|OK...this didn't really happen|
It's the weekend of the fall equinox, and I could not have asked for better birding weather--cool, sunny, the blue sky full of fluffy fair weather cumulus.
Another birder had posted a few good sightings for Dewitt county on Cornell's ebird database (I am such an ebird stalker), including a Franklin's gull, which would be a first for the county for me, since the "Franklin's" gulls I'd seen last spring turned out to be Bonaparte's. (Hey, a good birder can admit when she is wrong!)
I had a pretty good idea where he'd seen it, and I was dreading going back there. It's a shallow inlet of the lake on the eastern side, just past the Parnell Access point. There's a parking area along Sunnyland Road and a short trail going past an IDNR fish-rearing pond. The trail peters out at a scrubby, overgrown field. There's some messy woods full of multiflora rose along one side, and farmers' fields ringing the whole area. It doesn't really have a name, but I call it the Evil Dead Access.
No, there's no cabin with a creepy book inside. But somehow, after I stagger back out to my vehicle, I always feel as if nature has violated me. The first time I went there, my favorite pair of hiking pants were shredded by a patch of thorns. On subsequent trips, I've twisted my ankle, been devoured by chiggers, and gotten lost. So why do I keep going there? Well...red-necked phalaropes, black terns, and American avocets! For some reason, choice birds love it back there.
This weekend, it started out well. There was a nice mixed warbler flock along the entrance trail, and I flushed about 30 wood duck from the pond. I was hoping that the field would be a bit less overgrown than it had been on my last venture, back in August (when I'd gotten lost).
It wasn't. The grasses were up over my head, with the tiny track going through soon petering out completely. I struggled through as best I could, stopping long enough to admire some juvenile indigo buntings. But it got worse. The long grasses were so tangled that I literally could not push my way through. I was carrying my tripod and spotting scope, and titled off balance by the tangle around my ankles, teetered and almost fell forward...visions of shattering said (expensive) scope played through my mind.
I decided to cut through the woods instead. I burst through the grasses, wondering what was clinging to me. My arms were stuck, momentarily, to my sides, and my legs felt heavy. Burrs and stick-tights were plastered on me from head to toe. Well, at least in the woods, there'd be none of that.
No, just thorns. Spiny vines and tangles everywhere. Also spiderwebs. I think, at some point, I started muttering to myself under my breath. At any rate, an ovenbird stared at me from the foliage, twitching nervously as is their wont. At last, the ovenbird was probably thinking, an axe murderer! Just like I suspected.
When I burst out by the lake flats, I thought, "I'd better see something really good for all this suffering!" I set up my spotting scope and looked out over the water, to see, on a distant sandbar...a large gathering of killdeer. I certainly don't ever want to become a snotty "life bird or else" sort of birder, but I did not go through all of that effort for killdeer!
As I scoped them out, I noticed that the scope and I were both slowly sinking. Unlike last year, when these flats were high and dry, things were rather muddy. Before I sank up to my ankles, I moved on. Squelch, squelch, squelch. The mud was gumming up my hiking boots. I finally got close enough to the birds to make them out, including a Franklin's gull huddling in with a flock of ring bills. Hooray! There were some lesser yellowlegs and stilt sandpipers in with the killdeer as well.
I looked towards the bank, where the mud tapered off into a field of goldenrod. That looked a lot more pleasant than trying to retrace my steps. Except that the goldenrod was mixed in with lots of thorny stuff. Ouch, ouch, ouch! And covered with swarms of sweat bees. Will my sufferings never cease?
I finally burst out into...a soybean field. I didn't want to trespass, but no way was I going back there. So I picked my way along the edge of the field, stepping over piles of spent gun casings, hoping they were left over from hunting season, and not evidence of a prior birder led astray. To be honest, I only had a vague idea of where I was. The water was on one side of me, a field on the other. It's a small area in a small county, so I couldn't be that off track.
Before long, I heard the sounds of a car whizzing past. Thank the Lord, it was the road. And so I staggered out, not far from the parking area and my truck. Once again, I had survived a trip to the Evil Dead Access point, returning with a good bird, my life and my sanity intact.
So, what's the most challenging place you've ever birded?