Here in Northern Illinois we have had an unusually warm late autumn and early winter. New Year’s Eve day saw the temperature rise to around 45 degrees. As predicted, today, New Year’s Day, began with temperatures in the mid-30’s, heavy overcast, rain, and wind gusts up to 50 mph with predictions the temperature gauge would drop quickly and snow would fly.
I had penciled in a New Year’s Day bird club walk at the arboretum for this morning. The alarm rang. Oh! Do I really want to get out of bed to go looking for birds? Well, I couldn’t wimp out, could I? I was up late celebrating the passing of 2011 and welcoming 2012 and could have made an excuse that I needed the sleep. Traditionally found watching the Rose Parade on New Year’s morning, I didn’t have that as an excuse since collegiate bowl game day gets moved to Monday when New Year’s Day falls on Sunday. So after pulling on my many wind and cold-thwarting layers, off I went.
Along with the usual layers of clothing, hat, gloves, field guide and binoculars, what basic necessity should a winter birder make sure to have within easy reach? Don’t know? If you have ever been out spying on birds on a cold day, it will not be too long before you are glad you remembered this accessory. Or, you may be uncomfortable to have left it behind. Do you know what I’m talking about yet? If not, the answer is at the end of this post. In the meantime, see if you can think what it is. DON’T CHEAT! Read to the end!
Birds being most active early in the day, many walks are scheduled to step off at 7:30 a.m. in summer and 8:30 a.m. in winter. Thoughtfully, the birding club members leading this New Year’s Day walk scheduled it to begin at 10 a.m.
I found the birders’ cars at the designated spot in the arboretum parking lot. As we gathered, the clouds began to part and we enjoyed some sun. There were only 11 birders. The leaders said they expected many more. I recognized several Christmas Bird Count veterans. It made me feel good to be among the hardy, committed walkers who could face the bitter wind…“The Hawk!” Remember “The Hawk”?
We decided to drive to a part of the arboretum where the walk leaders spotted White-winged Crossbills a few days earlier. The trail would take us through some heavily forested areas where we theorized birds might take shelter on such a windy day. We never did see those crossbills, but we spied Pine Siskin, Chickadee, Canada Goose, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downey Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Gold Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Bluebird, Mourning Dove, and Red-tailed Hawk.
In this part of the arboretum, I discovered a lovely trail dense with hemlock trees near one of the lakes. Although not “magical” like the trail through the pine grove, it was enchanting hiking up that hill and I made note to walk this trail again.
The walk ended on schedule at noon and by this time my toes were beginning to chill. The sun was gone, the temperature dropped and snow was in the air. We all wished each other a Happy New Year and disbursed like so many leaves on the wind. I wondered if New Year’s Day morning 2013 would find me watching the Rose Parade or out walking the woods. What do you think?
Tomorrow will find me watching the Rose Parade in the morning, but since my favorite college football team won its bowl game on New Year’s Eve (Illinois 20, UCLA 14), I’ll take a pass on watching any other bowl games. I will go to the mall to people watch while looking for bargains. Who knows…maybe I’ll spy you there! 😉
I hope your holidays were memorable and that we’ll see each other soon in the New Year!
Q. What basic necessity should a winter birder make sure to have within easy reach?
A. tissues or a handkerchief