Category: Illinois Ozarks

Yes, Chicago, There Are Armadillos in Illinois

Black Vulture

On the second day of spring break, my good friend Cody and I went out a-wandering across the Mississippi floodplains, searching for whatever we could find.  We first stumbled across this Black Vulture feeding upon a Nine-banded Armadillo, in an image that demands y’all’s sweet tea, it’s so Southern.    For the heck of it, I posted the image to Illinois Birding Network on Facebook, where it blew up.  I recieved over 60 comments, mostly to the tune of “THERE’S ARMADILLOS IN ILLINOIS?!”  Now, most members of that group are from Chicago, and as with anything else in Illinois the rest of the state gets a bit forgotten in comparison to whatever’s going on in Chicago.   So, “Yes, Chicago, we do have Armadillos in Illinois.”

Nine-banded Armadillo

Indeed, Cody and I went on to find two more Nine-banded Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) out foraging in muddy fields.  Armadillos are a recent addition to Illinois’ mammals, the earliest specimens found in 2002 by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  It’s part of a range expansion going on since the early 1800s, when the first Nine-banded Armadillos illegally immigrated into Texas from Mexico in 1849.  They’re thick on the ground along Route 3 and the nearby backroads here in southern Illinois, especially in floodplain areas.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler

Thick in the trees- for now- are Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata), starting to move north for spring. By late May they’ll be gone, off  nesting in the North Woods of Canada.

Great Waterleaf

The springlike weather has encouraged the Great Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) to begin coloring up and producing a few more leaves.   Waterleaves get both their common and scientific names from their unique markings that somewhat resemble water stains.

Broad-headed Sharpshooter

The warming weather also encouraged a few overwintering insects to emerge, like this unique little Broad-headed Sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona), a planthopper capable of jumping great distances to avoid photography.  Thankfully, it decided to sit mostly still for us instead.

Cave Salamander

A recent rainstorm had encouraged the Cave Salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga) out of their usual crevices  and directly into view for us. These shy, light-avoiding salamanders were visibly present in the low hundreds at this location. They often are here, but they generally don’t like to leave their spring too much, until the water gets too high for them as it had lately.

Cave Salamander 2

In a hole off to the side of the salamander spring, a Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) glowered at us, seemingly unwilling to leave its den. YAY!  First snake of the year.

Cottonmouth

Outside the cave, we noticed a few Cut-leafed Toothworts (Cardamine concatenata) just beginning to bloom, the first of a long series of flowering plants we’ll see over the coming weeks.

Cut-leaved Toothwort

Flipping a stone nearby yielded this pair of Northern Zigzag Salamanders (Plethodon dorsalis), cousins to the Eastern Red-backed Salamanders found in most of the eastern US far more widely and abundantly.  This species is seemingly localized to a handful of sites in Illinois, although as with most salamanders it’s hard to know the exact range thanks to their quiet and secretive ways.

N. Zigzag Salamanders

Cody and I just about stumbled over a few Cottonmouths sunning themselves next to a den site, a spot where they go into holes and hide to overwinter.  Thankfully, we backed away reasonably well.  Still, understandably they got a bit defensive, and here we see a Cottonmouth in defensive posture. This particular individual has gorgeous chin patterning compared to many I’ve seen.

When moving around a probable Cottonmouth (or other venomous snake) den site, there’s a few things to keep in mind.  Wear foot protection of some kind (thick socks and especially thicker shoes, don’t reach into any crevices you can’t see all the way into, and look before you move.  I prefer going with a friend and moving slowly through the area, watching out for each other as we go along.  This avoids unintended injuries to both the snakes and ourselves.  Cottonmouths are not particularly aggressive, and nearly all injuries are from trying to pick up or kill them.  That being said, Cottonmouths know what a wallop they can deliver and they’ll let you know about it ahead of time by showing off in a threat display.  Rattling tails, hissing, and open, upturned mouths are a good sign not to come closer!  Cottonmouths and most other snakes can strike within half of their body length, and I generally recommend keeping out of the full snake’s body length from an individual, just for extra buffer.   If you follow this advice, you’ll be quite safe.

Cottonmouth 2

After appreciating the Cottonmouths, we drove home, wrapping up a second wonderful day of spring break.  I’m writing this on the third day,  just about to head out and I’m about to see what I find today!  Have a safe Daylight Savings Time, everyone!

River Otter at Kinkaid Lake Spillway!

 

Kinkaid Lake Spillway

So, as I promised, here’s the first in a series of shorter blogs.  Yesterday (3/8/19) I went out to Kinkaid Lake Spillway, which is an artificial waterfall designed to drain a lake, with the side effect of being the best-looking tiered waterfall in southern Illinois. The road to Kinkaid Lake Spillway is narrow but contains wetlands on both sides, and I’ve gotten incredibly close to both Pileated Woodpeckers and American Beavers here.

River Otter 1

However, my best find yet was this River Otter (Lontra canadensis) hiding under the bank of one of the ponds.  In Illinois, River Otters became incredibly rare in the 1980s, the population dropping down to around 100 individuals, but today there’s River Otters present in all 102 Illinois counties.   It’s one of the best recoveries of a protected, non-bird species in this state.

River Otter 2

After a few minutes, this River Otter dropped out of sight and I moved on to look for seedpods.  As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m participating in the iNaturalist Illinois Botany Big Year (at least through mid-May, after that it’s up to whether or not I get a job in-state) and I’ve started keeping more of an eye out for odd plants.  This time of year, that’s mostly buds and seedpods.

Seedbox

One of those odd plants, growing at the top of Kinkaid Lake Spillway, is this Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia), which produces big yellow flowers in the summer and these gorgeous, ornate seed capsules from which the plants derive their name.  I’ve wanted to see these seed capsules for a few years now, so it was a fun treat, especially after finding that otter.

Porella sp.

I then ventured over across the dam into a wooded, rocky creekbed, where I discovered this unique leafy liverwort (presumably Porella sp.).  This may look just like a “moss” to some people but it is in fact a different type of nonvascular plant. The minute complexity of mosses and liverworts is charming, especially on a late winter day when nothing else is particularly active. I haven’t found Porella species down here in Southern Illinois yet so this was a pleasant surprise.

American Tree Moss

Another pleasant suprise was this American Tree Moss (Climacum americanum).  The shoots may resemble stems and leaves, and in a way they are, but like all mosses (and liverworts) this plant lacks the phloem and xylem veins that transport nutrients and water up and down stems (as found in “vascular” plants).  New shoots resemble little Christmas trees, thus “Tree Moss”.

Beech Sooty Mold

This bizarre, ash-like growth on the  American Beech (Fagus grandiflora) is a unique fungus known as Beech Sooty Mold (Scorias spongiosa).  It isn’t attacking the tree directly at all.   Instead the mold feeds upon the sugary waste of Beech Blight Aphids (Grylloprociphilus imbricator), a species of aphid that only eats American Beech sap.  Saps in trees are incredibly sugar-rich, so the aphid squirts out the extra sugars it doesn’t eat in its poop, and the Beech Sooty Mold eats the the sugars, in an excellent example of recycling.

Beech Blight Aphids are also sometimes referred to as “Dancing Aphids” and I’ll post a YouTube video showing why they get that name:  https://youtu.be/yxc4xWQrT6M

Once I’d wrapped up at Kinkaid Lake, I drove around the Mississippi River bottoms and saw hundreds of ducks, most at great distances.  If you want to see a few photos of them they’re on my iNat page but overall I was unhappy with how well those photos turned out, although quite thrilled to see such abundant migration.  So I went to Fountain Bluff instead to look at that waterfall, and unlike Kinkaid Lake Spillway it was frozen solid!

Fountain Bluff Waterfall, Frozen

After inspecting the frozen waterfall,  I wandered over to Oakwood Bottoms, where amid the twilight migration of 10,000 Mallards (I subtract not a single mallard)  I got to hear an early American Bittern doing its bizarre “water-dropping” call.  In order to learn more about this and hear the sound for yourelf, watch this YouTube video:  https://youtu.be/bAxAEoAVmuc

It was an excellent night to be out, and once it quits thunderstorming out today I look forwards to seeing what I find next!

Winter 2019 Sort of Recapped

Right, I’m a wee bit behind here.

Last actual post I did on here was of the Carlyle Lake Trip.   I’m going to pass over Fall 2018- a lot happened but it’ll take too long to recap. Let’s move into January and February 2019.

I stayed up in central Illinois and spent early January 2019 with my parents, with very few plans of what I would do this year besides studying for the GRE, graduating college, finding a job, etc.  On January 7 I decided to get out and about on a warmer day and go looking around a nearby marsh in the Lick Creek Wildlife Area.  This resulted in my finding two unusual records.

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First up was a turtle- in particular, one of Illinois’ more common turtles, the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)  I’ve never had a reptile before an amphibian in January.  This turtle, however, can be winter-active when it wants, and as this day exceeded 50 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature the turtle, one of a few, was out basking in the sun.

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The second and far more ridiculous of my two finds was a wintering Common Yellowthroat (Geoythypis trichas).  This warbler species is supposed to be down on the Gulf Coast at this time of year- not hanging out by the side of a creek in central Illinois!  This was one of TWO I found in January, the second down at Larue-Pine Hills Research Natural Area in Union co. Illinois, both in marshy grasslands with open water.

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After a couple of weeks, I went south for my last semester of college, to the Shawnee Hills.  I’ve earned a reputation in certain corners of the internet for praising Southern Illinois a lot, and this isn’t unearned.  As the landscape above shows (taken from Grand Tower Island) the Snow Geese wander around this area in January, and in great numbers, and with great scenery as a backdrop, and everything is “great” and I’m overusing that word now and this is a run-on sentence and I don’t know how to end it.  Ope, there we go.

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Here’s those Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens), along with a few Greater White-fronted Geese (foreground, orange bills and brown bodies, Anser albifrons), hanging out in a nearby shallow wetland just off Route 3 in Jackson co Illinois.  They’ve all mostly migrated out of here by now, but for two months the air was thick with Snow Geese down here.

Snow Geese aren’t the only large, mostly white birds to pass through this area…

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WHOOPING CRANES!  A pair of these incredibly rare, endangered birds (Grus americana) overwinter in a secret location in Southern Illinois.  This pair will fly back to Wisconsin in the summertime, where they’ve been reintroduced. Note that they were photographed from inside a car and we used a decent amount of zoom.  Don’t approach Whooping Cranes too closely, as there are less than a thousand of them in the world and scaring them could potentially do considerable harm.

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Another quite rare bird I found (this one personally) in January was a pair of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) , one of which is photographed.  I found a third one at Larue-Pine Hills a month later, in late February. These birds are uncommon migrants through southern Illinois.  Back in the 1970s, Golden Eagles were recorded annually in parts of southern Illinois, following massive flocks of Canada Geese as they made their way south to forage here.  However, more recently farmers have started plowing their fields in the spring, leaving some corn remaining in their fields overwinter, and geese distributions shifted.  Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, and Greater White-fronted Geese came in and now feed upon the remains of corn in the area, while Canada Geese remain much further north. (This is potentially oversimplifying the shift in geese, to see some more causes read this article linked here) The Golden Eagles shifted their range also, although some still come down this far south after ducks and geese.

GHOW on nest

In addition to the rarer birds, I found this Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) occupying a nest somewhere in the Mississippi River Valley.  Unlike many bird species, Great Horned Owls nest during the winter and typically take over other bird’s former nests.

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While driving around looking for salamanders the other night, some friends and I came across this Barred Owl (Strix varia) sitting on a road side and quite willing to pose for photos.

Little Gull

One of the rarest birds I’ve gotten to see of late, and the only new one (lifer!) for me was this Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus), the bird with the black underwing in the blurry photo above.  A predominately Eurasian species that rarely nests in the US and Canada, Little Gulls sometimes tag along with large flocks of other gull species and migrate through Illinois.  I’ve tried and failed to find several over the years, and I finally found this one at Carlyle Lake with a friend last week.

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Alright, after spamming all those rarer birds, let’s cool off with some ice formations from Trillium Trail at Giant City State Park, before moving on to small and cute birds.

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Over this winter, an unprecedented irruption (winter movement) of Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) occurred in the Eastern United States.  This species of bird lives in the boreal forests of Canada and feeds upon pine and spruce seeds.  In years of a poor seed crop (like this year) they move south in numbers to feed on pine seeds.  As the Shawnee Hills have many pine plantations and naturalized pines, Red-breasted Nuthatches thrive here during the winter.  Coming from the Canadian wilderness, Red-breasted Nuthatches have limited fear of people.

PIWA

Unlike the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Warblers (Setophaga pinus) are found predominantly in the Southern US and up until the last few years they did not winter in Illinois regularly.  However as the climate warms just a bit and the pine plantations grow up and age, Pine Warblers become more and more frequent in Southern Illinois over the winter.

Birds are not my sole interest in life, however, and while they’re one of the few things to look at in January that will look back at you and show signs of life, I have looked for

On iNaturalist, I’ve joined the Illinois Botanists Big Year.  This is a competition to see who can observe the most plant species in Illinois over the course of this year.   I have a decent start going, mostly due to the fact that in residing near the Shawnee Hills I have access to a wide swath of biodiversity and far less snow cover than Northern Illinois.  Actually,  I might be downplaying my lead a little too much.  As of 3/4/19, I have 299 plant observations of 143 species.  The second highest observer in the competition is at 95 observations of 87 species.  I don’t expect to win overall- there’s a lot of time left and far more experienced botanists participating- but it definitely feels great to be #1 for now.  For more information visit this link here to go to the project’s homepage.

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Arguably the best plant I’ve seen this year was the Appalachian Filmy Fern above (Vandenboschia boschiana).  This bizarre fern with fronts one cell layer thick only grows in fully shaded, south-facing sandstone or other acidic rocks, with constant high humidity. It’s a VERY specific microhabitat, and as a result this fern is state-endangered in Illinois and only found in a few locations. I took a walk back to one of the locations in February and found it hiding there.

Cypressknee Sedge

Another rare plant in Illinois is Cypressknee Sedge (Carex decomposita) which grows on stumps, fallen logs, cypress “knees”, the sides of dead trees, and other dead masses of wood in slow-moving waters.   Plants can grow in some bizarre locations.

Asplenium pinnatifidum

This Asplenium pinnatifidum was a wonderful find, an uncommon fern growing in sandstone in Giant City State Park.  Half the leaves in that photo belong to an unrelated plant.

Harbinger-of-Spring

While many people semi-seriously use the prognostications of “Punxsutawney Phil” the groundhog to predict the end of winter, a far better sign of spring is the so-called Harbinger-of-Spring (Eregenia bulbosa), an early-flowering woodland plant shown above.  That being said, I went out and found this plant in late February.  It’s early March and there’s currently snow on the ground.   Plants and groundhogs say what they will, winter doesn’t end until it wants to.

In all seriousness, I was quite glad to find this plant, and while it might be cold now winter does come to an end soon and it will be spring.  The woods along Hutchins Creek (below) will be green before long, and I look forwards to it!

Hutchins Creek

Many people are not aware of the number of salamanders that can move on warm, rainy nights in the late winter.   This causes mass deaths of salamanders when they reach a road and have to cross it on a rainy night.  Thus, friends and I go out and move the salamanders across the road in the direction they’re trying to go, in order that they may survive to reproduce.

Spotted Sal

One of the first salamanders of the year is the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), found in high-quality woods locally.  A friend and I spent a night moving a half-dozen of these from a busy state highway, including the gorgeous individual shown above.  Salamanders require fishless wetlands, typically large vernal (springtime-only) pools in woodlands, in order to reproduce.  Many die each year during their trek to the pools, and I’m glad we helped a few.

Crawfish Frog

Another specialist of fishless wetlands is the Crawfish Frog (Lithobates areolatus).  This species gets its name from its residence inside crayfish burrows, from which hundreds emerge every February-March in order to spend a week reproducing out in flooded fields.  Crawfish Frogs are extremely light sensitive and will retreat underwater or underground at the approach of light.  Thus, the only way to see one is to drive along a road slowly in an area where the Crawfish Frogs breed and hope for a “dumb” one to remain on the road for a minute when it sees lights.  Thankfully the lights it saw were ours and we got it off the road before it was run over.

Marbled Sal

In lowland swamps, another salamander that moves on warm rainy nights is the Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum), perhaps the most beautiful of Illinois salamanders.

PSA, if you can’t tell by now, don’t go driving on warm (40s-50s), rainy nights in wooded or lowland areas, or if you do, keep an eye out for salamanders and other amphibians crossing the road.  If you encounter a salamander on the road, wear plastic gloves (preferentially) and move it across the road in the direction it was initially facing when you first encountered it.

Northern Dusky Salamander

To switch up, here’s a couple individuals of the Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus).  These salamanders originated in Tennessee, but they are used as fishing bait and as a result were transported to Illinois.  They have since taken over a couple hundred feet of a spring-fed stream and now live there in an isolated colony, the only Northern Dusky Salamander population in the state.  An older one below shows how good they are at hiding on the creekbed.

Hidden N. Dusky Sal

While looking for other salamanders in another spot, a friend accidentally flipped this Blackspotted Topminnow (Fundulus olivaceus) out from under a rock.  I grabbed it and after a quick photo released it straight back into the creek.  This is, so far, the most interesting fish I’ve seen this year, and a first state record on iNaturalist.  It’s nice to get that database in agreement with official data, and it’s nice to get a new fish species I’ve not encountered before.

Blackspotted Topminnow

Is this shorter? Probably not. It’s recap of two months worth of observations, however.  Considering that I’ve left out much of what I’ve seen (which y’all can view on my iNaturalist page at this link here) I feel it’s a good length.  That being said, I will try to keep it shorter from now on. Until then, have a good week!

What Might Live Here?

I enjoy finding new species, but what I most enjoy is finding new populations in surprising spots.  What might live here?  What species aren’t known from this region that could be here?

Part of what I look at is,  what are similar regions that have certain species Southern IL doesn’t have, and then go from there.  If there’s prior records, I also use those in factoring how likely it is that X species lives here.  I’m limiting this speculation to birds and herps- plants  would take too long and the rest I don’t know well enough to speculate on.  I’ve started these from one to five, five being most likely and one being least likely, to be refound or found for the first time in IL.

Birds- I derive much of my information on birds from W. Douglas Robinson (https://sites.google.com/view/birds-of-southern-illinois/home)

Ruffed Grouse – This one provokes the most speculation among people I know.  One of them even provided me this information:   “When I started hunting, at age 9, my dad and I heard what sounded like one drumming on our farm. It’s about 6-8 miles from where most of the birds were released near the Lusk Creek Canyon area. Plus, both my folks saw what they described as a large game bird flush one time. That would have been mid to late ’70s. I started hunting in 1984. They had selectively timbered their property, which would have been conducive to that species. Not saying that’s what we experienced, but it’s within the realm of possibility.  I read an article from 2006, and I think the year before, the biologist who was involved said that was the last year he heard them drumming.”

This roughly lines up with the literature I have read on the subject. There’s also reports of grouse being seen in the Union County- Alexander County border in the Shawnee Hills.  Ruffed Grouse depend on the occasional clearing of trees in large tracts of forest habitat.  Since there’s been very little logging in the Shawnee National Forest, this hasn’t happened.  For more context on why I doubt there will be any more Ruffed Grouse releases in the future:

http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=cwrl_fr

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Neotropic Cormorant- One or two were present on Grand Tower Island in summer 2017, as part of a range expansion of this species and there’s a few other additional reports. My expectation is that breeding Neotropic Cormorants may occur fairly soon in Illinois, probably central or northern Illinois where there’s more observers.  We’ll see if the predicted range expansion occurs.

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Black-bellied Whistling Duck- Several records from Oakwood Bottoms and a few other areas match the growing number of reports throughout the Midwest of this Southern species’ expansion.  I fully expect breeding in Oakwood Bottoms within 20 years, as this species is making its way up the Mississippi River Valley.

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Trumpeter Swan (breeding) I have heard of Trumpeter Swans breeding somewhere near Desoto in a private strip mine pond, but don’t have any confirmation of that.  Is the habitat somewhat correct for this species to breed? Yes.  Is it hundreds of miles south of all known breeding locations?  Also yes.  My suspicion is that my informant or his source confused this species with Mute Swan.  In a hundred years, maybe Trumpeter Swans will come and breed  in southern IL in the strip mine ponds.  But I doubt it’ll be anytime soon, if ever.

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Mute Swan (breeding)- Mute Swans, an invasive species, are expanding their range across the Midwest.  Multiple records this winter and the continued expansion of Mute Swan ranges seems likely that they’ll make it to the strip mine ponds down here at some point.  However, there are no summering records as of yet.  There’s also that sketchy report of swans breeding near Desoto.

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Northern Saw-whet Owl (wintering only)  Considering they range well south of this area in winter, based on migration records obtained from banding stations, I presume Northern Saw-whet Owls have come down here, and no one’s looked hard enough to find them everywhere and every year. There’s also a record from Giant City campground.

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Anhinga-   Anhingas have been intermittently seen and even bred in the Cache River swamps.  They haven’t done so of late, but there were three observed in the Grand Tower / Big Muddy River area of Illinois in July-August of 2017.  I suspect there may be others present in some of the swamps of southern Illinois, and probably breeding.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk (breeding) This hawk species breeds in the Ozarks and have been encountered in the southern Indiana hills throughout summer.  There are also prior breeding records.  I haven’t seen as much of late about these, but I also suspect more work needs to be done.  Many of the summer records are from the eastern Shawnee, which is little-explored.

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Purple Gallinule- There are breeding records of this Southern species at Mermet Lake.  Away from Mermet Lake it might be difficult to find habitat for this marsh bird. None have been seen since 2006, the last record being at Mermet Lake.

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King Rail-  These have been found summering in Pyramid State Park and migrating through Oakwood Bottoms.  They could potentially breed at Mermet Lake, Pyramid State Park, and possibly other habitats in the Mississippi River Valley.  Easily overlooked and secretive bird, and I suspect heavily under-reported in this area.

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Brown Creeper (breeding)- Brown Creepers are encountered occasionally during the summertime in the swamps of the Cache River, particularly at Heron Pond.  Easily overlooked, and their high pitched call is also not readily observed. Considering how secretive they are, the amount of territory in the Shawnee National Forest, and the lack of birders,  it’s a surprise that there’s as many summer records as there are.  W. Douglas Robinson suspected breeding, as do I.

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Brown-headed Nuthatch- There’s a colony of these Southeastern pine lovers in Kentucky ten miles from the Illinois border.  They require open pine savanna, however, and most of the pine forests in southern Illinois are too dense for its liking.   Yet again this is a species that would do well with selective logging.  On Google Maps there are some southern Illinois open pine forests, particularly on private land in Pope County and in private sections of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.  Access would be difficult, but I suspect this species could be present, given enough habitat. There’s currently no records down here, however.

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Black-throated Green Warbler (breeding)- This one’s pretty unlikely, but they do breed in the hills of southern Indiana and in the Ozarks in both Arkansas and Missouri.  There have been no nesting records in this part of Illinois, however.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler (breeding)-  The lack of logging in the Shawnee National Forest may be detrimental to finding this species of secondary growth as a breeding species.  However, there are a few breeding records from the eastern Ozarks and the eastern Shawnee National Forest, mostly from old logging days in secondary-growth brush.

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Swainson’s Warbler-  This one was in the Shawnee fairly recently, until 2011.  They used to be known for nesting in the Pomona area at Cave Creek and at Rock Springs Hollow in Alexander county. Swainson’s Warblers require large, dense stands of Giant Cane bamboo (canebrakes).  This is a limited habitat in Illinois.  They also use dense rhododendron scrub in the Appalachians, and it’s possible but unlikely that dense scrubby areas in the Shawnee National Forest, especially in conjunction with large canebrakes, might hold a few individuals of this probably-extirpated warbler.  It’s likely that a few still persist in unknown corners of  southern Illinois, but their habitat specificity and general population decline is likely to make them harder to find.

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Bachman’s Sparrow- These bred in Illinois as recently as 1975.  This species, unsuprisingly at this point, requires shrubby second growth in which to breed.  In pioneer days Bachman’s Sparrows thrived well up into central Illinois and even further north.  Based on their dramatic range decline, I strongly doubt that more will be found anytime soon.

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Western Kingbird- Having expanded its range into the lower Illinois River Valley and East St. Louis area, Western Kingbirds could appear in the strip mine areas of Pyramid State Park or other spots similar in habitat in the southern till plain.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them crop up in the floodplains along the Mississippi, particularly in association with the….

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher-  Having bred in the Mississippi River Floodplain in the western part of this area, it seems not unlikely that Scissor-taileds will do so again, particularly with the range expansion this species has had into central Illinois of late. This is a distinctive and showy bird, and one that even non-birders will stop to notice (sometimes). I suspect there’s a higher chance of it getting reported due to this fact.

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Painted Bunting- With one nesting site in East St. Louis, Painted Buntings may be present in other portions of the “Illinois Ozarks”.  I suspect if any were to be located it would be in Randolph, Monroe, or Jackson counties.

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Herps (This is much less informed than birds):

Eastern Red-backed Salamander- There’s at least one old record (pre-1980) in Hardin county. Considering how often people visit Hardin county, especially looking for a very secretive salamander, and that much of the habitat has survived in that area, I’d say it could be reasonably possible to encounter this species in the eastern Shawnee. That being said, it also could have been accidentally brought down in mining equipment from another area.  Even if that’s the case, they might have persisted, provided they found the right habitat and weren’t outcompeted by the Zigzag Salamanders supposed to be present in this area.

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Hellbender- Declining species almost certainly extirpated from Illinois. That being said, with the limited amount of observations of this secretive species in the  Saline River area (most recent being 1985) it seems unlikely any have persisted. It might be worth confirming that there are none by doing some surveys, but it’s not likely that any remain anywhere near here.

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Three-toed Box Turtle- Multiple individuals, presumed escapes or introductions from Missouri (a notable individual with a shell painted purple was an obvious released individual).  These are long-lived turtles, however, and do seem to be found occasionally in the western Shawnee.  I suspect that a few could potentially swim over (they CAN swim) from the other side of the Mississippi.  That being said, it’s not likely there would be enough to form a breeding population.

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Alligator Snapping Turtle- A few individuals have been found in the state, one a few years ago in Clear Creek. https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/578177  I doubt there’s much of a population left, but it’s still worth looking for this large but secretive animal.

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Eastern Collared Lizard- These were released at  a spot in Johnson County but they seem to have disappeared.  Some may remain, but I doubt it.

*

Mediterranean Gecko- An adventative population is present in Carbondale.  It would be worth checking other southern Illinois cities to see if more of this nonnative gecko are present.  I suspect there will be more populations found in the next ten years.

*****

Broad-banded Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata)- Formerly present at Horseshoe Lake, none have been found since the 1970s. I strongly doubt any remain in Illinois, but a population could persist in the swamps of the Illinois coastal plain  away from most explored sites.  Yes, I said coastal plain, as that’s what the habitat south of the Shawnee Hills along the Mississippi and Ohio is considered. Broad-banded Watersnakes persist in Missouri and Kentucky.

*

Coachwhip- Despite a shed skin of this species being found some years back in Randolph County, I strongly doubt these large, active, diurnal snakes persist in Illinois unnoticed.  I could be completely wrong about this, however.

**

Scarletsnake-  A single record of this species at Larue-Pine Hills is the only time this elusive southern species was found in the wild in Illinois.  Considering the number of visitors to that spot, it seems EXTREMELY unlikely that this species persists in Illinois.

0 stars.  It’s that unlikely.

 

And on that terrible disappointment it’s time to rip off the Grand Tour and say goodnight.