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Birding the Illinois River: Emiquon

Field Trip: Sat. Aug. 15, 2009                                     Page 1  2 Next

Photo Gallery:

Many thanks to John Mullen of the Peoria Park District and Maury Brucker of the Peoria Audubon Society for organizing and leading the Birding along the Illinois River field trip.  We filled two 15-passenger Peoria Park District vans for a day of birding.  The timing in early to mid-August was to match the peak of the fall shorebird migration south. 

Although John and Maury have organized this trip before, this time we elected to stay on the west side of the Illinois River as we left Peoria.  Our destination was the Emiquon wetland restoration south of Peoria.  This restoration project by The Nature Conservancy is one of the largest floodplain projects in the country outside the Florida Everglades. 

Maury secured access to an area that is presently off-limits to the public.  This trip, several areas of Emiquon were the destination for birding. 

Dennis, humble webmaster of Peoria Audubon Society, recorded the event by taking photos along the way. 

Herons & Egrets off Mendenhall Road

As we motored south, Maury pointed out what we came across and explained the significance to both vans with FRS radios.  Two radios were in each van so that everyone could hear what was going on. 

Our first stop was off the Mendenhall Road, just 4 miles south of I-474 by Bartonville.  This road leads to a boat ramp for access to the Illinois River. 

In the early morning light and haze, there were a large number of herons and egrets around.  One of the more significant birds we watched was a Black-crowned Night Heron.  Maury said that its been perhaps ten years since he saw one along here.  Unfortunately, the distance was too far for a good photo.  But several people brought along spotting scopes so that everyone had a good opportunity to view. 

Mike Miller Pointing out Differences Among Swallow Nests

After Mendenhall, we stopped at the Banner Marsh for a "pit-stop" and to see a few more birds.  Mike Miller of the Peoria Park District - and driver for one of the vans - indicated that the large number of swallows were "staging."  This is when they start to gather in large flocks for their migration south.  In the above image, Mike is pointing out the differences in the nests of the Cliff Swallows and Barn Swallows.  At Banner, Mike commented that we also had Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows flying around. 

Barn Swallow Nest (left) & Cliff Swallow Nest (right)

Maury explained that the Mute Swans that we found are not indigenous to the US.  They were brought over from Europe in the late 1800s.  Unfortunately, many of them have multiplied to the extent of becoming a nuisance in some areas.  They are large aggressive birds that may displace many of our native species as they all fight over limited habitat.  Note the orange in the bills, which differentiates them from our native swans. 

Mute Swans at Banner Marsh

We also saw a Red-headed Woodpecker on a distant snag in the swamp at Banner.  Maury indicated that this species has been on the decline in many areas due to competition with the European Starling, another non-native species.  Frequently, the Starling may desire to nest in a nesting cavity carved out by the woodpecker.  But since the Starling is so aggressive, they may push the woodpecker from their habitat. 

Red-headed Woodpecker at Banner Marsh

The swallows were staging in large groups to get ready for their southern migration. 

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

After Banner Marsh, we continued on to Emiquon.  The first place at Emiquon to visit was the new public boat launch area. 

Emiquon Near New Public Boat Launch Ramp

In the distance, we could see a large flock of egrets.  Note the levee in the background in the photo below.  The levee separates Emiquon from the channel of the Illinois River. 

Flock of Egrets at Emiquon

From the van we saw a group of juvenile pied-billed grebes at Emiquon.  The white stripped markings on the head is a marker for the juvenile plumage in the above image.  The almost noon sun obscures the markings somewhat. 

Juvenile Pied-billed Grebes at Emiquon

From the van we saw a group of juvenile pied-billed grebes at Emiquon.  The white stripped markings on the head is a marker for the juvenile plumage in the above image.  The almost noon sun obscures the markings somewhat. 

The group scanned along the wetland vegetation for more of the distant bird life.  As we motored toward Dickson Mounds for lunch, we spotted the Black-necked Stilt and Snowy Egret in the image below. 

Black-necked Stilt and Snowy Egret at Emiquon

After lunch, catered by John Mullen, one of the trip organizers, we again headed toward Emiquon for more birding.  Note the long legs on the stilt. 

Another Black-necked Stilt in the Emiquon Wetlands

We headed to what used to be known as the "Norris Farms Pump House Road."  This Emiquon entrance is closed to the public.  It amounts to a narrow trail along the levee that runs for perhaps 2-3 miles.  Along this long road, we had numerous opportunities to get out and watch the birds. 

Flock of Egrets at Emiquon

The above egrets were viewed from the Pump House Road. 

Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron

As we continued along the Pump House Road, our patience paid off by being able to stop and look at another Black-necked Stilt.  These birds are very skittish.  After coming to a stop Dennis very carefully got out of the van and was able to take the image below.  Then, within a few seconds the bird took flight. 

Black-necked Stilt at Emiquon

Amazingly enough, Dennis was able to take another photo of the bird on the fly.  Note that these images are highly cropped in. 

Black-necked Stilt Taking Flight

More birding images from Emiquon and shorebird images are on the next page. 

Click for Page 2

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