Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Exploring Champaign County
Now Greenturtle is not entirely new to the birding scene, as he has had to put up with me for the past few years. But it is only since we got him a fairly decent pair of binoculars about a month ago that he agreed to give birding, as such, a real go -- as opposed to standing around semi-patiently while I look for birds, a situation which is guaranteed to please neither party.
For our first stop, we went to Lake of the Woods State Park in Mahomet, where I had previously enjoyed the Buffalo Trace Prairie. As I recounted in that post, after strolling the prairie for an hour or two, and thinking what great habitat it would be in the right season (sometimes I suspect that, for me, "the right season" is restricted from April to June!), I briefly attempted the riparian portion, and swiftly decided that it was too hot and crowded to persist. Which means, of course, a second trip....
It's a nice park, certainly worth a trip if you're in the area. I would not say that it is better than closer parks -- Weldon Springs in my new home county of De Witt, or Comlara in my old one of McLean -- but novelty gives a lot of bonus points, at least for me.
Walking around the lake, we saw some pied-billed grebes and a juvenile double-crested cormorant. In the trees were mostly yellow-rumped warblers. I kept saying, "Yellow-rumps, yellow-rumps," occasionally breaking it up by their more colloquial epithet, "butter-butts." Finally, Greenturtle said, "How do you know they're yellow-rumps." Ummm...how to summarize it for a non-birder one is hoping will become a birder? "Well, they're in their winter plumage. They look a lot different in the spring. But now...kinda brown on top, streaky on the sides, and a yellow patch beside their wings and on their rumps." This led to quite the debate, as Greenturtle kept insisting that their rumps were free of yellow, and I kept asking, What, was he blind, I was looking right at it!
Finally, it emerged that when he heard "rump," he assumed I meant the vent area, whereas the yellow patch was actually on their backs, right between the wings. What followed was a long discussion of how birds are never given a good name--such as, red-bellied woodpeckers not actually having red bellies. (Don't even try to tell him they have a small red patch on the belly...no, not convincing.)
The trail soon branched out onto the prairie. It was windy, a little chilly, and not too much bird action going on until we came to a large brush pile. Dark-eyed juncos, field sparrows, white-throated sparrows, palm warblers, all in evidence.... And then, Greenturtle yelled, "Dude! Look at this bird! It's got these black and white stripes on its head! Hey...it's kinda cool!"
"White-crowned sparrow," I said. And, secretly, was triumphant. Because that sounded like a bit of birding enthusiasm! And it's true, the white-crowned sparrow is a very handsome bird. But how long has it been since it was "dude!" worthy for me?
So if you can't see new birds...then see them in a new place...or better yet, through new eyes. On the way home, I suggested if that we were renaming birds, what with red-bellied woodpeckers and yellow-rumped warblers being a bit different than their names would imply, then how about calling the white crowns "snazzy headed sparrows"? Just a suggestion...