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Illinois hunting and fishing

DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR
An osprey scans the surrounding waters of Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana.

Waterfowl returning to Chautauqua

April 27, 2010 at 02:51 PM

Peoria Journal Star

HAVANA, Ill. (AP) — Millions of dollars of national, state and private funds over the past century have focused on restoration work in the Chautauqua-Emiquon area of central Illinois, and the yellow-rumped warbler sighted on a recent rainy Friday morning is one measure of restoration performance.

Other sightings recorded that morning included five bald eagle nests, four with eaglets; 23 ruddy ducks in the North Pool; an osprey perched on the tallest limb of a dead tree; four river otters lounging on a bank.

The weekly Friday morning bird survey is a voluntary undertaking by a father-son team.

The restoration work this summer at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge south of Peoria is funded with $640,000 in federal stimulus money and funds from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Lee Albright, manager at the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges, said destruction and restoration work at Chautauqua goes back to 1916 when the Chautauqua Drainage and Levee District was organized to keep the Illinois River off 3,300 acres of floodplain wetland.

After just 10 years of farming the land and battling the river, the mistake was evident and restoration work began.

“It will never be completely restored. It’s like trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again,” said John Mullen, naturalist with the Peoria Park District.

Mullen said part of the significance of restoration work and bird surveying is connecting people with the local environment in ways that stimulate new understanding and cautionary reflection before wholesale environmental changes are undertaken again.

“Health and a clean environment are not a privilege but a right. We need to reflect before we look at the environment like an economic commodity,” Mullen said.

During his decade with the Peoria Park District, Mullen has conducted many field trips and birding expeditions to the Chautauqua-Emiquon region. His last trip slated for March 20 was cancelled due to flooding. He is leaving Peoria this week for a new job as manager at Tryon Creek State Park in Oregon south of Portland.

“We often feel we can out-engineer and out-technicalize nature. We think we can figure out a way to somehow make nature better, but at Chautauqua we’ve been working for almost a century trying to correct what we did,” Mullen said.

Albright said the new infusion of stimulus money this summer will go toward replacement of a water control mechanism, removal of trees that have grown on the levees jeopardizing their integrity and work on areas of erosion.

Because of development up and down the Illinois River, water reaches higher levels than it did historically when natural wetlands provided a safety valve. By altering the natural cycle of wetland flooding in the spring and drying in late summer and fall, the moist soil vegetation favored by migrating water fowl struggles to survive.

At Chautauqua, water levels are being kept artificially high in an effort to kill invading willows. Albright said an aerial application of an herbicide is planned for early September to kill any remaining willows.

While levels of funding for restoration vary year to year, the Friday morning bird count is as consistent as the seasons.

For the past 16 years, Sigurd “Sig” Bjorklund and his father Richard have documented four to six hours of observations for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. For the past eight years, Sig Bjorklund has driven up from the St. Louis area, leaving about 3:15 a.m. on the first lap of a 310 mile round trip.

He picks up his father at his home south of Manito about 6:30 a.m. and the two have a set route from Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery to Clear Lake and Chautauqua’s North Pool and South Pool.

The son drives and observes, the father records.

“I’m the data meister, and I write up the reports,” said Richard Bjorklund, 82.

Standing on a deck overlooking Clear Lake, Sig Bjorklund scanned the shoreline with his spotting scope and called to his father, “Two lesser scaup, two great blues, four wood ducks, two blue winged teal, three DC Cormorants. I do not see any ruddy ducks at all.”

Last year, the two men had the highest count in the state of American White Pelicans . . . an estimated 18,000 in North Pool at Chautauqua in 40 minutes.

Their overall counts over recent years show decreasing numbers because consistent high water levels prevent the vegetation growth many birds rely on for food.

“The intent (of restoration) is to recreate the ebb and flow of the original wetland,” Sig Bjorklund said. “Our census gives the refuge management an idea when a species arrives and departs, and that helps with management.”

There are few places in the county with the consistency and comprehensive nature of the Bjorklund survey.

“We always record the weather, waterfowl, patterns and trends, even if it’s not good news it’s helpful information for decision making,” Sig Bjorklund said, holding up his Kestrel 3000 pocket weather meter. “Wind 7 miles with gusts to 9.4. Temperature 61.3.”

Recording the data, Richard Bjorklund observed a thick swarm of midge gnats.

“We have a magnificent midge emergence emergency,” he said of the tiny insects favored as a food source by swallows but brushed aside by humans as the bugs climbed into eyes, ears, noses and mouths.

“One American white pelican, one mallard, 23 ruddys,” Sig Bjorklund continued as his father recorded.

“On a good year, we’ve counted 170 species,” Richard Bjorklund said.

The Friday surveys conclude with sightings from the top of the observation tower at Chautauqua. The 99-foot tower is closed to the public.

“143 steps,” Richard Bjorklund said when he reached the top where the wooden platform felt a little spongy underfoot. “You should feel it sway in a heavy wind.”

He summed up the significance of the thousands of hours of weekly bird counts: “It’s important to get solutions versus carrying signs and protesting and being antagonistic. This is information that’s useful in making management decisions. ... Value and understanding go hand in hand.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR
Sig Bjorklund sets up to scan Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge as his father, Richard, stands ready to record his findings during their weekly bird census at the refuge near Havana.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Clare,
Do you happen to have link to the weekly count? It used to be on Chatauqua’s website, but I cant seem to find it anymore, thanks!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/27 at 03:36 PM

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