Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wallace Stevens' blackbird

rusty blackbird

One of my favorite poems is Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." I think it would be one of my favorites even if I wasn't into birds.

Recently, from an ornithological perspective, I've been wondering what sort of blackbird Stevens was writing about. He was an American (born in Pennsylvania), so I am assuming that he was picturing an American species of blackbird when he composed these lines.

But I just can't picture our most common blackbird, the red-winged, as the subject of this poem. When the poem states,

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I just can't picture the red-winged cocky "conk-la-ree!!" call as the blackbird's enigmatic whistle. And the call of the yellow-headed blackbird is even more comical. No, as cool as those birds are, I can't see their call as an inspiration for poetry.

So I always pictured a grackle as Stevens' blackbird, as it is a black bird. But still not a blackbird.

Why didn't I think of a rusty blackbird? Probably because they are disappearing so quickly, I haven't even seen one until recently. As the ebird database article mentions, this once abundant (certainly in Wallace Stevens' time) species has declined by 85-99%.

Those figures completely boggle my mind. 99 percent? As in, 99 out of every hundred there used to be are now gone? And no one even knows exactly why.

So it shouldn't surprise me that it was only recently that I saw my first rusty blackbird (as I described it in my bird journal, as brown-headed as a cowbird, but with cunning yellow eyes.) And it was only this spring that I finally heard their strange, rusty-hinge call.

So was Wallace Stevens' inspiration a rusty blackbird? I will let you be the judge.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

By: Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Birds with attitude!

And you thought "Angry Birds" was just a game

I've never seen a reality TV show. If it weren't for long supermarket check-out lines leaving me with nothing to do but scan the tabloid headlines, I wouldn't know Snooki from a Kardashian. But still, I have a mental image of what reality shows must be like. I picture lots of swaggering, fighting, preening, jealousy, sulking and all-around attitude.

In other words, I picture birds. As my walk at Weldon Springs park in DeWitt County, IL, yesterday demonstrated, birds can have as much attitude as any reality show diva.

The drama began at the bird feeders, where a certain mourning dove was hogging all the food.

This really ticked off a certain grackle, who stalked around giving the dove angry looks for several minutes. However, the grackle's ire was no match for the dove's appetite, so soon the grackle stalked off in disgust.

The dove's gluttony caught the eye of a passing blue jay, who stared down at the proceedings with disapproval.

As the dove took no notice of him, he flew down to make his point more clear.

Really, can't the mourning dove get the point?

Meanwhile, a house finch and an American goldfinch were arguing about who was prettier, the goldfinch proclaiming that the only reason the house finch was putting on airs is because the goldfinch isn't in his beautiful yellow breeding plumage yet.

The nuthatch had heard enough; he was taking off.

Only the dark eyed junco was unaffected by the proceedings. They seem like such peaceful little birds.

After observing all this attitude at the bird feeders for several minutes, I decided to stroll around the lake trail. But as it turned out, the waterfowl were just as bad.

Even before I got within view of the water, a Canada goose threw his head back at the sight of me, honking in alarm.

On the water, buffleheads, northern shovelers and ring-necked ducks appeared to be enjoying themselves, diving and bobbing across the lake.

But what's this? One bufflehead gets in a snit and heads further down the water.

Joining a different group of water birds, he begins to flap and preen, trying to convince them of his importance.

Meanwhile, a bit further down the trail, I stop to admire a preening Canada goose. He (or she) is trying to make him (or her) self as beautiful as can be.

Meanwhile, their mate notices me checking out Mr. or Mrs. Goose, and gives me the stink eye.

Too much drama on the water! I decided to head into the woods, where I found a publicity-shy American woodcock, who scurried away before I could get a good photo, as though I were the most annoying of paparazzi. Sadly, this is probably the best look I have ever had of a woodcock; usually I am lucky to get a quick glimpse of their tailfeathers as they take off in a panic.

A bit further down the trail, a male northern cardinal was not shy at all, repeatedly flinging back his head and proclaiming, "I am the best!"

And a rusty blackbird showed that they can be angry, too.

And even the mammals got in on the attitude. This deer glances my way..."Who are you lookin' at?"

"Whatever...I'm outta here!"

Who knew the animal kingdom was full of so much drama? Well, I hope you enjoyed this bit of silliness as much as I did. In the meantime, my camera and I aren't going anywhere, as central Illinois is being hit with a late March snowstorm, the first I've encountered my ten years of living here.

I expect this kind of thing from my home state of Michigan...but WTF, Illinois? It's supposed to be spring now!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Equinox thoughts

Winter's hanging on for dear life this year. March has been consistently gray, dreary, damp, chilly, the days flecked with drizzle-mixed-with snow. Full of anticipation for the spring migrants, wildflowers, gentle sunshine, first new shoots of greenery that are just around the corner, I find it hard to be patient.

And yet, the season is good for long, solitary walks and contemplation, which was what I liked best about being in nature before I became a birder. When the birding is fabulous, when mixed flocks of warblers in their breeding plumage dazzle the mind, really all I think about is the birds. I don't even think about them, really; I just stare, wide-eyed. When new additions to my life and state lists are reported all around me, I tend to get a frenetic, ADD quality to my birding. I feel like a kinglet, zipping from branch to leaf and back again--and we know how hard it is to zoom in on a kinglet. This isn't bad. It's a lot of fun. But a long, quiet walk is good, too.

Especially at this time of year, when the longing for spring is so palpable, it can be hard to appreciate the austere beauty of the season. But as always, if I look even closer, it is there.

Last Saturday, when I headed out for the day, the landscape was blanketed by fog. I decided to walk the Houseboat Cove trail at Mascoutin rather than look for ducks, as scoping for water birds in a heavy fog is pretty much the definition of futility. That particular trail actually benefits from a bit of mist; despite a few impressive oaks, it's not really a scenic location, scrubby and tangled like much of the county, but the fog gave it a mysterious air. The area I called the "drowned trees" was especially atmospheric.

The vernal ponds are full, havens for wood ducks, and here and there, unexpectedly, I hear a new song. This weekend was the first time I ever heard the song of the American tree sparrow, for example, or the creaky hinge cry of a rusty blackbird, as it stared at me with its cunning yellow eye.

On the beach at Mascoutin, I saw a crow pick up a skinny silver fish and fly off with it dangling from its beak; and in one of the fields, a pair of coyote silently stalked the treeline. With all of this going on, I sometimes manage to forget my longing for warblers.

The month began on a good note, with a trip to Evergreen Lake to see my lifer white-winged scoters. The day was gray and rainy, making me irritable. On a sunny day, it's easy to feel that the world, or at least some of it -- the part containing birds, for example -- is an agreeable place, and my own spot in the order of things not objectionable.

But on a damp, cold late winter day, the expanses of vast cornfields under the slaty sky are ugly, and though a spot of gloomy weather cannot tarnish the joys of a life bird, I remained dissatisfied with my lot in life. I got a good look at the scoters, then, a few miles down the road, surprised a flock of wild turkey. After that, the cold rain slashed down in earnest, and I cancelled the rest of my plans for the day.

Still: white-winged scoters. I knew that by the end of the day, that's all I'd remember, and that I would always smile when I thought of them. These bird sightings aren't just check-marks on a list, but little pebbles of happiness scattered across my life, becoming as polished as diamonds as I take them out and roll them around, again and again, in my memory.

I owe a lot to birds. I was saved from a bad career choice by a flock of Canada geese, once, when I realized that I would rather watch them through the window than listen to a seminar on medical coding. Perhaps the world needs medical coders; of that, I have my doubts. But absolutely, the world needs Canada geese.

Friday afternoon, I wandered happily around the expanse of Friends Creek Park, noticing how in the month since I'd last been there, the birds have really come to life. In mid-February, it was stark, practically devoid of life. Now, the cardinals were whooping joyously from every treetop, the song sparrows were hopping across the grass, and robins in their multitude were doing whatever it is that robins do. I heard the robin's song for the first time last week, as I lay in bed in the strange time right around dawn. It took me a moment to remember what it was...then, of course, the robins. And I wondered how I ever could have forgotten.

As I wandered through the park, sensing birds all around me, many just glimpsed for a moment from the corner of my eye, I felt as if the woods were keeping things from me, a secret world of wonders that I could only glimpse, now and then, almost by accident. I felt like an alchemist from the days of yore, standing before a beaker of base metals refusing to turn to gold, pleading: Reveal your secrets to me!

But you can't grasp the numinous by force or by stealth. You have to earn it, by being persistent and humble, by coming back again and again. You have to want it more than you have ever wanted anything else in your life. What does this have to do with birding? A lot, actually.

I bird in different moods: sometimes as an OCD lister, obsessed with my species tally; sometimes more methodical, wanting to carefully observe and record my observations "for the scientists; and sometimes it feels spiritual. Transformative, like alchemy. Out in nature, day after day, I am turning the base metal of my nature into gold. And if I want to know the secrets of the woods, all I have to do is come back and observe, again and again and again.

All around me, robins were flapping, woodpeckers drumming, titmice crabbing. Out on the prairie, I saw an American woodcock shoot up from the grasses and fly away, seeing him outlined for a moment in profile, enormous beak and all. I felt blessed.

And I thought of the words of New York writer Jonathan Rosen, quoted on the documentary Birders: The Central Park Phenomenon. One can wonder why people bird or if birding can be compared to an addiction, as I have done myself on this blog. But for him, he explained his need to keep going back out there day after day as being as if he were a member of the flock, and he just really needed to be with them. When I watched that part, I thought, yes, that's exactly it. That's why I bird, too.

This evening, on my way home from work, I pulled to the side of the road by a wetland, hoping to catch a glimpse of my first blue-winged teal of the year.

No teal, but all around me were the exuberant signs of life and a new cycle beginning. Red-winged blackbirds called over and over. A flock of coots took off when they saw me, then slowly drifted back in my direction again. Song sparrows and American tree sparrows hopped over the grasses on the edge of the water, joined by black-capped chickadees flying back and forth, calling in excitement. A bluebird perched on the wire by the road; when I looked up again, it had been replaced by a robin. And off in the distance, the cry of a meadowlark sliced the air with its pure, clear tones. A tiny sliver of perfection in my day.

And all around me, the evening light, in a brief moment of clarity after days of clouds, seemed so gentle. The prairie sky seemed to beckon towards infinity. Seeing the birds' excitement, and the sudden softness of the sky, I realized that all this dreary month of March really is leading it up something special.

It's almost spring!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The butcher-bird, my new nemesis

A spiky tree for a sneaky shrike

A nemesis bird is a wily little fellow with a grudge against you. Although you can't think what you might have done to offend him, as he has consistently refused to make your acquaintance, he makes a point of hiding whenever you are near. You know that his grudge is not against humans in general, as other birders see him everywhere. For everyone else, the nemesis bird pops up at regular intervals, singing in local parks, perching from wires, stopping by bird-feeders. But the only way it would show up in your back yard is if you were out of state for the week.

In other words, everyone has seen your nemesis bird except you.

As with much else about birding, the criteria for nemesis status can vary from person to person. One birder might call "nemesis" after dipping out three or four times; for someone else, they might have been seeking their target for decades. I personally place a species on my nemesis list if I have dipped out three or more times, after going out of my way to look for the bird, and it is a bird that, for some reason, has piqued my curiosity. There are many gull species I've never seen, for example, but I wouldn't call them a nemesis, for though it would be nice to see them (a life bird is a life bird), gulls really aren't my thing.

Likewise, there are still several warblers I haven't "gotten" -- Kentucky, prairie, mourning, Connecticut, cerulean -- and while I adore warblers, these aren't nemeses because my expectation of seeing them, on any random outing, isn't that great. I'll go somewhere just because someone saw a cerulean, or what have you, in the vicinity; but as warblers flit about as they please, I'd actually be more surprised if it was still hanging around.

My first nemesis was a particularly devious fellow, the yellow-headed blackbird. I had scoured the marshes of northern Illinois year after year, hoping to see one, only to be foiled at every turn. This particular nemesis had taken umbrage at my whole family, as neither of my parents could find one either, resulting in my father declaring that he didn't believe they really existed. But then, lo and behold! Last spring all three of us were finally victorious at the Hennepin-Hopper wetlands, and all was well with the world.

That is, until I began searching for shrikes. I don't know why finding a shrike in Illinois should be that difficult. I have seen two species of shrike in other states with no problem, the northern shrike in Minnesota on my first (and second) visits to the Sax-Zim Bog, and the loggerhead shrike in both Texas and Arkansas. The Arkansas shrike just flew up and landed in a tree at the Holla Bend preserve, taking me completely by surprise.

I am actually quite fond of shrikes. They are handsome birds, mostly white and gray with a black Zorro mask across their eyes. And they are especially interesting to a horror-movie buff such as myself, as they have the distinction of being a predatory songbird, with the particularly nasty habit of impaling their prey on spikes. (The loggerhead shrike at the World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri is named Vlad.) The Latin name of the northern shrike, Lanius excubator, means "butcher watchman," and they are sometimes called, more colloquially, "the butcher bird."

Illinois is fortunate because we actually have the opportunity to see both species of shrike; the loggerhead, though state-endangered, comes here to breed, while the northern enjoys the relative balminess of our winters. I have been unable to see either type, as I posted about in my ill-fated search for the loggerhead at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie last summer.

As for the northern shrike, not only have I missed it on winter trips to such places as Goose Lake Prairie and the Green River Conservation Area, but this winter, it has consistently turned up in my own home county of DeWitt. After learning of each sighting, I rushed out the next day I was able, and always got results such as this account from my Bird Journal reveals:

January 27, 2013 -- Looking for a shrike along Highway 54

Several passes along the stretch of road where the shrike was seen. Day: cloudy, ominous. Saw: cardinal (1), American tree sparrow (1), crows (5), starlings (3), Canada geese (8--flyover) Did NOT see: shrike.

But today I had yet another chance to foil my nemesis! Yet another northern shrike had been seen right outside the entrance of Mascoutin Recreation Area along Clinton Lake, a place I am quite familiar with. If the shrike was still there, I would find it! So quicker than you can say, "nemesis bird," I was on it.

As soon as the sun popped up -- or rather, sluggishly slumped over the horizon -- around seven o'clock, I was heading down the road, still chugging my third cup of coffee as if it were my life blood itself. (Though a real handicap for a birder, I am not a morning person. And as for daylight savings time...don't even get me started!)

The first thing that struck me was how the weatherman is a lying sack of dog turds. For the second day in a row, the forecast was for partly cloudy, high in the 40s, winds 10-15 miles an hour, and for the second day it was cold as all-get-out! Yesterday was just cold (and foggy; partly sunny my you-know-what); today was cold and windy. Seriously, the weatherman ought to be publicly flogged for the lies that he tells. But, moving on....

The second thing I noticed was a complete lack of shrikes in the vicinity in which one had been seen. I made a couple of passes in my car, then decided to get out and do a more thorough search on foot. As usual, the causeway before Mascoutin was filled with intrepid fisherman, and I pulled my car up beside theirs.

This area of Clinton Lake often has a particularly creepy effect of fog rising off the water, as the power plant keeps the water temperatures warmer than the air throughout the winter.

I had never explored the fields across from the entrance to the park; but they didn't say "No Trespassing," so I scrambled up the hill and wandered around. It looked like great shrike habitat: open fields filled with spiky, thorny trees. On a cloudy late winter day, almost devoid of birds, it seemed a bleak and forbidding landscape.

There was plenty of open area for a shrike to seek his prey, and plenty of thorny trees to impale it upon. But as for the shrike? It seems he was on strike. So after an hour or so of walking along the road and the adjacent fields, I decided to see what other birds might be in the area.

As I returned to my car, I saw juncos, American tree sparrows, and a fox sparrow scrounging along the side of the road. It was the first time I'd seen a fox sparrow acting like that. Really, how undignified!

fox sparrow

After that, I headed towards the beach area. The wind was vicious, and the only fowl hardy enough to brave the choppy water was a lone pied-billed grebe. However, I did see a pair of bluebirds (one can never see too many bluebirds), and my first-of-year Bonaparte's gulls plying the air over the water. They are so graceful and buoyant that it's hard to believe that they're gulls. Compared to them, their cousins the ring bills are positively chunky; and as for the herrings, let's just say it's like comparing a ballerina to a sumo wrestler.

I was kind of hoping to catch a glimpse of a loon or scoter, but besides the gulls, the only signs of life were fishermen, so I decided to walk the Houseboat Cove Trail again. Granted, I had just walked the whole thing the day before, but as one of my favorite quotes, from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, goes, You can't step into the same river twice. Which I take to mean: today's birds won't be exactly the same as yesterday's.

Mostly, I had the same round-up of species: red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers; black capped chickadees; northern cardinals; common grackles; blue jays; red-tailed hawks; white-breasted nuthatches.

Tufted titmice are always a treat to see:

tufted titmouse

As are song sparrows:

song sparrow

I did not see a flicker, as I had yesterday; but I did see year-bird golden crowned kinglets, crowns and all, so hooray!

The pond that was full of ring-necked ducks and a few token redheads still had the same:

a pond full of ducks

And, like yesterday, as soon as they saw me, they all took off:

...flying away

There were still plenty of American coots in the oxbows of the North Loop:

American coots

But as for the fifty or so wood duck that I espied yesterday, not a single one remained. Still, unless we get another drought this year, this swampy backwater at the far end of the trail just shouts, "Prothonotary warbler"! One of my favorite birds (and not at all a nemesis). Note to self: come back in a month or two!

On the return trail, I caught a glimpse of a bird flying away from me, and pulled my binoculars up in time to see a pair of white "circles" on an otherwise mostly gray, jay-sized bird. Hello, first for DeWitt County northern mockingbird!

By this time, I'd spent nearly five hours in pursuit of birds. My face was chapped from the wind, my eyes were dry, and the shrike was still nowhere in sight. Which way to go?

Much as I hated to admit that I'd "shruck out" again, I decided to go home. My birding motto is, always quit while it's still fun. And that's what I did.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A cacophony of quackings

a waterfowl extravaganza

Friday I woke up in a tizzy. "It's March!" I ran to the window, where another bleak, gray, snow-spitty dawn awaited me. Hmmphh. I should have remembered that, quotes from Tennyson aside, March is truly the cruelest month. This tail end of winter is such a frustrating, in-between season. The first migrants start trickling back and I'm impatient for all the rest, and I always end up feeling that spring should be much farther along than it is.

Yesterday was only partially cloudy, so I went out for a walk at Weldon Springs. I had a vague idea of surveying the whole park, as I like to do at least once a season, but after a stroll over the Schoolhouse Prairie, I was bored. I saw my first turkey vulture of the year, circling the prairie with more flaps than they usually require. But to be honest, the birding was slow.

If I had to make a special birding request for the day, it would be for a horned grebe. Since it was clear that no horned grebes were on offer at Weldon Springs, I decided to drive to points around Clinton Lake instead. In fairness, March really is more about waterfowl than anything else.

I found ruddy ducks and common mergansers, plus a couple of hundred American coots, and just as I was getting ready to head for home, swimming along by the Highway 48 bridge was--you guessed it!--a very handsome example of a horned grebe. With several nice species under my belt, I was feeling quite contented with my early March birding until I began checking my favorite birding forums, and noticed what other birders had seen.

Does comparing our accomplishments to those of others over the Internet: One, ruin an otherwise perfectly good day? or two, spur one on to greater effort and, thus, greater rewards? Especially when these other accomplishments are accompanied by amazing photographs of all the birds you didn't see? I ask this in jest because obviously the answer is "two." OK, with maybe just a pinch of "one" thrown in. Because what the other birder saw, while I was freezing my tail off on the prairie watching a turkey vulture try to stay aloft, was tundra swans. And while turkey vultures are nice enough birds, who wouldn't rather see the swans?

So I awoke this morning on a Quest, and headed to the Salt Creek Wetland Project, which seemed to be the general vicinity in which the swans had been seen. The sun was bright, the air was frigid, and I was not coming home until I'd found the swans! (Except, what if they'd flown off somewhere else? If I take my words literally, it could be a very long birding trip indeed....)

As usual, I found the Salt Creek Wetland to be a challenge. The area is so exposed to the elements that chilly days become downright Arctic, hot days are positively sweltering, and bright days seem glaring instead of warm, giving everything a washed-out, overexposed quality. Plus the Wetland has a weird "vibe." Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm still traumatized by my first visit there, when Sunwiggy and I stumbled upon it during waterfowl season, and witnessed hunters drifting around on boats covered with leaves and bark to create portable blinds, blasting away at the ducks right before our eyes.

As soon as I got out of the car, I could hear the whooping, joyous song of northern cardinals, and the sassy cries of red-winged blackbirds establishing their territories. Despite the lingering snow, the signs of spring have arrived. I crunched over the snow, noticing how both the sound and texture of cold snow, still crisp from the night-time temperatures, was quite different from the sound and texture of warm, slushy snow that I'd walked on the day before.

I got a good look at some northern pintail, hanging out by the shore with a flock of mallards, and then promptly managed to flush every duck and goose in the wetland to the furthest point in the water, far beyond the reach of my feeble spotting scope. I lugged myself closer, flushing several subsequent waves of waterfowl that I hadn't noticed still hanging out in the shallows, until every single one had, indeed, vacated the premises. My typical Salt Creek Wetland experience. Just in case, I trained my scope along the far shore, but with the glare of the sun and distortion from the water, I really couldn't tell what was out there. Nothing looked big enough to be a swan, but when all you can see is a haze with some waterfowl swimming through it, who can say for certain?

On my way back to my car, I admired a pair of northern harriers gliding effortlessly over the marsh. Lustful nuthatches chased each other in the trees at the end of the loop. And perched at the top of a tree across a hay field was my first eastern meadowlark of the year, his haunting see-you see-year cry filling the air. I don't know if he was having luck attracting a female meadowlark, but he certainly got my attention.

It looked like I would have to head for my least favorite DeWitt County birding location: the Impenetrable Thicket. The Maze of Thorns. Otherwise known as the other side of the marsh, which took me forever to figure out how to access and, all griping aside, I am extremely grateful to the birder who showed it to me. I've seen some really amazing species back there. But it's still not my favorite spot. Still, when on a Quest, one has little choice in the matter. The Impenetrable Thicket it had to be.

Once there, I could hear the cacophony of waterfowl as soon as I got out of my car. I flushed an owl in the pines along the way -- a great horned, judging by the size of it -- and it was immediately mobbed by a murder of crows.

I hadn't walked far at all when I glimpsed an expanse of water across a cornfield, and set up my scope to watch the waterfowl at my leisure. Redheads, ring-necked ducks, snow geese, greater white-fronted geese...lots of them. I was sure there was more in the mix, but since they were right along the shore, I didn't want to walk directly towards them, as this would just cause another quacking panic and frustrating view of duck butts heading away from me.

Which meant I had to head for the thorny, wooded area. I trudged over the uneven ground across the field, scaring a flock of ring-necked pheasants, wondering if a group of pheasants has a special name or if it's just a flock. (So easy to look up, but more fun to wonder.) A red-tailed hawk keened overhead, but mostly, I kept my gaze down at the knobbly ground, lest I twist an ankle or a knee.

From the woods, I peered at the water, keeping far enough back to not scare the ducks. From the hundreds of redheads, ring-necked ducks and pintail, I managed to find a couple of canvasbacks, a gadwall, and an American wigeon. The wigeon flew away just as I spotted it, and I swung the scope to the right, trying to keep it in view, when I saw, gliding along against the far shore, the tundra swans.

The Quest successful! I admired them for a while, then spent another twenty minutes or so just enjoying the spectacle of so many water birds. There's always something a bit humbling about so much abundance. I thought, I will remember this as long as I live. I always think that when I'm watching huge numbers of ducks. I don't think I could ever get bored with the sight.

But, I could get cold, and hungry, and I was both, so shortly thereafter, I wrapped up my trip. Really, it was a wonderful weekend...at least until I check the Internet and see what I missed. (White winged scoter at Starved Rock? Any chance they'll still be there next week? So many birds, so little time....)