Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bird till you puke! (The joys of summer)

Scavenging robin

It happens every year. I always begin with such grandiose intentions. I wake at a very reasonable hour on the first of January (dawn cracks so late in winter that it's not much of a challenge to meet it even for a slug-a-bed such as myself), bundle up, and rush out in a frenzy of excitement to see every bird that the state of Illinois has to offer. I promise myself that this will be the best, absolutely the best, birding year ever.

And just as winter birding starts to pall...there is spring migration! First ducks, then sandpipers, then sparrows, then warblers. Such fun! Who could ever want it to end? Really and truly, I will see more birds than ever this year!

And then...along comes summer. A time of warmth and plenty, and memories of long, lazy summer vacations and road trips with the family, right? How does the expression go? Summertime, and the living is easy.

Except: just between you, me and the lamp-post, I hate summer. Maybe it would be OK somewhere up around the Arctic circle. But here in central Illinois, it's hot, humid, bug-infested, and not that interesting to bird. Right now, for example, as I contemplate my past few birding adventures, I am alternately bemoaning my sun-induced splotchiness and scratching the bites of ticks, mosquitoes and chiggers about my person. Whenever I stagger outside for more than a half hour or so, I swoon in the vomit-making humidity and dip out on whatever bird I happen to be searching for. And I whine. A lot. That's just the way it goes.

So it's probably appropriate that my favorite photos of the season are of a robin scrounging in a dumpster in Macon county. I expect this sort of behavior of crows and grackles. But robins? Macon county robins truly have no class.

Other highlights:

At least this is the year I am finally seeing black-necked stilts!

Black-necked stilt at Emiquon

That was a very nice addition to my Illinois list, and the first time I saw them at Emiquon I almost danced a jig in happiness. The second time I was disappointed that they weren't whimbrels or black-bellied plovers. I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere.

I always love to see my favorite summer breeding birds, however, no matter how horrible the humidity:

Great blue heron at Weldon Springs

Red-winged blackbird at Emiquon

And, despite the heat, I've had a couple of terrific birding days. Ten days ago I challenged "Sunwiggy" the Yooper to our annual mid-summer's "bird off," and managed to top my personal best for number of species seen outside of spring migration: 55! I have also enjoyed "exploring" places quite close to home, such as Weldon Springs State Park, a mere five miles or so from my house. For example, I did not know that Weldon Springs was part of the famous Chatauqua circuit around the turn of the last century, or that the "springs" refer to an actual body of water.

But if you are a glass-half-empty person such as myself, this is mainly what you will notice:

Although the "year birds" have been slow in coming, and the heat has been atrocious, I have been trying to focus on the nice species I have seen.

Horned lark

Grasshopper sparrow

The last two were seen down in Jasper county, from the roadside at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, where I was hoping to see upland sandpipers, blue grosbeaks and perhaps even prairie chickens...but all of the natural areas seemed to be closed to the public, and we had to make do with what we could see from the roadside.

Plus a nice year bird over by Newton Lake:

Little blue heron

This was only the second time I had seen a little blue heron, so definitely an exciting moment. Of course by that time, I was sweating a bucket...and crawling with ticks.... It sounds like I'm whining, but really, birding is the only thing that keeps me sane! If only I could get more than one "year bird" a week, I'd be ecstatic.

So how has summer birding been treating you this year?


  1. Big smiles as I enjoyed this post! The last 2 weeks up here in Yooperland the weather has varied between: pouring rain and windy, and sunny and windy, mostly in the 70s. LOTS of bugs, I may compose an ODE TO MY BUG HAT, that wondrous bit of apparel that lets me bird in June! I've been trying to see wood warblers, and getting nothing but a crick in my neck for my efforts. And then there's the joy of seeing something unexpected, like today, when I watched a poor turkey vulture being beaten up by a redwing blackbird. Turkey vultures are so nice and polite, too; they wait until you're dead before coming in to dine. Mom

    1. If you compose an Ode to Your Bug Hat you must promise to share it here! How would it go?

      Oh hat, you make me look quite the fool.
      I could not seem more weird if I did try.
      But that is no matter, for my only rule
      Is to keep the bugs from out of my eye!

  2. My Ode to My Bug Hat!

    How I love you, Bug Hat!
    I do not care if you make me look silly.
    For when it comes to keeping bugs away
    You are quite the dilly!
    They swarm and buzz around my head
    But they cannot alight.
    Oh, Bug Hat, I do not care
    If you make me look a fright!

    Dad was so overcome by my Ode that he had to cover his face, no doubt to hide his tears. Mom