Saturday, August 6, 2011


If I had to vote for the all around worst month to bird in central Illinois, it would be late July to late August. Here's why: it's hot, it's miserable, the bugs are out in force...and the birds are not. Nesting season has winded down, and the first wave of fall migration is still three weeks away. The only thing I might see are sandpipers, and while sandpipers are nice, finding them is unpredictable, and especially in the fall, they're so hard to ID.

Yeats inquired, in one of his poems, how we can tell the dancer from the dance. My First Dilemma is how can I tell the birder from the birds? For several years I have almost defined myself by birding, and now I'm not birding. Granted, it's just a temporary thing -- until the end of August, when I'm out for warblers no matter the temperatures -- but in the meantime, what do I do with myself? (Well, for one thing, I'm still working my way through all the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I checked out from the library. But I did intend the question to be rhetorical.)

Yesterday,after I left work at lunch time, I almost went birding. I was thinking Moraine View or the Sewer Plant, wondering about the chances of seeing peeps or black-crowned night herons. But it was hot. Feeling like the worst birder in Illinois, I went to Barnes and Noble instead.

Perhaps I was remembering my experiences of Augusts past, such as this entry in my Birding Journal from August 13, 2009: "Now THIS is the birding doldrums, walking on and on, hearing only insects and traffic noises. I miss my friends: the yellowthroats, dickcissels, meadowlarks. Even the swallows I saw ten days ago have mostly gone. The buntings are still singing, bless their hearts, and the wrens are still scolding--including the surprise of a Sedge wren, and its weird buzzy cry! Saw one yellowthroat, so precious."

As Exhibit B, this afternoon, when I took the dogs for their afternoon walk through the cemetery, the area where, two weeks ago I must have seen a hundred swooping swallows, was almost devoid of birds. I did hear a white-breasted nuthatch giving its yark yark yark call, which led me to speculate, what would be the noun for the condition of being a nuthatch? Nuthattage? Nuthatchery? A bird like that deserves an extra noun, don't you think?

Besides the nuthatchery in process, I could be forgiven for thinking that central Illinois has no birds. I saw a few robins, heard some mourning doves and cardinals, and saw one ruby-throated hummingbird hovering over a windowbox full of flowers. But no grackles! Once again, they left without my taking note! (Hopefully I'll catch I ginormous mixed flock in a month or so...until then, I will think of a haiku I wrote on this self-same topic):

The blackbirds have gone
And still we did not notice
The moment they left.

That was when I decided that the change of seasons depresses me. This year, I'm looking forward to fall!

Despite my hatred of being hot and sweaty, with dogs and a yard, I can't always stay inside. When the dogs need to go out, I sometimes tackle a few weeding and bamboo chopping tasks, although that leads me to Dilemma Number Two.

There is a particularly noxious weed in my backyard that I have been trying to eliminate all summer.

It is even trying to establish itself in my raised beds.

The ones that escaped me have finally established themselves enough for me to identify as pokeweed. I never knew that pokeweed was a garden pest, but in my yard, it's all over the place. And although it's ugly, straggly and not the look I'm going for, here's the problem: I want to establish a bird garden, right? Well, birds can eat the berries. And it's not an invasive species. Although it appears is larger quantities than it should in disturbed environments, it does belong here.

OK, I'm throwing up my hands. The pokeweed gets to stay! But any readers who have stumbled upon this, learn from my mistake: don't try and eat the berries. The Native Americans used them as a purgative. And trust me, you'll be on the toilet all night.... Also, in larger quantities, they're lethal to humans. (As to how I came to sample a few...well, it was a case of mistaken identity, and I'll never, ever do it twice. Luckily for me, the berries taste nasty. But not to they get to live out the season.)

My yard is also suffering the ravages of a viney, flowery thing that I've yet to identify, featured here growing all over my lackluster lilac bush:

I've been fruitlessly trying to eradicate this annoying weed all summer; but now that it's flowering, I've noticed a lot of bees and butterflies hovering close by. So it, too, gets to stay.

The only thing that doesn't get to stay is my pile of bamboo, which I have been chopping up and stuffing into yard waste bags for the past couple of weeks. Even so there's a lot left.

That pile used to be much larger! Ha ha, Esmerelda Crow, Bamboo Slayer...somehow I don't see that being a hit TV series anytime soon!

Here's one of the reasons why I'm not making more progress, Dilemma Number Three:

When it comes to nature, I can do snakes, bears, alligators, scorpions, ticks, bobcats, no biggies...but I really detest spiders! This is also the reason the overgrown invasive ivy gets to stay until fall.

Yuck! I really hate spiders! But I guess it's not all bad. I can't wait for August to sum its hot, sweaty, buggy, unbirdy self up...but in the meantime, I can hear my Resident Cardinal calling from atop the antenna in my backyard. That's right dude! It's your territory, and I hope you enjoy poke berries!

1 comment:

  1. Up here, in the UP, I'm having the opposite response to August. I feel as if I need to be outside every minute, with the birds, ANY birds, before they all leave me for the winter! Of course, it's mostly been in the 70s and 80s up here (don't hate me; think of my winters). Love the haiku. I may not notice the day they leave, but I sure notice when they've gone. So much silence. Oh...And I think it should be nuthattage! Mom