Best-laid plans often go awry.
June should be a month of downtime for us – more cycling, more appreciation of nesting birds, and every opportunity to eat outside. The leisureliness I had in mind translated into birding picnics, the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. (Plus, let’s be frank, birding and slowing down are both important ways of self-care and coping with everything that’s going on in the world.) Nevertheless, it was still a challenge not to pursue target species due to eBird’s gamification of birding.
In a given year, our “A” priority goal is to see how many species we can find within a 5-mile radius of our house while our “B” priority is green or zero-carbon birding. Thus, it is rare for us to go the distance for our Indiana and life lists, except when at least two of these scenarios are met: (a) the bird is guaranteed, (b) there are other target species, (c) we’re in good company, (d) the destination is scenic, or (e) there is a brewery on the way home. Driving to the lakeshore or the southwest corner of Indiana is a major undertaking, both for the birder and the planet.
Good buddies and birds
Recently, two of our long-distance birding criteria were met.
With the lifting of travel restrictions and the help of friends, the Lakins, with whom we caravanned, we set out on a couple half-day adventures for Sedge Wren, Upland Sandpiper, Marsh Wren, King Rail, and Least Tern – the latter two we’ve never seen. Prophetstown State Park in West Lafayette was spectacular at peak bloom, with its restored open wetlands, fens, and prairies. For three hours we walked the trails and enjoyed the flora and fauna, imagining what Indiana prairies looked like before European settlement, but Sedge Wren did not cooperate. An hour drive later at Grissom Air Reserve Base, where Upland Sandpiper has nested for six consecutive years, statistics were not on our side, with no sighting nor its cartoony flight call in the area.
Fortunately, we had a mulligan a week later at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. The night before I prepared a picnic thinking we could watch life birds and eat al fresco before heading home. We had everything prepared for success with our eBird research and picnic.
But we forgot to check the forecast. (It was hot and dry for weeks, in our defense.)
At 5:30 a.m., we hit the road in the rain. Not long after arriving at Goose Pond, the rain stopped and we encountered our lifer King Rail. Nonchalantly, a large adult rail emerged from the thick marsh vegetation, crossed the opening for 30 seconds, and then vanished again. This often heard-only bird requires more luck than sense, so we were more than happy for the brief look. The sun was shining on our day.
Next, we worked our way to a Goose Pond unit that attracts Least Tern, a federally endangered species, and picked up several singing Marsh Wren. Goose Pond has hosted the northernmost nesting colony of Least Tern for several years between May and August. Jonathan and I have been talking about venturing south to see them, so this was a long-awaited bird for us. But only decoys and the thunderstorms could be seen in our binoculars and spotting scope, save for the surprise Black-necked Stilts.
Then came the drip… drip… downpour.
Even botched plans are better in good company. We said goodbye to the Lakins and went our separate ways, our picnic plans now as soggy as our thawing cooler.
Oddly enough, a Least Tern was discovered in Marion County six days earlier, just 15 minutes from our house. I don’t think many birders looked for it, including us. A few hours after returning home, I received an alert to the rediscovery of the solo Least Tern. We got our lifer Least Tern after all – and it was even in our 5-mile radius!
It was Sunday evening, wrapping up a long day of birding, with sparse groceries in the fridge. A picnic on our patio, complete with lifer beers, was the reward.
How to pack a picnic for rain or shine
A picnic can include any of your favorite foods on a blanket. We like ours to be varied, full of refreshing snacks and finger foods. And chilled summer gazpacho, which happens to be this month’s recipe. In a cooler, we placed a bottle of hibiscus tea and several reusable containers full of cornichons, sea-salted radishes, olives, dairy-free “cheese” spread, wild Alaskan smoked salmon, cherries, blackberries, and don’t forget the baguette. Easy!
As far as the salmon goes, we are, for the most part, plant-based eaters but sometimes we consume sustainable seafood. Wild sockeye, coho, and pink salmon from Alaska are a better choice than industrially farmed Atlantic salmon for your health and marine habitats. A great starting point for this subject is Taras Grescoe’s book “Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.” The Cliff notes version is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app.
With 2020 being a year of great unknowns, we’ll take a rain delay, a surprise 5-mile radius lifer, and a delayed picnic any day. This June, birds have been a genuine reminder that the less we expect, the more we appreciate.
Chilled Summer Gazpacho
Prep time: 20 minutes
Chill time: 2-3 hours
Makes 4-6 servings
- 2 ¼ pounds fresh tomatoes
- 1 cucumber
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded
- 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded
- 2 slices of any bread
- 2 ½ cups chilled water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Tabasco sauce
- Salt and pepper
- Basil leaves to garnish
- Place the tomatoes in a big bowl and cover them with boiling water. Leave for 30 seconds, then peel off the skin. Scoop out the seeds, then finely chop the tomato flesh in a food processor or blender. Place the chopped tomatoes in a large soup pot.
- Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
- Finely chop the seeded cucumber, red bell pepper, and jalapeño pepper together in the food processor or blender. Add to the pot.
- Place the bread in a bowl and pour over ⅔ cup of the chilled water. Allow 5 minutes to soak, then chop in the food processor or blender. Add to the pot.
- Add the remaining ingredients (garlic, olive oil, citrus juices, and Tabasco sauce), along with the 2 cups of chilled water, and mix everything together until well combined.
- Chill the gazpacho for 2 to 3 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with basil leaves.
- Gazpacho is a simple, no-cook meal, but a lot of chopping is needed. Save your wrist from all the aches and pains by using a food processor or blender.
- Go easy on the jalapeño and skip the Tabasco sauce if you’re not a fan of spiciness.
- This recipe only makes 4-6 servings, so double the ingredients if you want a larger batch of gazpacho. Be aware of your food processor or blender’s working capacity. I’ve overloaded the ingredients and made a big mess of my kitchen.
- The soup will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days.