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Illinois hunting and fishing

Robert Clevenstine, acting manager of the Illinois River Wildlife and Fish Refuges, walks across the bottom of the south pool at Lake Chautauqua as he evaluates sprouting wetland vegetation. Photos by Chris Young.

Stage set for spectacular fall migration in Illinois River Valley

July 19, 2012 at 11:23 AM

The State Journal-Register

Dry conditions this summer are helping managers of migratory bird refuges cultivate ideal habitat conditions in Illinois River Valley wetlands.

Couple that with reports of record numbers of ducks on the breeding grounds in the north-central United States and Canada, and the stage is set for a spectacular fall migration in central Illinois.

That could be good news for waterfowl hunters.

“It’s going to be fabulous up and down the Illinois River for moist soil plant production,” said Doug Jallas, site superintendent of the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville, a popular public waterfowl hunting site.

Moist soil plants are annuals that sprout when wetlands and backwater lakes start to dry out during the summer.

Their seeds provide nutritious food for migrating ducks in the fall.

“Any of the areas that were not disturbed, and that are growing up in natural cover or have had Japanese millet sowed on them will do very well,” Jallas said.

High water conditions on the Illinois River the past few years have made controlling water levels difficult if not impossible.

Refuges use levees and pumps to help mimic natural cycles of wet and dry. This year, Mother Nature is helping managers with the task of removing water.

“For us, this low water, low rainfall situation is allowing us to do this drawdown,” said Robert Clevenstine, acting manager of the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges. “We haven’t been able to do this since 2005.

Illinois hunting and fishing
The south pool of Lake Chautauqua was full of wetland vegetation in Aug. 2005, the last time the pool was drawn down.

“We tried in 2006, but the levee was overtopped, so this unit hasn’t been operated as a moist soil unit for seven years,” he said. “According to our own habitat management plan, we’re supposed to do it every year in the south pool.”

The bottom of the south pool of Lake Chautauqua near Havana is turning lush and green as water drains away.

“It looks like a golf course out there,” Clevenstine said.

Counting birds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports waterfowl numbers are at a record high in the duck breeding grounds in northern United States and Canada. To arrive at the estimates, waterfowl biologists sample more than two million square miles of waterfowl habitat.

This year’s “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations” report estimates 48.6 million ducks, 3 million more than last year. That’s also 43 percent above the long-term average.

Illinois hunting and fishing
A flock of mostly green-wing teal takes flight from the north pool of Lake Chautauqua last fall.

Mallard duck numbers stand at 10.6 million, up 9 percent over 2011 and 40 percent above the long-term average.

Those record numbers likely will be a hot topic when waterfowl enthusiasts descend on public hunting sites up and down the Illinois River July 28-29 in hopes of drawing a blind for the upcoming fall season.

Lucky winners get to use a blind for one year.

Sanganois will hold its drawing at 2 p.m. July 29 at the site office, where on most years, about 1,200 people will vie for 60-70 blinds.

Due to retirements of superintendents at neighboring sites, Jallas also is supervising Anderson Lake and Rice Lake.

He said habitat reports look good at all three.

“Sanganois looks fantastic as far as food,” Jallas said. “Anderson Lake looks good. Rice Lake has lots of millet, corn and soybeans.

“All three places are doing very well. Now if we can just get water.”

Jallas said employees working at all three sites kept them in good condition, despite personnel losses.

“People at DNR have a lot of pride in their work,” Jallas said. “ …The sites are in great shape and there are good people there who are making everything work.”

Now, a little water at the right time could bring everything together.

“We’re hoping for a small bump in the river this fall to help with pumping costs,” Jallas said. “They’ve had a good hatch up north and we’ve got great habitat conditions.

“All we need is water in the fall and we’ll have the perfect storm come together. I guess time will tell.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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