Month: July 2017

How To Strike Out (Mostly) And Still Have Fun! (Goose Lake Prairie, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie)

 

IMG_0914

Recently, a state-endangered and rare King Rail was reported from Goose Lake Prairie State Park, one of the largest prairies in Illinois.  Nearby, the most consistent spot for state-threatened Loggerhead Shrikes in Illinois is Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.  To add further if unnecessary incentive, I saw a picture of a Blanding’s Turtle, a state-endangered species of turtle, from the same area.  So, I began planning my route, figuring I’d get one of those three on the trip, and maybe even Sandhill Cranes, too.  En route I noticed a sod farm where Upland Sandpipers had been reported, so I figured why not stop by there on the way?  I figured that after the shrikes those were the least likely find of the day, but it would be worth checking out for later.

IMG_0656

I persuaded my mother to come along, and so we set out at 7:00 AM one fine, cooler-than-usual July morning.  We arrived at  the road to the sod farm, M&M Turf Farm (pictured above) near Towanda, Illinois, and a female Northern Harrier flew alongside the car.  Northern Harriers are State-Endangered in Illinois- I should not have been seeing one in July here, though they are abundant in winter.  It flew behind a low hill and did not reappear.  At the same time, a large, bobble-headed bird, the State-Endangered Upland Sandpiper we had come to see, landed and then took off again from a nearby telephone pole.  Neither bird stuck around for photos, but it was a promising (and therefore deceiving) start!

IMG_0667

At the sod farm itself, we found nothing but hundreds of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), screaming at us vociferously.  The employees there told us that the Uplands nested in the far back, but with a cropduster taking off and landing nearby all of the Killdeer were being stirred up considerably and after some searching we turned up no more Upland Sandpipers.

IMG_0676

We ran off to Goose Lake Prairie State Park, the largest natural prairie in Illinois, and I spotted this Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) in the parking lot.  Here a King Rail had been reported, as had a Blanding’s Turtle, both of which are extremely rare and require large wetlands in order to thrive.  We asked at the front desk of the visitor’s center, and the woman behind the desk told us that she had seen the Blanding’s Turtle crossing the parking lot recently (so it’s gone), and also that the King Rail had been seen yesterday.  We thanked her and went out.

IMG_0852

Goose Lake Prairie is located in the Illinois River Valley, and it was once a lake.  This was drained for agriculture, but the area proved too wet.  It was turned into a field for cows, from which it was rescued and turned into a prairie/marsh habitat.  It’s a bit on the degraded side- there are invasive species everywhere, the walls of the visitor’s center have significant water damage, and the parking lot is about ready to qualify as an asphalt barrens.  Despite all this I quite enjoyed the place, as there were plants blooming everywhere:

IMG_0703

Where else, after all, can I see something like this?  The plant in question is Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea),  a small wetland plant that seems to enjoy this drying-up pond.

IMG_0705

Here, you can see the three-petaled flowers, which danced in the breeze.

IMG_0846

Growing alongside was another plant new to me, the Mermaid Weed (Proserpinaca palustris)

IMG_0854

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) bloomed nearby.

IMG_0707

This walkingstick crossed our path in front of us.  I put it on my scope case and it raised up and froze, in what I can only describe as attack formation.

IMG_0714

One fun discovery was  Branching Centaury (Centaurium pulchellum), a species of uncommon weed that hasn’t been recorded in this particular county before, at least according to the limited amount of online data I’ve scoured.

IMG_0719

A Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) popped up along the edge of the lake before swimming off.

IMG_0724

We sat on the edge of the pond for awhile, and I could have done so for longer, in retrospect.  Honestly, this was the best part of the trip after the Northern Harrier and Upland Sandpiper.

IMG_0732

An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) watched us from a perch before darting after a gnat.

IMG_0848

On the lake, a Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) searched for fish in the pond.  Hooded Mergansers are one of several ducks that most people wouldn’t think of as living in Illinois during the summer.  These nest in holes in trees, usually in wooded swamps, often secluded from people.  The ones at Goose Lake Prairie are probably using Wood Duck nesting box.  Wood Ducks also nest in holes in trees, and nest boxes set out for them are used by both species.

IMG_0738

Another Hooded Merganser sat on a rock nearby.  We got up and walked back around the pond, encountering a turtle in our path:

IMG_0748

It may not be a Blanding’s Turtle, but a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) up close is still a happy find.  It went straight back to the pond after we moved on.

IMG_0760

We then walked further in, towards the King Rail spot.  An Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) watched us from the edge of the trail, and a resident Northern Harrier could be seen far off.

IMG_0768

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), a native vine, bloomed alongside the trail.

IMG_0777

We approached the King Rail spot at midday- the worst possible time to look for a rail, from what I understand.  King Rails are more active during the day than many of these shy nocturnal birds, but nevertheless, noon was a terrible time to try to find this bird.  To be fair, the last recorded sighting was the day before I visited, and no one has seen it since, which is unfortunate as this is a state-endangered species, extremely rare across its range.

IMG_0783

However, our wait wasn’t all bad.  I got within fifteen feet of one of the shyest birds in Illinois, the Henslow’s Sparrow, who unfortunately have a  reaction to being photographed.  (That reaction is to flee and become invisible in the plants nearby)  Several Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) also sang from nearby perches, allowing me to get good photos of another shy species.

IMG_0786

This one got wise to me, and took off.

IMG_0792

At our feet, meanwhile, lay a mystery.  Crayfish claws were littered in small piles around this hole, but what animal does this?  I haven’t found anything online to explain this.

IMG_0818

On our way back, we heard something that sounded like a machine gun, which turned out to be the call of the Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis), a new bird for my mother.  I’ve never seen so many on a prairie- I guess I need to get outside more!

IMG_0822

Tall Green Milkweed (Asclepias hirtella) grew in the prairie, another of the many enjoyable milkweeds here.

IMG_0863

From an overlook, we could see the whole prairie.  We then went looking for Sandhill Cranes at Heidecke Lake, but we took a few wrong turns and couldn’t find the correct lake entrance.  In retrospect, we should have spent more time and I shouldn’t have given up so easily.  We went on to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, one of the larger prairie restorations in Illinois.

IMG_0874

Spatterdock (Nuphar advena) grew everywhere in the ponds near the parking lot, where it was joined by a special little plant…

IMG_0871

The Flatleaf Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia), uses tiny vacuum-like traps in its underwater leaves to filter and consume microscopic pond life out of the water.

IMG_0889

We hiked out at Iron Bridge Trailhead, where Loggerhead Shrikes are often reported… and you can guess what we saw.  Not only were there no Shrikes, there were very few other birds besides Dickcissels.  I had been hoping to encounter a few Bobolinks, but none were present.  Still, what the area lacked in birds, it made up for in plants.

IMG_0884

Pale Indian Plaintain (Arnoglossum atriplicifolium) grew profusely along the edges.  While not colorful, I find its leaves very striking!

IMG_0904

Dozens of mostly-yellow flowers bloomed in the prairie, with hundreds of Compass Plants (Silphium laciniatum) in the background shooting up to the sky.

IMG_0897

A Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) fed on nearby flowers.  This reminds me- I’ve been reading that many people are noticing a decline in butterflies this year.  I haven’t, but then again I don’t consistently watch an area for long enough to notice.

IMG_0901

The clouds and the weather were beautiful- I could hardly have asked for a finer day!

IMG_0900

Here’s the flower of a Compass Plant.  They get their name because their leaves line up north and south.  However, they are quite inaccurate when they first emerge and become more and more accurate as the growing season progresses into summer and fall.

We left Midewin, refreshed by the beauty of the prairie, with a Dog Tick as an unexpected passenger (I threw it out of the van as we left.)  Since we still had a little time left, I wanted to wander around Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area, so we did.

IMG_0945

The sloughs had several animals in them, including this fun staring contest between a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and a Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina).  Honestly, it was truly a great day, even if my expectations were set far too high.  We stopped for ice cream at the whimsically named Lickety Split Ice Cream Shoppe in Wilmington, Illinois, and returned home.

IMG_0943

Ebird Checklists:

M&M Turf Farm: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38137940

Goose Lake Prairie State Park: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38256801

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38256906

IMG_0934

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado 2017, Part 3- Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Part 1- Orchids (Location Not Disclosed)

Part 2- Eldorado Canyon State Park (Eldorado, Colorado)

Part 3-  Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Part 4- Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Part 5- Walden Ponds (Boulder, Colorado)

Part 6- Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (Denver, Colorado)

IMG_3321

So, after our brutal drive and beautiful hike at Eldorado Canyon State Park, we decided to double down on both and go to Mount Evans Scenic Byway.  There were some lingering concerns about this as we drove out of Lafayette, where we were staying, on the road above.  It’s views like this, seeing the wilderness from the middle of urbanity, that I miss about Colorado.  On a side note, I once saw a Prairie Dog run across that road, but we’ll get to that later.

IMG_3686

We stopped at Echo Lake Park  along the way, after a nice drive up through the mountains.  Echo Lake is at 10,600 feet in elevation, which makes it 10,000 feet higher above sea level than where I live in Sangamon County, Illinois.   Denver, the Mile-High City, has an elevation of roughly 5280 feet… except for here.  Despite being 47 miles away,  Echo Lake Park is actually owned by the City of Denver, thus making it part of Denver.  I would go so far as to call it the best part of Denver, too!

IMG_3674

Within five minutes of stepping into the bushes around the lake, a Wilson’s Warbler, the blurry yellow bird pictured above, flew across the path only a foot in front of me, pausing in the shrubs some six feet away to clean its wings.  Wilson’s Warblers (Cardellina pusilla) are a rare sight during migration in Illinois- to be so close to such a bold specimen was a treat!

IMG_3705

A small flock of Pine Siskins (Spinus pinus) flew across in the nearby pine trees, another rare sight in Illinois.  Back in March, I saw what I was 99.9% sure was a Pine Siskin in my backyard on my feeder, and seeing them in the wild here only further confirmed my belief.

IMG_3716

This may look like a Gray Squirrel to you.  However, this is actually a gray American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), a “new” species of squirrel for me.  They are quite common in the Rockies, and I’d imagine if I checked my old photos I’d find one from a previous trip.

IMG_3731

A  lifer Cordillerian Flycatcher called from nearby, and then a Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) flitted out of the brush onto an old dead stump.  These are named after a fellow by the name of Thomas Lincoln, and not the Abraham Lincoln my last blog was named for.

IMG_3735

Echo Lake has one specific bird I was really wanting to see, and here it is:

IMG_3700

Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) are one of the few North American ducks I hadn’t seen.  (The rest are Fulvous Whistling Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, the  four eiders, Black Scoter, and Harlequin Duck, all of which aren’t easy to find in my home state of  Illinois.  Actually, I’m sure that Steller’s and Spectacled Eiders have NEVER been found in Illinois.)   Barrow’s Goldeneyes are unusual in that they have three separate populations, an Icelandic population ( thus, islandica), a small Eastern population in far eastern Canada  and a large Western population in the Rocky Mountains, where they live in small mountain lakes during the summer and go down to wetlands and rivers in the valleys below the mountains for winter.  This male pictured above was harassing a female of the same species all around the lake. I’m assuming baby ducks were on their way.

IMG_3746

All around us, melting snow fueled the nearby creeks and rivers, which were about 33 degrees F.  It would be insane to go rafting down such a bitterly-cold river, right?… we’ll get to that later.  We had entered the alpine tundra, where it is too cold for trees to grow.  This ecosystem imitates the conditions of northern Canada, but with its own fun mix of plants and animals.

IMG_3747

Along the timber edge, just south and up of Echo Lake and beyond where we had to pay to go on the rest of the road, a forest of Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) loomed at the the gnarled white trunks on the right side of the photo.   Bristlecone Pine trees are famous for living to be thousands of years old. These are by no means the oldest such trees in the world.  In fact, the conditions are TOO good to produce old Bristlecone Pines here at the Mount Goliath Natural Area, the spot where the road first breaks above the trees.  These trees are estimated to be “only” 1,700 years old at the most.  I’ve never actually seen them before, and I was quite impressed!

IMG_3768

I’ve never seen such gnarled pines before, and I could have spent more time with them.  Still, what is an hour when compared to the 1,500 years or more these trees haves spent growing here?  Assuming an age of 1500 years, it is 1/13140000 , or one hour out of more than ten million!  These trees have spent ten million hours or more growing in this spot!

IMG_3751

Smaller and younger, the herbaceous plants growing around the base of the bristlecone pines, among their roots and the rocks, could still be decades old.  Among them was the Sky Pilot (Polemonium viscosum) above, a relative of the wildflower and garden plant Jacob’s Ladder.

IMG_3763

Buttercups (Ranunculus sp.) bloomed in the middle of a nearby creek, tolerating the near-freezing water.  Plants that grow here in the alpine tundra, above or on the edge of where trees will grow, must tolerate the most extreme conditions, and yet they thrive.

IMG_3759

Heck, I even found Alpine Primrose (Primula angustifolia) or two, blooming its heart out just feet away from snow that must have covered it until just recently.

IMG_3776

Alpine Phlox (Phlox condensata?) bloomed in a few crevices here and there.

IMG_3783

One of the better finds here was also one of the larger plants, and by larger I mean about a foot tall.  This is the White  Marsh Marigold (Caltha leptosepala), one of a group of species I’ve always wanted to see in flower.  I missed the flowering time of the yellow-flowered Caltha palustris in Illinois back in April, so this was a nice consolation.

IMG_3787

The Marsh Marigolds grew at the bottom of a runoff creek, full of melted snow.  We decided to go further into the snow, to turn around at Summit Lake, just below the top. Mountain Goats had been reported here previously, and we did in fact see a few, though as we were driving it was impossible to take photos.  Speaking of impossible, unless you have nerves of steel, enjoy nearly driving off mountains on bad roads,  or are used to Colorado mountain driving, turn around at Mount Goliath after the road is initially opened.  Give it until late June or July, when there’s not runoff pouring down the road, washing it out.  Even then, the lack of guardrails makes it terrifying.  So, of course, we had my younger brother drive.  I’ve never been more proud of him than when we pulled into the parking lot at Summit… Ice?

IMG_3799

It was like turning the clock back to January in Illinois, except here there were mountains, Common Ravens flew overhead- quite a feat in the thin, oxygen-poor air!- and American Pipits (Anthus rubescens)  were everywhere pecking at rocks.  I’m not sure why.  This photo of one of them basically sums up the entire landscape:

IMG_3811

However, if you want to truly see that landscape, here it is.  Just a reminder, it’s mid-June and Denver at this time is in the low 90 degrees F.  There’s also a lake and a creek under there.

IMG_3815

The last five miles, to the very summit of Mount Evans, are considered difficult even by the remarkably relaxed Colorado reviewers.  We had gone far enough, so we turned around and went back, stopping at an overlook along the way.  Along this stretch of road, I spotted a Brown-capped Rosy Finch, a rare little bird pretty much only found on the mountain peaks of Colorado. Unfortunately, none were seen anywhere I could get a photo.

IMG_3818

We looked out over the Continental Divide- on the other side of those mountains, the water flows west to the Colorado River.  It was still a bit early for much to bloom here, but this overlook was the far end of a mile-long trail across the tundra from Mount Goliath Natural Area.

IMG_3820

I went a hundred feet down the trail, looking back on the road and the hundreds of rocks above.  No wonder they call it the “Rocky Mountains!” Speaking of names, Mount Evans was originally called Mount Rosa, named after the sweetheart of painter Albert Bierstadt.  However, the Colorado state legislature decided to confer upon the mountain the name of Evans,after Colorado Governor John Evans.  John Evans is one of those historical figures who slipped through the cracks of history textbooks.  Among many notable achievements, he helped to found the Illinois branch of the Republican Party, the Illinois Medical Society, and Northwestern University.  He also issued orders that led to the Sand Creek Massacre, when a group of U.S. soldiers butchered a group of peaceful Native Americans- innocents, and mostly women and children.  This genocide was so infamous, even at the time, that Evans was forced to resign by President Andrew Johnson.   The unrepentant Colorado legislature, thirty years later, named this mountain in honor of him.

IMG_3825

Back at Echo Lake, we stopped at the nearby lodge, where a little hummingbird feeder attracted a few Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus).

IMG_3832

Hummingbird in foreground, snowy peaks in background… not exactly an expected sight for a group of birds usually associated with the tropics, but it’s extremely enjoyable!

IMG_3835

We drove back down the road, my brother relieved to no longer be in the driver’s seat! Some sort of yellow mustard relative grew along the road at the pulloff along the highway near Echo Lake where we stopped to have lunch.  If anyone knows what this is, let me know.

IMG_3844

I’ve mentioned my brother twice in this, and that was foreshadowing of the following non-nature photo below.  My brother is as into cars as I am into the natural world, he’s even got his own car blog at this link here.   Actually, to read his version of events, all of which I witnessed, from a vehicular standpoint, read this specific entry here.  He was excited to see some car company testing out its newest model on the mountain roads while keeping the car’s identity under wraps:

IMG_3854

Someday, when I am feeling supremely overconfident, I will drive Mount Evans Scenic Byway again, all the way to the top, perhaps some July when the heat index in Illinois is 120 degrees F… So, right now, I guess!  (That was a joke.)  In the meantime, I’m going to take a short break from  this quite enjoyable Colorado trip over the next post or two, back to the perennial thorn in my side that is The Great Shrike Hunt.*

Ebird Checklists:

Echo Lake

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37481545

Mount Goliath Natural Area

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37481421

Summit Lake

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37481275

*(Yes, that was a reference to shrike behavior.  If you don’t get it, look up photos of shrike larders).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado 2017, Part 2- Arrival and Eldorado Canyon

Colorado

Part 1- Orchids (Location Not Disclosed)

Part 2- Eldorado Canyon State Park (Eldorado, Colorado)

Part 3-  Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Part 4- Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Part 5- Walden Ponds (Boulder, Colorado)

Part 6- Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (Denver, Colorado)

IMG_3361

Remember when I said that my Colorado trip would come out this winter? I lied.  Sorry, but not really.  I had the time of my life there.  Our first stop was at Eldorado Canyon State Park, and that was amazing.  Well, most of it was.  The road into and out of Eldorado Canyon is the second worst road I’ve ever been on.  The first, aptly-named Forgotten Road in Fulton County, Illinois, only  beats it by virtue of the fact that it was flooded at the time.  Eldorado Canyon’s main road was barely wide enough for two cars on an inconsistent basis, and it was entirely composed of potholes.

IMG_3354

Now, I know what you’re thinking- “I’m from ____, and you should see OUR potholes!”  Trust me, I am a pothole (and lemonade) connoisseur.  I have been on many roads with terrible potholes.  However, I’ve yet to go on a road that is ENTIRELY surfaced in potholes.   In Eldorado Canyon, where one ended, the next began.   Add to that fact the fact that this is a dirt road, with lots of traffic,  going above a rapidly-flowing stream.  The potholes here were so bad that my dad’s back was strained and hurt temporarily.  (He’s fine now.)  I just throw that detail in to emphasize that this road is ROUGH.  The sections shown above were the easiest part, and they had people walking all along them, people who usually had dogs.  That’s a side note, by the way.  Everyone has dogs out in this part of Colorado, it seems, and they take their dogs everywhere.

IMG_3332

But, we’re not here to discuss dogs and dirt roads…  There are birds out in Colorado (surprise!) and I hadn’t seen them.  Above are some Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus).  They weren’t the first lifer birds of the trip, however, as I saw Western Kingbirds in Missouri.  Then, I saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Swainson’s Hawk, Great-tailed Grackle,   White-winged Dove, and Lark Bunting in Kansas, followed by a Black-billed Magpie in Lafayette, Colorado.  So, I was already at eight for the trip, and I got ten more here in Eldorado Canyon, listed at the end.  I had thirty for the trip, but eighteen the first three days of the trip.

IMG_3390

It was difficult to bird, however, as the sheer drop-offs made it impossible to back up and see into the trees from different angles.  I’m also used to birding decidous trees, and conifers make fora  far different experience.   As a result, I contented myself with this view of Eldorado Canyon’s entrance.  As you can imagine, that wasn’t hard to do!

IMG_3372

The cute little Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus) decided to pose along the path, waiting for handouts.  We didn’t feed it, and it vanished back into the shrubbery.

IMG_3392

Possibly, the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) overhead made it vanish.  Golden Eagles nest on the nearby peaks, and after my experiences with them back in February, which you can read on my old blog here, I was hoping for a better look at one.  However, they remained far up in the sky, and I nearly walked off the cliff trying to get photos.  If you can’t tell, I’m from the flat plains of Illinois- I don’t have much experience with cliffs!

IMG_3408

At this point,  my brother who hates the outdoors decided he wanted to hike up a difficult trail to the ruins of an old hotel.  I’m fairly sure if he hadn’t sugested it, it wouldn’t have happened, but it did, and we went.    The trail went back and forth, climbing higher and higher with rocky piles and cliffside meadows of flowers between every bend in the trail.  Early on, we found Sedum lanceolatum, one of mayn flowers blooming along the trail.

IMG_3439

The canyon as a canyon became more visible as we went up.

IMG_3447

Bladderpods (Physaria sp.) came next along the trail.  I’m not sure what species this is, but the inflated seedpods are fascinating and new to me.

IMG_3619

Here’s what I presume to be the same species of bladderpod  in flower.

IMG_3488

What the heck?  I think it’s some kind of mite that was scrambling around on the rocks, but I’m not sure and I don’t want it to get too close.

IMG_3452

Britton’s Skullcap (Scutellaria brittonii)’ s huge flowers covered a small part of the meadows.

IMG_3455

Our view changed as we went up and up.

IMG_3458

The family hiked ahead while I looked at some nearby Penstemon on the cliff.

IMG_3460

Rock Climbers use this canyon a lot, and I took photos of some far off in the distance.

IMG_3466

Just to be clear how far off they were, the photo before this one was of the top of the second peak on the right.  Yup, that’s a long climb.

IMG_3523

A Gray-headed Junco (Junco hyemalis caniceps) called from the top of a nearby tree.  At this point, we had climbed high enough that the climate was somewhat different.  The forest was a trifle moister, I think because the mountain peaks catch more rain than the valleys.

IMG_3533

It’s no rainforest, and the area was still arid, but this high up in the mountains, there’s definitely more precipitation per year than the arid shortgrass plains down below.  Of course, looking out over the area between Boulder and Denver, there’s also a better view:

IMG_3555

IMG_3544

IMG_3549

On the edge of the path, some kind of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) grew.  Given the nearby mossy, shaded forest,  this was somewhat surprising to me.

IMG_3578

Also up this high, alongside the trees, the birds had changed.  Down in the valley, Black-capped Chickadees lived, but up here in the dry pine stands on the edges of the canyon, lifer Mountain Chickadees (Poecile gambeli) foraged:

IMG_3599

Western Wallflowers (Erysimum capitatum) bloomed in the ruins of an old hotel.

IMG_3602

Perhaps the best find was several Western Tanagers (Piranga ludoviciana), a brilliantly colored bird only rivaled by one other bird in Colorado (to be seen in a later post!).  These birds are like a little fire in the forest. Related to cardinals, these yellow, black and red birds forage in small flocks, appearing out of the trees every so often.  Oddly, they only develop their red heads from eating certain bugs.  Evidently, the specimen below has eaten well:

IMG_3603

IMG_3612

IMG_3615

I also found this strange beetle, which I believe is attempting to resemble tree bark.

IMG_3634

We made our way back down to the bottom of the canyon, loosing nearly 1000 feet of elevation as we did so.  That was a bit hard on Illinois legs.  We spent the rest of the day resting, for our next day’s adventure.  Still, considering what I’ve shown above is only a fraction of what we saw, I can’t wait to go back and see it again!

IMG_3645

Ebird Checklist:

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37458193

IMG_3564

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back To Emiquon For Hudsonian Godwit… and MORE!

IMG_0576

I think I have an Emiquon addiction.  That and all the best birds in Central Illinois seem to show up there.  Recently, a Hudsonian Godwit was reported from Emiquon.  So, I went up there right away… after a week or more had passed.  That’s not  technically right away, but Fourth of July and work came between.  Life happens.  You go birdwatching around it.

IMG_0563

The Hudsonian Godwit is one of the most remarkable birds in the world.  They live on the shores of Hudson Bay in the frozen tundra of Canada, during the summer where they breed until late June.  After this, Hudsonian Godwits migrate to Argentina every year.  In the spring, they come back through Illinois and the Great Plains , but in the autumn (and, since we’re past the longest day of the year now, it is officially birdwatcher’s autumn), they migrate straight to  two sites, one in Argentina and one in Chile, by going 2,800 miles over the Atlantic Ocean.

IMG_0597

However, like many shorebirds, Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica) have a tendency to go all over the place.  They’ve been recorded in Australia, for instance.  So, finding a Hudsonian Godwit in July in Central Illinois is only a little bit of a head-scratcher.  However, if you can make out the fuzzy, fat dark shape in the upper right of the photo above (there’s two gulls just above and to the right of it), that is the Hudsonian Godwit.

Why, you may ask, is this photo so terrible?  It has to do with the environment.  This is a humid mudflat in Midwestern heat.   As a result, there’s a lot of water vapor in the air.  Water is noted for bending the lightwaves that pass through it, and thus the heavy concentration of water vapor in the air distorts the image, and makes me pull my hair out when trying to ID a Semipalmated versus a Least Sandpiper through a scope from 300+ feet away.  That is the sort of problem I don’t think every hobby has, to say the least!

IMG_0609

The majority of sandpipers present were Lesser Yellowlegs, fresh from the tundra.   Yesterday, somebody claimed to have spotted a Spotted Redshank, essentially a red-legged European version of our good ol’ American species the Greater Yellowlegs, which is itself nearly identical to the Lesser Yellowlegs.  Needless to say, there were four birdwatchers out and about after it early the following day, myself included.  There’s no photo of it because we didn’t find it, but try picking out something different from a group like the one above, a flock in flight.  It’s as close to impossible as can be.  The Spotted Redshank could be out there still, but we failed to find it.

IMG_0552

Instead, I contented myself with the plethora of Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)(as seen above), the lifer Hudsonian Godwit, the American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) everywhere (they come down here from Canada like the shorebirds), and more.

IMG_0570

(Time for a break from birds) Among the “more” was a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) wandering across the road.  I took several photos, and it darted into the water as soon as my back was turned.  It almost looks like it’s grinning!

IMG_0620

I took the prairie road through the North Globe Unit, a section of Emiquon I hadn’t explored before my last visit, much to my current regret.  This is the best section, I think, at least in midsummer when the lake is boring, the shorebirds are mostly Yellowlegs, and the rare herons aren’t in the marshy areas yet.  So basically, it’s only best right now, as of this writing (early July).

IMG_0638

Gray-headed Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata) and Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)provided a stunning mix of flowers.  On the edge of this prairie, near the entrance to the road, under a few branches, something even more unexpected lurked, and yes, we’re back to birds again:

IMG_0631

State-endangered Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) are unusually well-represented in Illinois birding groups online, simply because they are far more common in the Chicago area than in the rest of the state.  Emiquon, to my knowledge, is the most reliable spot to find a Black-crowned Night-Heron in all of Central Illinois.  Even then, they’re called Night-Herons for a reason- they hunt at night, and generally hide during the day in the marshes.  Evidently this individual was confused.  Nevertheless, it was right off the road, so I took its photo.

Another unexpected find was a Grasshopper Sparrow, not pictured, that decided to appear and start singing from the edge of a wet prairie.  Grasshopper Sparrows love DRY prairies, so I’m really not sure why it was in the middle of an area that floods every so often.  Perhaps the occasional floods keep the vegetation shorter, more like the dry grasslands that the bird prefers?

IMG_0581

The most unexpected bird of the day, however, is the one that bookended this post earlier, the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus).   Bobolinks are “rare” in  my part of Central Illinois, because it’s the edge of their summer range.  I live about an hour south of the summer range limit of the Bobolink, and to find them in good numbers I have to go two hours north.  As a result, I’ve never seen a breeding-plumage male Bobolink, the bird photographed above.  Funnily, I was talking to a fellow birdwatcher, and the minute he left in his car, this Bobolink popped up fifteen feet away.  Thankfully, he’s seen many of them before, so I don’t think he was worried about it.  Bobolinks are northern Great Plains prairie birds, and they don’t do well when their habitat turns into farmland.  As a result, they are rapidly vanishing across the Midwest.  If nothing changes, they will hit the endangered lists rather quickly.  I’m very glad to have seen this one!

IMG_0648

One final stop of the day, at the Western Kingbird power plant substation, yielded a single Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis).  The Scissor-tailed Flycatchers from last post have vanished, and this is the only Westerner I could find.  It was a good end to a hot morning’s birding.  The Hudsonian Godwit was lifer #290 for me, and I hope to get that number over 300 by the end of the year.  I’ve got six months, and I’ve seen 71 lifer birds so far this year… I’m sure it’ll happen!

Ebird Checklists:

Emiquon- North Globe Unit:

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38003212

Havana Power Plant Substation:

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38003461