|Emiquon, IL River Valley|
I've been to this area to look for life birds so many times over the last couple of years that it's practically my home away from home, so I arrived a bit early in order to do a spot of birding before class began. It didn't feel like October, that's for certain. As I wandered around the boardwalk area, the heat and humidity made me wonder if I'd accidentally ended up in Florida instead.
Well, not really--in Florida, I'd be expecting some exciting new birds, and fall migration has been rather low-key for me this year. I guess I saw too many species in the spring and summer--not that I'm complaining! But since I wasn't expecting anything new, I left my camera and spotting scope in my truck and simply wandered with my binoculars.
|blue-winged teal...beautiful, but not exciting|
This is exactly what happened to me. Lulled by the predictable flocks of early fall waterfowl, I wasn't even thinking about the chance of a rarity. Maybe I was hoping, just a little bitty bit, that a new (to me) sparrow might pop out of the reeds, but ibis was the last thing on my mind. Still, there's no mistaking an ibis when you see one. That long, decurved bill, and that ancient Egyptian profile. Seeing the ibis made me feel, momentarily, that I'd somehow traveled far out of my way indeed.
So I knew they were dark ibis, and in the fall these are one of those mission-impossible ID challenges, like non-singing drab flycatchers or second-year gulls. Should I keep looking through my bins, or hope they stayed in place long enough for me to grab my scope and camera? I decided to go with the latter, even if the trip to the parking lot and back made me late for class (priorities, right?). And just as I rounded the bend again, staggering under the weight of all my gear (yes, I am out of shape...I'll admit it), the ibis all flew off. I drove the wetland loop a couple of times hoping to relocate them, but time was running short.
Luckily, our class in the archaeological record of the native peoples of Illinois was interesting enough that I could almost forget about the ibis. If you're ever in central Illinois, I do recommend the Dickson Mounds Museum...and it's free! Finally, in the evening, we all returned to the wetland observatory for a lesson in duck identification, and I set up my spotting scope so everyone could see the beauty of wood ducks, American white pelicans, coots and teal, plus a surprise snowy egret, up close and personal.
|one white pelican with many coots|
Then another birder showed up and the touchy-feely moment was over. As everyone else headed off for dinner, we looked for ibis. We saw some snipe, pied-billed grebes, and a horned grebe, and an ibis fly-by, but still not a good look. After some consultation with my field guide, I had decided on white-faced ibis, as there appeared to be no markings at all on their faces (as to be expected at this time of year), and that species is statistically more likely for Illinois.
Eventually, it was time to turn in (after some fun with astronomy), and some people were camping, and others were staying at a B&B. To be honest, I hate camping. Maybe as a self-proclaimed "nature girl," I shouldn't admit this...but I really like a nice, cozy bed and hot running water. I also hate spending money, so this was a dilemma. Originally, my husband had planned to join us, but at the last minute, he didn't want to leave our dogs alone for the first time since we've adopted them. (And who can blame him? Look at this piteous little face):
|"How could you leave me alone all night??"|
I woke up at some point on the wrong side of midnight. There were some stars, but a lot more light pollution from Peoria than I had expected, giving a milky wash to the horizons. Barred owls were hooting. A dog was barking, somewhere distant. A mosquito (in October! This is so wrong!) was whining, altogether too near. At first I thought it must have rained, but no...my sleeping bag was just wet with dew. You know, that stuff that makes your shoes wet in the morning, and films over your windshield? Yeah, all over me....
For a while, I tossed and turned, thinking those weird middle of the night thoughts. Like, how weird is it to think of sleeping out in the open? Because of all the naturalists around me, I wasn't worried about human predators. But what happened to all the others? (Answer: extirpated.) At least up North, where my parents live, there are still bears, and wolves. Not here. In Illinois, I am the Top Mammal, sleeping undisturbed (save by mosquitoes.)
Then it was morning. We studied wetlands, and I was tired and crabby. On the far side of forty, the body is not as forgiving of these sorts of experiences! Luckily, we were all on the far side of forty, so I was not alone in deciding to call it a day around two o'clock in the afternoon. Once home, I triumphantly logged my ibis onto Cornell's ebird database.
The birding expert must have dashed off his reply immediately: Did I see the eyes of the ibis? According to Ken Kaufman's advanced birding guide, unless I saw the eye color, there is no way to decide glossy or white-faced. More recently, a response on the Illinois Birder's Forum has been more ambiguous still--Fall ibis? No way to know!
My Illinois State List still has "white-faced ibis" as the latest entry. Should I change it? Is it dishonest to go by my "impression," and statistics? Probably. And I promise I will modify my list...next spring, when I have a better ibis sighting, one way or the other....
So...does anyone else have a bird on their Life (or Other) Lists they're not really 100% about? Anyone else hate (or love) camping?