Wildlife watching in Williamson County
A red fox dives for fleeing mice in field of brown grass. An eagle soars overhead calling to its mate with a shrill scream. A white-tailed deer browses on the edge of a thicket. Canada geese rest in the wetlands along Illinois Route 148 near Marion. This is Williamson County at it’s wildest.
The woods and fields of Williamson County are alive with wildlife. Nature lovers can find all sorts of birds and animals to watch throughout the county. Especially popular are the bird watching and eagle tours of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. But, other areas of the county can provide equally interesting viewing.
A variety of vegetation and terrain in this area attracts and holds numerous species of birds and mammals. Two hundred and thirty-seven species of birds are either residents, migrants, or frequent visitors.
Watching wildlife does not take a lot of expensive gear. A pair of binoculars and some guide books are a good beginning. Field guides assist in identification and help at home when reviewing ones notes from a day afield.
When heading out, be sure to take a notebook. Field notes should include the date, location, weather conditions and animal behavior, along with any unique observations.
Beginners must learn to identify animals and birds by sight and sound. Noting the color, shape and other outstanding observations make it easier to identify species.
Familiarize yourself with animal behavior and favored habitats. For example, deer tend to prefer thick cover until late in the day when they move out into fields to feed.
Learn to recognize animal habitats. This knowledge assists in identification and helps to eliminate species not associated with a specific habitat.
Advanced wildlife watchers learn the calls and songs of mammals or birds. This helps to identify those species which may be hidden in dense cover. By familiarizing oneself with bird songs and mammal calls, one can chase down each sound until he discovers the source.
The direct approach is not the best way to seek out wildlife. Wild animals must always be wary of possible danger and when an intruder comes straight at them it usually signals a threat. By acting disinterested while sneaking a glance now and then, you may be able to observe the unfolding drama of their activities.
It is important to be patient and avoid direct attention to the animal encountered. Appear disinterested. Fiddle with vegetation, look away from the animal while moving slowly closer and you will be able to approach much closer than you would think. Staring at an animal causes them fear and uneasiness. Quick looks are much less obvious and less likely to make the animal nervous.
Some animals such as ducks and geese can become very approachable due to constant association with human activity. Other animals are so skittish that the first hint of the presence of humans sends them fleeing.
Generally, however, the use of patience in observing wildlife works well. It will result in closer views for you and less intimidation for the animal. Watching wildlife can be challenging and educational.
For more information about wildlife watching in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, contact the Visitors Center at 618-997-3344. It is located two miles south of the Williamson County Regional Airport on Illinois Route 148, Marion, Illinois. Information about local sites and motel accommodations can be obtained from the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois 62959. Their phone number is 1-800-GEESE-99.