Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year, More birds


I do look forward to New Year's Day. No, I don't mean partying the night before and staying up late to watch the ball drop; those things would interfere with getting up before the dawn the following morning and going out to see some birds. Symbolically, this is a time of year for renewal and fresh starts--the solstice has passed, the days will get longer, and it's time to put the old year to rest and focus on new beginnings. Being a birder, I celebrate by starting my new year list and trying to see as many species as possible.

The new start is also a much-needed kick in the pants, to get me back outside to appreciate the small miracles all around us, even the ones that aren't all that exciting the rest of the year, like starlings and house sparrows. Otherwise, I hate winter and its cold, dark days and sloppy weather so much that I would probably hibernate until the beginning of April, which wouldn't be good for me at all. Besides, fair weather birders miss out on all the owls, finches, raptors, gulls and waterfowl that come here on winter holiday, and take off before the weather gets decent again.

So I was all set for a full day of birding. My plan was to walk around Weldon Springs, the park closest to my house, where a couple of hours in the woods and fields and along the lake usually nets me 30 or so of the usual winter suspects. Then, with a respectable start to my list, I would spend the afternoon scoping Clinton Lake, a bit farther afield, for gulls and waterfowl...and maybe finding some cute winter owls along the way. The weather report was predicting a partly sunny day with highs around 30--very reasonable for winter birding.

Alas, they left out the part about the wind, which made being anywhere near the water (or on the prairie, or in a field, or just about anywhere except deep in the woods) fairly miserable. There are birders whose stamina and dedication fills me with awe, to whom I mentally tip my cap in acknowledgement that I will never join their number. Likewise, I will never become an endurance athlete or the sort of person who hikes up Mt Everest, with or without supplemental oxygen. I know this attitude deprives me of greater glory, but I would rather appreciate the little things in life, such as having extremities that free of frostbite.

My New Year's birding was, therefore, somewhat abbreviated, as I got chilled to the bone shortly after arriving at the park, and didn't warm up again until I was snug in bed again that night. Chattering teeth and shivering limbs do tend to scare the birds away, as does my whining about the cold.

Even so, I did manage to get in a few good birds, including:

* Two golden-crowned kinglets squabbling with each other, hanging out in a mixed flock of black-capped chickadees and titmice
* Eastern bluebirds--I don't care how many times I see them, they are one of my favorites each and every time.
* Ditto northern cardinals.
* Ditto cedar waxwings.
* Ditto pied-billed grebes.
* At the spot along the IL 48 bridge over Clinton Lake, where hooded and common mergansers usually winter, there were also a dozen or so Bonaparte's gulls--the first time I've seen them here in January.
* A disgruntled-looking great blue heron, hunched up and scowling into the water
* And BEST OF ALL, a pair of northern saw-whet owls, located with the help of my birding buddy, Ben. If I could just keep the owls coming, winter probably wouldn't be so bad.

Happy New Year!