Friday - my last official day of spring break (of course I still have the weekend!). I have had the most wonderful spring break ever! Every single day has been such a pleasure. The grand finale was my sunrise trip to Lake Hope Friday morning. Phil took a vacation day Friday, so he was able to stay home with Julia while I went birding. I missed my little stroller ridin' nature partner, but she got to spend quality time with her Daddy!
I unnecessarily set my alarm for 5:30am. I didn't need an obnoxious beep to tell me it was time to bird!! I was already awake and eager to go! I got a quick bath, loaded the car, and was on the road by 6:30am while it was still very much dark with not even a hint of dawn. I loved the drive to Lake Hope! I felt so free and in such good spirits. I rolled the car window down and let the 65 degree morning air rush around me. I fiddled with the radio for a few minutes while munching on my granola bar, but quickly decided I would "bird by ear" from the car instead of listening to music. I like to challenge myself to see how many birds I can identify while rushing by them at 45 mph. Yes, I did say "45 mph". You might be wondering why I travel route 278 at such a low speed, ten miles below the speed limit actually. Well, that's just my style. I drive slow. I hate driving fast. I like to go slow, look at things, think, relax, meditate, and take it all in. Driving fast requires an unnecessary increase in concentration with leads to elevated blood pressure and heart-rate, which leads to nervousness and anxiety. I hate all that stuff. I like things peaceful, calm, and zenful. In fact, I am so against fast driving that I will actually pull over and let someone pass me if they seem to be in a hurry. I do understand the frustration of being behind a slow driver, so I try to keep others from enduring my quirks. I get real annoyed when I am behind a 35 mph driver when I am trying to go 40 mph for example. But I digress.
I had two main locations in mind at Lake Hope: the schoolhouse and the wetlands. Both spots hold a special place in my nature heart. My friend Lisa took me to those locations a few years ago while I was still brand new to birding. I learned a lot from her that summer and have fond memories of my first year in the field.
I arrived at the schoolhouse while it was still dark. I parked my car, turned off the ignition, and just sat listening. I decided that I would gather my gear, and even though it was dark, would venture out to see what I could hear. Already there were eastern towhees singing like crazy. I could hear several tufted titmice, carolina chickadees, carolina wrens, and of course, american robins. A warm glow began to spread over the eastern sky and the landscape began to change right before my eyes. Dew drops of diamonds appeared on the flora and the low lying fog gave the landscape an ethereal fairytale-like setting.
|sunrise at Lake Hope State Park|
As I walked along the path parallel to Raccoon Creek, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscape. I found myself wondering why I have wasted so many years of sleeping-in when I could have been up before the sun. Oh well, no matter to the past -- it is time to live in the here and now. So off I went, walking along slowly, listening to the birds greet the day, smelling the damp earth, and knowing that beauty abounds.
|hundreds of little spider webs. I've seen these a lot this spring. I wish I had more information about them. Does anyone know what they are? What kind of spider?|
My first "big deal" of the day was hearing wild turkeys gobbling off in the distance. I've seen wild turkeys plenty of times, but I've never heard them calling. How lucky! I increased my pace and excitement filled me as I went straight ahead following the sound of their call. I probably covered about 100 yards of path before realizing that the turkeys were very far away and seemed to be moving away from me. I knew the point was moot and I needed to give up the chase. That was fine by me, I was happy just having the experience of listening to them!
I decided to walk just a little farther before turning around and heading back to the car. By this time the sun was well above the horizon and I wanted to arrive at the wetlands before the dawn chorus was over. The wetlands (by the way - I don't really know what the area is called, it is just a big swampy watery place that looks like 'wetlands' to me!) were alive with activity! Some of the activity was not pleasant. The first thing I noticed was that the air was thick with tiny black flying insects. Gnat-like things that buzzed and wouldn't get out of the way. I swatted at them and shooed them, all in vain as the entire sky seemed to be thick with a blanket of black bugs. Thankfully, it didn't last long and I eventually passed through them.
This year, I have made a vow to increase my knowledge of water birds. I am terrible when it comes to identifying them. So, I was a little disappointed to find that there weren't many water birds willing to help me out. At first, all I saw on the water was canada geese. Big deal, right? But then, I noticed wood ducks!!! And that IS a big deal! At least to me. Wood ducks are common and easy to find, but they are SO BEAUTIFUL!! I was happy to find them and to be able to get a photo.
|male and female wood ducks|
|female red-winged blackbird. She looks nothing like her male counterpart. Red-wings nest very close to the ground amongst cattails and other grasses.|
Next, I saw my "first of season" tree swallow! I just adore tree swallows. They are absolutely gorgeous and so fun to watch. They fly like fancy stunt pilots at an airshow. Diving, twisting, and spiraling.... all for the amusement of us humans! No, not really - actually, they are hunting insects and capturing them in mid-flight.
My next "big deal" came when I spotted a whole flock of yellow-rumped warblers! They were everywhere and so cooperative! At first I was confused because many of them looked fluffy and downy, like baby birds. I knew that they couldn't be babies. I didn't understand. But later, after returning home, and doing a little research, I discovered that they are in the middle of spring molt (changing their plumage), so the new feathers probably look fluffy and downy-like.
|no wonder they are called "YELLOW-RUMPED warblers" ...my field guide says they are nicknamed "butter-butts!" ha!|
Next, I saw a belted kingfisher. They are sassy little birds! I love 'em! First of all, they wear their blue hair in a mohawk-style like a rockstar! And, if that isn't enough, they make a loud machine-gun type racket every time they fly from their perch. They swoop down over the water, trying to snag an unsuspecting fish or frog, all the while, rattlin' their little blue heads off! What fun!
Flycatchers are hard for me. There are several in our area, and unless I can hear them, I usually have a lot of difficulty identifying them. This little guy is probably an eastern phoebe. But I never heard him and if someone were to tell me different, I wouldn't be surprised.
My time is nature is precious to me. I don't take it for granted.
1. song sparrow
2. white-throated sparrow
3. turkey vulture
4. eastern phoebe
5. tufted titmouse
6. carolina wren
7. carolina chickadee
8. northern cardinal
9. mourning dove
10. american robin
11. red-shouldered hawk
12. american crow
13. belted kingfisher
14. yellow-rumped warbler
15. red-tailed hawk
16. pileated woodpecker
17. red-bellied woodpecker
19. canada goose
20. red-winged blackbird
21. wood duck
22. tree swallow
23. brown thrasher
24. northern mockingbird
25. common grackle
26. blue jay
27. eastern bluebird
28. eastern towhee
29. field sparrow
30. chipping sparrow
31. wild turkey