Category: Meredosia NWR

Top Ten Birds, Herps, Plants, Trips, and Photos of 2017

I did several top tens as separate blogposts last year. This year I’m going to restrict it to one somewhat longer post.  Let’s get into it, and start off with birds!  (Caution, Snakes at end)

 

Top Ten Lifer Birds of 2017

I do have three honorable mentions, a lost Cinnamon Teal (Illinois),  two American Dippers (Colorado), and one Hurricane Irma-blown Sooty Tern (Kentucky).

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#10 Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)-  I saw these both in Illinois and in Colorado this year.  The Illinois one was on an extremely fun trip, and I’m hoping to get a couple more this winter.

Whooping Crane #2

#9 Whooping Crane (Grus americana), southern IL -Easily the rarest worldwide of the birds I saw this year (with 600 or so in the wild), the Whooper is North America’s tallest bird.

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#8 Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), CO- It’s a Burrowing Owl.  Need I say more?

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#7 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), IL, KS- Not only is it a bird with an insanely long tail, I saw several over the course of the year.

#6 Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) (no photo), IL – Sure, I didn’t get photos, but I set a county record when they flew over my apartment in Jackson County.  What better way to see  new birds?

#5 Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), IL (photo by Colin Dobson, computer destroyed quality) -A Eurasian gull that often wanders to the Northeast, this was my first mega rarity of the year, and a fun one to find.  Unfortunately I have no photo, so I borrowed this one.

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#4 Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) central IL- The second of the two Eurasian wanderers, this one is a little more in doubt (though I’m 99% sure it’s wild).  If accepted, it will be the state’s first or second official record (though there’s plenty of unofficial records).

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#3 Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis), western KY- This bird is the rarest- it’s supposed to migrate from Siberia to Australia twice yearly, and how it ended up in a flooded cornfield in western Kentucky no one knows. It did- on Eclipse Day- and I chased it at 7:00 AM.  It is probably the best bird I’ve seen this year, easily a first state record (of any kind) for Kentucky, but it isn’t my favorite, because there’s two birds just a little higher on the scale…

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#2 Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), KY/TN/IL- I’ve spent so much time looking for these, that in November I drove 7 hours round-trip to see a few in far southwestern Kentucky/far northwestern Tennessee.  This one posed ten feet from my car.  And then, driving back home in December- a Loggerhead Shrike flies across the highway in southern Illinois.  Shrikes are unusual, rare, and charismatic birds with the tendency to impale other, smaller animals on thorns.

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#1 Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) MO/IL – My 300th US bird of the year (debatably- I’m not sure when I first saw Broad-winged Hawks) and my 100th or 101st lifer of the year (again, Broad-winged Hawk- I probably saw them in September 2015, but I can’t say for sure.)  The timing- just after finals- couldn’t have been better!  I then went on to find one in IL.

Top Ten Lifer Plants

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#10 Carolina Anemone (Anemone caroliniana), central IL- It’s pretty.

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#9  Slender Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes lacera), southern IL- It’s an orchid.

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#8  Britton’s Skullcap (Scutellaria brittonii ), CO –  Other than two following plants, this was the most interesting plant I found in Colorado.  It looked like something someone might grow in a garden, instead of on a talus slope in the Rocky Mountains.

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#7 Silvery Bladderpod (Lesquerella ludoviciana),central IL-  It only grows on one sand dune in Illinois, which I checked a couple of times until I found it in bloom.

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#6 Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)(IL state champion tree), southern IL- This is the biggest tree I’ve seen this year.  It’s absolutely massive, which you can see with my hat as a comparison.

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#5 Ozark Milkvetch (Astragalus distortus),central IL – Another rare plant in Illinois, this one I had the distinction of discovering exactly where it grew by using a website.  It’s at Revis Hill Prairie Nature Preserve, one of my favorite spots to visit.  That’s honestly why I put it so high on the list.

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#4  Spring Coral-root Orchid (Corallorhiza wisteriana), Missouri Ozarks- This is an orchid that steals nutrients from fungi. It was a somewhat unexpected find in the Ozarks.

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#3 Spotted Coral-root Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata), CO- Even more unexpected was this orchid in Colorado, which also steals nutrients from fungi and is much prettier than its cousin.

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#2 Orange-fringed Orchid (Platanthera cillaris), northern IL – The most beautiful and rare plant I’ve found in Illinois this year, the Orange-fringed Orchid grows in a spot guarded by giant mosquitoes and hidden from the world.  In that spot, there are thousands.  It was fascinating, and I got to see it with the Fenelon, one of my close friends.  That’s not easy to top… is it?

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#1 Calypso (Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis), CO  Evidently it is.  I got to see this with my family.  One of the most unexpected finds of the year, this unusual, somewhat rare orchid is widely praised in nearly every guide to orchids. Much of this praise is for the rarer Eastern form, but the Western form, while less rare, is still the best plant of 2017 for me.

Top Ten Best Trips of 2017

#10 Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge/Four Corners, May 31… I almost put the trip with the Illinois Golden Eagle in southwestern central Illinois on as #10, but this trip, also with V.S., had a lot of unexpected species.  I went for Red-necked Phalaropes, an oceanic vagrant, and ended up finding a state-threatened Black-billed Cuckoo.  It got me over 200 species-wise for the year.

#9 Southern IL/Riverlands, November 11- On this trip I saw my first Red-throated Loon and had a blast birding all day with Chris Smaga and Kyle Wiktor.  I’ve been to Riverlands three times between November 11 and December 15.  The last trip got me the Snowy Owl, but the first trip was probably the most fun, even if the first half of that trip was an unsuccessful Greater Prairie-Chicken search.

#8 Snake Road, September 15- This is the trip where I found the Mud Snake.

#7 Southern IL, August 17-20- When I first moved down to Southern Illinois, I got to see so many unusual plants, animals, and natural areas in that first weekend, culminating in my trip to see the Red-necked Stint and the eclipse.  It’s unforgettable- and it was really hot!

#6  Three Weekend Days in Emiquon, April 10, 16, and 23- One of these was with the Lincoln Land  Environmental Club, one was with Mom, and one was by myself.  I saw a lot of unusual species on all three days, and it was interesting to see all the changes week-to-week.

#5  Lake Carlyle Pelagic Trip, September 30- I met many birders and got to see four lifer birds, as well as the most bird species I’ve ever seen in one day (88?).

#4  Kankakee Trip  with the Fenelon, August 1- Orange-fringed Orchids!  Thousand-acre prairies! Philosophical discussions in the car!  It was perfect.

#3Snake Road, October 13-14-  I saw 80 snakes over these two days.  That’s pretty awesome.  I also got to meet a LOT of herpers.

#2 Ozarks Trip, May 17-19- The Lincoln Land Environmental Club trip- that was so much fun.  We had skinks, a nesting Eastern Phoebe, and a Luna Moth on our front porch.  The ticks were a little annoying, but everything else- weather, sightings, lodging, people- couldn’t be topped… well, I guess it could, by #1…

#1 Colorado, June 5- 14- Family vacation in Colorado.  Snow-capped mountains, family, orchids, all kinds of animals (including 30 lifer birds)- I had so much fun here. I’ve had a great year.

Top 10 Photos (Unranked)

Honorable Mention- the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is an elusive bird and I finally got one good photo:

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Inspiration Point, IL:

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Western Wood-Pewee, CO:

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Meredosia Hill Prairie Nature Preserve, IL:

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Orange-fringed Orchid and Royal Fern, IL:

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Black-necked Stilt, IL:

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Black-tailed Prairie Dog, CO:

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Rocky Mountains, CO:

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Compass Plant, IL:

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————————————CAUTION, SNAKES BELOW THIS LINE!!!——————————————

 

 

 

Black Rat Snake, IL:

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Cottonmouth, IL:

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Top Ten Lifer Herps of 2017

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#10 Broad-banded Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata), southeastern Missouri- This was an unexpected find on a fun trip to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (that’s not an exact location).  Since Broad-banded Watersnakes are almost certainly extirpated from Illinois, Missouri is the closest I’m going to get to seeing one locally.

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#9 Bird-voiced Treefrog (Hyla avivoca), Snake Road, Illinois-  A State-Threatened species of treefrog in Illinois, the Bird-voiced has been a species I’ve wanted to find for a long time.

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#8 Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum), southern Illinois-  Another amphibian I’ve wanted to see for a long time, this salamander was even on its nest.  Bonus points to you if you find the Smallmouth Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) hiding in the photo.

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#7 Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), Missouri – My only rare lizard of the year, this was one of the highlights of one of my Missouri trips. Overcollected for the pet trade, Eastern Collared Lizards are uncommon to find.

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#6 Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Missouri Ozarks-  This was in a parking lot, about ten minutes after we got to the location where we found it.

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#5 Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki), Missouri Ozarks- About fifteen minutes after finding the Eastern Hognose, this slithered across our path about three feet from my foot. Some people would freak out- I did, but exclusively from joy.

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#4 Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi), central Illinois- This is a snake I’ve always wanted to see, and I found it at a special spot to me, which I cannot state because collectors.  It was also up a tree, which I did not expect and which proved a photographic obstacle.

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#3 Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus), Snake Road, Illinois- My long-standing nemesis snake decided to randomly crawl out in front of me one fine October day. 58 snakes later, that was still the best snake of the day.

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#2 Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), southern Illinois- I’ve managed to see three of these this year in Illinois.  The photographed one was the best of the three.

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#1 Mud Snake (Farancia abacura), Snake Road, Illinois- It was a slow day at Snake Road, on September 15, the day after a nice rain… Suddenly, I spot a snake crossing the road at the first marshy spot on the north end.  I figured it was a Cottonmouth… but the red was a giveaway.  This is a snake that people at Snake Road who’ve been looking for 20 years haven’t found. (Don’t judge that sentence’s verbiage too harshly.)

Ending My Time In Central Illinois With Mud and Scissortails!

So, I’ve officially moved to Southern Illinois, just when I was starting to get to know Central Illinois.  However, before leaving, I took three trips through different parts of the area.

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Trip #1 was taking my mom to the wildest part of Central Illinois, Revis Hill Prairie Nature Preserve.   This proved to be more of an adventure than I planned!

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Within about ten minutes, we’d found a Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), the largest butterfly in the United States.  While it’s down in numbers from last June,  Revis Hill Prairie is one of the best butterfly spots I’ve ever visited.

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Eventually, the butterfly allowed us a good look:

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It was all downhill, uphill, downhill, really downhill, uphill, through thick briars, downhill, through thick prairie grass- OH NO, A TICK!- downhill, through stinging nettle, uphill, through spiderwebs, downhill from there.  We got lost for about two hours in the back 40 of the extensive preserve.  I did hear Kentucky and Prairie Warblers, both uncommon for this area, so it got me something at least.  Oh, and Mom and I ended up going straight down into a narrow ravine.  This area desperately needs a trail system.  At the end, we found a Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri )

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My next major adventure, the longest, was a trip to Calhoun County that took several jarring shifts throughout the day.  I was after a Laughing Gull and the confluence of the Mississippi River.  I saw neither.  I took a brief stop in Jacksonville for sandpipers at Mauvais Terre Lake, though, and found a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) when I scared it away only five feet from me!

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I did find a few sandpipers including this Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), and then a Red-shouldered Hawk, the first one recorded here according to Ebird, an online birdwatching database, flew overhead and scared them off to the far side of the lake.

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The shorebirds having flown far away from me, and nothing super-fascinating to be seen, I went over to Pike County and down to Calhoun County.  This area, southern Forgottonia, is very remote- these two counties are served by only one Walmart, and there is no cell phone reception for Verizon customers.  Despite being even more remote in spots, most of the Shawnee National Forest DOES have cell phone reception for me.  I don’t understand this.

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I stopped in the little, well-designed archeological museum at Kampsville and was told of a place called the McCully Heritage Project, which basically feels like a little bit of Southern Illinois transplanted about three hours north. I had a Yellow-throated Vireo twenty feet above me within five minutes of stopping, though the lighting was too bad for a photo.  So, I photographed a Yellow Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) instead.

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I also saw a vintage police car on the road.  I have a rule- drive two hours in the country, you will see something weird.  Sometimes the weird is a bird.  Sometimes it’s not.

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I then walked over a wetland boardwalk, which had a few Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina) on the other side.  They may be common, but I still quite like them.

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Puddling Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) were found later down the road, along the banks of the Mississippi River.  There were far more butterflies in this area than I was used to, and I quite enjoyed that.  These butterflies are sucking moisture and minerals out of the mud.

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Another fun find in the area was a lifer Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis), in the Mississippi River.  These shy turtles are not easy to find in most of Illinois.

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On the drive back upland, I ran right over a long black thing in the road, and realized as I went over it- “Oh no! That’s a Black Rat Snake!” Thankfully it was unharmed- it must have gone just between my tires.  It’s been years since I’ve seen one of these, and this was the longest one (about four feet) that I’ve ever seen!   This snake has no scientific name, because it has about six different scientific names.  I think Pantherophis spiloides is the current one, but it really varies.

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Abundant Southern and Plains Leopard frogs in the lowlands (in the hundreds) were quite welcome. I drove down through peach orchards, backwoods, and over stunning bluffs.  Calhoun County’s just a fun place to drive for the heck of it, and the occasional nature preserve, historic site, or fruit stand makes for a good place to stop.  I eventually got to the spot I wanted to get to,  Swan Lake at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, only to learn that it had been mostly emptied of water.  So, I went out on the mudflats.

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I wandered out to a willow bar, which would have been an island when the lake was at “normal” levels.   I could see birds over another levee, so I decided to walk from the willow bar  to the levee.  About a third of the way there, I went down a foot into the mud, leading to considerable problems.  To begin with, I was carrying my spotting scope, tripod, camera, and camera case over my shoulders.  Furthermore, I was alone, with no cell phone reception.  I pulled one foot out of the ooze, and, swinging my body around, attempted to go back the way I had come.  However, upon taking a step in the muck, my feet pointing almost perfectly opposite, I realized I was stuck.  My feet could get no leverage- they were both stuck, but since I was basically doing the splits, I couldn’t use one as leverage to pull out the other.  It was about this time that the giant mosquitoes arrived.  Look up Shaggy-legged Gallinipper for reference, or look up Kankakee in the search bar on this blog.  Thankfully, there were only a few.  

There was but one solution- abandon the boots.  I slipped out of the boots with a sigh.  Wearing only socks on my feet, I crawled across the mud on forearms and ankles, spreading out my weight to avoid sinking further.  Ten feet away, the ground dried out sufficiently to allow me to stand up and walk to a nearby willow bar, where I dumped my scope, camera, and tripods- all carefully bagged and protected from mud.  I then crawled back the same way.  Over the next fifteen minutes, I proceeded to dig my shoes out using only my hands and a small rock I’d found on the willow bar. Here’s the results:

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I then admired the hundreds of caterpillars among the vegetation:

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I got back to the main office, sockless, with ten minutes until closing.  After washing up, I decided to continue onwards and go for my next target, the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  This resulted in my stopping at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and seeing Alton:

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No, this isn’t a panoramic shot- it’s just cropped that way.  I drove down to the confluence, and it was closed due to temporary flooding.  Let me remind you- upriver the lake was mostly dry. Downriver, there’s flooding.  I contented myself with federally-threatened juvenile Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) at their breeding site behind a gas station at Riverlands, and headed home:

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My last trip was to Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge, one of the best birding area in the Illinois River Valley, at least in my opinion, with a friend of mine.  After finding forty-two species on the refuge itself (a Great Horned Owl, several Willow Flycatchers, and 25+ Bobwhites being the best finds), we ventured south to a private duck club’s little lake.  Nothing much was there.  While on the way, my friend mentioned that a birder he knew had seen Western Kingbirds at the nearby Meredosia power plant.   I watched out the window for awhile, when suddenly, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!  What the heck!

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According to Ebird, this female Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) is a county first record for Morgan County, though it was my third time seeing this species, and second time for Illinois.  We watched it for a bit, and then we drove down the road… past the power plant we had discussed earlier… and two Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) were sitting on the fence.   A third one, a bit further down, proved to be a good photo opportunity:

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This one flew back to the other two, and proceeded to feed them, proving that it was the parent to the two younger birds, and that they had bred someplace on the power plan’s grounds.

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I thought this was the first breeding record for Morgan County, but there’s another one out on Ebird from two or three years ago.  Still, it’s new for 2017- these birds are rare here.  Since the 1900s, Western Kingbirds have been expanding eastwards, and they’ve nested regularly at a few different spots in Illinois.  More and more nests are being found in Illinois, especially near power plants and substations.  I think someday next June, if I have the time, I will search out all power stations and substations in the Illinois River sandlands between Morgan and Tazewell Counties to see how many Western Kingbirds I can find.

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The day ended with me looking at Beardstown Marsh for Marsh Wrens, which did not appear or even sing.  I did photograph these Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a swamp-loving shrub. The next day was spent packing for the big move, and the following day we left.  Now I live in Southern Illinois, surrounded by nature preserves, state parks, and national forest, with everything from hill prairies to rocky canyons to Louisiana-style southern swamps, even roads closed twice a year for snake migration. I really love it here.  This is a big moment for me and this blog- there will be a lot of new stuff I haven’t seen before.

Spoiler for next post- google Anhinga.

 

 

 

 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I recently went up and visited Mason County, yet again, in pursuit of one of the rarer breeding birds in Illinois, a relative of the Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) above, the titular Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) below.  I like to call it the Oklahoma Quetzal, after the state for which it is the state bird and the Central American bird well-known for its incredibly long tail:

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This amazingly long-tailed bird is an unusual find in Illinois, as most of its population lives in the southern Great Plains.  I got lucky enough to find one in Kansas while on vacation, but that was a female and as we were driving by on the interstate when I saw it, I wasn’t able to photograph it.  For some reason, in the last few years a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers have bred at a power plant substation near Havana, Illinois,  with the closest breeding pairs in Missouri.

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This bird lingered just out of good photography range, but I got good enough looks at it to make it quite enjoyable!  A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flaps its wings like a moth, hunting flies and other insects over the nearby meadows and shrubby edges.  They land and eat their prey after catching it, (get it, fly-catcher?) and then wait until they see another fly to catch.

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This power substation also attracts a few more unusual species, including another Westerner, the Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) , a close relative.  These Western Kingbirds nest  in at least one or two other power substations nearby, as well as in a few locations near East St. Louis and on the other side of the river in St. Louis proper.   There’s also one pair nesting in Indiana near Evansville, which is about as  far east as this species gets.  However, for the most part they live west of the Midwest.  It always fascinates me how a bird like this ends up where it does.  I saw so many of them out in Colorado and Kansas, and yet they’re still one I like a lot.

By the way, if you know me in real life,  you know I went to Colorado recently, and I’m planning to write about that.  However, I’d like to write about this first and inform people if they’re interested in seeing these local birds.  There’s several blogs I follow that use vacations as filler material in wintertime, and I’m thinking that might be a good idea.  I’m sure I’ll get impatient and post something about that amazing trip sometime before, much like the previous post, here.

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Anyway, in addition to the various flycatchers, the area was full of birds, including many great unphotographed ones like Blue Grosbeaks, Northern Mockingbirds, Orchard Orioles, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings, etc.  All of these birds photographed were at a power substation just off Highway 97 south of Havana, including the Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) above and the Dickcissel (Spiza americana) below:

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Dickcissels  look like sparrows, but they’re actually related to cardinals (the birds, not the Roman Catholic officials).  They get their odd name from their song, which to my ears doesn’t sound like “dick-cissel”, but the name has stuck.  Their populations vary from year to year.  Currently, there is an invasion of Dickcissels in the East, in places such as Ohio, Ontario, and New York.  They do this every so often, before returning to their usual Midwestern meadows to live the following year.  No one’s really sure why this is, from what’ I’ve read.  A good article on it is on the ABA blog here.

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Another species that nests here and isn’t particularly common outside of the Illinois River and the Illinois sections of the Mississippi River floodplains (at least in the US) is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus).  Introduced from Europe to St. Louis, this species has remained in the Midwest, outcompeted by its fellow Eurasian, the House Sparrow (the “sparrow” in your backyard).   Eurasian Tree Sparrows have a spot on their cheek and an all-brown cap as distinguishing features, and they tend to prefer brushy areas over houses.

I then went over to Emiquon, after a “Laughing Gull”, which resulted in the finding of a gull too far away to identify as either Franklin’s or Laughing, the two possibilities.  Instead, the June wildflowers lined up for photography:

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Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which,  by the way, is the best form of milkweed for gardens.  Don’t dig it up in the wild, but it’s available from plant nurseries.

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Winged Monkey Flower (Mimulus alatus)

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Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata)

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The main bird highlight here was the Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), another Westerner coming east.  However, this is a wetland species attracted by Emiquon’s lakes, mudflats and marshes.  Black-necked Stilts have the longest legs relative to their size of any bird in the world, and I consider them basically the “Illinois Flamingo”.

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It should be noted that despite the rarity of the aforementioned Western birds as breeding species in Illinois, they are not listed as threatened or endangered, and they are not likely to be.  Why?  It’s quite simple.  Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Western Kingbirds, and Black-necked Stilts are expanding their range into Illinois, not declining from a previously-larger population.  Hopefully all three expand further into Illinois, as I’d love to see them all more often.

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I spent much of the afternoon driving around looking at birds, and while I saw a lot of good ones (highlights included a Vesper Sparrow, Black-billed Cuckoo, several Blue Grosbeaks, Northern Mockingbirds, both orioles, Red-headed Woodpeckers, an American Redstart, a Yellow-breasted Chat or two, and more Indigo Buntings than I could shake a stick at), I didn’t really bother to stop for photos.  I really only stopped at Meredosia Hill Prairie, much further south, which doesn’t really have birds.  It does have views, however, and I think they’re some of the best in Illinois, possibly even beating out my previous favorite of Revis Hill Prairie.

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This unusual Short Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) is one sign of a high-quality prairie, and thanks to the existance of the Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge it’s not the only prairie nearby.

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I wish this picture could accurately capture how stunning the views are from the top of this hill.  It might seem like I’m gushing a bit, but I assure you I’m praising this in moderation.  At any rate, this is where I ended the trip, and made my way back home, where I wait for the next Westerners.

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Ebird Checklists (incomplete):

 

Havana Power Substation:

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37694718

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37694873

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37695032

https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37695214

 

 

Finding Three Lifers in a Flooded Cornfield (Four Corners, Meredosia NWR)


The last day of May was one of the better days I’ve birded this year.  I was going to visit Emiquon and look for a vagrant White-faced Ibis and Western Kingbirds, but the Ibis had left and the Western Kingbirds will wait for now, since they’re a breeding species. Furthermore, I couldn’t find any birders to go along. So, after 17 Dunlin and two Red-necked Pharalopes were reported at Four Corners in Morgan County, I decided to go looking, as I’d never seen either species.  I started out ambling in the country, up towards Beardstown, a town to which surprisingly I’ve never been before.  Dickcissels (Spiza americana) (above) sang along as I went.
Evidently Beardstown has a marsh.  All I found in it was Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and Wood Ducks, as well as a calling Sora, not seen but heard.  A Sora is a type of rail, little birds with  tendencies to hide in marshes and make weird sounds.  Ordinarily, a Sora would be the best bird of the day, but not on this particular day…

Four Corners was the next place I stopped.  This place, south of Beardstown near Meredosia, is a series of large fluddles, or flooded fields, around a four-way intersection of two county roads.  At the time of my visit, the flooded zones were the size of small lakes, and they had been there for at least a month or two, allowing much life to grow in them.  This mixture of insects, worms, and algae was the perfect stopover for migrating shorebirds, including…

 Dunlin!  These were the first lifers of the day.  Dunlin (Calidris alpina) are a fairly common shorebird, but one I’d continued to miss for some reason.  They are the long, thin-billed birds with gold backs and black bellies above.  Dunlin migrate from the edge of the Arctic Ocean, far above the Arctic Circle, all the way to the Florida Coast in the winter, and then back again.Enter a caption

 

Forster’s Terns (Sterna forsteri) sat by, and a Common Tern flew off before I took this photo!  Both of those are State-endangered, because while they’re very common migrants, they only rarely breed in Northeastern Illinois.

Can you spot the Red-necked Pharalope?  It’s got a white belly and white cheek patch.

 

 

 I met up with Vaughn Suhling here, and we birded from about 4:45 to 7:15 PM.  These Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to birdwatching here.

About two dozen Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) roamed through the fields, often flying at other birds.  The Killdeer would chase off the Semipalmated Sandpipers, and the Black-necked Stilts would chase off the Killdeer.  I presume this aggression is a display of these birds defending their nests, as I’ve seen something similar at Emiquon.

One of my favorites were the thirty-two Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) flying overhead.  Black Terns are another Illinois State-endangered species, primarily because they nest in freshwater marshes in far Northestern Illinois- much like Forster’s Terns and Common Terns.

A few White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) hid among the terns on shore.  These are distingushed by having longer wings, slightly larger size, and white rumps when in flight.

Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpipers weren’t the only species present. The majority were Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), the small, pale, plain ones in the photo above.

A few Stilt Sandpipers (Calidris himantopus) also hung about, including this one cleaning its feathers. They were a nice side bonus to the day.

The highlights, however, were the Phalaropes.  Phalaropes are among the oddest birds in the world.  The Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)below in the center (Killdeer [Charadrius vociferus] on the left, Semipalmated Sandpiper on the right) is a female, and the females are more colorful than the males.  This is common among humans, but generally not among birds. Furthermore, Phalaropes are in the group called shorebirds, but the Red and the Red-necked Phalarope both winter out on the deep sea, eating plankton and swimming on the surface of the water, far out of sight of shore.  Odd for a SHOREbird!

Perhaps most fascinating about this group of shorebirds is how they feed- they spin in a circle to produce a current and stir up their food.  At any rate, this was my first Red-necked Phalarope, and these aren’t easy to find in Illinois during the spring, so I was quite happy!

A second one can be seen on the left side of this photo.  I watched them spin for a bit, among the many Semipalmated Sandpipers, before moving on.

 

Other odd birds included State-threatened Wilson’s Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) (right, above) and  a pair of late Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata).  Duckwise, I saw 5 Blue-winged Teal,  the 2 late Northern Shovelers, and 2 (breeding) Hooded Mergansers, which with Mallards and Wood Ducks makes 5 species- not bad for the end of May! The photos of these birds, so far away, were obscured due to the haze of humidity from water evaporating out of these ponds.

We were briefly interrupted by the arrival of a speeder getting pulled over, and this inspired us to go looking for Common Gallinules where they breed nearby.  We found one of these state-endangered birds, among a flooded marsh/prairie with breeding Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots calling, when a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) showed up.  This State-endangered species is rare away from Northeastern Illinois and Emiquon, to my understanding.  I also saw a Green Heron, a Great Egret, and Great Blue Herons here.

Calling Dickcissels  were everywhere, as, deeper in the grasses, were Northern Bobwhites and Ring-necked Pheasants.  A few Indigo Buntings also sang, though I didn’t get any good photos.

We then went over to the nearby Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge, looking through prairies with the bluffs above the Illinois River in the background.

A few American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) hopped about in a field where the uncommon if uncomely Henslow’s Sparrows had been seen, though we heard and saw nothing more exciting than a Grasshopper Sparrow, another little brown bird non-birders don’t care about, here.

Next, we went looking for a Blue Grosbeak at another spot, just north of this.

This spot had my first Illinois Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius), though I did recently see a few of these for the first time in Missouri, in this post here.

Last migrants, the Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are flying north, and I’ve seen a few hundred in the last few weeks or so, mostly at times and places it’s inconvenient to record them.

 

Little Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) love grassy areas throughout the state, and they are one of the few warblers I can easily find in Illinois.  After finding a few more birds, but not our target Blue Grosbeak, we turned around, only to spot something…

My second-ever in Illinois Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea), a female, looked over at me from its perch and posed perfectly for the camera.  This is one of several bird species far more common at Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge than most other spots in Illinois.

Another bird in that same category is the Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens), and here’s one below.  This unique “thrasher-warbler” (it’s a warbler with the song and behavior of a thrasher/mockingbird) is one of the more common “rarities” in Illinois.  It seems to me that birds in Illinois sometimes have their rarity determined based on how many times they are seen in Chicago. Chats seem fairly easy to find in sandy, brushy areas downstate.

Just as we began to leave again, a state-threatened species, the Black-billed Cuckoo, a third lifer for me, flew across our path and into the bushes.  We stopped leaving once more, and began looking for it.  Black-billed Cuckoos are a nemesis of mine I’m glad to have conquered, albeit with a lack of a photo.

Though we didn’t refind it, I did see a Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii) and took its photo.  These rarely-seen birds were calling all over, but I hate to report them if I don’t see at least one.  This is usually about as much as you see of a Bell’s Vireo, and to be fair, it isn’t the most exciting bird in Illinois.  The fact that I found my first one only a week before is far more exciting to me, however.  Bell’s Vireos are a little gray Western bird that are locally abundant in Illinois.  Some spots have many, most have none.  They like shrubs on the edge of prairies in western Illinois.

I drove back home along the scenic bluffside roads an extremely happy man. Three lifers is a very good day, and with all the other birds on top, today was probably my best birding day of this spring. And I wasn’t even expecting to go to Meredosia as of that morning!

Bird of the day, among so many good birds, would have to be the Black-billed Cuckoo, followed by the show-stealing Black-crowned Night Heron and the Red-necked Pharalope. However, over half of the birds I saw today would be the highlights of any other average day. Heck, seven of these birds are state-listed as threatened or endangered. (To be fair, the Black, Common, and Forster’s Terns and the Wilson’s Pharalope are kind of cheating on that, since they’re fairly common migrants.) Seeing the state-listed Black-billed Cuckoo, Common Gallinule, and Black-crowned Night Heron made my day just as much as the lifer shorebirds. Thanks to Vaughn for showing me around!

(P. S. I had one last stop at Centennial Park, just a second or two late for the setting sun, but not too late to capture the Foxglove Beardtongue spectacle at the park’s prairie restoration)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ebird Checklists

Four Corners (I have 51 species- this may be my longest checklist ever!)

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37301701

Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37301834