I can only assume things are getting .. if not already been.. crazy wherever you might call home. All the large events have now been canceled (including two of my scheduled races for April), schools have been shuttered, remote work has been instituted where possible and now we officially have our first confirmed case of the Coronavirus in our local area. I’ll spare you the political gamesmanship that is going on at the same time beyond the tidbit my tax evading governor of our broke state is on TV complaining that people are continuing to go outside – the horror, the horror (oh, but he still wants everyone to go out and vote on Tuesday – long live politics). Will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Lemons out of lemonade, there’s extra time to devote to the image backlog.
The queue can definitely use the extra attention now that it has been drastically inflated thanks to the discovery of the previously mentioned missing directory. Being that it is currently snowing here in the heart of Illinois, decided to take you on a virtual bird walk. There was a series of shots in the queue taken back in June of 2017 courtesy of a stroll through my favorite local state park – Jubilee College. It happens to be only a mile south of us – our woods and those of my neighbor’s all link to this park. A lot of my free time is spent there either training on hills or enjoying birding hikes on their many trails. This collection is more focused on the bird variety discovered that day than the photographic execution. Sometimes you just need to focus on the joy of being outdoors and experiencing nature leaving the stress of getting the camera and light settings mastered. Sean O’Connell said it best “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
Hit the jump to do a little virtual birding!
So, let’s go birding. The first shots you see here are of a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow. Pretty common not only in the Midwest, but the entirety of the US and down into Central America. Not the most colorful of birds, but what they lack in visual appeal they more than make up for in aerial capability. Any insects that come into their killing zones need to count their blessings if they make it through.
The Tufted Titmouses … actually I think Titmice is now accepted for the plural…. are very common in our region as well. They always make themselves welcome at our feeders and second only to the Chickadee for first dibs on refill – Unlike the Chickadees, the Titmouse will at least wait until the feeder is fully cranked back up the pole before diving in. Their clear and precise whistles carry easily through the woods.
We really only have one Hummingbird in our area and that is the Ruby-Throated. Definitely harder to spot out in the woods unless you can hear their fast chips (reminds me of the old ray gun I used to have as a kid). The good news is you will not have to spend a lot of time trying to ID it.
Often heard more than seen, the Common Yellowthroat is a fun little bird to experience. All masked up to knock off the local filling station, these birds will brighten your day with a burst of yellow among all the green vegetation. One of Ron’s superpowers is distinguishing their witchety, witchety, witchety calls at great distance.
The Eastern Bluebird is a welcome sight around here. Not only beautiful in appearance, but functional as they do a nice job of keeping the larger insects from bothering us humans. In the process of trying to contrast this specimen with the darker background I went slightly over on the purple tones – in truth these bluebirds are more blue as the name would suggest.
Sparrows here, Sparrows there, Sparrows every damn place you can imagine. Needless to say we have a good share of Chipping Sparrows. Their dark rufous crown matched with the sharp black eyeline make this an easy ID. Welcome characteristics compared to the nightmare some of the Sparrow species pose.
I do harp a lot on the difficulties sparrow’s pose, but in truth I do enjoy them. Their songs help fill the backing soundtrack to the hiker’s symphony. Always vigilant, the Chipping is always ready to alert others when a birder is nearby.
The town crier of the woods – “Hear ye, hear ye, Mr. Big Glass Birder is on the prowl”
The Cedar Waxing is another one of those masked bandits that amuse themselves by stealing berries from the tree canopy. Complete with a mask that would make Kato proud, the Cedar usually moves in groups emitting a very high pitched whistle as it investigates each tree for tasty morsels.
You can usually use their sleek profile to distinguish at distance. If you can get close enough to confirm the cleanly styled crest and the yellow tipped tail feathers you are good to go. If you look close you might even see their small rad highlights on their wings – not always visible, but something to admire if you are able.
Then again, you might accidentally agitate them and they’ll go from slender man to blowfish on ya’. This one wasn’t too keen on having The Beast pointed at it.
After a few shots it was went into punk rocker mode and started sending French taunts at me. I know when I am not appreciated and promptly went about my business. Clearly heard a “go away or I shall taunt you a second time” whistle as I departed.
Let’s see, there’s a tree. There are the leaves and there is the base of the trunk, yes, I’m standing upright, but that bird is definitely upside down. Confirming my sanity, clearly this is a Nuthatch. You’d think they would have red eyes as much time as they spend upside down. This one was probably looking for all the seeds it hid in the tree bark during the winter months.
Ah yes, the rave bird of the forest, the Indigo Bunting. So blue it appears to glow from its. Quite vocal birds these Buntings. If you hear their repeating and crisp tones always look for them in the outer branches of the trees. They have a habit of hiding in clumps of leaves (at least in our parks). Give yourself time to check various angles as the bright coloring will nail the ID if you get an unobstructed view.
Left the next shot in just because I felt bad for this specimen. It was getting mobbed by a swarm of insects. Wonder if they sell bug repellent for birds – probably not, they don’t have any pockets to carry it around in.
Then there is the Chatty Cathy of the forest. The Common Wren will talk your ear off if you give it the chance. Always opinionated, singing up a storm about how this person wronged it or that jackass stole its lunch money and heaven forbid if you come upon one that just had its favorite race canceled because of a pandemic. You will hear it first and then you will see it whipping through the underbrush hopped up on slurpee sugar. Good luck actually getting it to stand still long enough to get a shot sufficient to even tell it is a bird, much less a Wren.
The two I found that day put a serious hurt on the arm muscles, but eventually got a couple of shots of them in the tin (along with several times more of blurs and empty trees).
Another common family hanging out in the woods are the Flycatchers. Unlike the Wrens, entirely predictable. Typically they have 2 or 3 favorite perches they like to keep watch from. See a large insect brave the open space before them and see them leap into action. A few quick turns to counter the insect’s defensive maneuvers and a quick return to the starting point this time with a bill full of food.
Late on the shutter trip, no worries, just stay patient for a handful of seconds and they’ll likely give you another try. I really like how this one was partially lit by the sun’s efforts to break through the treeline. Getting the desired angle was a bit tough as any deviation from the trail tested your pain tolerance thanks to impressive briars. Eventually decided to screw it and trusted my jeans would protect me enough to get the desired shot. Briar 1, Brian ZERO. Wow, was that a bad decision – even the Flycatcher thought that was incredibly stupid – funny for sure.
Eventually gritted my teeth long enough to break through the thorn gauntlet. Safely back on the trail surveyed the array of thorns embedded in the pants and the numerous blood channels now adorning the hands. After a quick self-scolding that this trip wasn’t supposed to be about getting “the shot”, decided it had been a full day and opted to turn back to the car. The park gave me a parting gift as a Brown Thrasher came by to check out the scene. It had heard from the local Chipper that a stupid human had lost a battle with Mr. Thorny and wanted to check it out.
A fruitful day for sure. The tin was full of remembrance tokens and my heart was full of nature – the best therapy possible to make it through a stressful day. Although virtual, it still made me forget about the Coronavirus for at least a little while. Unfortunately, just looked over at the TV and saw the latest doomsday chart from the hype media complex. Hopefully you enjoyed our little hike through Jubilee. Take it easy, take common sense precautions and for god’s sake, stop stressing about toilet paper.
Oh, and happy Pi day!