calcarius (spur) lapponicus (Lapland)
Sunday, January 3, 1982 — 9:30 am
Sangamon County, Illinois — Route 104 between Auburn and Waverly
We went to the Sperry’s house for Christmas and stayed over until New Year’s. On Saturday, January 2 we left for home via St. Louis. On the advice of my bird-finding books, we stopped at Horseshoe Lake State Park in East St. Louis to look for Eurasian Tree Sparrows. If you’ve never been in East St. Louis, consider yourself fortunate. The place is a slum. It’s a third-world country tucked into mid-America. And Horseshoe Lake State Park is smack in the middle of town.
We arrived late in the afternoon on a gloomy day. I found the park and pulled into the lot. It was dusk, and the rain was coming down steadily. Sally stayed in the car and ducked out of sight whenever someone walked past. I didn’t feel too confident either. I stayed in sight of the car, walking up and down a grassy area along a pond. I didn’t see any sparrows. I was getting more depressed by the minute and was actually close to tears. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I took up birding. I gave up.
We got back on the highway and headed north. About 15 miles up the road we stopped at a Holiday Inn in Collinsville. I recuperated from my ordeal during the evening and rechecked the books. They said Eurasian Tree Sparrows can also be seen near the town of Franklin, Illinois, about 50 miles north of St. Louis. It meant a 30-mile detour, but Sally felt bad that I missed the bird and agreed to the side trip.
The next day was also foggy and gloomy. We exited Interstate 55 and headed west on Route 104. We drove through mile after mile of flat, muddy farmland without a tree in sight. Every time I saw a sparrow-looking bird, I pulled over and looked. It paid off. I saw a Snow Bunting in a field of mud and scattered patches of wet, dirty snow. A short time later I saw a Lapland Longspur.
Actually, I saw a whole bunch of them. They were foraging on and along the road and in the nearby fields with many Horned Larks. We stayed in the car and slowly rolled to within 15 feet. They were active, flitting around as they foraged. They were all in winter plumage.