Birdwatching Goes Both Ways

Clark Bridge Over the Mississippi

Lewis and Clark, Tom and Huck, Anne and I, we have all roamed along its banks. It is the Mighty Miss, the fabled Old Man River, the Mother of Waters. We’ve now lived along its banks for most of our lives. We rarely see it though. Days pass. Then, fifty degrees arrived today and we had to bust out of our own little house on the prairie. Four hours in the sun! Anne has the sunburn to show for it. Dan, unbeknownst to him, in a series of t-shirt posts, shared with us a shirt that read, “Birdwatching Goes Both Ways.” At the time, we were preparing to head to the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Before this blog, I would have never guessed that birdwatching would become an advocation for me. But this blog’s thirst for ever more photos drove me to that. What began as an avocation for me, has became a passion for Anne. “Oh look, a squirrel!”, has long been eclipsed by, “Mark, did you see that bird?”

I was surprised that the slough was almost completely iced over. It’s been cold, but I didn’t think that it had been that cold. The main channel, with its current was still clear, but all of the little ponds were also covered. The ice pushed the birds away from us. Either just sitting on the ice or keeping their diminishing ice-free holes open by swimming, they clustered together by the hundreds. There were swans, pelicans, geese and ducks of many different varieties. There were also gulls, thousands of gulls. It was fun to get out and enjoy the sun and the relative warmth that it brought. Sitting inside day-after-day had gotten old.

Mergansers

Momma Merganser and Her Ten Little Ones

I’m copying here what Anne wrote about the squirrel today: Update on the squirrel. It was calmer than it has been and we heard squirrel 🐿 noises. Couldn’t tell if it was outside the roof or not. But alas, no sign when one of us went outside. So I went up to the loft. I didn’t turn on a light, but could see light coming up from the spaces around the rafters. Checked downstairs and confirmed I was seeing the gaps in the main room. Hmm… Not long after this, I heard the squirrel again on the porch side. Was watching from the main room, and sure enough, it came out one of the rafter holes near the wall, ran across my corner quilt along the top log in the wall and went into a hole on the kitchen side. So, I’ve seen it run across the loft 4 times and once across the main room.

To this I can add that I re-baited all the traps. I had baited the two mousetraps incorrectly, putting the peanut-butter on the wrong side of the trigger that allowed the mice to lick off all the good stuff, without springing the trap. Hopefully it will work better this new way. The rat trap had been sitting idle, but I’ve put it back into the game too. It already has four mouse notches. One more and it’s an ace. That’s enough rodent reporting for one day.

We dragged the canoe down to the lake and headed around Cedar Point. We saw a Bald Eagle or two or maybe the same one twice. Got pictures too. Maybe tomorrow. We also saw a rock with thirteen mergansers on it. Not the ones pictured. By the time I got a picture of them, most had flown off, but I did capture a few skimming and splashing across the water. Great action shot!

Black Friday Getaway

American White Pelicans

Away from the malls, far from the madding crowds we went today. Anne and I took Dave and Maren to the Riverlands for some birding. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, so we took advantage of this interval of relative dryness to get outside. It was a grey day, but most of the birds that we saw were roosting and not on the wing, mitigating the day’s slowed shutter speeds. It is prime pelican season, but a little too early for eagles or swans. Our first stop was at the Audubon visitor’s center, where there were a couple of old guys running the array of spotter scopes. They had spotted a lone Bald eagle for us. Getting out and walking around we saw the pictured squadron of pelicans. We also saw a pair of Kestrels that are apparently regulars. We also saw a raft of scaups, of the lesser or greater variety and no other birds of note. Except we finally saw one Trumpeter swan. Swan is the loneliest number that you ever saw…

We ducked over to Alton, Illinois for some lunch at Just Desserts, where because life is both short and uncertain, you always order dessert first. The building where the restaurant is located is historical enough that Abe Lincoln once frequented it too. I hope that with what eventually happened to him, he also ordered dessert first. Then it was back to the Riverlands. We wanted to take Maren to the Confluence. Where the two great rivers meet at the point of Ted Jones State Park. She had even worn her rubber boots for the occasion and was prepared to plant one foot in the Mississippi and the other in the Missouri, but the road was closed due to flooding. We tried again, circling around to Columbia Bottoms, but were flooded out there too. It was then high time to head home. Passing the exit for Galleria, I noticed that traffic was backed up onto the highway. I hope that all those shoppers were having as good a time as us today.

Anastasia State Park

Anastasia State Park Gulls and Terns

We got up early, had a quick HoJo breakfast, checked out and headed across the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia State Park. Located on one of the barrier islands that protects St. Augustine, when we arrived it was not yet open. Rather than wait, we doubled back to the lighthouse, which also was not open, but at least afforded a quickie photo-op. The park was open, when we returned. It was low tide and the beach was a football field length wide. The above action shot can only begin to enumerate the multitude of water fowl that were present. A bicyclist had flushed them. He was setting up a cross-country race course for later. We also partook of the more inland waterways that the park had to offer. We saw an osprey fishing in the distance, throwing up spray with each dive, but it was comparatively dainty to the pelicans, who when performing their own version of this maneuver sounded like they were belly flopping into the water.

We next hit the road and promptly ran into Daytona 500 traffic. I think that a fair number of the racers were late for their starting times and were striving to make time up on the highway. It was a zoot city. They passed, as did Mar-a-logo and Miami. Siri threatened us with a massive accident related jam on the bridge to the keys, but by the time we arrived there was only a minor gaper block that was caused by party boat revelers on the side of the highway.

We landed on Key Largo, ready to commence our Florida vacation proper. We upgraded from last year’s motel. Its dock featured shark and barracuda, both of the baby variety, but scary enough to some of the other tourists. We did the sunset thing, but it was cloudless and uninspiring. We ate at a convenient fish house, just across the highway. The seafood was great, the sides adequate, but the crux came at dessert, key lime pie naturally. It was fantastic, but with such a statistically inadequate sample size (one), can we really state this? We need more data. Such is our mission that among the hundreds, nay thousands of the key’s lime pie purveyors, we will discover the best key lime pie. Tourists in the millions have adopted this quest, but we shall succeed. God rest my fork!