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DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR—Thousands of snow geese take to the air from a flooded field near Dickson Mounds Museum.


Spring bird migration under way

March 21, 2010 at 10:13 AM

Peoria birding events

Here are various Peoria-area birding events that tie into the spring migration.

April 10 — Guided hike through Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights searching for migratory and resident birds, 7:30-8:30 a.m.

April 14 — Showing of 45-minute nature documentary “First Flight - A Mother Hummingbird’s Story” at Forest Park Nature Center, 7 p.m.

April 18 — Spring bird walk starting at Carl Spindler Marina in East Peoria, 7 a.m.

May 1 — Birding tour through the 14,000-acre Chicago Metropolitan Sanitary District Wetlands near Canton, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Trip free, must pre-register at (309) 243-1854.

May 2 — Spring bird walk at John T. McNaughton Park in Pekin, 7 a.m.

May 8 — Spring bird count. Volunteers needed for Peoria, Fulton, Mason, Tazewell and Woodford counties. Call Mike Miller at (309) 231-2858.

May 8 — Guided migratory bird hike through FPNC, 7:30-8:30 a.m.

May 16 — Spring bird walk at Camp Wokanda in Mossville, 7 a.m. Meet at lower parking area.

May 16 — Backyard bird habitat garden tour through the Peoria area.

May 22 — Guided migratory bird hike through FPNC, 7:30-8:30 a.m. Also June 5.



This is the time of year when Carole Rassi gets razzed.

Several springs ago Rassi innocently described seeing what she thought was a sandhill crane flying over her Morton home. That’s fairly unusual, since cranes are relatively rare in central Illinois.

Over the years — while spending time with Rassi and husband Keith in the boys basketball press room at Carver Area — that big bird has taken on Bigfoot-like qualities.

Don’t tell Carole, but I have little doubt she saw a crane. That’s because this is also the time of year when birds of all sorts pass through the Peoria area. Yes, even cranes.

Whatever headaches the Illinois River creates, the winding ribbon of brown water also attracts a multitude of wildlife. That’s particularly true in spring, when a hard-core birder can entertain realistic hopes of seeing 200 migrating species.

Occasionally those sightings are spectacular, as they were early this March when geese and other waterfowl flocked to central Illinois. Snow goose counts bordered on historic, with flocks in the hundreds of thousands spotted from Springfield to Canton and beyond.

One foggy morning, Desiree Carlson walked out of her home in Princeville and heard what she thought were Canada geese. “All the sudden out of the fog came hundreds and hundreds of snow geese that came right over my head,” she said. “It was just amazing.”

I feel the same way about the hawk migration, which for me manifests itself in raptors perched every few hundred yards along the Interstates.

Others along the river get excited about the reappearance of white pelicans, flocks of which started arriving in the past few days.

Some pine for the passing of Carole’s cranes as they head to the marshes of Wisconsin and the north country. The fact that endangered whooping cranes are sometimes mingled with sandhills only adds to the interest

And those are just the big birds. Still ahead are two months of more subtle migrants. Warblers. Vireos. Sapsuckers.

That’s part of the beauty of spring birdwatching: There’s a new species arriving every few days from now through the end of May.

Timing and picking the right spot helps maximize what you see.

Many target sunny spring days. Another prime time comes the morning after an evening thunderstorm, since bad weather can force migrants down.

River backwaters are prime locations to see waterfowl and shorebirds through March. Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, The Emiquon Preserve and Banner Marsh are among the many nearby sites worth visiting to see birds like the drake canvasback below photographed by Matt Buedel.

Illinois hunting and fishing

As the migration moves into April, wooded bluffs are more productive and spots like Forest Park Nature Center shine.

A few migrants have already arrived or passed through the Peoria Heights nature preserve, but the best is yet to come notes manager John Mullen.

“The eastern phoebes are back and (in April) you’ll get a trickling of a couple flycatchers, yellow-rumped warblers will be the first warblers and kinglets will start showing up,” Mullen said. “And it’s always like clockwork here. Our hummingbirds show up by April 28.”

That’s also close to the peak for passerines. From late April through May we’ll share the river valley with small, colorful grosbeaks, tanagers, warblers and vireos. Some days the woods will literally come alive with bird songs.

All it takes to enjoy the free concert is to step outside and listen.