A Travellerspoint blog

Graduation Trip: Day 5

Across IL, again!

sunny 84 °F


Today, I worked my way up the state based off specific birding and herping stops along the way. Targets for today would be: Flat-headed Snake (lifer), Little Blue Heron, Graham’s Crayfish Snake (lifer), Mottled Duck (IL lifer), and Snow Goose.

I arrived at my first location by nine and immediately set out to the exact bluff where I know Flat-headed Snakes persist in small numbers. On the way up through the forest, I flipped a few other fossorials which gave me brief heart attacks, such as this Ring-necked Snake:

And this Midwestern Wormsnake:

Though I flipped those on the wooded hillside on the way up, I knew that Flatheads prefer open “hill prairies” which are not really prairies and more like exposed, rocky clearings on the summits of some specific hills in the area. I found this site on google maps that looked perfect for its preferred habitat and Tony confirmed it’s where he had them once before (only a handful of people in the state have ever found this species).

Another good sign I was searching in the correct habitat: Prickly Pear Cactus.

One convenient side-effect of climbing up to a hill prairie is that they all provide killer views.

And allow for sightings of birds in the canopy, such as this brilliant adult-plumage male SUMMER TANAGER:

Then, on something like the thirtieth rock flipped, I FOUND IT! My lifer Flat-headed Snake!!!! I had now joined the handful of herpetologists and biologists to have ever observed this species in the Prairie State, as this is the farthest east that they go. They are much more common in Missouri and further west. Absolutely awesome and hands-down the rarest snake observation I have had to date. This is also the smallest species of snake in Illinois — this specimen was approximately five inches long.

They have a warm salmon-colored belly that I was not able to showcase because this state threatened species cannot be handled. Following my sighting, I was contacted by IDNR because of the rarity of this sighting in the state.

Awesome! First target of the day, done!!! So, I was on the road again and did some car birding on a nearby road where I have had Little Blue Herons before. This RED-SHOULDERED HAWK gave a brief appearance:



Then, I spotted my second target for the day — a LITTLE BLUE HERON foraging in a distant ditch! Great!!!! Only the second time I have ever observed this species in Illinois (despite the fact that decades ago, they used to even breed in the Calumet area!)

After a fairly lengthy drive north, I arrived at a lake in the vicinity of E St. Louis to try for Graham’s Crayfish Snake which would also be a lifer snake for me. “Lake” is a rather generous term for the sewage ponds these snakes inhabit, and right off the bat I observed dozens of Common Watersnakes patrolling the waters:

And I found this adorable, tiny Spiny Softshell Turtle:

Unfortunately, despite a thorough scan around the perimeter of the entire sewage pond, no Graham’s were to be found so I continued on to Lake Springfield where Colin Dobson had been reporting a Mottled Duck, a prospective IL lifer for me, and a pair of tardy Snow Geese.

Upon arrival, the expected resident RING-BILLED GULLS & CASPIAN TERNS were present:

Then, I spotted it: a darker duck resembling a female Mallard with a bright yellow bill: MOTTLED DUCK! This is a bird I don’t see terribly often; I’ve never observed one in IL before where they are a semi-annual vagrant, and off the top of my head I think I’ve seen this bird in Florida a handful of times including earlier this year, as well as in Copiague, NY as a rarity... Definitely well worth the short detour off of I-55 to observe this species! Awesome.

This SEMIPALMATED PLOVER was also around:


After I walked around to the other side of the Boathouse, I located the pair of SNOW GEESE which should be up to the Arctic Tundra by know. Odd, but a nice F.O.Y. bird to pick up in late May!

Well, fantastic! This wraps up an incredible graduation trip to southern Illinois. Bird-of-the-trip goes to the Greater Prairie-Chicken, my sole avian lifer, and bird-of-the-day goes to the Mottled Duck. The herps were also phenomenal; I compiled a list of all 34 herps and 114 birds found on this trip below. Thanks so much to Tony G for herping with me and hosting me, and thanks to Kim H for hosting me the first night, too!!

Stay tuned!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1151 Species

1. common watersnake
2. plain-bellied watersnake
3. southern watersnake LIFER
4. diamondback watersnake LIFER
5. cottonmouth
6. ringneck snake
7. wormsnake
8. flathead snake LIFER
9. racer
10. black kingsnake
11. painted turtle
12. red-eared slider
13. false map turtle LIFER
14. ouachita map turtle LIFER
15. mississippi map turtle LIFER
16. spiny softshell
17. eastern box turtle
18. common snapping turtle
19. common musk turtle
20. five-lined skink
21. brown skink
22. lesser siren
23. marbled salamander
24. slimy salamander
25. longtail salamander
26. cave salamander
27. newt
28. green frog
29. bullfrog
30. southern leopard frog
31. blanchard’s cricket frog
32. cope’s gray treefrog
33. bird-voiced treefrog LIFER
34. green treefrog

1. Snow Goose
2. Canada Goose
3. Wood Duck
4. Mallard
5. Mottled Duck
6. Greater Prairie-Chicken LIFE BIRD
7. Northern Bobwhite
8. Mourning Dove
9. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
10. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
11. Chimney Swift
12. Black-necked Stilt
13. Semipalmated Plover
14. Killdeer
15. Semipalmated Sandpiper
16. Ring-billed Gull
17. Caspian Tern
18. Double-crested Cormorant
19. Great Blue Heron
20. Great Egret
21. Little Blue Heron
22. Green Heron
23. Black-crowned Night-Heron
24. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
25. Turkey Vulture
26. Black Vulture
27. Osprey
28. Mississippi Kite
29. Bald Eagle
30. Red-shouldered Hawk
31. Red-tailed Hawk
32. Broad-winged Hawk
33. Barred Owl
34. Downy Woodpecker
35. Hairy Woodpecker
36. Red-bellied Woodpecker
37. Red-headed Woodpecker
38. Pileated Woodpecker
39. Northern Flicker
40. Eastern Wood-Pewee
41. Acadian Flycatcher
42. Eastern Phoebe
43. Great Crested Flycatcher
44. Eastern Kingbird
45. Olive-sided Flycatcher
46. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
47. American Kestrel
48. White-eyed Vireo
49. Yellow-throated Vireo
50. Warbling Vireo
51. Red-eyed Vireo
52. Philadelphia Vireo
53. Blue Jay
54. American Crow
55. Fish Crow
56. Carolina Chickadee
57. Black-capped Chickadee
58. Tufted Titmouse
59. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
60. Purple Martin
61. Barn Swallow
62. Tree Swallow
63. White-breasted Nuthatch
64. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
65. House Wren
66. Carolina Wren
67. European Starling
68. Gray Catbird
69. Brown Thrasher
70. Northern Mockingbird
71. Eastern Bluebird
72. Swainson’s Thrush
73. Wood Thrush
74. American Robin
75. Cedar Waxwing
76. House Sparrow
77. House Finch
78. American Goldfinch
79. Grasshopper Sparrow
80. Chipping Sparrow
81. Field Sparrow
82. Lincoln’s Sparrow
83. Song Sparrow
84. Eastern Towhee
85. Yellow-breasted Chat
86. Eastern Meadowlark
87. Orchard Oriole
88. Baltimore Oriole
89. Red-winged Blackbird
90. Brown-headed Cowbird
91. Common Grackle
92. Ovenbird
93. Louisiana Waterthrush
94. Blue-winged Warbler
95. Prothonotary Warbler
96. Tennessee Warbler
97. Kentucky Warbler
98. Common Yellowthroat
99. American Redstart
100. Northern Parula
101. Blackburnian Warbler
102. Yellow Warbler
103. Chestnut-sided Warbler
104. Blackpoll Warbler
105. Yellow-throated Warbler
106. Prairie Warbler
107. Canada Warbler
108. Summer Tanager
109. Scarlet Tanager
110. Northern Cardinal
111. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
112. Blue Grosbeak
113. Indigo Bunting
114. Dickcissel

Posted by skwclar 20:40 Archived in USA

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Box Turtles were neat to see on the previous poist. The spiny soft shell guy is adorable. The IDNR - glad they are on top of such things. The box turtle you found is ? an Eastern. I read that Western or was it three toed box turtles are way faster than Illinois ones. chuckle chuckle, but true fact. I read a book on the box turtle life history

by stephen fluett

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