Thursday, December 27, 2007

Messenger Woods and ILBirds

Yesterday, I headed out to Messenger Woods with my new digiscope setup. It's a really nice forest and nature preserve. The trails are rustic (ie. not paved) but easy to navigate, even with the heavy leaf and mud/ice cover combo we've got going on around here. There are 2 main trails - a mile and a half south loop, and a half mile north loop on the north side of Spring Creek. I walked the entire south loop, and part of the north loop, though the trail didn't look as clearly visible past the creek, so I didn't venture up that way. I hear that there is a red shouldered hawk that nests on private property north of the preserve grounds. That would be a life bird sighting to check off on my list, should I ever find it.

The trails were quiet but there were other people at the park. A father and son sounded like they were identifying trees on the west side of the trail while I was on the east side. Several people were in the parking lot as well. I was almost through the south loop when I came across a man walking his dog, Buck. We chatted for a bit and he asked if I had seen the white deer. I said I hadn't, and he told me that there is an albino deer near the front/south part of the woods that has lived there for a few years. That definitely gives me reason to go back!

I didn't find many birds - only a few woodpeckers, and I was too slow getting my gear set up to get any photos. I've learned one thing very quickly with this digiscope: I should have followed the advice in all of my photography books and invested in a good tripod. My uncle said the same thing - one of the first things he suggested I invest in. Well, photography is an expensive hobby with a pretty high entry point as it is (in terms of initial investment required), so I skimped on the tripod and got the $35 variety. (An entry level "good" tripod is around $200). I'm having a very hard time locating birds in the scope with this tripod because the head is a 3-way pan head, not an any-way ball head. I can move left-right or up-down, or can tilt the camera sideways (which is useless if it's a scope on your tripod and not a camera). Following birds or even scanning a tree to find them is very difficult when you can't pan around the tree freestyle. I have to scan left to right, then move down a bit, and scan left to right again. Plus, the motion of this pan head is anything but fluid. It's jerky and resistant even with the tension completely disabled. Oh wise ones, you were very right about investing in a good tripod. I see the err of my ways.

I carried the digiscope setup mounted to the tripod over my shoulder, and had my camera backpack on my back and my binoculars around my neck. I should have had my camera around my neck too, though it's pretty heavy with the 300mm lens attached and likely would have been uncomfortable. I had my smaller camera attached to the spotting scope, but since my dSLR camera was in the backpack, I didn't use it either (not wanting to put the backpack down in the mud to get the camera out).

Learned some lessons... get the scope set up on the tripod BEFORE heading into the woods, lest ye miss a golden opportunity to catch a bird photo while noisily trying to set the gear up. Keep the camera handy, even if it is uncomfortable to carry around the neck.

It was a lovely afternoon, though - even if I didn't get any photos - 47 degrees and sunny. The sun was a bit annoying, as the one chance I had to get some woodpecker shots, I was looking into the direction of the sun - but we haven't seen the sun in a while so I couldn't find it in me to complain.

The bird feeders are still pretty quiet. A few finches and juncos are out there, and a couple mourning doves have stopped by, but nowhere near the mobs I've been used to with the rather early arrival of winter weather this year. Tomorrow, more snow is headed our way - up to 7 inches, early forecasts say - and the temperature is supposed to tumble to arctic lows for the new year before popping back up to more mild numbers. I'm already looking forward to the mild!

I found a discussion group online of Illinois birders called ILBirds. I joined it and posted an introduction along with the photos of my common redpoll visitors, and have received a wonderful response! Many people have suggested places to go birding in the area, and I was invited to join the DuPage birding club on Jan 6th on a field trip, birding several locations starting in Bolingbrook. I'd like to go! Also, the Will County Audubon chapter meetings start up Jan 10th, and while I haven't received confirmation in the mail yet, I did send in dues to the IL Audubon Society to join their group. They do some local birding field trips, too, and I'm looking forward to that. The Will Co. group meets at the Pilcher Park Nature Center. I probably won't be able to make the meetings of the DuPage Co. group, but I might join them to take part in their field trips, which are mostly local to me.

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