Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sunshine, after the rain

Bonaparte's gulls

All week it rained. Sometimes it drizzled; at others, it lashed down in torrents. Always, the skies were gray and unforgiving. The fields flooded, and my usual route home had to be adjusted, as what looked like a small river pulsed across the country road.

Yesterday, the deluge ceased, to be replaced by spitting snow and gusts of high winds. I wimped out. I did not try to bird at lunch, and yesterday after work, I retreated home, for an afternoon of serious dog-snuggling and Netflix movies instead of birds.

But, woe is me! This morning, I checked the Illinois Birding Forum, and saw that another birder (and just about every Illinois birder probably knows who I mean; but all is anonymous here on Bird Ephemera!) sighted Franklin's gulls, a cattle egret, and a little blue heron in some "fluddles" (by which I understand, field puddles) caused by our recent rains.

Egads! All three would be First of Year birds, and two (the gulls and the egret) a first for me in DeWitt County. This is what happens when you watch B-grade movies with a dachshund snoring on your lap, a cocker spaniel draped over your feet, a Pomeranian on the chair beside you, and an adorable mutt snoozing on your chest. Other people go out and see good birds behind your back!!

As a Public Service Announcement, I would like to mention that all four of my adorable dogs were adopted from my local Humane Society. As a person who loves dogs as much as she loves birding, I have stopped at four only because I don't wish to be featured on the next installment of the next program on "Animal Hoarders."

Today was my chance to make amends for past laziness. The sun, the sun, the SUN came out!! And shortly thereafter, I had consumed enough caffeine to be functional, and was on my merry way.

The Franklin's Bonaparte's gulls were still at the "fluddle" -- 20+ individuals, although of course I couldn't get all twenty into one photo. But as the gulls were not only a first for DeWitt County, but also the first time I saw them with their snazzy black heads in breeding plumage, I was happy enough I didn't even mind (all that much...) that the cattle egret reported by another had flown the coop. To make up for the lack of the egret, I did get an FOY savannah sparrow.

Compared to the Franklin's Bonaparte's gulls, the ring bills looked positively chunky.

(NB: Someone brought to my attention that the gulls in my photos have dark bills, not orange bills. They are Bonaparte's. I'd never seen Bonaparte's in their breeding plumage before, so it's still a fun sighting. And also a birding lesson learned--I just assumed that since Franklin's gulls had been seen there the day before, that's what they were. Ooops!)

My next stop was the Parnell Access parking lot and the associated equestrian trail. I had a long walk, and had to take the "high road" along the fields as the "low road" by the water was flooded, but the rewards were great: first of year palm warbler, blue-headed vireo (one of my faves) and Lincoln's sparrow, along with a bazillion ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumpled warblers, a handful of golden-crowned kinglets, and an assortment of song sparrows, field sparrows, one barn and one tree swallow, hermit thrushes, blue-gray gnatcatchers, house wrens, a belted kingfisher, a brown creeper (another one of my faves), and first of year broad winged hawk.

After grabbing a sandwich to go at Subway in Farmer's City, I headed for the Salt Creek Wetland, as last weekend one area remained there where the water was low enough for sandpipers (greater and lesser yellowlegs and one solitary sandpiper...appropriately enough).

Alas, today even that area was completely flooded, providing a habitat for ducks (ring necked, blue and green winged teal, female buffleheads) instead of sandpipers. However, a dozen or more swamp sparrows were flitting about the muddy fringes, and I stood for a while, trying to make a swamp sparrow transform into a marsh wren. As it turns out, I don't have that kind of mental power, but while I was so entranced, I caught a glimpse of movement close to me, and looked down to see a LIFE BIRD!! Virginia Rail creeping out of the grasses.

Rails are so secretive by nature, and this one gave me such a good view. I didn't even have to raise my binoculars, as it was so close that if I had fallen forwards, I probably would have smashed it with my head. For several minutes, it shuffled around the grasses, as I stared at it.

Then, a swamp sparrow moved, causing me to look away. I glanced back, and the Rail had already skulked back into the grasses, nevermore to be seen. But still! Mentally, I did an insanely embarrassing "life bird" victory dance. Physically, I didn't do much of anything at all, as I did not wish to frighten the rail into kingdom come.

For my final stop, I decided to drive to the Swisher Bridge side of the North Fork Trailhead, and I was glad I had not decided to walk this trail today, as at least one side of it was completely flooded.

Last year was so dry, I didn't see anything like this. It made me think of the year before, when Greenturtle and I were flooded out at Humiston Woods. At least this year didn't involve any wading!

I followed the trail about a half a mile or so, enjoying the sight of more yellow rumps, ruby-crowned kinglets, hermit thrushes, and the like, until I got to the end of the "road":

By then, it was getting late...and the late afternoon light was so gentle, reminding me of all the great birds I had seen, but that it was time to go home.

And so I did!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your Virginia Rail! You're seeing so many lovely birds! Up here, in the UP, with 40" of snow still on the ground, the few Spring arrivals that I have seen so far (robins, juncos, flickers, sandhill cranes, butterbutts, and one turkey vulture) excite worry rather than joy in me. I ran out during our blizzard, with 45 mph winds, last Friday to purchase more birdseed and a big bag of freeze-dried mealworms for the poor yellow-rumped warbler hiding under my porch! Can't wait to visit you in less than two weeks! MOM