birding buddy (and mother), Sunwiggy, to a competition as to who could see the most birds over the weekend. Since she has moved to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and I am located in central Illinois, I thought this would make for an interesting comparison as well as livening up our winter birding. Since I usually don't see enough species in one outing to really call it a "Big Day," I called our friendly challenge a Bird Off instead.
We had a great time in January, and I've been trying to engage her in a second "Bird Off" ever since, but Sunwiggy has invariable trotted out the same excuse for declining: "It's not fair, all the birds are down South, and the only ones left up here are some chickadees and pigeons."
But as I extended forth the invitation for a Mid-Summer's Bird Off, I pointed out that right now, I think she is the one with the advantage. The UP has breeding warblers, loons and a variety of ducks. Many of Illinois' wonderful spring migrants are cavorting around up there even as I type this. And so the challenge was accepted, and the Illinois results are now in.
Since I'm tallying birds seen for the whole day, my Bird Off technically began around six, as I staggered around behind two dogs, as yet uncaffeinated and unwashed. What can I say, the dogs have to "go" as soon as they wake up. The whole procedure frequently makes me feel that I'm demonstrating what it would be like if Laurel and Hardy were dog-walkers, especially when one of the dogs is winding its leash around my legs as I try to remove the "souvenir" the other left in someone's front yard.
Despite these handicaps, I started the day with house sparrows, robins, grackles, starlings, pigeons, and chimney swifts.
A couple hours and cups of coffee later, I began my day properly at Mascoutin State Recreation Area (part of that body of water that resembles a big squashed finger traversing DeWitt county known as Clinton Lake).
The birding started with a bang--in the open fields along the Houseboat Cove trail, I got a "year bird" (also a county bird) yellow breasted chat, plus a Baltimore oriole, dickcissels, meadowlarks, common yellowthroats, a hairy woodpecker, goldfinches, flickers and field sparrows. I didn't get any good photos of the birds, but this was the area they were in.
As soon as I entered the wooded part of the trail, the birding tapered off to a trickle, though I did get a cool orange fungus sighting.
Bird-wise, I got great crested flycatcher, brown thrasher, tree swallow (over the lake), gray catbird (Why do they call it a "gray" catbird? Do they come in other colors?), black-capped chickadees (many), house wrens, and a white-breasted nuthatch.
The pleasant walk was marred only by having to listen to someone racing by in a motor boat, while blaring his music as loud as possible. I understand that people have different ideas about what's fun, but why must these ideas conflict so often? And why do people have to be so noisy? Well, that's a rant for a different day, but I do hate the constant flood of noise from televisions in waiting areas, music blaring in every store, people cranking up their radios in parks and along beaches, all examples of society's tactic agreement that no one shall ever have a quiet moment to be alone with their own thoughts, ever.
On the way out of the park, I spotted a turkey vulture, killdeer, and a mourning dove, and then I headed for the Salt Creek Wetland, as I'd enjoyed a good day of birding there a couple weeks ago.
Today it was mostly great blue herons and red-winged blackbirds, though I also saw song sparrows, an eastern towhee, Canada geese, barn swallows, an eastern kingbird, a crow, and some brown-headed cowbirds.
I also heard the Bell's vireo that was singing on my last visit (I'm assuming there's just one--or hopefully, one male and one female), but alas, it would not come out, and I don't count "heard only" birds for a Bird Off.
Some non-birding sights of note--I think this is black medic? My wildflower book tells me it's common in Illinois, introduced as livestock forage. (Are any of these plants I see natives??)
Another non-native, but pretty, sulfur cinquefoil. In folk medicine it was used as a tea or gargle for inflammation of the gums and throat, and for ulcers and diarrhea.
I also got up close and personal with a deer:
These moments never last long.
My final stop was at Weldon Springs. It was getting close to lunch time, and the park was crowded, but I was missing a lot of "easy peasies" that I was hoping to clean up. There I got eastern wood pewee, eastern bluebird, cedar waxwing, blue jay, and chipping sparrow, bringing my day's total to 42.
I probably could have done better if I'd stayed out longer--I really should have picked up eastern phoebe, red-bellied woodpecker, mallard, and tufted titmouse, for example; and if I'd gone to Comlara for the afternoon I could have added ring billed gull, double-crested cormorant, green heron, great egret and belted kingfisher. But gas is expensive (and guilt-inducing to consume, at least for me),and those birds will still be there next weekend. At least with summer birding, there's a bit of time to find them all.