Outside Havana, Illinois, that is! There’s an area of nothingness there that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Strange electrical activity emanating from a structure looking eerily like an electrical substation but which traps birds from another space and time, birds not seen anywhere else in these parts. Glowing birds. And blurry ones.
At one point a car drove by and the dust from the gravel road engulfed my brother Brian and me and an Audubon Society lady who was bicycling by and stopped because my brother is so talkative (seriously, no one for miles around and Brian strikes up a conversation with someone going by on a bicycle).
We were out there baking in June of 2017 looking for a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, a really cool bird that lives along the Texas coast up through Oklahoma and Kansas, but nowhere near Illinois. A pair of them had been at this same site for two years in a row, and there they were:
How cool is that! Look at that tail–looks like something from the tropics.
A gorgeously serene bird…
strangely attracted to electric fields…
and having superbird abilities.
We also saw a Lark Sparrow, a bird whose range just barely touches that part of the country, in the very same tree as the Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers. You can’t make this stuff up.
At the electrical substation (I forgot, Brian also struck up a conversation with an extraterrestrial in a pickup truck on the way–I know they’re ETs because when I stopped at a drugstore in Havana to buy a baseball cap they had no idea what I was talking about), we came across Eurasian Tree Sparrows. These birds have an insanely tiny range:
This German import came to St. Louis in 1870 and spread only a little further into Illinois in all that time, which is remarkably similar to my own family history (and now that I think of it, I’m drawn to electrical substations, too). The House Sparrow, which arrived there at the same time and is more aggressive and adaptable, appears to have kept them out of other areas. They do not have any gray on their head as the House Sparrows do, but they do have a distinctive dark ear patch.
We also tried to capture photos of a Western Kingbird, which lives, um, in the West. Not east of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas–nope! Brian had seen them there before but lo, we didn’t see any when I was there. But we returned on July 1 to try our luck again and there it was at the substation in all its blurriness:
The Western Kingbird is “an eye-catching bird with ashy gray and lemon-yellow plumage,” as Cornell puts it. They will chase Red-Tailed Hawks and American Kestrals, at which point they flare crimson feathers under their gray crowns.
So that’s the Havana Triangle. It’s a cool place out in the middle of absolutely nowhere that often sports unusual birds. Why? The truth is out there.