A Travellerspoint blog

A weekend for the books


semi-overcast 84 °F

Friday mid-day I left Oak Park for a whirlwind one-night trip to central and southern Illinois for birds and herps. My destinations for friday: Kankakee River State Park, Busey Woods, and Lake Shelbyville!

But first, in the morning I led an Oak Park Bird Walk for birders Laura and Karen. There was a great amount of passerine activity including TENNESSEE WARBLER:


And again, a COOPER’S HAWK sighting:



You can see this is a molting male SCARLET TANAGER due to the limited red feathers still left on this bird’s body. A cool individual and beautiful bird altogether!


After a great walk, packing, and a short nap, I was on the road. I arrived to Kankakee River State Park in the 2 o’clock hour and very soon found my hoped-for lifer Southern Two-linee Salamanders!!! This is one of the few places in the state to find this species, so I was stoked. They are beautiful, sleek, orangeish salamanders with handsome striping going down the length of their bodies. Unfortunately, all three I found slithered away too quickly for photos (dang! kept me from recording on iNat) due to their slippery nature and their adept habit of scurrying under rocks. Still, a cool sighting!

Green Frog in that same area:

Next stop, Busey Woods in Urbana for Smallmouth Salamander. I made it a bit after four and very quickly found my lifer Smallmouth Salamander!!! Definitely my most efficient stop of the day and awesome to see a new herp. This salamander has discreet but very pretty grayish spotting on its sides contrasted with the otherwise black body. Awesome!!!

After getting just one, it was off to Lake Shelbyville an hour SW of Champaign in hopes of Red-necked Phalarope. I arrived right at sunset and had limited time — AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS abounded.

And some waterfowl flew over (I’m thinking these are possibly American Wigeon but too hard to tell), but no Phalarope. I later found out I had simply gotten lost and gone to the wrong place. Gah! Lake Shelbyville is huge with many access points, and it is literally in the middle of nowhere. With the sun set by the time I got back to the car, I had oficially dipped on the Phalarope. Plus, I later got a text from Colin telling me at a totally different place on Lake Shelbyville he had a Sabine’s Gull today which would have been a lifer for me. Too bad I didn’t have cell reception when he sent that text otherwise I could have re-routed to get a lifer...DOUBLE GAH!!!!! Well, that’s how it goes sometimes...

Anyway, Southern Two-lined & Smallmouth Salamanders in one day still make for a successful day. Plus the wonderful morning bird walk. It was time to go to sleep in my car camping spot in Effingham, IL for the night.

DAY 2 — saturday I woke up at 6:50 in order to make Colin Dobson’s pelagic at Carlyle Lake which had been rescheduled to 9am due to winds. After a breakfast at Cracker Barrel, I drove the hour to Carlyle Lake and was there in plenty of time for the pelagic. Our group of seven masked birders was soon happily out on the lake, searching for birds in the 70-degree, windy conditions. Some flyby STILT SANDPIPERS were nice:

And we came to a sandbar that had a massive roosting flock of RING-BILLED & BONAPARTE’S GULLS, AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, FORSTER’S TERNS, and more.

Forster’s Terns in flight:

Bonaparte’s Gull:

COMMON TERN roosting on the sandbar with Ring-billed Gulls:

An Illinois lifer for me was this LAUGHING GULL, quite a nice find up here that is much less rare down on the Gulf & Atlantic Coasts.

And a great Larid species for the day was a small pod of BLACK TERNS (more grayish in their nonbreeding plumage). As you can see, there was a lot out on the lake.

And suddenly, Colin got excited because he spotted his target bird for the boat trip: PARASITIC JAEGER! A big, bulky brown sea bird with white wing flashes and a strong flight. Super cool! My photographic lifer of this species as the other times I’ve seen this type my photos have been crap.

Here it is passing another pontoon.

And chasing a Ring-billed Gull which this species does quite often:

It was a great pelagic! Even though I didn’t get my hoped-for Sabine’s Gull, the Parasitic Jaeger was a wonderful successful target. Next stop: “Rice and Rails” two hours south in East Cape Girardeau, IL.

I arrived mid-afternoon to a smoky Cape Girardeau from a bushfire across the Mississippi, and found the appointed rice field to have a combine working its way up and down the field, flanked on either side by eager birders checking all of the rails it was flushing from the harvesting of the field. It was quite a show as we would follow the combine and every once and a while a rail would pop up, somebody would shout, and we would get our binocs on it as quick as possible. I wanted to make sure to experience this since a few days prior, two would-be life birds had been sighted: the mega-rail Black & Yellow Rails.

Juvenile SORA flying away from the birders. So many of these.

And I apparently made it just in time for the only VIRGINIA RAIL sighting of the day, awesome!

After a while, the farmer drove over to a distant field which I took as my cue to leave since it didn’t seem like we were going to get anything else in terms of rail diversity. Other birders stayed for over eight hours on a careful vigil that day apparently there was a possible Black Rail later in the evening, but it couldn’t be confirmed.

So, I headed over to the world-famous Snake Road where I briefly visited with Isoo earlier in the summer, though it was crazy being there all alone, and in much different conditions with smoke hanging in the air. Still, I had my target salamanders to see, plus any snakes that might be found along the world-famous road.

I totally lucked out and one of the first logs I flipped contained two of my lifer Cave Salamanders, my most hoped-for amphibian pf the trip! AWESOME! This brilliantly-patterned species usually sticks to rock crevices but, as evidenced by this individual, will also shelter under nearby logs. It was just ten feet away from a large limestone wall.

Further down the road in a little spring I found a Long-tailed Salamander which is another great species to see — I only got it my first time this spring!

And beautiful, gentle Gray Rat Snake crossed the road at one point, at least I got one snake at Snake Road! Late in the day is not a great time for snake observation.

And one last salamander of the day is this Eastern Newt.

Soon, it got a bit too dark to go herping since venemous snakes lurk in those woods (Cottonmouth, Copperhead, & Timber Rattler), so I followed the road back to my car and made the grueling six-hour journey back home to Oak Park. It was a super fun one-night tour of Illinois and I was able to see some great birds & herps, and was very thankful for my safety during the journey.

More to come — I have a lot of catching up to do on here.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1119 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:13 Archived in USA

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great travelogue and the herps are a wonder. Smokey air ?

by stephen fluett

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