Thursday, June 26, 2014

Southern Illinois Trip

June birding in northeast Illinois leaves a bit to be desired. Migration is amazing, but very little actually sticks around to breed. There are fun specialties here and there, but for the most part it's slow going and, aside from Breeding Bird Surveys, it's a good time to recoup before birds start heading back south.

Or, you can go south.

Last June, I took a week long camping/birding trip throughout southern Illinois, exploring it for the first time. This year I had less time, but I also had fewer targets. Jen had an out of town, work related conference June 11- 13, so during that time Matt Wistrand, who is also trying to get 300 in the state this year, joined me for a three day dash to get some of the must-see birds for any big year effort in Illinois. The trip was a great success.

Wednesday, June 11: We took off early and made our first stop at Guzy Prairie on the way down, where Dickcissels rang out all around us, and the best bird was this vigorously calling Sedge Wren. Carlyle Lake was our next stop, where we weren't able to find Dan's Least Terns at Whitetail, but on the way out of the are we did have a Blue Grosbeak, an overdue year bird for me.

Blue Grosbeak
Clinton Co, IL
June 11, 2014

And then we meandered down to the truly southern portion of the state. Having withstood intermittent showers on the way down, we were pleased to arrive at Ferne Clyffe during a brief dry spell. We managed to set up camp before the next downpour, and we were off again, this time for Johnson County.

There's a birdy little stretch of road just north of Karnak that I fortuitously happened upon last year after taking a wrong turn, so we headed there and easily came upon some of the birds that make it so enjoyable to bird this region. Prairie Warblers and White-eyed Vireos sounded off constantly, and Yellow-breasted Chats chattered away along a little trail. Southern Illinois is thick with Prothonotary Warblers too, and it wasn't long before we were surrounded by them singing on all sides.

Yellow-breasted Chat
Johnson Co, IL
June 11, 2014

Prothonotary Warbler
Johnson Co, IL
June 11, 2014

Just a couple miles north of here is where a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers has taken up residence for the second year in a row. A lifer for Matt, and a nice year bird and county bird for me. Always a treat to see these unique birds. We set up the scope to enjoy the male for a little while, watching it hawk out over a meadow as the tail dragged behind. One of these years I'll manage a pic of one in flight.



Scissor-tailed Flycatchers
Johnson Co, IL
June 11, 2014

We got most of the southern specialties on the trip, including Black Vultures mixed in with larger vulture flocks on multiple occasions.


Black and Turkey Vultures
Pulaski Co, IL
June 11, 2014

Matt already had Mississippi Kite for the year, but I still needed it. The first one I saw on the trip was a soaring bird as we were on the highway - a quick look and Matt wasn't able to get on it, so not a very satisfying encounter. But that was remedied a few minutes later by this gorgeous bird that just sat and preened for us. One of the coolest Illinois birds by far. I think it's picking its nose in the first pic.


Mississippi Kite
Pulaski Co, IL
June 11, 2014

We wound our way down to Alexander County, where we found Least Terns in a couple locations around the Miller City Blacktop. This was another lifer for Matt. I had the privilege of getting to see the McHenry County bird that randomly showed up the week prior (and like a moron I accidentally deleted my pictures, gah!), so it wasn't a year bird, but I doubt anyone else can say that they have seen Least Terns in the northernmost and southernmost counties of Illinois in less than 10 days!

Least Tern
Alexander Co, IL
June 11, 2014

We continued to cruise the backroads of Alexander County with nothing particular in mind, just soaking up the birdy habitat. One of the birds I finally felt like I started to understand better on this trip was the Blue Grosbeak. We both heard this one call as we drove by with the windows down.

Blue Grosbeak
Alexander Co, IL
June 11, 2014

As the sun sank below the horizon we worked back to Ferne Clyffe for some dinner, sleep, and nightjars. Much to our delight, a Chuck-will's-widow was calling on our way back to our campsite. It's the best I've ever heard this species, what a remarkable sound. You can listen to it here and here, and on the second one you can really clearly hear the "chuck" at the beginning, so cool! Eastern Whip-poor-wills and a couple Barred Owls were calling with a couple more Chucks back at our camp site.

Thursday, June 12: The next morning we began back in Alexander, picking up Worm-eating Warbler, finally getting a look at one of the many singing Kentucky Warblers, and enjoying another perched Mississippi Kite.



Mississippi Kite
Alexander Co, IL
June 12, 2014

From there it was on to one of my favorite spots in all of Illinois: Oakwood Bottoms. On the way we had some Jackson County Least Terns and a Snowy Egret. Though Oakwood didn't have my hoped for Yellow-crowned Night Heron (still need it for the year!), there were enough other highlights to keep us entertained. The fluddle along the entrance road had a Snowy Egret in with some Little Blue Herons and a couple very territorial Black-necked Stilts.


Snowy Egret
Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson Co, IL
June 12, 2014

Snowy and Great Egret
Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson Co, IL
June 12, 2014

Little Blue Herons
Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson Co, IL
June 12, 2014

And of course, Prothonotaries...


Prothonotary Warbler
Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson Co, IL
June 12, 2014

On the way back down the road, we spotted a Mississippi Kite, and then a second, then a third, then a fourth flying together. This was the largest group either of us had seen so we were pretty excited. We stopped back by the same fluddle on the way out, and as I was about to drive off Matt asked me to stop. He had spotted some movement over the treeline and began counting off the number of Mississippi Kites he was looking at. We got out, put the scope on them, and carefully counted a kettle of 30 kites mixed in with Turkey and Black Vultures! It was one of the coolest things I've seen all year.


Mississippi Kites
Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson Co, IL
June 12, 2014

On our journey north, some roadwork encouraged us to take a little backroad detour through Randolph County, giving us the chance to explore new territory and get some really enjoyable county listing in. Here's some of what we found. We continued north, finding more Least Terns along the way, and we had a Mississippi Kite a little out of its typical range at Kidd Lake.

Then it was on to East St. Louis, where we found yet another Snowy Egret.

Snowy Egret
East St. Louis, St. Clair Co, IL
June 12, 2014

The pair of Western Kingbirds was easy to pick up in its odd location of combined power lines and blacktops.

Western Kingbird
East St. Louis, St. Clair Co, IL
June 12, 2014

We birded a little bit in Madison County, trying to find a Yellow-crowned at Cahokia to no avail, but nearby we did find a huge wetland that was absolutely loaded with at least 50 Little Blue Herons! After the Mississippi Kite kettle, this made for the second impressive spectacle of the day!




Little Blue Herons
Madison Co, IL
June 12, 2014

Horeshoe Lake had a couple birds of interest and this awesome beast of a softshell that Matt spotted along the dike road.

Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle
Horseshoe Lake, Madison Co, IL
June 12, 2014

This guy apparently missed the flight north.

Snow Goose
Horseshoe Lake, Madison Co, IL
June 12, 2014

As did these...

Lesser Scaup
Horseshoe Lake, Madison Co, IL
June 12, 2014

The next couple hours involved more county listing as we made the trek up to Siloam Springs. In Brown County, near the entrance to the park, we came upon a group of Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Brown Co, IL
June 12, 2014

We set up camp in the exact spot I used last year, where we picked up a nice little eclectic list of Summer and Scarlet Tanager, Broad-winged Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, and the ever melodious Wood Thrush. After dusk, we cruised the roads of the park, picking up Eastern Whip-poor-wills for Brown and Adams County. Back at our campsite, another Whip was calling, a Barred Owl sounded off consistently, and an Eastern Screech Owl called once.

Friday, June 13: The next morning began with birding Siloam briefly, where we picked up Worm-eating Warbler in the same spot I had it last year, along with many Ovenbird, a Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat. On the way out of the park, this Northern Bobwhite was calling loudly.

Back in Brown County, we stopped to pick this guy up, who couldn't have possibly been more cooperative, sitting up and singing for us right out in the open!

Bewick's Wren
Brown Co, IL
June 13, 2014

Then it was on to Emiquon, where the ibis flock was nowhere to be found unfortunately. The Black-necked Stilt greeting committee was in full force though.




Black-necked Stilt
Emiquon NWR, Fulton Co, IL
June 13, 2014

A Laughing Gull had been found by Steve Spitzer the previous day, and I was optimistic about it sticking around. There were very few gulls on Thompson Lake, but the first one I got on looked suspicious. My first thought was that I hadn't seen that much black in the primaries of a gull in a long while. It was a long ways out, so I followed it for a little while and was able to see a full hood and darker mantle, with the white of the neck separating the two - it was the Laughing Gull! Later I relocated it back at the South Globe and was able to watch it in flight with a Ring-billed for nice size and mantle comparison. This was an overdue state bird for me, #309! The marsh had Least Bitterns and a couple loud Common Gallinules Picking up more Yellow-breasted Chats and Blue Grosbeaks just north of the preserve was another nice highlight, too.

Our last stop was Hennepin Hopper, where we added Yellow-headed Blackbirds to our trip list, and I picked out my first Black Terns of the year in a flock of distant Sterna, which were likely Forster's.

With the waterfowl we picked up at Emiquon and Hennepin, we crossed the 130 mark for the trip, which was my goal. In addition to all the specialties we got to see, I would have to say that the number of Blue Grosbeaks and Yellow-breasted Chats that we got to enjoy along the way was one of the highlights for me. The final tally brought me up to 291 for the year in Illinois.