Saturday, August 20, 2011
Late summer at Weldon Springs
The thing I notice most about late summer birding is everything that's missing. Breeding season is over, and the birds are preparing to leave. No dickcissels or yellowthroats call from the grasses, or meadowlarks from the trees and wires. Normally this is a very sad time for me, but since I have been hunkered inside for most of the summer, evading the terrible heat, this year it's not quite as poignant.
To all appearances, it's summer still, and although the temperature is much more reasonable, this weekend has been very muggy. Also, I'm getting to a certain phase of a woman's life where let's just say I produce enough heat all on my own; I don't need any help from Mother Nature!
So my zest for birding is not what it could be. I didn't get up at "stupid o'clock" (as David Lindo describes it in his book The Urban Birder), and once up, I loitered over my coffee for a while. I took the dogs for a walk before breakfast. All in all, I didn't get out to Weldon Springs until around nine fifteen, hardly the crack of dawn. The day was overcast and extremely humid. I knew my summer friends would be in the process of packing up their bags, so to speak.
But even so, I had to go out. You see, it's the the third weekend of August. And for the past three years, according to my Bird Journal, it was on this weekend that I saw my first fall warblers of the season.
One of the good things about Weldon Springs is that, if you walk the loop trail around the lake, even if you don't see a single feathered creature, you'll get a good workout. Stairs and hills, baby! And let's just say that after a summer spent indoors watching all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and drinking beers, ummm, I really feel the need of a good workout.
Another good thing about Weldon Springs is that, for an unsung local park (I don't think it is even an actual state park but instead the red-headed stepchild, funding-wise, "state recreation area"), it has quite a few hiking trails, and a nice mix of habitats, including woods, prairie, a couple of small wetlands, a lake, a creek, and that special favorite of so many birds: scrubby areas.
When I got out of my car, the word "silence" did not come to mind concerning the bird world. Eastern wood-pewees cried from all directions, and white-breasted nuthatches tried to out-do them. There was an abundance of nuthattage and pewee-ery all around. I also heard chickadees, and first heard, then saw, a representative of the crabbiest-sounding bird of all time: the tufted titmouse. Titmice have to be one of the cutest birds of the area, but they frequently sound like someone's just worked their last nerve and they're not going to put up with it anymore.
This was all so amusing that I was able to deal with the conspicuous lack of migrating warblers in good humor. However, I was a little disappointed to see that the jewelweed blooming in the wetland has been almost entirely crowded out by other plants, so the gathering of ruby-throated hummingbirds that used to occur here in late summer is now a thing of the past. Just one little hum-dinger feasted on the few remaining flowers. This process has been happening over the last few years, so it didn't surprise me. Still, I had been hoping to see a few more hummingbirds in the area.
My walk around the lake was rounded out by sightings of a red-bellied woodpecker, a northern flicker, an eastern phoebe, two robins and two kingbirds. I saw the robins and kingbirds in a picnic area across from the old schoolhouse trail, which winds through some different habitat -- prairie, scrubby areas, and a few groves of trees -- so I decided to head across the road and try my luck there.
Luckily, it was a bit birdier. Goldfinches and house wrens abounded, as well as indigo buntings. A saw a female bunting bringing late summer insects to a begging cowbird chick. A catbird, a couple of male cardinals, and a female common yellowthroat all made their appearances, along with a surprise guest, a belted kingfisher flying past. This was a surprise, indeed, as one doesn't normally see them flying over a prairie, but I suppose they have to get from Point A to Point B by means of their wings, so why not? I also heard some eastern towhees and a white-eyed vireo, but no sightings of them, alas.
Then there was my double-take olive-sided flycatcher, a bird I've been hoping to add to my year list for months now. It was perched at the dead top of a tree, as they like to do. I'd forgotten to put on my sun hat, so I held up my binoculars, squinted in its direction, and thought, "Yeah, whatever, giant pewee." Brain catching up with itself: way bigger than a pewee, dunderhead! I looked again, got a brief second look, and then it flew away. Still a year bird, though.
On my way back to the car, one last species made themselves known: one male and one female hairy woodpecker, working a tree trunk in tandem. Perhaps that would be a hairy pair?
Despite a cool year bird, nothing too exciting, but still...I definitely felt that anticipation of, "Even though I'm already birding right now, I still can't wait until the next time I get to bird!" Because even though it still feels like summer, appearances are deceiving. The very beginning of fall migration is upon us...and who knows what will turn up here in De Witt County?