Category: Topical

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 (

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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….


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.

Why The Big Year Is Over

Alright, I think it’s fair to fully disclose why I stopped the Jackson County Big Year 2018 a month in. I’ve had two birders whom I respect considerably and whom have significant experience in birding Southern IL both question or received questions about my sightings of late.  I got an email from one of them:

“Just a word of caution. I’ve received several messages from birders across the state inquiring about ALL of your recent sightings. Dude, no offense, but people realize you’re fairly new to birding and finding something rare, every day or most every time you’re out, just doesn’t happen.  It doesn’t help your cause that you’ve admitted you are doing a Jackson County Big Year.   Just trying to offer you some advice. SLOW DOWN. Your list of questionable finds is growing leaps and bounds. That throws up flags in eBird but also in people’s minds.   Your best defense is get photos!  I know, sometimes that is quite difficult. But you could hush your naysayers with positive ID’s from photos you take.   I’ve had to do the same sort of thing back in my beginning days… (Trails off in an encouraging story)”.

Yeah, that was a terrifying thing to read at the beginning of the day. Birdwatching is my escapist hobby (other than writing).  If people don’t trust me… that’s not good. There’s another young birder in my state in whom no confidence is given, as he regularly reports the most unlikely birds.  It’s always been my goal to not end up like him, and today I realized how close I’m coming, in people’s minds, to ending up that way.

I’ve been doing this for two, three years.  I think that’s long enough to become overconfident in my ability to correctly identify a bird.  I’ve certainly been overconfident in my ability to correctly ID Red-tailed Hawk subspecies.  As a result, I’ve removed all records of those on eBird, except for the ones in which I have absolute confidence, witnesses, and/or photos.

I’ve made some mistakes, the most public of which was a Slaty-backed Gull retraction last month, twice, in the listserv, when I mistook two different gulls for the bird.   Back in December 2017 I also had to retract a Golden Eagle sighting, when a friend and I mistook an immature Bald Eagle for a Golden Eagle.  I’m sure neither of these retractions has helped my believability in any way.

There’s also a few records for which I have limited evidence- a recent, unusual LeConte’s Sparrow, a very early Lincoln’s Sparrow the day before the LeConte’s, a Greater Scaup a few days before that, and going back into last year, some of the more notable ones include Red Crossbills and Long-eared Owl in southern IL.  Now, I firmly believe that I saw all the aforementioned birds (or heard, in the case of the owl), but I can understand why people would doubt them.

Younger birders (those below the age of 30) are not generally trusted anyway.  That’s understandable- birdwatching is a hobby that is built on experience.  Those who are younger have less experience-even if they have sharper eyes and more acute hearing.  It’s a bit of stereotyping of which I’m not particularly fond.  That being said, I also make mistakes due to my lack of experience.  For instance, I reported a male Brewer’s Blackbird from a field with Rusty Blackbirds near one of the best spots for Rusty Blackbirds in the state (and a bad spot for Brewer’s Blackbird).  I forgot that midwinter-onwards, male Rusty Blackbirds can start to change into breeding plumage and resemble male Brewer’s Blackbirds.  (That sighting is now “blackbird sp.” on Ebird.)  I was told of this by another birder with much more experience.  Remembering when plumage changes occur is one of the thousands of little bits of information gained through experience (and extensive internet research).  While I’ve done much of the latter, I still need much of the former.

As of this writing, I was #3 on Ebird in Illinois for 2018.  I don’t know most of the people in the top 100, and they don’t know me.  I’ll be dropping ranks quickly when spring migration rolls around, but until then I’m this odd newer birder few people know up on the top.  (I’m up that high because I went from the top to the bottom of Illinois over winter break, and I’ve been out nearly every day in southern IL where there’s more wintering species than in most of the state.)

People trying to break records are also not trusted, since it’d be only too easy to lie about something in the on-your-honor system of bird records.

I tend to go birdwatching solo- this works best for me, as I don’t really have anyone to go with at present.  However, this also puts me in the position of being the only person witnessing what I see.  As a birder in my 20s, birding solo is a good way to be absolutely not trusted whatsoever.  Add to that a county big year, a few unusual sightings, and being #3 in number of species on Ebird in the state of Illinois for 2018 (so far), and you have the perfect combination for doubters.

To take the birder’s advice, I do plan to slow down.  I was tiring of the big year before all this blew up, as I like wandering around anywhere I want without regard to county lines and other political boundaries. Also, my school and work loads are only going to increase, and I won’t be able to handle trying to see every bird during migration, doing my job, and passing my classes at school at the same time.  This sudden development happening at the same time put several nails in a coffin that was already being built.

So- the steps I have taken/ plan to take.


#1- Get more photos- I’m going to have a camera in hand more often, and get photos of more birds that I see.  It’s hard to argue with a photo. For instance, I saw a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) in a field in Randolph county recently.  I took a photo, and while it’s not a great photo, it shows that I saw the bird (one of my favorites, too!)

#2- End the Big Year- If I don’t have a reason to be constantly looking for new species, people might consider me more credible.

#3- Go birding with other birders- The more witnesses I have, the more trustworthy I am. Obviously these need to be witnesses with enough experience to correct me when I am wrong.  When, not if, because at some point I will be wrong.

#4- Avoid RTHA ssp.- This is a weak point for me, and I’m going to stop submitting them until I get more experience. I’ve gone back and removed a few of these, also.  I don’t think people realize this, but I do go back and remove records if I think I made a bad call after the fact.  I reported a Red-necked Grebe in December 2016 on Lake Springfield- I saw one November 2017 and realized the bird I’d seen was different enough that I couldn’t be sure of its identity.  So, I removed that record from Ebird, and from my life lists.  (Thankfully, I’ve seen Red-necked Grebes in Illinois since, albeit without a photo or witness… at least other birders saw them before and after I did!)


#5- Publicize my correct ID’s with photos – In order to ensure that I rebuild my reputation, I need to show that I have one worthy of rebuilding.  So, any rare birds I see that I have photos of are going on Facebook.  I started this recently, with this photo of a Taiga ssp. Merlin (Falco columbarius) above. Merlins are an uncommon falcon, and I saw two of them on this day- with witnesses, to be sure, but by putting photos out, I’m directly counteracting people who think I’m making stuff up.  Here’s the other one, a less common Prairie ssp. Merlin:


#6- Underestimate numbers of birds and use the “sp.” on Ebird-  If I’m not 100% sure of a bird, I need to put it as a vague species, like “sparrow sp.”  I do this on occasion, but not enough.  If it’s a flock of birds and the only ones I can see are X species, I tend to count them all as X species, even the ones that I didn’t look over as closely.   I also need to lower the numbers of birds I see.  I tend to count higher numbers than some people, because I have good eyes and ears and probably a bit of overconfidence in my ability to ID everything that flies my way.   However, if I lower my numbers so that they are in line with what’s expected (or even lower than that), I’ll still be reporting the birds I saw- just not all of them.  Think about it this way; there’s at least the lower number of birds that I put.  If I put a higher number and someone comes back to the spot and finds a lower number, they may believe that I overestimated the number in the first place.  If I put a lower number and someone comes back to the spot and finds a higher number, they know that I was right, plus extra.

I believe that if I do these six things for a considerable amount of time, people will trust me more.  Hopefully no more LeConte’s Sparrows come along and mess this up.  I really don’t want to find any rarities right now, for once in my life. That’s kind of a sad position to be in.

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).


#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.


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


#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.


#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).


#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…


#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.


#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


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


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


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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?


#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:


Inspiration Point, IL:


Western Wood-Pewee, CO:


Meredosia Hill Prairie Nature Preserve, IL:


Orange-fringed Orchid and Royal Fern, IL:


Black-necked Stilt, IL:


Black-tailed Prairie Dog, CO:


Rocky Mountains, CO:


Compass Plant, IL:



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




Black Rat Snake, IL:


Cottonmouth, IL:


Top Ten Lifer Herps of 2017


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.)

My Discontented List: 8 Goals for 2018, plus Goals Completed for 2017

1 . Beat the year record of 246 species for Jackson County (BIG ONE)- Canceled officially.

2.  SEE a Cerulean Warbler

3.  Find Yellow Ladies’ Slipper Orchids in bloom, any of the three species in IL.

4.  Find three of the following snakes:  Eastern Massasauga, Milk Snake, Kirtland’s Snake, Worm Snake, Fox Snake, Smooth Green Snake, Shawnee Kingsnake, Queen Snake, Flathead Snake, Coachwhip, Pygmy Rattlesnake, Plains Garter Snake, and/or Smooth Earth Snake

5.  Find five of the following birds:  Harlequin Duck, Brant, Eared Grebe,  Swallow-tailed Kite, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Barn Owl,  Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Bittern,  Ferruginous Hawk,  Greater Prairie-chicken, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Chuck- Will’s-Widow,  Northern Shrike, Mountain Bluebird, Smith’s Longspur, Alder Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher (IL only),  Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler,  Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, White-winged Crossbill, Monk Parakeet, and/or Evening Grosbeak.

6.  Visit Montrose Point- THIS WILL HAPPEN!!!

7.  Buy a complete set of Mohlenbrock’s  “Vascular Flora of Illinois” and find fifty species of plants new to me in Illinois.

8. Find three of the following amphibians:  Illinois Chorus Frog, Northern Crawfish Frog, Eastern Narrowmouth Toad,  Wood Frog, Eastern Spadefoot Toad,  Eastern Tiger Salamander, Ringed Salamander,  Mole Salamander, Blue-spotted Salamander, Four-toed Salamander, Lesser Siren, Common Mudpuppy, and/or Dusky Salamander.

Goals completed for 2017:

  1. (Find Yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchids! ) NOPE.  

2. (See five of the following birds):  YEP!  Bolded birds were seen, struck-through birds are birds on my list that were not seen.  Long-tailed Duck, Golden Eagle, Mississippi Kite(either) [Least] Bittern,  Tundra Swan, Red-throated Loon,  Western Grebe, Black Scoter, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Greater Prairie-chicken,  Dunlin, WhimbrelWillet, Wilson’s Snipe, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Upland SandpiperBuff-breasted Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Barn Owl,  Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snowy Owl, Nelson’s Sparrow, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, (both) Cuckoos,  (any) [Virginia] Rail,  Northern or Loggerhead ShrikeMarsh Wren, Orchard Oriole, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cerulean WarblerKentucky Warbler, Canada WarblerYellow-throated Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Pine Siskin, (any)[Red] Crossbill, and/or Evening Grosbeak.

3. (Find two of the following reptiles:) YEP! Ornate Box Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle, Spotted Turtle, Slender Glass LizardBullsnake, Rough Green Snake, Smooth Green Snake, Western and/or Eastern Hognose SnakeMilksnake, Fox Snake, Lined Snake, Smooth Earth Snake, Coachwhip, and/or Plains Garter Snake.

4. (Find three of the following amphibians:)  YEP! Tiger Salamander, Marbled Salamander, Slimy Salamander, Silvery Salamander, Cave Salamander, Longtail Salamander, Two-lined Salamander, Spadefoot Toad, Eastern Red-backed Salamander, Narrowmouth Toad, Green Treefrog, Bird-voiced Tree Frog, Wood Frog, and/or Illinois Chorus Frog.

5. (Find a venomous snake in Illinois, of any kind.)  YEP!  Copperhead, Cottonmouth AND Timber Rattlesnake, all within about a mile or two of each other, actually.

6. (Find a Kirtland’s Snake) NOPE.

7. (Visit four new (to me) state parks and/or nature preserves) YEP!

8. (Revisit Fults Hill Prairie and find a Scorpion, [four herp species excised due to specific location] Splendid Tiger Beetle or just something that’s rare that lives there.) YEP… the beetle.

9.  (Visit Montrose Point) NOPE.

10. (Visit the Ozarks) YEP!

11. (Visit Snake Road) YEP!!!

12. (See a live, wild skunk, bear, or badger) NOPE.

13. (Find a Snowy Egret in IL) YEP!!!

14. (Find at least three of the following plants:)  YEP! Bird’s Eye Primrose, Poke Milkweed, Wild Agave, Bunchflower, (any) Turtlehead,  Kalm’s Lobelia, Obe-Wan Conobea, Lance-leaved Violet, Powdery Thalia, (either) Boltonia, Cancer Root, (any) Orobanche, Prairie Trout-Lily, (either) Ginseng, French’s Shooting Star, Showy Orchis,  Indian Pink, Snow TrilliumBird’s Foot Violet, Turk’s Cap Lily, (any) Twayblade, Pitcher’s Leather Flower, (either) Camassia,  French Grass, Violet Wood Sorrel, Missouri Coneflower, Royal Catchfly, (any) Spiranthes, (any native in Illinois) Rhododendron, Filmy Fern, Matalea, Heart-leaved Plaintain, Pink Corydalis, (any) SabatiaOzark MilkvetchBlue Hearts, Lobed Spleenwort, Walking Fern, Fameflower, (any in Illinois) clubmosses, Green Trillium, American Chestnut, Water Tupelo.

15. (Find at least one of any Platanthera orchid species)  YEP!

16. (Find at least one Coralroot Orchid) YEP!!

17. (Have fun!) YEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!