Friday, January 25, 2013

January 16: Morton Arboretum and a driving day

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow at the Morton Arboretum

In 1975, when I was a brand new birder, soon after I saw my first chickadee, my husband and I visited the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. That’s where I saw my very first crow and Canada Goose, which brought my life list up to seven. Later that same year I added my lifer Brown Creeper at the arboretum, and the next spring I saw my lifer Orchard Oriole there, so I have very happy memories of the place.

This week I was in Aurora, Illinois, visiting relatives as I wend my way toward Florida, and on my way out of town I couldn’t help but stop at the Morton Arboretum for a little walk. I could only spend a couple of hours there, but since I’m doing a Conservation Big Year, it seemed important to highlight this place that works so hard to preserve the trees that birds need. I walked through the beautiful elm exhibit, which seemed especially poignant since one of my favorite birds, the Baltimore Oriole, was once so associated with elms. This being winter, there were no orioles to be found, but hundreds of robins and at least a dozen Cedar Waxwings provided ample evidence of the value of fruit trees for birds. The temperature didn’t get much above 15 degrees and it was very windy, but cold isn’t a deterrent for these birds as long as they have enough food.

The other most abundant bird at the Morton Arboretum on my short walk was the Canada Goose. On Russ’s and my first visit there in March 1975, people in the visitor center told me how thrilled they were because a pair of geese had nested there the previous year. They said a local rehabber had released a permanently flightless goose in an arboretum pond where the water stayed open all winter, and he or she managed to attract a mate. Come spring, the flighted goose probably wanted to take off for parts unknown, but geese are exceptionally loyal and committed to their mates, so the pair made the best of things, raising their young at the arboretum. Because they couldn’t migrate together, they didn’t teach their young to migrate. Year after year, they raised more young, some moved on with their new partners while others remained at the arboretum, having found partners willing to be non-migratory, and the population grew. Geese happen to be one of the few bird species that graze on and can digest grasses, and manicured lawns provide not just food but wonderfully safe places to bring goslings, where any lurking predators are easily seen. And geese are such sociable birds that wild migratory geese started joining urban groups, learning to relish the same amenities. It’s hard for people younger than me to realize that urban geese are a relatively new phenomenon, but this is how geese populated urban parks throughout the country. Even though Canada Geese are proof that there can be too much of a good thing, I was very happy to see them at the Morton Arboretum, where I’d first discovered them.

Few birds were out in the open in the cold, but one brave Song Sparrow popped up briefly, it’s feathers completely puffed up to provide insulation. The biting wind quickly sent him back into thick vegetation, and my own shivering made it easier to return to my own sheltering car and the long drive ahead.  I’d added a few new birds for the year, and more importantly, had reconnected with one of the wonderful places that gave me so many treasured experiences.

I'm up to 66 for the year. I added:

  1. Eastern Bluebird
  2. Cedar Waxwing
  3. Song Sparrow


  1. I love that photo! The bird blends so well with the background colors and yet stands out beautifully. Pretty bokeh background, too.

  2. I love listening to the sweet song of the song sparrow. Congrats on the new lifers! You are doing great on your count.