Sunday, October 23, 2011
Spur of the moment
It's been a beautiful fall weekend. After a week of gray skies and drizzle, the sun came out, the afternoon temperatures ascended to the seventies, and the trees were a panoply of fall color. There is only one other thing I could have wished for: it would have been nice to see more birds.
Yesterday Greenturtle and I headed out a bit later than I'd hoped for, but that was OK, because I wasn't planning on a serious birding day, just a nice stroll and some quality time. Our destination was Sugar Grove Nature Center's fall festival, and I suggested we stop at Centennial Park in Heyworth as it was right along the way. I hadn't been to either place since last June, as I described in a couple of previous posts, and I was looking forward to seeing the changes of the season.
At Centennial Park, the pond was devoid of any waterfowl save a pair of Canada geese, but I did have a nice surprise--a small flock of Eurasian tree sparrows. I'd heard a rumor that they were nesting in the park, which answered a question I've wondered about from time to time -- where do the sparrows that congregate around the feeders at Sugar Grove each winter come from?
As we were strolling along, Greenturtle wondered how much we would enjoy a change of itinerary, going to Starved Rock State Park instead? I opined that I would enjoy seeing it--the canyons and dells are especially beautiful in the fall--but with the caveat that, on a day like this one, the park was guaranteed to be jam packed. It's the only park I've ever been to where the crowds get so thick that one must shuffle along the trail at a snail's pace, trapped in a crowd that feels more like the Mall of America at Christmastime. (Not that I have ever been to the Mall of America at any time. But that's how I imagine it.) The only similar thing from my experience is the crowds that gather at the top of the Grand Canyon. I have heard that other popular parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, can get crazy crowded, but I've never been to either one, so I can't compare.
But there's a reason so many people like to go there, the same one that made Greenturtle and I tempted to change our plans. It's very pretty, and it's reasonable close. Like a true Sagittarius, I was open to a change of plans, and instead of going to the festival at Sugar Grove (which is nice, but we've been many times in the past and it really doesn't change much from year to year), we headed north.
There were ring billed gulls, herring gulls, cormorants, American white pelicans, Canada geese and a belted kingfisher at the Starved Rock lock. Along the trails we saw a few birds, including hairy woodpecker, ruby and golden crowned kinglets, cedar waxwings, and a brown creeper. And yes, it was packed. Since I really dislike the company of too many other people, after we had strolled around the Illinois and Ottawa Canyons, I was ready to leave. My reasoning is more phobic than misanthropic. I really, really hate the feeling of someone walking up behind me; it makes me claustrophobic. And at a birder's pace, if the trails are crowded, there's always going to be more people squeezing up behind me. I suppose it's weird, but it's just one of my (many) little quirks -- and why I have chosen to live in a small town and hike and bird in much less popular parks.
After lunch, we saw a few more species on the much less crowded river trail at nearby Matthiessen State Park, but then we felt guilty about leaving our dogs alone for so long, and headed back. A beautiful day, a nice change of pace...not that many birds.