H. David Bohlen photographed the roseate spoonbill during its brief stop at Lake Springfield.
Roseate spoonbill stops at Lake Springfield
December 05, 2013 at 12:42 PM
After an early cold snap, warm winds blew up from the south, moderating temperatures in central Illinois over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The State Journal-Register
Those winds may have brought a rare visitor along for the ride.
On Nov. 29, Susan Hargrove and her husband Tim were birding at Lake Springfield when a large pink bird flew by.
The couple only got a glimpse, but as they started searching, they found H. David Bohlen, assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum. He also was observing birds at the lake.
They told Bohlen they thought they saw a roseate spoonbill.
The spoonbill is a tropical bird with pink plumage and a large spoon-shaped bill that breeds in south Florida and along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
“We were sure, but not 100 percent sure,” said Sue Hargrove, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Transportation. “Dave was justifiably skeptical.”
Sightings of the roseate spoonbill are fairly rare in Illinois. In 2003 and 2009, birders spotted them along U.S. 51 near Vandalia.
Hargrove said the trio got out the Sibley Guide to Birds and started looking up large wading birds.
“Tim got a glimpse of the beak,” she said. “But I only saw it from behind.”
Bohlen speculated the bird might be headed for a location near City Water Light and Power’s power plant.
Because Bohlen has been studying birds in Sangamon County for years, he has special permission to access some parts of CWLP property near Spaulding Dam. Bohlen’s hunch was right. He found the bird and snapped a picture during its brief stopover.
“We were fortunate to run into Dave Bohlen, and he tracked it down and photographed it,” Hargrove said.
It hasn’t been seen since, despite Bohlen’s best efforts to find it.
The arrival of the spoonbill is a birding trifecta of sorts.
“This is probably the farthest north it has been found in Illinois, the first Sangamon County record, and the latest one in the state,” Bohlen said.
Before the 2003 sighting by birder Travis Mahan, there had been no records in modern times.
There is a record of a roseate spoonbill found in an American Indian burial mound, but it is unclear if it was a local bird or if it was brought here in trade, Bohlen said.
The Thanksgiving weekend bird likely was a young bird.
“I think, like any other heron, there was a post-breeding dispersal,” he said. “It was a juvenile bird because it still had white feathers on its head. Adults lose those feathers.”
The spoonbill likely had a tail wind.
“There was a southerly flow of air,” Bohlen said. “It just came up on that.”
However the bird got here, it surprised even the unflappable Bohlen.
“It was totally unexpected,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense.”
Hargrove said she and her husband received a message later from an excited Bohlen.
“I found the bird. It’s a roseate spoonbill. And I got pictures,” he said on the voicemail.
Bohlen has seen a lot of birds, plenty of them rare. But Hargrove said it was clear he was excited.
“He was bubbling over as only Dave can bubble over.”