Spring Diary: Chapter 1

March 31

The calendar says that Spring begins March 21st, but for all practical purposes, such as planting a garden, playing golf or outdoor tennis, you really need to wait another month.  The rush of migratory birds also doesn’t begin to arrive until late April through Memorial day.  But I am restless and anxious to take my binoculars and get outside.  Like a farmer spending the winter poring over the seed catalog in anticipation of spring, I have spent portions of the winter listening to bird tapes to hone my birdwatching skills for the upcoming migration.  I have popped my CD of Easter and Central Birds of North America into the car CD player, nestled alongside the CDs of my children.  And amidst the umpteenth trip to soccer practice listening to lurid and probably misogynist rap songs, my bird CD queues up and suddenly out comes the startled loud quack of some obscure duck.  My daughter is horrified and rolls her eyes.  But after many hours in the car I feel primed and ready.

My first walk takes me along the south edge of the Open Lands at Melody Farms, across the Skokie ditch and into the Middlefork Preserve and a little loop around a pond and then back.  A walk of no more than an hour at a very slow pace, but one that seems to encompass a variety of habitats, from an oak grove to an open grasslands, wetlands, a pond and a small trees and bushes.  I do not see too much on this blustery day, but do stop and dwell on our year round birds such as goldfinches, sparrows and cardinals.   I also spot a muskrat doggedly paddling across the pond, and a tawny woodchuck disappearing into a rotten log.  Along the shore, I notice dozens of turtles, presumably trying to shake off the torpor of winter, and gearing themselves up for the task of mating.  I presume that these are all painted turtles, but just as I try and puzzle through the subtleties of different warblers, I wonder if herpetologists are seeing many different species along the shore and hoping to see the endangered Blanding’s turtle.   Spring must be a heady time for herpetologists too and I wonder if  “to go herping” is established jargon, similar to going “birding.”

As I walk back to the car, I notice the hum of traffic to the south of me, the chugging of a train to the west, and above me a large airplane lumbers to O’Hare.  And to the east and behind me, the open space is lined by oversized houses that look as if they could accommodate a mid-sized embassy.  And yet, here is a small sliver of wild habitat which will soon accommodate a teeming wildlife.  I feel fortunate to be in a community that has such a commitment to preserving their Open Lands.  I resolve to take this same loop of walk every day, or as much as possible to record the oncoming spring.     

 Birds Seen:



White Throated Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Song Sparrow

American Goldfinch

Red Winged Blackbird


Canada Goose

White Throated Nuthatch

American Tree Sparrow


April 5th

Blue winged teals have also arrived, and I am fortunate to see one in flight, which is the only way you can see the trademark blue, since the blue wings are folded neatly out of sight when paddling on the pond.  It is a lovely pale blue accented by a stripe of handsome green.  There are also several mallards calmly paddling around, and without the distraction of other birds, I spend a few moments appreciating their familiar, but nonetheless stunning beauty, which is too easy to take for granted.  Their brilliant green head flashes its iridescence as they turn their heads in the sun, and their bodies, which I might have once dismissed as a muddy brown, now appear as a very lovely creamy mocha and gray.  I have more of a problem trying to drum up appreciation for the Canada Geese.  I think of these birds as the suburban version of jumbo city pigeons, as they increasingly parade around our open fields and soccer fields.  My daughter is apoplectic at the thought of heading a soccer ball that been rolling around in goose poop.  They can also be fairly aggressive with young in tow, and at times that have reminded me of the those creepy flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.  But the truth is that we have basically laid out a big green welcome mat for these opportunistic birds.  


New Birds Seen:

Blue Winged Teal

American Crow


April 7th

These past few days have included a mixture of both warm balmy days suggestive of spring and a few extremely cold days, more reminiscent of November.  My tally of new birds is still limited with the exception of a pair of Great Horned Owls.  As I walk through an oak grove, I suddenly become aware of two rather large shapes and lifting up the binoculars I come face to face with the penetrating eyes of these large and impressive owls.  The owl looks at me briefly and then casually dismisses me and takes off.  And though there are few migrants, I feel a sense of anticipation in the air.  The resident birds seem to be more relaxed now that the gritty survival of winter is over.  The Goldfinches sing enthusiastically and bound through the air and I spot one in mid molt, with the bright yellow summer colors replacing the drabber winter brown.  The trees are budding and while there are few leaves, I can sense the impending green and spot several ripening cottonwoods that will soon be adorned with Baltimore Orioles.  I feel the same sort of anticipation and queasy anxiety as the hostess of a party.  Busy with preparations and planning before the party, there is the moment of calm when everything is organized, the table is set, the hors d’oeuvres are just coming out of oven, the ice is in the ice bucket, and yet nobody has yet arrived.  What if all the guests have forgotten to come or simply choose not to?  Clearly, I can take no credit for the tipping of the earth, the warming of the sun, and the laying of the feast, but I would like to be thought of as a thoughtful and gracious host nonetheless – and I hope that the migrating birds will feel welcome in this patch of open lands. 


New Birds Seen;

Great Horned Owl


April 9th

A couple of new migrants have arrived – Tree Swallows and Ruby Crowned Kinglets.  It is extremely tempting to give birds human characteristics.  For example, the Ruby Crowned Kinglets are often described as nervous as they flit from branch to branch.  Tree Swallows swoop and dart over the pond and at first look like playful enthusiasts having the time of their life.  But after a few close mid-air collisions, I begin to think that they are reckless adrenaline junkies.   As I progress along the pond, I become aware of flitting to my right and as I scan the bush, I see one, then two, then three birds, and I realize that I have stumbled across a flock of Cedar Waxwings.  Now anyone wanting to assign human characteristics can have a field day with Cedar Waxwings.  These fairly large sleek birds are impeccably tailored, with subtle hues of browns, greys and yellow.  At the tips of their tail and wing is a brilliant streak of red and yellow, respectively.  These accents are like a handkerchief neatly poking out of the pocket of an exquisitely tailored Saville Row bespoke suit.  The waxwings sit upright on the branch with perfect posture, and  calmly survey their surroundings with the utmost confidence.  The combination of good looks and confidence is quite appealing in any animal, including the human male and the only disappointment is the thin reedy twitter of the Waxwing – not the expected deep baritone.  The song is a weak “psst”, sort of like a feeble substitute teacher trying to get her students to quiet down. 

New Birds Seen:

Brown Creeper

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Tree Swallow

Cedar Waxwing


Pictures courtesy of Allen Siegle

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