Birders seizing the day
SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
When old friends blow into town, it’s time to drop everything and catch up.
And so it goes for bird-watchers, who wait patiently for months until migratory birds make their brief stopover in central Illinois.
Many of these birds are on the way to breeding grounds in the northern United States and Canada. Some have final destinations as far north as Hudson Bay or the Arctic.
A few have been away for the winter months and already are setting up housekeeping and raising this year’s brood.
Most passed unnoticed.
At Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 Clear Lake Ave., retired ornithologist Vern Kleen banded about 60 birds Wednesday morning, including a handful of species such as Canada and Kentucky warblers not yet captured this spring.
Both are vibrant yellow and black birds. Despite their bright coloring, warblers are seldom seen by those not looking for them. They are tiny woodland songbirds that often stick to treetops, sweeping through the woods in feeding flocks and disappearing in minutes.
They rarely sit still for pictures or positive identification, instead flitting from branch to branch.
“And they like to hide behind leaves,” says Kleen with a smile.
Kleen is one of those determined to make the most of spring migration.
He participated in the Spring Bird Count last Saturday and a bird-a-thon to raise money for the Adams Sanctuary on Tuesday.
Unlike the Christmas Bird Count, where most birds are year-round residents, the spring count allows birders to rack up impressive species lists of residents and migrants.
Kleen joined other experienced birders in Union County, a popular spot because birds from all regions of the country seem to overlap in southern Illinois.
Kleen’s team, one of four in Union County, saw about 125 species. He says once all the counts are tallied, he expects the final total for the county to be in the 160-170 species
On Tuesday, Kleen rose early, heading out on the road by 4 a.m. to meet fellow birder Bob Randall in Arenzville to start a daylong journey that would raise money for the Adams Sanctuary.
Supporters pledged a certain amount per species. The more kinds of birds seen, the more money raised.
Kleen and Randall saw 25 species of warblers and many other unusual birds.
They traveled to Siloam Springs, Beardstown Marsh, Spunky Bottoms, Sand Lake, Lake Chautauqua, Spring Lake and Emiquon before calling it a day (and night).
“Beardstown Marsh was the best I’ve ever seen it,” Kleen says. “There were sora rails, Virginia rails, black-crowned night herons, American bitterns, least bitterns and a common moorhen.”
H. David Bohlen, assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum, says he counted 145 species Tuesday.
“There were a lot of shorebirds moving through and a lot of warblers around,” he says. “There have been a lot of Wilson’s phalaropes around and white-rump sandpipers.”
The sandpipers are taking a well-deserved rest, having traveled from one hemisphere to another.
“The white-rump sandpipers came all the way from the southern tip of South America,” he says.
Bohlen says he has seen nearly all of the common warbler species this spring, with the exception of Connecticut and cerulean.
While birders look forward to spring migration like a visit from an old friend, there still are frustrations.
For one, many birds don’t arrive until the trees have leafed out, making visual identification tough. Many experienced birders rely on learning bird songs and calls instead.
And then there is unpredictable weather. Birds literally blew into town this spring.
Joe Gardner coordinates the Sangamon County portion of the Spring Bird Count.
“For me, the wind really inhibited things,” he says. “It was hard to hear and hard to pick out movement.”
Even so, the diversity of birds seen was similar to previous years.
“I really got the same number of species, but the numbers were down because of the weather in my opinion,” Gardner says. “I didn’t even see a brown thrasher until I was driving down my road on the way home — and that’s a pretty common bird.”
Top birding spots around Springfield
1. Carpenter Park (above), old-growth forest on the Sangamon River adjacent to the Rail Golf Club. The only drawback is that many of the oaks are very old, and therefore very tall. It can be difficult to find migrants that flit through the canopy.
2. Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center. Easily accessible and lots of trails. Right on Lake Springfield, so waterfowl and wading birds also may be seen.
3. Washington Park. From the air, Washington Park looks like a forest in the city. It’s a good place to find migrating songbirds.
4. Adams Wildlife Sanctuary. Another urban oasis within the city limits. New wetlands and prairie plantings are sure to attract even more birds with time.
5. Riverside Park. Just across the river from Carpenter Park. A nice road follows the Sangamon River, allowing for easy access to birding spots.
6. Lake Sangchris, especially the wetland on the west side of the entrance road just beyond the site office. Look for waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns and other water birds at appropriate times of year.
7. Marine Point at Lake Springfield. A good place to witness migration. Juts out into the lake and provides a good vantage point. Public access by car.
8. Bike trails like Lost Bridge Trail and Interurban Trail. Birding by bike. Look and listen for interesting resident birds, such as orioles.
9. Lick Creek Wildlife Preserve. Located just off Illinois 4 off Woodside Road. Wetlands, upland and bottomland forest. Good place for migrants and winter residents. Portions protected from wind in winter. Also accessible from Interurban Trail.
10. Oak Ridge Cemetery. Plenty of space and a wide variety of trees. Look for crossbills sometimes seen in pine trees during winter months.