Thursday, October 13, 2011
Buffalo Trace Prairie
The opposite of October is March. In one, the last flash of brilliance before winter; the other, the first trembling of spring's renewal. Both are perfect, each in their own way. Before I became a birder, October was my favorite--and I have to admit, it's a beautiful month.
I try to embrace the eternal present, to make repeated walks along the same trail a sort of meditation. Alas, I am driven by the quest for novelty. If I can't find new birds, I must seek out a new place in which to see the same old birds. And since this has been a rather dull month for me, birding-wise, last weekend I decided to shake things up by exploring the Lake of the Woods park in Mahomet. I had never been to the park before, so I was excited by the prospect of seeing a new place.
As good fortune would have it, the first place I parked was at Buffalo Grove Prairie. I have grown quite fond of grasslands and open skies during my years in Illinois, in no small part because so many of my favorite birds favor variation of that habitat--prairie, scrubby areas, and savannas: common yellowthroats, meadowlarks, bluebirds, sedge wrens, bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, mockingbirds, bobwhites, sandhill cranes, red-headed woodpeckers, prairie chickens. At this time of year, I saw a bluebird (and it was even singing!) and some field sparrows, but the birds were few and far between.
The habitat looked nice, however, and I am sure that at a busier time of year, the trees and grasses would have been bursting with birds. And even as it was, I enjoyed the relative solitude and the peacefulness of being in such a pretty spot. The autumn colors were belied by the temperature, though -- mid-80s! Lovely for a day in August; in October, I always feel a bit betrayed by the return of heat. (Although consulting my bird journal showed me that early to mid October frequently plays this cruel trick in central Illinois.)
After spending about an hour wandering the fields, I crossed the street to the other side of the park--I didn't get to the "lake" part of Lake of the Woods, but the Woods themselves were quite crowded. Combined with the heat, after spying a nuthatch and a flock of robins and nothing else in the next half hour, I decided to save the rest of the park for a later day.