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Naturalist Notebook

Reviews and journal entries inspired by nature in West Central Illinois.
The Early Birds

The Early Birds


Just about this time every winter, subtle changes begin to occur in the natural world. There still may be snow on the ground and in the air but that doesn't seem to affect the invisible clocks of the creatures around us.

Every morning as winter gradually lessons it's grip, these changes become more noticeable to me. On this late February day, I immediately heard the noisy chatter of blackbirds as I stepped outside. This is a distinctive change from previously quiet mornings. Sure enough down near the creek a large flock of blackbirds could be seen in the honey locusts. I spotted a few red-winged blackbirds a distance away. Their cackles are the harbinger of spring to me as much as the robin. This chatter is a comfort to me and reminds me of childhood days spent outside in the spring.

Hundreds of European Starlings are also evident in the countryside now. They fly in organized shapes across the fields, swirling and spinning like a twister. Each year it seems these groups are getting larger and blackening the skies as they fly over.

Another bird I can hear now but have not seen yet is the Meadowlark. The song of the Meadowlark also takes me back in time to the once open meadows and fields surrounding my childhood home. It is a lover of the prairies and fields and there is plenty of space here for it to exist. I am never sure about which species lives here but it's songs are always a delight. It is also a fairly large bird with beautiful yellow plumage accented by black markings.

Overhead is the constant cackling of geese flying north in large groups. Both the Snow and Canada Goose fly together in these groups.

Every year is different of course as to the timing of the return of spring and summer birds but I have observed that it is pretty consistent as to the species that return every year. There may be less of some of them as the years go on but sometimes new ones appear or at least get my attention.

In 2006, I witnessed an extraordinary bird I had never seen in Illinois before. On a sunny warm April morning the bird chatter was louder than usual. Upon investigating what was happening I saw a small flock of black birds with distinctly yellow plumage on their heads. As I approached the birds, they got louder and seem disturbed by me but did not fly off. I had brought by bird book out with me to look them up and figured out they were Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. They are found in Illinois but not as common as they once were. This was probably a flock migrating through and had used my property as a resting place. The year before there were no humans occupying it so they were no doubt upset by my presence. I am honored that they stayed long enough for me to observe them. I have not seen them since that time.

So every year as the ground thaws and the air begins to warm, I pay close attention to the changes around me hoping to catch a glimpse of something wonderful. I consider these daily observations into nature's character a privilege and a delight that will never grow old.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist – February 2018

Today's post was written by Rose Moore. Rose is a Certified Master Naturalist serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. She enjoys exploring the natural world around her and recording the experiences in art and writing.

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