Friday, April 27, 2012

Shorebird Madness!

Spotted sandpiper

Today after work, I went for a stroll at Rock Springs Conservation Area in Decatur. As the beginning of Warbler Season is upon us, and the my birding alerts from ebird have tantalized me with the fact that other people are seeing (potential life bird) northern parulas all over the place, I had high hopes for the excursion. In fact, I was imagining the limbs of the trees bobbing and bowing under the weight of mixed flocks of warblers, vireos and other migrants in quantities that have certainly not been seen in my lifetime, and probably not since the heyday of the passenger pigeon.

In fact, it was a pleasant, but singularly unbirdy, walk. The highlight was a pair of rough-winged swallows along the river, the only year bird of the trip. The only warbler seen was a lone yellow-rumped. Oh, well. The floodplain was filled with masses of a tall wildflower I am still trying to identify--perhaps butterweed? Next time I go I'll bring my plant guide and my camera. I got a close look at a coyote loping along the trail; it saw me, stared for a few seconds and, not liking what it saw, turned and quickly loped off in the opposite direction.

I got some (much needed) exercise.

It would have been a lovely walk if I hadn't been spoiled by the year-bird extravaganza of last weekend, in which I saw shorebirds galore, with numerous other lovely year birds thrown in...and one lifer! I would have called this post "Sandpiper Explosion" if that might not give people the wrong impression. I really don't want to know what kind of person would search the Internet for stories of exploding sandpipers, but as little shocks me in this day and age, I have instead chosen to call my tale the more neutral "Shorebird Madness!"

Lesser yellowlegs

Last year my annual tally of species was sorely deficient in shorebirds, so this year, I decided to go to a place where they were more or less guaranteed to hang out. And what do shorebirds love?

Mud flats

That's right...they love muddy, shallow, gunky places where they can search for insects and other delectables with their long, plunging bills. In years past, I have had great success with flooded fields, but this spring, good luck finding a puddle, let alone an entire soggy field.

But Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge did not let me down. According to ebird, people had been seeing black-necked stilts, and since I haven't seen a stilt since Sunwiggy and I went to Texas in 2007, that sounded like a good thing to look for. I even convinced my husband "Greenturtle" to go with me.

We began our trip at the "South Globe" area, on the road to the Dickson Mound Museum, where we saw stilts aplenty, along with a spotted sandpiper. On the way there, I had gotten two other year birds, some barn swallows at Chatauqua and a northern bobwhite which Greenturtle almost ran over as it sprinted across the road.

In the spirit of honesty, I must tell you that Greenturtle disputes the near-death encounter of said bobwhite, maintaining that he was far from its little feathered self at the time of the alleged near car-bobwhite collision, but I am convinced that there is one bobwhite with a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder somewhere in central Illinois. Either way, it was alive both when I saw it and when I left, and has been happily added to my year list.

A skulking killdeer

Greenturtle wanted to try a bit of fishing, but I was impatient to get to the Nature Conservancy's Emiquon restoration a bit further down the road, so off we went. Year birds followed in swift succession: least sandpiper, vesper sparrow and Wilson's snipe, plus solitary sandpipers, lesser yellowlegs, killdeer, northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and a bazillion coots...OK, nothing new, but who can complain?

One shoveler and a bunch of coots

I would have called the day a success then and there if we hadn't met a family who told us that if we kept walking along the dike at the South Globe, we would see long-billed dowitchers and Hudsonian godwits, so of course I insisted we backtrack and do so pronto! Bless his heart, Greenturtle was up for it.

Long billed dowitchers, far away

And yes, we did see them...the dowitchers being a life bird for me! Hooray!

On our way home, we stopped at Sugar Grove Nature Center and walked the trails for a bit before doing our shopping, where I got two more year birds, the house wren and the white-crowned sparrow. The next day, a stroll at Weldon Springs and later the Salt Creek Wetland netted me more year birds: blue-gray gnatcatcher, gray catbird, bank swallow. All in all, 18 species for 2012 in one weekend!

But, as I have noticed before, in birding as in life, a triumph is often followed by a disappointment. But that's OK, I am sure there will be more birding victories to come!


  1. Oh, how I long to see a coot! And, how I wish I'd been along with you and Greenturtle last weekend; what a lot of Year Birds I would have come away with, plus a Life Bird, the dowatcher. Today, your father almost ran over a greater yellowlegs. We pulled off the road, peering down into the mud, looking for it, when it flew up in front of our wheels, narrowly escaping death! No doubt it, too, is have a nervous breakdown somewhere in the swamp reeds. Mom

  2. Nice post, Emily! I'm glad you are seeing some nice shorebirds this year. I have not seen any dowitchers yet this year. Try Funks Grove for Northern Parulas right now high up in the Sycamores on either side of the bridge by the cemetery. Listen for their buzzy ascending trill. I had one come down close to the creek on Tuesday. You may have to hike back along the stream a bit to see them. There are also Yellow-throated Warblers in the Sycamores if you hike a bit back along the creek on the side across the street from the cemetery.

  3. What a day! Great post. What do you expect to see in the next month?

    I'm writing on behalf of KEEN because we are inspired by people like you who make it a priority to get outdoors! We'd love to have your expertise for our recess page: You can add your favorite birding spots and photos. Check the page out and let us know what you think!

    KEEN Recess Team