Saturday, June 4, 2011
Salt Creek on a Hot Day
The last two weekends have been miserably hot. Today was the worst yet, up in the high 90s. I knew I was in for it when, as I headed off to do a bit of birding around 8:30, it was already pretty nasty out.
But, I really needed to bird. Now that we are (mostly) settled into our new house, the effects of my birding hiatus were really starting to show (said effects consisting of an all-around irritable funk culminating in thoughts such as, "What is the point of anything? Why do I even bother?" -- the quickest cure for that sort of nonsense is a bout of serious birding!), and catching glimpses of grackles, robins and what-not as I walk my new dog (adorable as he is) just weren't cutting it.
I decided to take advantage of my new proximity to super-birdy Clinton Lake by exploring my new county in more detail, especially as I was tantalized by recent reports of other people's birding jaunts I'd found on the Net.
If you clicked that link, you probably saw that black-necked stilts were seen in the area just a couple of weeks ago, and stilts aren't all that common in Illinois. In fact, they would be a "state bird" for me, as I have previously only seen them in Texas.
Luckily, I am familiar enough with the Clinton Lake area (though it took a few trips to get comfortable with it; navigating around De Witt county was a bit confusing for me at first) that I had a good idea where he was talking about, so I grabbed my binoculars and camera, left the dog behind, and headed off.
Trying to find someone else's cool bird sightings is always frustrating for me; I almost never get there in time. And today was no different. I found the wetland mentioned in the post, but the stilts had moved on.
I was very close to another good birdy area, Salt Creek Wetland, so I headed for that.
I could hear meadowlarks, eastern towhees, chickadees, common yellowthroats and dickcissels as I strolled towards the wetland. Indigo buntings were abundant, and red-winged blackbirds thronged the grasses. Great blue herons and turkey vultures soared overhead.
Mallards and Canada geese were making themselves at home.
I wasn't seeing the long list of birds that I'd seen on the Net; maybe the intervening two weeks made all the difference or maybe I just wasn't trying that hard. You see, it was hot. I was starting to stew in my own sweat as I trudged along. Not a pleasant image, I know; even less pleasant to experience. Insects were pinging at my face and clinging to the brim of my sun hat.
In fact, the lighting was kind of weird, hazy and washed out, from the heat of the morning. Here is a great egret seen flying through the heat haze.
As I slogged along, I contemplated my extreme dislike of being so hot. Winter's not always a good time either, but even the most bitter cold won't keep me inside. Heat will.
I saw a kingbird, and a multitude of swallows--barn, cliff and tree. A red tailed hawk cried and flew overhead, the red of his tail extra-ordinary in the sunshine. It was hot. I wondered how it is possible that a small article of clothing, such as a sports bra, can manage to collect three times its weight in sweat. I snorted out bugs that were trying to creep up my nose. Oh, and occasionally I looked around to admire my surroundings as well, for the wetland is quite attractive.
Not all beautiful winged things are birds.
As I rounded the bend in the trail, I saw a different sort of duck swimming along, and realized that the female common goldeneye mentioned on the other birder's post was still in residence.
She really is a beautiful little duck, and I found myself kind of worried about her, as it is not normal for a goldeneye to summer here. The other birder's post stated that she did not seem to be injured (and he should know--I actually know him and he's not only a great birder, he's my veterinarian) but even if she's not, there has to be something wrong for her to still be here.
I guess this is proof that I really will worry about anything.
After I finished the loop, I poked around in the vicinity of the parking area for a while, excited to hear a Bell's vireo singing from the shrubbery. I also saw a ruby-throated hummingbird, and actually saw a couple of yellowthroats, which rounded out the trip nicely.
I debated stopping somewhere else along the lake, but decided to hold off for a cooler day. I have the whole summer to explore the region, no need to try to cram it all into one trip.
And despite my internal whining about the heat, the short walk did me good. Birding is good for mental health!