My family’s young birders have pretty much outgrown our neighborhood. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the uncommon birds that sometimes visit close to home — it’s just that uncommon birds are, well, uncommon, at least in our neighborhood.
So, Aaron scans the Midwest birding lists several times a day, trying to decide where he wants to go on our next day off. He makes ambitious plans, which sometimes change at the last minute. That’s what happened on Monday, an Institute Day (when the teachers went to meetings, and the kids stayed home). The Gray-crowned Rosy Finch that was being seen at a feeder in southwest Wisconsin had not been seen in a week. So, we abandoned our plans to try for that unlikely lifer and worked on our year lists instead. That meant a trip to the Lake Michigan shoreline in Lake County, Illinois, in search of uncommon ducks and gulls. (It was just Aaron and me this time, since Ethan was feeling ill.)
We made several stops, visiting Waukegan Harbor, Lyons Woods, Illinois Beach State Park, Hosah Park, and North Point Marina. Year birds for both of us included a Long-tailed Duck at Waukegan Harbor and several Lesser Black-backed Gulls at North Point Marina. Aaron also saw a Thayer’s Gull in flight at the Marina while I was trying not to slip on the ice. We also saw a Glaucous Gull, lots of Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, and a few Bufflehead, plus we heard some White-winged Crossbills at Lyon’s Woods. Those are all beautiful birds, but not as exciting as they might have been, since we had seen them earlier this year. We ended the day with my 2009 list at 73 species and Aaron’s at 78.
We saw Common Mergansers at Columbus Park lagoon last spring, and we are still hoping to see Crossbills in our neighborhood this winter. But the other species from this trip just aren’t neighborhood birds. We are long past the days when Aaron would watch our back-yard feeders for an hour, saying, “This is better than television!” I should be grateful that the boys watch from our front porch during spring migration, when we can get 10 or more warbler species in our elms.
When Aaron and Ethan were in elementary school, I could make our urbanized neighborhood into an interesting place. I could “salt the sandbox” with small fossils and polished stones, install flat rocks in the front garden as hiding places for bugs, put a sandbox with running water on the back deck, and dig holes in the back garden for them to play in. Now it takes a rare bird or a spectacular natural event to get their attention focused locally.
However, I’m still fascinated by the nature in our neighborhood. It seems unlikely that there is so much of it and that it’s still so new and mysterious to me, even after living here for 17 years. While Aaron and I were exploring the shores of Lake Michigan, my thoughts kept drifting back to what I might be missing in our yard or local parks. Did the Blue Jays visit our feeders while we were gone? Was I missing a flock of Crossbills in a neighborhood spruce? And where does the Columbus Park Merlin hang out when it’s not in Columbus Park?
That’s why I started this blog.