Illinois Outdoors

Sharp-shinned hawks like this one prowling a winter prairie in January near Bell’s Landing feed almost exclusively on other birds.

The birds of Banner

April 20, 2008 at 02:14 AM
Several events are scheduled to coincide with spring bird migration along the Illinois River.

Saturday

— Peoria Audubon President Pete Fenner leads a Birding the Illinois River Trail field trip from 7-10 a.m. starting at Carl Spindler Marina parking lot in East Peoria. Call (309) 699-3549.

May 10

— Spring bird counts are scheduled for local counties and volunteers are welcome. Here are county contacts: Peoria, Mike Miller (309) 686-3360; Fulton, Helen Gasdorf (309) 676-3384; Mason, Dick Bjorklund (309) 968-6502; Tazewell, Thad Edmonds (309) 243-1854; Woodford, Matt Winks (309) 287-8114.

May 17 and June 7

— Peoria Audubon leads migratory bird walks at Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights at 7:30 a.m. Call (309) 686-3360.

The big fish of Banner Marsh are well known. Already this year, Banner’s lakes have produced at least two 6-pound bass and several muskies longer than 40 inches.

But the popular state fish and wildlife site is also an excellent place to watch birds.

Due to its diverse habitat — deep strip-mine lakes, shallow marshes, stands of prairie grass and small patches of trees — Banner attracts a wide variety of birds, including several Illinois threatened species.

Spotting those birds can often be done from the comfort of a car, since entry to the 4,300-acre marsh is readily available through four gravel roadways: East Point, Main, Wetland and Bell’s Landing accesses.

Best of all, many of Banner’s winged visitors are large enough that even novice birders like me can spot them.

Most obvious in the early spring are waterfowl. While the bulk of migrating ducks and geese are gone, a few remain to nest. Someday let’s hope that includes a few pairs of trumpeter swans, a group of which stopped at Banner this spring.

In terms of big white birds, though, Banner is best known for a growing population of mute swans. Also highly visible are flocks of white pelicans that make occasional visits.

A less visible drawing card is Banner’s osprey nest, first spotted in 2004 and the first documented in central Illinois since the 1890s. Site manager Bill Douglass said osprey are nesting again this spring. Their perch is near a Bell’s Landing prairie that occasionally attracts two other state threatened species, the short-eared owl and the northern harrier hawk.

Speaking of state threatened species, Journal Star state reporter Matt Buedel photographed a threatened American bittern last week in the marsh. And Douglas said a bald eagle started building a nest this spring across from the hunting check station.

“We saw a mature eagle on it early, but it almost appears to have been abandoned,” Douglass said. “Maybe next year.”

Beyond the rare and threatened, Banner is home to many common Illinois birds. Rare is the spring hike through Wetland Access that fails to roust a blue heron, kingfisher, Canada goose, red-tailed hawk, wood duck or teal.

So next time you plan a trip to Banner, bring binoculars along with your bait.

The following are more pictures from Banner taken by Peoria Journal Star state reporter Matt Buedel.

Killdeer frequently scurry along marshy roadsides within Banner Marsh, as this one was doing when photographed in March at the East Point Access.

Illinois Outdoors

Blue-winged teal favor shallow ponds at Banner Marsh. This drake was feeding on aquatic vegetation in the Bell’s Landing Access earlier this month.

Illinois Outdoors

Two American goldfinches, a brighter-colored male and a drab female, spar over thistle seed near the levee in Bell’s Landing. The birds eat the seeds and use other materials from thistle for nesting.

Illinois Outdoors

American bitterns like this one in a thick reed bed near Bell’s Landing are one of many heron species that call Banner Marsh home for part of the year.

Illinois Outdoors