Sunday, April 15, 2012

The 100th Year Bird, or Sandpipers, Storm-Toss'd

When I don't have any cool photos I just steal stuff off the Internet...

We need rain. Between the unusually hot weather and the fact that we've had very little precipitation in either rain or snow form, things are definitely feeling kinda dry. I've noticed that the water is looking pretty low in the ponds where I've been birding, and many of the vernal pools I've taken a peek at are dry as a bone. And on my drive to and from my job in Decatur, I've noticed that farmers plowing their fields are creating a kind of dust-bowl effect.... Um, not good.

But must it rain on my days off????

Friday afternoon: impending rain. All we really got were a bunch of sprinkles, but as it looked like there was a lot more coming, I ditched both birding and yard work and decided to work on a story that's been percolating in my head for a while instead.

Yesterday: I had a hair appointment in Bloomington in the early afternoon, but since the birds don't care if I look like a shaggy dog with gray roots sprouting out all over the place, I planned to stop at the Sewer Plant to look for sandpipers on my way into town. Alas, rain. I consoled myself by my bad-weather mantra: "Well, I shouldn't be so selfish, we really need this rain." Although it's not like I can affect the weather my lust for sandpiper sightings, so I could have just let myself sulk about it all day instead.

This morning: I woke up around 6:30, and looked out the window. The sky was gray. The bamboo in my back yard was swaying from side to side rather alarmingly. I checked the weather report: windy, with up to 35 mph gusts, and a chance of thunderstorms. Well, I don't need to bird all the time.... I could, ahem, do a work out or something. Work on my story, or knit some more of the twenty-foot long "Doctor Who" scarf I am making for Greenturtle. Luckily for me I have inner resources, right?

Ha ha ha...

I couldn't do it. Being outside is a "need" for me, not a "want." As I finished my second cup of coffee, I felt like I was going to explode from the effort it took to sit still. So even if I wouldn't see squat because of the wind, and even if I risked being rained upon, I was going to Go Birding!

It was a no-brainer, really. In addition to everything else, for the past week I have been holding steady at 99 Year Birds, and for the past couple of years, the "100th Year Bird" has been a sort of ritual for me. Last year the lucky bird was the common loon. The year before it was the green heron. I would also love to have a ritual for the 200th Year Bird, if I could ever get up to 199.

And for the 100th bird, I was thinking, sandpipers. April is sandpiper time, and I have the hardest time with shorebirds. Every once in a while I get lucky and am able to see (and identify) a nice variety. But usually this whole family of birds is nothing but a thorn in my side. They like to come through when the weather is awful. Or they are too far out of range for my spotting scope. Or I forgot my spotting scope. And I hate to sound like such a "species-ist," but really, let's admit it, folks...they all look the same!

So I drove down Highway 54 to the Salt Creek Wetland by Farmer City, as that seemed like the sandpiperist place to go, only to find...a big sign stating that the area was closed for turkey hunting until 1:00. So aggravating!

Consoling myself that I could at least enjoy a nice nature walk, I turned around and headed to Mascoutin, where the first bird I saw as I drove down to the Houseboat Cove Trail was...a big, fat wild turkey, happily scrounging for food on the side of the road. So much for turkey hunting!

Highlights of the walk:

A startled pair of wood ducks on a shallow pond. At least fifty cormorants hanging out in the drowned trees of the cove. The 100th Year Bird, a ruby crowned kinglet. Finding a whole new loop of the trail that I'd always rambled right past before, which led to an interesting sort of swampy ox-bow area previously unknown to me.

And of course, my thoughts. I think better when I'm out on these strolls. I thought about this blog, for one thing, and how the Internet is so full of people putting themselves out there, with their opinions and their photos and their essays about their lives, and a lot of it is really good stuff, but at the end of the day, there's so much of it that it's kind of overwhelming. And my offbeat ramblings are just a drop in the bucket. When I started, I had no audience in mind, and I was shocked that a few people who didn't know me stopped by. But that also made me self-conscious. So many other blogs about birds and nature that do things so much better! And then I also had to get over myself because, really, in the grand scheme of things, no one is paying any attention. Kind of like life in general.

But this is what I do: I go for walks, I notice stuff, I think about it, and I write. Does it matter if anyone besides my mom (thanks, Mom!) really reads it? This is not a trivial question, and not just self-absorbed. It's like the question brought up in the readings in my Structuralism and Semiotics class...does a text (our words, in other words) have meaning if no one is there to read it and interpret it? On the surface, it sounds sophomoric, but how deeply must this resonate with our media and celebrity obsessed culture? Why else are so many people trying to get on reality TV shows or posting their mundane little videos on You Tube or putting their Bird Journals on line if we're not all seeking some sort of validation in the process?

The "100th Year Bird" ritual seems to feature me pondering deep thoughts. Last year it was vanitas paintings and skulls. This year, another sort of vanity.

And what is important to me?
My words, even if nobody reads them. The 100th year bird, although I'm the only one seeing it.

So I wandered around, and saw some nice birds, and reflected on my life, but still, no sandpipers! So early in the afternoon, I went back to the Salt Creek Wetland to try my luck.

And...there were sandpipers! I managed to identify pectoral and solitary, and greater and lesser yellow legs, despite the ferocious wind that blasted me non-stop from the edges of the bruised and storm-tossed sky. Really, I need to get better at sandpipers! And pick better days to go out and see them!

So now I'm up to 104 birds and counting! Maybe this year I'll get to 200, deep thoughts and all!


  1. I swear this post wasn't here the last time I looked! If I were a writer, I know that people reading my words would be very important to me. Same as if I were an artist; I'd want people to view my paintings...and like them! This month has not been very good, weather-wise, for birding in the UP, either. It's been very windy, gray, and cold. This week I was treated to sleet. We, too, need moisture in any form, so I try not to take it personally. Up here, we're seeing waterfowl, mostly, and hawks. Really enjoyed this post! Mom PS I'm up to 72 year birds.

    1. "I try not to take it personally"...words to live by for both birds and art (or writing)!

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