Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Horrible heat wave (or, I don't like it hot!)

The day of Sunwiggy and the Crow's Summer Birding Adventure began with dog crap and ended with an attack by bees. If you're wondering how the middle could have been any worse than the start and finish, well, read on....

I hadn't seen my erstwhile Birding Buddy Sunwiggy since our trip to Minnesota's famous Sax Zim Bog last February, so I was really looking forward to her visit. I must have started planning our birding trip a month in advance, piecing together an itinerary that would be sure to net us the most birds, the best scenery, and a stop at a restaurant that would serve the biggest margaritas. (The latter being for me. No drinking and driving for us, plus Sunwiggy gave up carrying on like that a while back.)

But you know what Bobby Burns wrote about the best laid plans of mice and birders. I saw the weather report a week in advance, and checked it again each day with an increasing sense of dread. Our big birding day, Sunday, was supposed to be hot. Really wicked stinking hot. As in: a taste of the afterlife for all the really bad birders out there. (Though one would have to be truly despicable to deserve temperatures like that. Like, crushing an endangered warbler's nest in one's haste to get a good photo or faking an ivory-billed woodpecker sighting.)

So as the Day grew closer and the weather forecast grew hotter, our itinerary had shrunk from a birding blitz of the several counties (I fondly recall daydreams of wandering Midewin National Tallgrass prairie in there somewhere) to something more appropriate to the season such as, just a suggestion, glancing out the back window to see if any robins were in the yard.... Have I mentioned how much I hate the heat?

With all this negative anticipation of the inferno to come, by the time I actually woke up Sunday morning, I wasn't even feeling that excited. And, a few seconds after opening my eyes, I was even less excited, for my newly adopted dachshund, Trevor, ate something disagreeable and developed a case of the $h!ts...all over the bedroom floor. Cleaning up dog crap before one has even had a sip of coffee, isn't that everyone's favorite morning treat? (It occurs to me that reading this blog might scare people away from adopting a dog. What can I say? It just comes with the territory.)

I was able to put that out of my mind as we headed off. I was hoping to show Sunwiggy as many points of interest in birding Dewitt county before the temperature became unbearable. We knew it was going to be awful, because even at seven thirty in the morning, the air was thick and viscous with a heat haze.

First stop: Salt Creek Wetland. We didn't walk the wetland, but I knew that the shrubs around the parking area tended to be birdy, and the location didn't disappoint. We got a juvenile bald eagle (two trips, two young eagles--that's good luck!), a warbling vireo, a common yellowthroat, some song sparrows and indigo buntings, a gray catbird, a cedar waxwing, some house wrens, and then my "target bird" starting singing--the odd, wheezing cry of the Bell's vireo. It even flew out of its bush, offering the quickest of glimpses, a lifer for Sunwiggy, as I knew it would be. After that, I suggested we head on to Mascoutin (the bugs were really bad, for one thing), where I hoped the chat I saw on my Midsummer's Bird Off might be singing once more.

By the time we got there, it was eight thirty and already hot, and the birds were less than energetic. More indigo buntings, some field sparrows, no chat.

I suggested that we could either call it a day or stop at Weldon Springs to do a bit of the prairie walk in hopes of finding a bobwhite (which would have been another lifer for Sunwiggy). After a few minutes' deliberation, she chose the prairie, and off we went.

And oh, was the summer sun blazing down over the grasses. We walked a few steps out into the open when Sunwiggy said, "Ummm, don't get upset, but I think I don't want to go very far."

We passed by the old cemetery, and tottered out to the old farmstead, which I thought summed up the highlights of the prairie. Along the way, we passed a group of lunatics who were actually jogging in this heat, with two black labs in tow. The poor dogs' tongues were hanging out so far that I was surprised they didn't trip on them.

In the shade by the edge of the farm buildings, I declared break time and sat down for a while. As I lolled around wondering if I would survive the return trip, a bobwhite burst out of the grasses and flew right in front of me across the trail. Unfortunately, Sunwiggy was looking the other way and missed the bobwhite entirely, which I must say she took with much more grace than I would have; had our positions been reversed, and I had missed a life bird so egregiously, say a spruce grouse up North, I would have started running through the grasses, oblivious to ticks or heat stroke, shrieking, "Come back, Life Bird!" until I collapsed in a quivering heap of despair. Sunwiggy did none of this. She didn't seem to mind it all. I suspect the heat had sapped her will to live; there is no other explanation.

By mutual consent, we decided to head home and pursue Part Two of our happy day, which would involve air conditioning, as we treated ourselves to a trip to Barnes and Noble and lunch at an Indian buffet in Bloomington. Greenturtle wanted to come along for that part, so we went home, freshened up...and locked ourselves out of the house.

Greenturtle had lent his keys (and both house and car keys were on the keychain) to my dad, who had his own plans for the day, and I had accidentally left my keys on the end table. Once we corralled the dogs and got outside, Greenturtle did something we never, ever do. He turned the lock from the inside instead of locking the door from the outside.

"Hey, where are your keys?" he said, a mere second after closing the door.

"Oh, I left them inside. Why? Where's yours?"

"Don't you remember? I gave them to your dad!"

Meanwhile, the dogs were howling and crying from the kitchen (they knew we were out there), the temperature had rocketed up to ninety degrees not including the considerable heat index, and we were locked out of both house and car. Luckily, after a couple of hours, we were able to get a hold of my dad, had a much belated trip to Barnes and Noble (the Indian buffet had long closed, alas), and in the relative coolness (meaning: still hot but at least the sun was going down) of the evening, Sunwiggy and I decided to walk the dogs.

During the course of which my cocker spaniel somehow got her nose into a nest of bees. Or hornets. Or yellow jackets. Something swarmy and buzzy with black and yellow stripes that nests in trees.

I would love to say my luck has changed, but today was the hottest day of the year so far (at one point, Weather Underground said 120 with the heat index...I couldn't even sit quietly in the shade on my lunch break and read. After fifteen minutes, I was drenched in sweat and retreated, dizzily, back into the building)...and now this evening, as I sit here blogging, my cocker spaniel chewed the band off my watch and took a whizz on the floor.

Oh well, this heat wave can't last forever, right? And if you think I've whined too much in this post...mea culpa. I really, really don't like it hot!

1 comment:

  1. The best part of adventures like getting locked out of the house/car when its hot enough to fry an egg on your HEAD is laughing about them afterward! I am more upset in retrospect about my missed bobwhite than I was at the time. But, hey, 3 life birds is good! Back then, my main thought was how happy the turkey vultures were going to be when I face-planted myself into the prairie grasses, dead from heat stroke. Hey- it was all fun! Mom