Monday, April 1, 2013
The Larophobe's lament
I had just wrapped up a particularly enjoyable weekend of birding and exploring DeWitt County, summing up with 99 birds on my Illinois list for 2013. Ninety-nine is such an unsatisfying number. Not only does it summon up memories of interminable childhood road trips, tormenting my parents by squawking out "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" from the back seat, but in more recent years, making note of the 100th Year Bird has become a bit of a ritual for me. I hate finishing a weekend of birding still stuck in the double digits, and yet once again, that's what happened.
The 99th IL bird of the year was the ruby-crowned kinglet, which livened up a rather unbirdy stroll through Weldon Springs by warbling his thin, rolling song to get my attention. It was the first time I had actually heard a kinglet singing, and I thought how last year, the a ruby crown was the 100th Year Bird.
So this year, what would Bird #100 be? I had a mental list of suspects: blue winged teal, cedar waxwing, brown thrasher, eastern towhee. Any of those would be a likely candidate, and none of them made an appearance.
Later in the evening, I checked the Illinois Birder's Forum, and noticed that someone had seen a little gull at Lake Decatur. What if the 100th year bird was to be a life bird, and a rarity at that? As I have the misfortune of working in Decatur, I wouldn't even have to go out of my way to look for it.
I informed my husband Greenturtle, the early riser, that I wanted to head to the city early in order to look for the gull, and to make sure I got up with him at five o'clock. Not that I really had great expectations for sighting the gull. I can never find new gulls. Heck, I even attended the IOS' Gull Frolic last year, and didn't get any "life gulls." (Though I did get a life bird, the surf scoter, so yea!)
Not that I hold this scarcity of gulls against the good folk of the Frolic. It was not their fault; I never see any gulls in Illinois except ring-billed, herring and Bonaparte's. (I did see a Thayer's at the frolic, a first for the state, and finally got my lifer Franklin's last year. But I really worked for that gull. It did not come easily.)
I don't even take it personally. Unlike my new nemesis, the shrike, whom I suspect of deliberately thwarting me at every turn, I don't get all that worked up over gulls. Some people do. Both my father and my husband have a soft spot for gulls. As exhibit A, I show you the caption on a photo taken by my father Up North:
There is even an Illinois birder's blog devoted to gulls, Anything Larus. (In case you are wondering about the title of this post, larus is the genus for gulls. Not that I am actually afraid of gulls, mind you. It just seemed like a fun title.)
My poor record with gulls undid my best intentions. When Greenturtle's alarm went off at stupid o'clock, I mumbled, "Don't wake me up, I need more sleep."
"But what about the little gull?" he asked.
"Don't care." I pulled the covers over my head. "Rather sleep."
Later, at work, I took a surreptitious peak at IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts), and saw that some more motivated birders than myself had gone looking for the little gull, and found it not. Well, guess who was glad they hadn't gotten up early now??
Still, I did drive down to the place on the lake where it was seen on my lunch break, in case it had returned. Ring bills, big fat ring bills everywhere! Also mallards, many coots, and a few bufflehead.
The most exciting thing that happened was when I was almost mugged by a pair of Canada geese. They charged up over the side of the pier where I was walking, necks outstretched, tongues flapping, honking furiously. I never appreciated how big Canada geese were until they were very pissed off and right in my face.
I backed up slowly, waving my tripod and spotting scope in front of me as a shield, until the geese and I had reached an impasse. A sign at the dock had warned me that the premises were under camera surveillance. (Although these warnings were nowhere near as insistent as those at Lake Sara, Il.)
If my actions truly were recorded for posterity, I bet the security folk got a chuckle out of that! I drove a bit further down the road, and scanned the gulls again. No little gulls at all.
Oh well. It's not like I expected to see one. Maybe tomorrow. Who knows what my lunch break will bring?