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Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge: Behind the Scenes

Field Trip: Sat. May 15, 2010    

Photo Gallery:

Many thanks to Lee Albright, Refuge Manager at the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge to providing a group of Peoria Audubon members a view of the refuge that is not usually seen by the public.  At the March 10, 2010 membership meeting, Lee extended the offer of a private tour to any Peoria Audubon members that wished to go along.  With the profusion of rain this spring, the tour kept getting delayed and delayed until May 15 opportunity. 

One of the reasons for the delay is that the area that Lee was to provide the tour was marginally under water part of this spring. 

Lake Chautauqua and the Wildlife Refuge consists of 4388 acres of Illinois River bottomland.  And, approximately 3200 acres of the NWR area is classified as the normal pool of the lake. 

From the Chautauqua NWR offices at 19031 E. County Road 211N, Havana, IL, Lee lead us on a tour across the approximately 12 miles of levee that encompasses Lake Chautauqua.  

Lee Albright at Water Control Feature on Quill Creek

One of the noteworthy features was the water control feature on Quill Creek, which runs on the south side of the levee surrounding Lake Chautauqua.  The weir in the water control feature is used to control and maintain the height of the water in the wetland area

Lee Albright Observing Weir on Quill Creek

With the weir, which is sometimes known as a lowhead dam, water flows over the top.  Smaller adjustments in the water flow are made with sluce gates, which are incorporated into the portion of the structure that Lee is standing on. 

White Pelican at Chautauqua NWR

While we were viewing the area, a white pelican circled around then flew on.   

At one place in the levee, about two miles from the NWS Office, water was allowed to flow into the wetland area.  Since the water flow was restricted to a small variable opening near the bottom of the feature below, this caused the water velocity to increase.  And, with the increased velocity came increased turbulence. 

Invasive Asian Carp Jumping in Fast Water

And, as seen above, the higher speed water in conjunction with the increased turbulence caused an accumulation of invasive Asian carp to jump.  No boat propeller was needed - unlike many of the boating stories on the Illinois River - as the carp were "continuously" jumping in the area.  Note that the water velocity increased significantly at this location causing the turbulence.  It looked as if perhaps 20-30 carp were somewhat "stationary" in this area, but jumping.  Many of these carp were perhaps 2 - 2 1/2 feet long. 

Beaver Lodge in Lake Chautauqua

Lee Albright explained that the water level was being kept at a high level, as part of a multi-year program, to eliminate or kill-off many of the willows from the shoreline.  Beavers only recently found the situation to be of their liking. 

Canada Geese & Goslings: Exhibiting Threat Posture

As we drove along, we had a chance of viewing other wildlife.  In the above photo, a pair of Canada Geese apparently felt threatened by our presence.  Note the lowered neck, indicating a threat posture, with the goose in front. 

Bald Eagle at Lake Chautauqua

As we drove along, we spotted a Bald Eagle on one of the trees near the levee.  

Bald Eagle at Lake Chautauqua

Lee explained that the area the eagle was perched was in a fairly isolated area that was somewhat sheltered from most of the public. 

Spotted Sandpiper at Lake Chautauqua

In a couple of places, we viewed Spotted Sandpipers.

Canada Goose in 'Eagle Nest' and Osprey

In one part of the lake, a few years ago, a Bald Eagle built a nest in the top of a tree.  This nest was used by a pair of eagles for a few years.  However, this past year, a Canada Goose, early on, took over the nest and did not give it back up to the eagles.  It looked rather strange seeing a Canada Goose sitting on her nest so high up in the tree.  In the image above, an Osprey is perched on an adjoining tree.  Note that both of these trees are in the lake by the shore. 

Killdeer "Faking" a Broken Wing

As we drove along the levee, we slowed down when we saw a killdeer doing its broken-wing performance.  As it turned out, we were parked a few inches away from the killdeer's egg in the aggregate.  Needless to say, the killdeer put on quite a show for everyone to move away from her nest which consisted of a single bare egg in the aggregate. 

Killdeer Acting with "Broken" Wing

The above egrets were viewed from the Pump House Road. 


Continuing along, a very fine rain started coming down.  In the image of the Wood Ducks, one can see where the drops are hitting the water surface. 

Male & Female Wood Ducks

After driving along the Lake Chautauqua levee, Lee took us to a portion of the nearby Emiquon restoration to show us some of the structures.  While there, a Meadowlark sang in the distance. 

Eastern Meadowlark in Shrub at Emiquon

Lee Albright with Peoria Audubon Group

The Peoria Audubon Society wishes to thank Lee Albright and the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the opportunity for a personal tour and description of the behind-the-scenes operations and water control structures at the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge


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