Lagopus, Latrans and Other Winter Miscellany

by Matt Fraker on January 22, 2011

Never know what you are going to find….

That’s why we do this….

5:30am. A rough awakening, having been wined and dined all night by Novartis (probably should have dined more and wined less). Sherri beat me home and she left from Oklahoma City. This is how one gets in the “bad husband” corner. I figured all of this out murkily at 5:30am. Then I stepped outdoors, and for about two seconds, the cold was refreshing; this ended quickly as I was in shorts enroute to a one hour Crossfit workout. Eight degrees is cold. Especially when you don’t realize there is a hyphen in front of the eight.

I planned on leaving straight from the Crossfit masochism to Meredith and Clinton Lake. So I packed all of my magic layers in the car first. I decided that changing at the grade school might elicit some unnecessary worry, so I stopped at the DeLand Casey’s where I was greeted as always with a great, rural midwestern smile that warms in its authenticity. I snuggled into the little restroom there and applied the layers — football players probably suit up faster.

And then….”Are you _______KIDDING me?!?” No boots. I forgot my boots in my haze. Eight degrees below zero and I am heading into a six hour field run with sweaty Nikes. Some Casey’s omelette pizza dampened the sting. I am not sure if I could have made myself look any dorkier in the outfit I was sporting (maybe if I had a University of Iowa jacket on…). But hey — this ain’t no fashion show.

Two days ago now seemed balmy. I was out at the Fraker Farm awaiting the hundreds of pounds of native seed that will at some point be going into the wetland. After unloading the truckload of golden baggage, I hiked the Farm for a full Moon jaunt from about 3:30 until 5:30pm. The highlight of the hike was relocating the Northern Saw-whet Owl. This priceless little guest has a perfect cozy corner that keeps it protected for viewing purposes.

Yesterday found me wearing a teacher’s cap. I taught four middle school classes about eye anatomy by dissecting 22 cow eyes fresh from a locker. 11 and 12 year olds revel in the dissecting abandon. They call this a middle school because it sits out in the middle of nowhere. I had to navigate a small blizzard to get out there. But then, it was time for snow blown roads and tenuous climate; this is lagopus time. Make fun of their tiny feet if you wish; these gorgeous creatures are badass. The one I found was an immature light morph. This bird demonstrates the weak wing trailing edge, the pale eye, the primary panel dorsally:

Rough-legged Hawk; McLean Co; 01/20/11

Rough-legged Hawk; McLean Co; 01/20/11

Rough-legged Hawk; McLean Co; 01/20/11

Rough-legged Hawk; McLean Co; 01/20/11

I digress…

Clinton Lake was billowing today — scoping the open water surfaces was basically impossible. I was in Nikes. Did I mention that? Clinton Lake becomes a Winter wonderland with the steamy lake coating the southern shore timbers and pines with a delicate rime. Here are the pines at Weldon:

Pines at Weldon; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

While at Weldon, I caught one of the resident Barred Owls peeking at me:

Barred Owl; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

Has anyone else noticed the Robin scene this Winter? I think I have not missed a single day this Winter without seeing or hearing an American Robin. Today’s monster Turdid gathering was on the south side. I stopped the Denali along a honeysuckle thicket where a lot of Robins and Starlings were feeding. I counted over 500 Robins flying into this area from the south including this bird:

American Robin; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

After a quick Mascoutin scouting for gulls (none) and Waxwings (none), I went rural north, quickly finding an adult light morph male Rough-legged that did the classic “fly to the section center”. I drove psycho style to try and find the bird on the other side of the section and I found another light morph adult male — a striking and glowing lightly marked bird:

Rough-legged Hawk; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

During my hunting, I encountered several flocks of Horned Larks, a couple of Snow Buntings, and many Lapland Longspurs including this pair:

Lapland Longspurs; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

My third Rough-legged Hawk was another light morph adult male but this was one of the heavily marked editions — a good comparison from the previous bird:

Rough-legged Hawk; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

Returning back to the Lake, I ducked into the West Side Access only to have a Hermit Thrush fly in front of my car. I parked and explored, and found this hardy Hermit:

Hermit Thrush; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

Getting down to the lake, there were three Coyotes out in the middle on the ice:

Coyotes on the Ice; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

Latrans and Lagopus. Bring on the chill. Even in Nikes, my feet were warm.

I then jaunted into the Peninsula Day Use Area after my last visit here which involved over 1000 Robins and myriad other birds. This place was missing the huge Robin flocks, but it was crazy birdy regardless. I had a nice flock of Siskins, Juncos, some Waxwings, mixed feeding flocks, and a bunch of Purple Finches including this striking male seen through multiple honeysuckle layers:

Purple Finch; Clinton Lake; De Witt Co; 01/21/11

Winter may be harsh at times. Despite the frigidity; the tennis shoes; the dorky attire; birds were there. They are always there.

I got back into the “Good Husband” corner tonight; family is gathered. Somewhere out there in the chill a tiny owl is taking cover on our Farm. Rough-legs are working the vast midwestern flats. Coyotes are laughing off our state’s ridiculous vermin laws. And I just want to get back out into the cold…

Home is where you find it.

Totals for the Clinton Run are below.

Location: Clinton lake
Observation date: 1/21/11
Number of species: 38

Canada Goose 3502
Mallard 103
Northern Shoveler 3
Canvasback 3
Common Goldeneye 1
Ring-necked Pheasant 8
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Rough-legged Hawk 3
American Kestrel 4
Ring-billed Gull 35
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 14
Barred Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 7
Downy Woodpecker 8
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 2
Blue Jay 18
American Crow 30
Horned Lark 180
Black-capped Chickadee 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 6
Carolina Wren 6
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 771
European Starling 108
Cedar Waxwing 16
American Tree Sparrow 75
Song Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 4
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 75
Lapland Longspur 124
Snow Bunting 2
Northern Cardinal 18
Purple Finch 8
Pine Siskin 15
American Goldfinch 8
House Sparrow 1

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