Pelicans hang out at Spring Lake last week.


Are we really seeing pelicans in Mahomet?

We knew the first week we moved from Urbana to Spring Lake in Mahomet what a special neighborhood we'd found when we woke up to the squawk of a great blue heron, which sounded like a prehistoric bird. Then, later that night, the great-horned owl's haunting purr right outside the window was nothing like the hoot sound we thought owls should make.

Since then, we have enjoyed one surprise after another. Once, we hosted a barred owl nesting in the roofless purple martin house mounted on a tower above our roof. She hatched three owlets. As they grew, they would peek over and look down, tilting their funny heads side to side as they watched us. We celebrated watching their first flights.

Several times, mother mallard ducks nested 2 feet from our front door, allowing us to watch the babies hatch and then eventually follow momma duck to the lake for their first swim.

One year, a family of skunks lived in our backyard for about a week. Worried they would spray us or our dog, we researched ways to safely get them to leave. We were told they didn't like bright lights and loud music, but we watched the seven adorable babies play under that light at night like they had their own personal musical stage, before finally moving on.

Colorful birds (rose-breasted gross beak, indigo bunting, eastern blue birds, Baltimore orioles and cedar waxwings) migrate through in the spring and again in the fall. A variety of what we call dipper ducks (ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, Lesser Scaups, buffleheads, red-breasted mergansers, common loons) come and go, too.

We love watching them dip down and stay under until we're worried something has happened to them; then they finally pop up — sometimes on the other side of the lake. Though they may only stay a few days, they are so fun to watch.

Several swans showed up one Christmas for a few days — what a perfect gift. And, you've probably already seen the young eagles that have hung out this winter. We can't wait until they get their adult coloring.

This year, the gulls must be confused because they have stayed around the lake for quite a few weeks now. Hearing them calling in the morning makes us feel like we're on vacation someplace warm.

Earier this week, we were so excited when we thought the swans were back, but even more excited when we realized they were not swans, but American white pelicans.

Looking forward to surprises, and very unusual visitors, such as these make the long Illinois winters a bit more tolerable.