Saturday, October 10, 2009
Rugged and Crazy Birding
I had the entire morning to run free, so I decided to do some exploring by mountain bike in the Villa Park Flood Control Basin a couple miles from my house. Several weeks ago, while flying home from Michigan (I know, I haven't posted more about the trip... *sigh*), I noticed that the lake bed behind the dam was completely dry and filled with weeds. Interesting. Any big patch of weeds is bound to have some neat birds.
After about an hour of weaving through the labyrinths of paths through the flood control basin, I finally found my way to the edge of the dry lake bed. Literally the first bird I flushed as I began walking through the weeds was a Vesper Sparrow; this species, now rather rare in the county, was a new Bigby bird. I continued on, flushing scores and scores of Song, White-crowned, and Savannah Sparrows ahead of me.
I headed straight toward the tallest, densest vegetation in the middle of the basin. That, I thought, looks perfect for a Bobolink. Within ten minutes, I flushed a bigger, buffy bird covered in stripes - a Bobolink! Several minutes later I kicked up another Bobolink, and was able to watch both at the same time. Bobolinks are rare but annual visitors to the county; usually only one or two show up every year. Needless to say, I was very excited to find them.
Vesper Sparrow and Bobolink are both great birds. How could it get any better?! I quickly found that it could. I noticed a big, chunky sparrow with white in the wings teed up on a nearby weed stalk as I floundered through the thick vegetation, trying to scare up more sparrows. I looked at it for a few seconds, confused, until it clicked - Lark Bunting! The chunky body, thick bill, and white wing bars all fit. I was shocked; this bird is downright rare in the county. This represents something like the sixth county record. I stealthily inched closer, firing away.
Though not overly impressive looking to the uninitiated ("Just another sparrow," as my grandma would say), I was very excited to see it. I've only seen one Lark Bunting before (in Texas.) This bird confirmed my growing suspicion: the lake bed is excellent for birding. In addition to the rarities I've already mentioned, I also saw a Plumbeous Vireo and hundreds of more common sparrows.
After about two hours of wandering through the lake bed, I still felt that I hadn't covered the entire area thoroughly. It is a large area, and there are lots of birds. Anything could be out there. I'm going to try to bird there at least once a week and see what else I can turn up.