Sunday, January 15, 2012
Birding here and there
After the excitement of seeing the snowy owls last weekend at Montrose Harbor, almost anything would have to seem anti-climatic, right? Of course, I had further birding adventures planned, but after adopting another dog (an adorable Pomeranian, who is curled up on a pile of cushions beside my desk as I type this), all that was canceled, and I have restricted myself to a few "nature walks" here at home in DeWitt County.
It's not just the owls that have spoiled me. There's also the weather. The winter here has been so freaky mild that the modest snowfall we received last Thursday, and a dip into normal winter temperatures, made me remember what January birding is normally like.
A moment of enchantment
Every once in a while life gives you one of those. One of the reasons I like birding is because it raises the odds of experiencing one. I have rarely felt that the world is numinous and magical and that I am the luckiest being in it because the beauty and mystery all around me has left me standing half-dazed yet entirely alive while watching TV or wandering around a shopping plaza. To be completely honest, I don't believe that has happened even once. And yet, with birding, I have an experience like that every two or three months on average.
Last Sunday it happened as I was strolling along the Houseboat Cove Trail at Mascoutin. The weather was mild, the sun was out, and I was mentally a bit restless because I wasn't seeing a lot of birds. I turned the bend before an ephemeral pool, an area which is frequently rather birdy, and saw a half dozen or so American robins flying up from the ground, Year Bird #52. With them were some cardinals and a blue jay or two. Then I heard the high keening cry of the cedar waxwing (Year Bird #53), and a whole flock of them descended around me, flying down to the leaf-strewn basin of the mostly-dry pool and back. I also heard the distinctive Ziiip! noise of the pine siskin (Year Bird #54)and noticed that they were also scratching about in the leaf litter; despite their yellow tinge, they were almost perfectly camouflaged before I started looking for them. Closer to the bank were American tree sparrows and a white-throated sparrow (Year Bird #55), and a happier person could not have existed on planet Earth than myself in that moment.
The walk rounded out nicely with some old favorites (belted kingfisher, brown creeper -- Year Bird #56). I don't know what made that moment so special. I like cedar waxwings and pine siskins a lot, but I don't feel like I'm about to dance with leprechauns around the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow every time I see them. I think it was a combination of seeing such a variety of species in a small location, such that I felt that I was actually right in the midst of it all.
The day summed up with yet another Year Bird, the Eurasian collared dove, glimpsed sitting on my neighbor's roof as I walked past the window -- and I never complain about a year bird that wants to appear more or less at my doorstep, either.
A bad surprise and a Carolina wren
Yesterday I wanted to take Greenturtle and the dogs for a walk around the backpack trail at Weldon Springs, but we decided to leave the dogs home as Greenturtle was worried about Trevor, our short-haired dachshund, getting too cold from the snow, and our new Pom has the snuffles (luckily he is going to see the vet tomorrow). It was snowing and everything had that winter wonderland sort of feel to it.
I was looking forward to looking over the bird feeders, as I am always hoping that a purple finch, red-breasted nuthatch or other rarer winter bird will be partaking, but I knew that something was wrong even before I could see them. Usually in the winter the birds "overflow" from the feeder area and fill up the surrounding space with their calls. But it was still and silent, and I soon saw why: the feeders have all been taken down. I hope this is not permanent and it's a shame if they did that because of budget concerns because I bet if they put the word out people would be willing to contribute towards the cost of the seed. I know I would. Anyway, it was always so nice to see all the birds feeding there and I was rather disappointed they were gone.
As we finished up our walk, I heard the crabby noise that only a wren can make, and turned around to see a Carolina wren skulking and scolding in the underbrush--Year Bird #58. We also heard a barred owl call once, and despite back-tracking all over the woods trying to find it, it remained silent and a "heard only bird," but since those count by the rules, he's Year Bird #59. I always feel like I'm cheating if I don't see it, though.
And now that I have rambled on for so long, I will have to save today's outing for a different post. There's even a couple of year birds in the mix so I hope you'll come back tomorrow for the rest.