|do you have time for a chat?|
What better way to spend the Fourth of July than to go birding? I have been neglecting the North Fork Access Trail this year, so I decided that it was high time to check it out.
I frequently see some good stuff on this trail, like my only Dewitt County pileated woodpecker, and breeding season scarlet tanagers last July. There's a nice mix of habitats along the way: upland forest, bottomland forest, scrubby fields, streams and a wetland with a large lily pad. There's also a really scummy pond where I never see any birds, and some views on more open areas where I once saw a red-headed woodpecker.
But...here's the problem. This trail is ten miles (or maybe eleven; the signage is rather vague) of butt-kicking hills and switch-backs. Some people think that Illinois is completely flat. Those people should check out this trail. To add insult to injury, the sign at the trail head states that the difficulty level is "moderate." Who decided that? A triathlete? A Sherpa? I consider myself to be in above-average condition (I don't work out, but I sure do hike a lot), and if this thing were just a few miles longer, it would kill me!
Anyhoo, it "had" to be done. Not a lot of people bird Dewitt County in the summer. Even at the most exciting times of the year, there's just a handful of us hard-core birders checking things out. The only other people I see at this particular location are trail runners, not birders. So if I'm not going to see which species are potentially breeding, who will? Can I call myself the Underbirder, champion of underbirded places? Not to be confused with Underdog, or the Venture Brothers' Baron Underbheit.
|Nothing like this...Baron Underbheit|
The good stuff started even before I got on the trail. A trio of eastern kingbirds fluttered around the parking lot, and a single tree by the trailhead contained a warbling vireo, goldfinches, a gray catbird, an indigo bunting, and a shy Baltimore oriole. It was like the Tree of Life.
Sometimes I think I get one surprise per trip, a bird I hadn't even been thinking of. There's an open, scrubby area where the power lines cut across this trail, and there I heard the bizarre calls of yellow-breasted chats. (Anywhere between one and four chats inhabited the area; as they were flying around, and I never saw more than one at a time, I was a bit unsure of the actual number.) I found one at the end of June at Mascoutin a couple of years ago, nothing since, so this was a big treat.
I also saw an immature indigo bunting in that awkward splotchy stage. Adolescence is like that.
I thought the chats were my surprise, but then I got an even bigger one. In a low spot by a creek, I found a waterthrush -- kind of a bottom-heavy looking bird, brown on top, white and streaky below, thick white eyebrow, bobbing its tail. Based on breeding ranges, I decided that the Louisiana waterthrush was a more likely suspect. I didn't get a photo, but this is where it was:
|waterthrush seen here|
The Underbirder strikes again! Going to the most remote and horrible reaches of the county to discover unusual warblers, just for the sake of science and the birding community at large.
But before I could get that excited, I had to get back to the trailhead, and that was another six miles away. Lots of cardinals...
Oh, Thank God I'm getting closer...
This side of the loop had a bazillion house wrens, at least one Carolina wren, white-breasted nuthatches, towhees, and a northern parula. But to be honest, I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been.
Getting closer...almost there now!
And finally, I was done, and back to the kingdom of the kingbirds. Was it worth it? For chats? And a waterthrush? Of course!