Monday, October 24, 2011

Sometimes we get vultures


I've been having a frustrating time of it lately, birding-wise. Recently, it seems like all I find are turkey vultures. For example, this morning, I took a short walk down to the other side of Angler's pond before work, hoping to see some interesting waterfowl paddling around (it is the time for that, after all--don't the ducks know that they should be migrating south already?), and instead, all I saw were scads and scads of Canada geese. And a few mallards. On the land, it would have been nice to see some cool sparrows or a brown creeper. Instead I saw a flock of juncos. The cute dachshunds that live in one of the houses by the pond weren't even out.

And then, on the way back, I did a double take at a large, dark bird huddled on top of a telephone pole. I almost dismissed it as a crow, as they are common in the neighborhood, but it was a turkey vulture.

The vulture made me think of the ill-fated birding escapade of yesterday. I started out for Clinton Lake with high hopes, as another birder had recently seen a Franklin's gull in the area. Guess who else would enjoy seeing a Franklin's gull? That's right, yours truly. In fact, it would be a life bird. So I headed out for the lake, and set up my scope at the line of gulls by the DNR station along highway 54. There were many gulls there, four Bonaparte's and a bunch of ring-bills.

On I went, to the beach at Mascoutin. All ring bills. There was a big, fat juvenile gull that looked like it had been very spoiled by its parents, but if it was a different species, you'll never hear it from me. After squinting from gull to field guide and back again for the better part of fifteen minutes, I decided, "Most likely a big, fat juvenile ring billed." Overhead seven turkey vultures wheeled within the thermals, and I wondered what they were hoping to find, as they were circling over the water. Maybe they were just hoping for a whiff of something nice and rotten from a landward direction; their sense of smell is supposed to be extremely powerful.

The day was getting rather overcast, so I hurried on to the Marina, hoping for satisfaction there. There were no gulls at all, surprisingly enough. Overhead, I caught a very quick view of a northern harrier flying past, and, of course, more turkey vultures. I wasn't really in a mood to hike -- this was a gull quest, not a hunt for passerines, plus I was feeling lazy -- so I decided to check out the Illinois 48 bridge and the Parnell access area.

Along the way, I had to stop my car so that a turkey vulture could ponderously haul itself away from the feast of a dead raccoon in the middle of the road. I was rather enjoying the austerity of the fields in fall -- the corn mostly harvested, leaving an expanse of brown, beige and taupe stretching to each horizon. Nothing interesting at the Illinois 48 bridge (and for those not familiar with Clinton Lake, just fill in the blanks here with, "places of access to the water" -- for such a large lake, it's unusually difficult to actually stumble upon water, as the lake is shaped more like a skinny squashed finger along the length of the county than anything that one could actually drive around), so I took the turn for the Parnell Access Area.

I'd barely hastened down the road when I realized my mistake. The best way to find the Parnell access is from highway 54--from 48, the winding country roads soon dump you out in the middle of nowhere, or in my case, in a completely different county. It was getting late, and by the time I found myself again, I was so frustrated, I really wasn't that into searching for the gull anymore. How did I know it was still in residence? How did I know it was even really there in the first place? On the way back, the brown stubble across the fields no longer looked that pleasing. It seemed more like a harbinger of cold and dark months to come. Overhead, the vultures soared.

I had forgotten all about the bad luck of yesterday until I looked at my e-mail from Cornell's ebird informing me of new birds that I am missing out on. Someone else, a completely different birder, saw the Frankin's gull. At the Parnell bridge. And I have to work for the rest of the week. Does anyone ever feel distinctly sorry for themselves when these things happen? It's not a pretty character trait, but if I can't be honest in my own blog, then where can I?

And overhead, I'm sure the vultures are circling, Therefore send not to know for whom the vultures come.

They come for thee.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, does this post bring back memories of the first time we tried to navigate our way around Clinton Lake! I admit that I am very lazy when it comes to IDing gulls, a fault I am determined to correct. I mean, how lame is it that I put all gulls into the "It's a ringbill/ It's not a ringbill" category? I'm going to sic your father on the gulls ID thing; he claims to be very fond of them? And, while it may be tedious to see ONLY turkey vultures, who couldn't love such a cool bird? Mom

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