By Dave Coulter
The sun broke today luring me out for a walk. I thought I would hike over to get a closer look at the Des Plaines River, currently up in the floodplain. I had good intentions, but I never made it out of my minor detour through Austin Gardens - where there was quite a show going on in the tree tops.
Austin Gardens is a little green gem, and any aspiring park planner would enjoy it's mix of open space and mature trees, walkways and wildflowers. Actually, it was for those wildflowers that I made my turn into the park. I was hoping to see some color there, almost the moment I walked through the gate I noticed a little Brown Creeper working it's way up a tree tree trunk.
I already had my camera out, ready for flowers, but I took the hint and unpacked my binoculars instead and started scanning the tree tops. We're right on the front edge of the spring bird migration, so I thought I might get lucky and see some avian travelers. I was lucky indeed.
Brown Creepers are enigmatic little birds, and I haven't seen very many in my birding career. Today there were a handful of them flitting around from trunk to trunk, probing the bark for food. I was able to get some good long looks at them, and they didn't seem too wary - a couple of them landed on a Hackberry about 10 feet away, seemingly oblivious to my presence.
Other amazing avian sights included a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -a stocky looking woodpecker- that was exploring some high-up old linear rows of holes that may have been drilled by an ancestor. The photographer in me pined for a telephoto lens as a male and female Cardinal rested on a sunlit branch. I've seen many Cardinals in my life, but I never miss a chance to enjoy the subtle hues of the female - especially in full sunlight.
The best was still to come. I spotted my first (ever!) Golden-crowned Kinglet a tiny little bird sporting yellow streaks that I initially thought was a warbler. This bird, however, had the good manners to stay put so I could get a good long look at him. This alone would have made for a really fine birding morning but then I saw the nest.
When I first walked in I noticed what looked like a squirrel nest high up on the north end of the park - but it looked more twiggy than leafy, and I thought it could be a hawk nest. I eventually got back around to give it a closer look, and sure enough, there was a raptor-y occupant on the nest. I had to back up a ways into the park to try and get a lower and better angle.
I can't be sure, but it seemed to me to be something like a Cooper's Hawk - which I have seen around town over the years. A couple of families of cyclists stopped to enjoy the distant and limited view of the presumed new hawk mom through the field glasses. Once again I longed for a telephoto lens - it's so nice when a bird stays still like that.
A visit to Austin Gardens would not be complete without a mention of the numerous and many squirrels that live there. Like the humans they too were out in number, foraging through the old leaves. Did I say they were numerous and many? One had the courtesy to bask in the sun long enough for me to get a snapshot - which is more than I can say for that flighty Kinglet. Perhaps he remembers me from one of the numerous and many Holiday Nut Tosses?
Anyway, it's why I'll often crown squirrels as Honorary Birds. They may not have wings but they're closer to the heavens than I am.