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Day 2: Cleaning up the S IL specialties

semi-overcast 80 °F

DAY 2 TARGETS: Cerulean, Kentucky, Worm-eating, Prairie, Yellow-throated, & other warblers, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Fish Crow, Mississippi Kite, Least Tern, Black Vulture.

Today was Isoo’s and my one full day in the southern tip of Illinois and we absolutely made the most of it. We had a full itinerary covering the range of habitats down here and were up before 5, listening to CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOWS which were calling even closer to the road than last night at the campground. Dope!

We were soon on our way to the Cave Creek area near Pomona, IL in western Shawnee National Forest in search of hopefully all of the possible breeding warbler species around here. We were, of course, stopped by birds along the way including NORTHERN BOBWHITE:

And upon arriving, Isoo and I quickly spished down a male CERULEAN WARBLER who posed for my worst photo ever of this species. A great one to “clean up” early and the only one we had today!

Just for the hell of it, we played the unlikely Swainson’s Warbler song in a good-looking habitat in popped one angry bird: not a Swainson’s, but the LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH who must have been confused by the Swainson’s extremely-similar song:


And a female SUMMER TANAGER:

Soon, we had picked up a number of great warblers including YELLOW, YELLOWTHROAT, REDSTART, PARULA, WORM-EATING, HOODED, KENTUCKY, PROTHONOTARY, & at a nice stand of pines, a YELLOW-THROATED and this PINE! We were totally sweeping the warblers and only had Prairie & Blue-winged left for the expected ones down here this time of year.

On our way to our next location, Big Muddy Levee Road, we drove along some beautiful winding roads through the forested bluffs down here. Birds were active including a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, our Illinois state lifer FISH CROWS, and of course more common ones as well.

I moved two Eastern Box Turtles off the road this morning.

We finally made it to Big Muddy Levee Rd where the habitat was impressively Floridian and the birdlife somewhat reflected that. RED-HEADED WOODPECKER:

SNOWY EGRET way out (picked out from 150+ GREAT EGRETS), another one of our targets!

CATTLE EGRET, awesome to see again:

We saw a couple very distant possible candidates at first, but were offered clinching views when I spotted two LITTLE BLUE HERONS fly overhead, a tough bird for Illinois and definitely a sign that we are half-way to the Gulf of Mexico! *from Chicago

I also had to move a female Red-eared Slider off the road and she promptly started pissing on me. Thanks, ma’am.

After an unsuccessful stop at the famous “Snake Road” to check for a beautiful salamander species called a Cave Salamander, we were back on Highway 3 headed south to the Cape Girardeau area in search of my lifer Mississippi Kites. We drove quickly passed a retention pond, and upon seeing two darkish ducks with pink bills, I shouted in a squeaky, excited voice “WHISTLING DUCKS! WHISTLING DUCKS!” Isoo turned the car around and we got this species, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, which can be considered “casual” around here as it is certainly not one of the more expected species, but it is probably one of the most common “wandering-rare ones.” Still, an amazing bonus for the trip!!!

The Cape Girardeau floodplain area held more LITTLE BLUE HERONS, including an immature, which were so cool to see in Illinois. We kept saying that it feels like Florida!

And lo and behold, I spotted not one, two, or three, but FIFTY-THREE MISSISSIPPI KITES hawking for dragonflies over the floodplain! The experience of gaining this life bird could probably never be outdone — it is extremely seldom when you get 53 of any lifer together, especially if that lifer is a raptor species — just insane and another great thing about the crazy birding down here! It was also interesting because I only saw one other the rest of the day!

A BLACK-NECKED STILT also appeared in the floodplain while watching the kites.

Isoo and I enjoyed lunch in a beautiful cypress swamp, serenaded by singing PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS. Not bad!

Our next stop was down in one of the southernmost places in Illinois, a very flat, muddy area called “Glen Small Levee” where we promptly found our state lifer LEAST TERNS flying about and occasionally diving for prey. It was a super acrobatic show and awesome to see. This is another extremely local bird for Illinois.

Next, we headed eastward to the Lower Cache River Area in search of Black Vultures. On the way, Isoo suggested we open the windows in the perfect habitat for Prairie Warbler and sure enough, within a minute of his saying that, I heard a faint ascending song behind us meaning we had just passed a male PRAIRIE WARBLER! We hopped out, spished, and the bird flew right on. Now THAT is called cleaning up some nice target birds!

Unfortunately, we missed the vulture but I did have a WHITE-EYED VIREO singing at the parking lot at Lower Cache (they are common down here).

Next stop, Cache River Wetland Center for anything that might have been around (we were loosely hoping for Anhinga, a true rarity of cypress swamps), but of course that one didn’t materialize out of thin air. What did though, was a male SUMMER TANAGER that flew into the tree next to us! These birds are common as can be down here.


Next stop: Cypress Creek tract for Swainson’s Warbler. It was a longshot since the bird was last reported May 9 and details were not given, but we thought we’d give it a shot since it would be our only chance at this extremely hard-to-find species. BLUE GROSBEAK on the way in:

We hiked in quite a bit and taped Swainson’s Warbler in all of the likely-looking spots. PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS were everywhere which was a good sign, but...
Unfortunately, no Swainson’s, as we expected. It was a true longshot though as, even in this bird’s “regular” range, it is an extremely irregular, uncommon bird, somewhat like the Connecticut up north. On our way back to Ferne Clyffe State Park in the late afternoon, Isoo and I spotted a good candidate for Black Vulture fly by as we whizzed past on a country road. We pulled past a stand of trees and unfortunately couldn’t locate the bird, until we looked behind us to see the bird perched on a pole! BLACK VULTURE — AMAZING! Our final target for the day was tracked down — that’s a 100% success rate for our true target birds today (for Swainson’s we didn’t even get our hopes up).

Isoo and I herped a partially-dry river bed in Ferne Clyffe in search of any salamanders inhabiting the pools of water, and we almost immediately had luck, and with a VERY uncommon species: Long-tailed Salamander! Amazingly beautiful and different from our species up north. Southern IL has 20+ salamander species so we were super stoked to get a lifer herp. I was even more stoked when my friend Simon notified me that species is even less common than the Cave Salamander we missed earlier.

Green Frogs were also around:

I also caught a CRAYFISH of all things using two flat stones to scoop it out of the water. We believe this is a Northern Crayfish but will stand corrected easily.

The hiking area was absolutely gorgeous; a waterfall cascades over these rocks in the spring months but was down to a trickle with the recent lack of rain.

We ended an incredible day again with 4 singing CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW at and near the campground, SO COOL! Bird-of-the-day to my life bird Mississippi Kites with runners-up to the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Little Blue Herons, & Least Terns. Such an incredible birdscape down here.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1121 Species (1 life bird today: Mississippi Kite)

Posted by skwclar 16:36 Archived in USA

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