Winter Hike in Forest Park: Blue Cheeks and Bluebills

Two drake bluebills (lesser scaup) in a patch of open water in Forest Park this morning.

Last night I decided it would be a little chilly to sit in a wetland in my turkey chair this morning so I called my buddy Danny McClendon to see if he was up for a winter hike in Forest Park. When I picked him up at the Eureka park-and-ride, it was 10 degrees and breezy with the promise of a full morning sun. While I’m never happy about unfiltered light, we both looked forward to the warmth it would bring as we pulled in to the Forest Park Visitor’s Center a little before sunrise.

Danny and I donned our cold weather hiking gear as fast as we could because we had seen a trio of bluebills in a little patch of open water on our way in. I rarely see scaup in Forest Park so I was eager to try for some images. We high-tailed it through the snow to the place where we had spotted the ducks and found them right where we had passed them earlier. I rounded the lake to the other side to put the rising sun behind me and kneeled down in the snow with my tripod as low as possible. Although the fresh sun was casting some gorgeous shades of gold, bronze, and red on the lake and birds, it was also wreaking havoc with the already troublesome dynamic contrast of the scaup. By the way, I identified them as “lesser scaup” due to their purple heads, not clearly evident in these images. I would have liked to have seen more of a head peak to go with the purple but I’m pretty confident they were lessers. Greater scaup are much less common around here, especially in such habitat in Forest Park. I’m open to a corrective scolding as necessary from any of my birding friends if I’m wrong.

We watched the trio for about 30 minutes as I struggled with all of the shadows and shifts in light intensity as the scaup meandered around the lake. When we finally finished, I was cautiously optimistic about having even one decent image but downright excited about seeing the wary divers at such close range. I’m used to observing scaup out on the Mississippi River at about 300 meters out!

The trio!

The sunrise colors constantly shifted with the movement of the scaup.

We eventually left three bluebills and continued our hike. We were surprised to see so much bird activity around us even though it was only 12 degrees with a biting wind. We heard red-winged blackbirds from every direction as the males established territories from strategic perches.

It seemed odd to find so many blackbirds singing in the biting cold of late-winter.

A few birds, such as this mourning dove, were not as active as others. Staying warm appeared to be their only objective.

As the angle of the sun increased, our winter hike became downright delightful. I was almost too warm in all my layers so I was happy we weren’t in any hurry to get anywhere. We searched for raptors for the rest of the morning to no avail. I really expected to find a kestrel or a barred owl all fluffed up on a morning perch.

A simple but beautiful scene of a blue jay in a pine tree.

My last image of the morning before we made it back to the Visitor’s Center was of a blue jay in a pine tree. I was surprised the little jay let me get close enough for an image. They are typically wary as compared to other birds.

The end of the hike meant a visit to Forest Perk for some hot coffee and a warm cinnamon roll. I had already eaten a Panera Orange-Cranberry Muffin (my favorite) for breakfast, and dinner this evening will be pancakes at Joyce’s church. I told Danny it was going to be one of those high carbo days. Sometimes things just happen and you have to go with the flow. Maybe I’ll find a steak somewhere tomorrow to balance things out!

Happy Naturing!


Note:  Some of you have asked about Danny’s broken arm. He is still on the mend but a long way from full recovery. It turns out that the function of the bones of the arm and wrist is quite complicated. At this point he is mostly looking forward to losing the burden of a cast. Baby steps!

Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com


America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.


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