Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mid-Winter Outing

Last Friday we decided that it was time for a mid-winter outing (hoping that winter is really half over is a tricky business, of course) and went on our annual trip over to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. Champaign-Urbana is actually closer to a couple of state parks in Indiana (an hour away) than most of the state parks in Illinois, which tend to be in the southern or northern parts of the state.

Turkey Run is a pretty park with lots of ravines and trails through the woods. In prior years (and warmer weather), we've enjoyed hiking and identifying wildflowers, ferns, and birds on the trails. This time of year the draw is to the Turkey Run Nature Center. They have a bird viewing room. Inside, the room is quite comfortable and cozy, furnished with couches and bird identification pictures on the walls. The floor-to-ceiling window is one-way glass -- so the people can see the birds without the birds seeing the people. There is a microphone on the outside that brings in the sounds as well. Outside, the staff has done a wonderful job of enticing our feathered friends to come on by -- even on a cold and snowy day. There are hanging feeders and tables and houses and suet cages and sunflower seeds and corn on rocks and logs. There is running water as well.

We saw quite a marvelous array of familiar birds that afternoon. Early on, there were lots and lots of charming, tiny goldfinches. They don't have the bright yellow color this time of year, being more of an olive green, but the white stripes on their wings are still very noticeable. They left later on in the day, but there were a lot of them. They are small, about the size of the chickadees.

Speaking of chickadees, I always love to watch them. They are tiny and sort of round and chubby looking -- real cuties with their black caps and their rapid movements. Another big favorite of mine is the nuthatch. They are beautifully marked birds with a long dark stripe along the head. They're able to walk backward up a tree or log like the brown creepers do. And they love to eat suet, competing with all the woodpeckers at the Nature Center. When they take a sunflower seed in their long thin beaks, they fly to a log, insert it, and break open the shell by pecking like the woodpeckers do.

Woodpeckers were in abundance that afternoon as well. What a treat! We saw the small black and white cute guys, the downy woodpeckers, and the large red-bellied birds with orange-red heads and necks (males) or just necks (females) and the patterned black and white backs like herringbone tweed coats. And the red-headed woodpeckers were there too with their totally ruby red heads and solid black and solid white body colors. They are a bit smaller than the red-bellied ones and so lovely.

The winter usually brings the snowbirds from up north, the juncos, and this year was no exception. These are cute little birds with slate gray tops and white bottoms. They like to feed mostly on the ground, grabbing corn and sunflower seeds off the big boulders beside the running water.

Tufted titmice were around too. They don't seem to be as shy as some other birds and come very close up to the glass to get their sunflower seeds. They have a little bit of a crest like the cardinals. The cardinals are really gloriously red against the snow, and there were quite a number of them there early in the afternoon.

Blue jays came through from time to time and a squirrel was there for a while, feasting on the sunflowers. As the afternoon wore on, there were more and more of the common house sparrow (or English sparrow) we are all familiar with at backyard feeders. I also saw a few purple finches at one point. For a while, a Carolina wren showed up, enjoying suet as well as seed. This is a tiny round bird with lovely brown coloring and a white eye stripe. This bird loves to flit around and hold its tail bent upwards. What a sweetie!

When it got late (and colder) and the Nature Center was closing soon, we decided to head back toward home. But we stopped in Attica to have a nice meal at the Attica Hotel dining room. Originally named the Revere House, the hotel was built in 1853 and has been nicely restored. There are several lovely dining rooms with a very pleasant atmosphere.

It was an uneventful trip back in the dark and the five cats were eagerly waiting for their evening feeding when we returned. A successful mid-winter outing and a good time was had by all!

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