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IL Day 1: A Western Illinois Sweep

sunny 80 °F

POST FOR WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17 WITH ISOO O’BRIEN:
6/17 target birds: Western Kingbird, Eurasian Tree-Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, King Rail, Neotropic Cormorant, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Chuck-will’s-widow

After picking me up at my house at the bright-and-early 6am hour and driving three hours down to the Havana, IL area, Isoo O’Brien and I made it to the first stop of our 2-night camping trip: the amazing, beautiful, mighty....

POWER SUBSTATION! Lol, all jokes aside, these substations in rural Illinois do wonders in attracting rare flycatchers and we immediately picked up one of our targets here, the WESTERN KINGBIRD:
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EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS, a delicacy of central Illinois & Missouri (and Eurasia) were around in numbers which was cool.
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Heard-only NORTHERN BOBWHITE were just delightful and I also got some nice shots of the resident BLACK-NECKED STILT in a nearby fluddle. So cool that by mid-morning we were already picking up Central Illinois specialties!
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Also in the fluddle were the only BLUE-WINGED TEAL of the trip:
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Also on the way out we found yet another target for the area, CATTLE EGRETS:
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A quick stop at the Chautauqua Preserve nearby was very quiet due to extremely high water levels but we picked up NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD & a singing PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. So, it was on to a random country road intersection (thanks to my friend Colin Dobson’s wonderfully-detailed info) where we almost immediately picked up our next target, WESTERN MEADOWLARK which is a hard bird for Illinois. Tough to get excited about after seeing thousands out west though, lol.
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DICKCISSELS proliferated in every weedy grassland patch we passed.
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So, it was on to our next destination in hopes of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher & King Rail closer to Meredosia, IL. After a brief delay (yeah Isoo, delay), we continued on our way, picking up a few random things alongside the road in rural Schuyler County like YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. We found our way to, yes, yet another power substation where the Scissor-tailed was found just a few days ago and immediately spotted not it, but another rare flycatcher: WESTERN KINGBIRD! Too cool!
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Then, Isoo said “I think I have it!” and sure enough, a pale, silky, long-tailed passerine was winging its way toward the far treeline. LIFE BIRD SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, a F#&$@%& AMAZING BIRD!!!
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This flycatcher is annual in central Illinois but just a stunner to catch up with finally, and I was afforded some decent photo ops too.
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By that time, it was past lunchtime and we were starving so we decided to forgo the King Rail since Colin gave a negative report regarding the bird from this morning, anyway. After a satiating McDonald’s pick-me-up, we were on the road again, this time headed down to the East St. Louis area in search of Neotropic Cormorant at Horseshoe Lake & Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in the Granite City neighborhood. I called up my friend Theo B. from St. Louis and it was so nice of him to join us for this stint too. The NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS quickly showed themselves at the lake and it was nice to see a couple with their diagnostic white patches right behind the bill. Awesome! Another central/southern Illinois specialty that is very uncommon.
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GREAT EGRET:
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MUTE SWANS:
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A RED-BREASTED MERGANSER there was a nice surprise — we had seen a report of one but were by all means not expecting to find it so easily:
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A quick drive over to the Granite City neighborhood indeed yielded the desired YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON nest, spotted by Theo, up in a tree at the most random intersection seemingly nowhere near water. Crazy! Three juvenile birds were present on the nest — a nice Illinois lifer for me!
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So, we bid adieu to Theo, and Isoo and I made to two-hour trek down to our final destination for the day: Ferne Clyffe State Park in far southern Illinois where we are camping for these two nights and hope to find our life bird Chuck-will’s-widow.

We set up camp, grabbed a bite to eat, wrestled with a nastily stubborn water vessel that dispenses water at a glacial trickle, and soon were slowly cruising the park after dark listening for the “Chucks.” It was a perfect night — the absolute perfect temperature, cool moths out but few mosquitoes, an absolutely incredible show of stars, a crazy chorus of foreign-sounding crickets and amphibians, a meteor and a satellite spotted, Coyotes howling, and no wind...and our life bird CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOWS!!! We heard at least two calling, rather distantly, south of the campground around 9:15pm. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get eyes on the birds or obtain audio but it was still such an amazing and long-overdue lifer. Like Whip-poor-will’s, these guys just repeat their names over and over with charismatic intervalic leaps between syllables. STUPENDOUS! Possibly our #1 wanted bird for the trip and we got it. Super cool and definitely our bird-of-the-day along with the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. My vote for runner-up is the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Stay tuned for more!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1120 Species (2 life birds today: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher & Chuck-will’s-widow)

Posted by skwclar 20:10 Archived in USA

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