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Good weather for ducks

March 22, 2008 at 07:27 AM

It’s been the kind of early spring only a duck could love.

Rainy weather has swelled rivers, lakes and ponds in central Illinois, flooding low-lying areas and creating perfect resting and feeding places for migrating waterfowl.

At The Nature Conservancy’s 7,000-acre Emiquon Preserve in Fulton County, water now covers about 1,500 acres, compared to about 500 acres last fall.

All that water has attracted ducks — about 70,000 to Emiquon by March 10, according to Jason Beverlin of The Nature Conservancy. Aerial counts conducted by the Illinois Natural History Survey showed the number falling off to about 26,000 by March 17.

Following the birds were birders. Some of them poured through the doors of Dickson Mounds Museum, perched on a hillside overlooking Emiquon near Lewistown.

“It’s pretty amazing,” says Jason Beverlin of the conservancy. “The museum had 50 birdwatchers in there (at about the same time as duck numbers peaked on the preserve).

“It’s pulling the people in,” he says of the spring migration spectacle. “It is pretty impressive.”

Colors of spring

Spring gives birders and waterfowl hunters the opportunity to view ducks winging their way north in colorful breeding plumage.

“You’ve never seen a prettier duck than a spoonbill in the spring,” says Bo Arnold, a waterfowl hunter and president of the Friends of Sanganois. “I don’t care what hunters say about them.”

Spoonbill is a nickname for the Northern shoveler, a duck with an oversized bill that is not known to be especially good eating.

Ducks Unlimited Illinois biologist Eric Schenck says a variety of ducks have been present at Spring Lake Bottoms, a wetland restoration that is maturing on 416 acres sandwiched between Spring Lake and the Illinois River. “On Thursday, there were a lot of different species of ducks — if not a huge number,” he says. “Stan Weimer (Spring Lake site superintendent) counted 11 different species. I bet I saw at least half a dozen or eight.”

Schenck says spring can offer a slightly different selection of ducks than fall migration.

“One of the things about our spring migration — especially on the Illinois River — is that we see some canvasbacks, bluebills (scaup), ducks that have declined tremendously during the fall migration,” Schenck says. “But in the spring, we often see large numbers of diving ducks using the Illinois River Valley.”

Mallards and other dabbling ducks appear in smaller groups.

“Mallards in spring, they seem to be more dispersed,” he says. “On farms and ponds, you see a lot of the dabbling ducks using those little bitty bodies of water.”

Tricky viewing

Schenck says Spring Lake Bottoms, with its more than 260 acres of water, is a good place to view ducks.

“There are several places where it is not too difficult to see them from the roadside or near roadside areas,” he says.

Those trying to see migrating ducks and geese at the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville likely will be stymied by a flooded access road.

“We still can’t get down the road because we’ve got a washout down at Horn Slough,” says site superintendent Doug Jallas. “Of course, there is still water over the top of it, and if we tried to fix it now it would just wash out again, with the spring rains and all.”

Keeping roads and levees repaired is complicated by a broken levee on the Sangamon River that has allowed high water into the site for the past few years.

The current estimate to fix the Barkhausen Levee is $2.1 million, according to Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud.

DNR is waiting on word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on how much of the repair cost the federal government will pick up. McCloud says DNR is hoping FEMA will pick up as much as 75 percent.

Arnold says he is hoping for an update on the project to be available by the time the Friends of Sanganois holds its fish fry, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at the site office. The cost is $10 per person. Kids 16 and younger are admitted free.

Arnold says the event will feature raffles and a gun drawing.

Jallas says he has seen trumpeter swans using a neighbor’s lake, in addition to plenty of diving ducks.

“I’ve seen a lot of divers in the last week or so, including bluebills (scaup) and a few redheads and ring-necked ducks,” he says.

Last fall, duck numbers at the Emiquon Preserve dropped after the first waves of migrating ducks moved through. Biologists hypothesized that the birds simply exhausted the available food.

Waterfowl rely on seeds and tubers from wetland plants and annual weeds that grow up during the summer and are flooded during migration so ducks can easily get to them.

Expanding habitat

This spring, with water flooding nearly 1,000 additional acres, more of the annual weed seeds ducks crave are within reach.

“There’s about 1,500 acres of water out there, but you can’t see it all,” Beverlin says.

Every so often, small groups of mallards explode into flight as visitors encroach on waist-high stands of weeds in just inches of water.

“You can see the former Thompson Lake, and the former Flag Lake has some water in it as well, although it is hard to see,” he says.

Watching thousands of ducks lift off Thompson Lake and circle slowly looking for new places to land, it is hard to imagine the site as a cornfield. It also is difficult to comprehend the effort required to pump 1,500 acres of water off the land and into the river so crops could be planted.

In addition to rainfall, water recharges Thompson and Flag lakes from below.

“(The people who farmed the land) weren’t only pumping rainwater,” Beverlin says. “They were pumping groundwater.

“We have always maintained that this (wetland) is a good use for this particular piece of property.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was published March 22, 2008 in the Springfield State Journal-Register.

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it is a wise idea to pump rain water for harvesting whenever possible. easier than pumping groundwater

Posted by rain water tank on 06/19 at 02:43 PM

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