Monday, April 2, 2012

Tiny twitches: Macon County

Dutchman's breeches

Over the past couple of weeks, when I haven't been toiling in my overgrown nightmare of a yard, I have been exploring parks in Macon County. To be honest, I really miss my old Work Place Pond in Bloomington. I don't miss the job, but it was nice to be able to bird actively before work and on my breaks. My new job is in a much more typical location, between a busy road and a subdivision. There is a very energetic red-winged blackbird that calls in the morning, and I have seen crows, cardinals and the white wing-pit of one startled killdeer.

But if I have lost my beloved Work Place Pond, then, as compensation, at least I have a whole new county to explore--a county with a surprising number of parks. I say surprising, because my first impression of it was not that pleasant. The city of Decatur seemed grim and run-down, saturated with the funk of the corn syrup factory's effluvia, and the surrounding countryside just the typical central Illinois agricultural wasteland.

And that would have been the end of it, had I not found a job in Decatur. And then started to wonder what birds people might have seen in the area. This curiosity led me to eBird, which led me to Rock Springs Nature Center, the first stop on my Macon County Tiny Twitch series. (The Tiny Twitch was a project from last year, when I did small birding trips to different counties.)

I followed this up with two other trips, one to Friends Creek Park by myself and another to Fort Daniel Conservation Area with Greenturtle, with a second visit to Rock Springs to round out the day. Once again I am scoping out the obscure reaches of central Illinois so you don't have to!

To be honest, the parks were nice, the birding was fun, but I've been wrestling with this post for the better part of a fortnight. I just can't warm up my changes in circumstance.  I think it's Decatur. Despite the fact that I try to play nice in public, in real life, I can be so sarcastic that I have thought a more accurate name to this blog would be "The Adventures of Birding Bitch." So please join me for another round of birds, exploration and snarkiness in the heartland! Suffice to say, this side of me snorts whenever I cross the Decatur city limits and read the sign declaring it to be, with no trace of irony, "the pride of the prairie." (NB: if any denizens of Decatur read this and honestly believe the city to be lovely, then please, accept my apology that I do not like your town. But hey, it's my blog, and that's my opinion.)

So without further ado:

Rock Springs Conservation Area

Sangamon River wending through the park

My first stop was the bird viewing room in the Nature Center, where I got: dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers and one red-bellied, one crow, one white-breasted nuthatch, house finches and house sparrows, and one male cardinal. So far, so good. I love to watch birds feeding.

As I walked along the River Trail, I saw a pileated woodpecker, not once but several times, flying from tree to tree as I appoached, and also a pair of wood ducks on the river, and a very noisy belted kingfisher. It was a nice walk, and my only 'bummer' was the unseasonable heat... Going up to 80 degrees in March? WTF? I haven't suffered like this since I was stationed in Georgia, over a decade ago....

On my second trip (yesterday), it was even hotter, but I was pleased to see a great blue heron rookery in a sycamore by the river. Also, I saw the first yellow-rumped warbler in breeding plumage of the spring, a quick glimpse of a winter wren, and a good half dozen hermit thrushes. The ground along the river trail was speckled with spring beauties in bloom.

Summary: clearly, this is a very popular park, and so far would be my #1 recommendation for birding in Macon County. The visitor center is great, and I love the bird viewing area. There are a decent number of trails, and also a bike path that leads into Decatur if you are so inclined.

Fort Daniel Conservation Area

Peace, love and birds, eh?

First things first: there is no fort at Fort Daniel Conservation Area. I want to mention this right up front as Greenturtle felt I had mislead him. Not that I promised any such thing...but, well, it's in the name and everything.

What there is, is a decent-sized trail that winds through some woods and past a field, surrounded on just about all sides by some really upscale homes in a neighboring subdivision. In fact, for part of the trail, you can stare right into the back yards (where I saw a phoebe, by the way), although that is much more pleasant than staring into the yard of a prison, as you can do at Edgar Madigan State Park in Logan County.

The woods were filled with a carpet of bluebells, and the park was quite peaceful and pleasant. The highlights, birding wise, were blue birds and meadowlarks in the fields, and a very vocal brown thrasher in the treetops. I actually got quite a nice round up of the usual suspects of spring, pre-warblers.

Is it just me...or does that sound kind of suggestive?
I would not say that that this park is worth a trip out of the way, but to any birders who happen to be around Decatur anyway, it's worth a stroll.

Friends Creek Conservation Area

This park is the smallest and most out of the way of the trio, and yet it is also my favorite. I stopped on my way home from work one Friday (unlike the other two, it is not in Decatur, but pretty much in the middle of nowhere), and strolled across the prairie, where fresh green shoots were creeping up after the recent burn.

 A couple places were still smouldering.

If you are wondering why on earth people set the prairies to flame, I can direct you to an earlier post, "Burn, Prairie, Burn." If you follow the link, you will probably be the second person ever to read it! (The first was my mother.... Thanks, Mom!)

I didn't see a wide variety of birds here, but there were some nice ones: an eastern towhee, a pair of bluebirds, a whole chorus of red-winged blackbirds.

I will probably spend a lot more time birding Macon County, because if you're in a place anyway, what better way to spend the time than looking for birds? And hopefully future excursions will come together a bit better for this blog.

But, the important thing is always: Bird to to bird!


  1. Oh, oh, I counted SEVEN year birds (for me) whilst reading your post! Let's go to Rock Springs Conservation Area, anyway, if we have time, when I come visit in May! Decatur may be rather grubby (as I remember it), but it sounds nicer than Lake Sarah (or was it Sara? Anyway those people where weird!) I'm sorry to see the photos of the wildflowers, as this means they'll be all done blooming by the 1st week of May. Our weather has returned to normal, and the only blooming things I've seen, other than the occasional idiot, are crocus, forget-me-nots, and pussy willows. Well, more to look forward to! Mom

  2. Black-billed magpie! Yes! Thanks for leaving the comment on my blog over a month ago that I just now got because I never check comments because I never get them! Also, I had to crack up at your dislike of Decatur. My husband was threatened with a possible transfer last year and I was horrified. We finally visited one day and Rock Springs Nature Center was the only thing that made me believe I could handle the move. Of course, having lived in Peoria my entire life, Decatur probably wouldn't have been that big a change...