PTO is always purpose driven here at 9591iris. Someone has to go to the doctor or is in the hospital, or someone needs help moving, except 1,000 miles away, or we are creating a special dinner for the extended family and in one of those holiday miracles some of the attendees are simultaneously being fetched here from other states. Or maybe we are on vacation, real, actual vacation, but the action-packed kind of holiday we favor. A PTO day of just shambling about? Never.
Except today. Today I have a day off and am just drifting about. My greatest achievement today has been to pat the more skittish of the cats. I ate an actual cooked breakfast, cooked by me. I fretted over what to wear to dinner tonight. And I came here.
This is Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. It’s a protected bird area in Chicago, a little thumb of land sticking out into Lake Michigan. We come here on the weekends, from time to time, to watch birds and walk along the lakefront.
Birds on the move, following the shoreline south or north, stop off here to rest, eat and shelter. The entire sanctuary is only 15 acres, and that includes a tiny bit of no-dogs-allowed lakefront.
I’ve seen amazing things here. A Cooper’s hawk in high-speed pursuit of a sharp-shinned falcon. Snowy owls. Short-eared owls. Countless warblers. Countless bird watchers, looking for rarities. In the spring, white-crowned sparrows in the hundreds, who were so cute and ubiquitous that after a few days we stopped looking at them, and then one day, after about three weeks of filling their bellies and hopping about and singing like mad, they were all gone, all together, heading farther north, and we said, Oh no! I miss those guys!
A place like this is not an ark. It’s more of a little bitty life ring. A vestigial organ of what was here before. For birds on the move, following the length of Lake Michigan, it is a mercy, coming after they have flown down the entire length of Lake Michigan, or up across the continent and along the urban, industrial south shore. This small place offers enough different micro-environments (hedge, woods, pond, lake, beach, meadow) to help almost any kind of bird refuel.
I didn’t expect to see anything awesome today. It’s the experience of being in this place that I am after – the progress of the seasons, the trees moving in the wind, the open meadow, the hedge, and just beyond, the lake. Today all the small birds were unaccountably nervous, way beyond the usual, and thus very hard to see. I could not figure it out.
Then I saw the reason: a big, confident looking red-tailed hawk, which was casually loitering around like this was his personal pantry. Which, I guess, it was.
The last bird I saw on my way out was a hermit thrush, jabbing at some bug on the footpath. Realizing I was looking at it, he gave me an instant skeptical once-over and took off.
Stay skeptical, bud. Hope you make it to Mexico.