Monday, August 15, 2011

Operation shorebird, Part II: Few birds at Banner Marsh

After the frustrations of trying to distinguish one small, brown, undistinguished-looking bird from a multitude of similar small, brown, undistinguished-looking birds -- that would be my sandpiper experience -- I decided I wanted to look at some huge, obvious, can't-possibly-mistake-it-for-anything-else birds.

So I thought it over for a while. What birds are huge, obvious and unmistakable (ostriches? flamingos? emperor penguins?) and something I could see not far from Chatauqua NWR along the Illinois River in central Illinois in the middle of August. The answer to that would be...swans.

And the best place to see swans in the area is Banner Marsh, a reclaimed strip mine north of Havana and not too far from Peoria, a bit of a drive from Chatauqua but not that far.

Along the way we saw several red-headed woodpeckers on telephone poles; there seem to be a lot of those in Mason county. Red-headed woodpeckers, that is. I don't think the county has more telephone poles than other places.

Sunwiggy and I discovered Banner Marsh entirely by accident on an extremely frigid day in February several years ago. After finding it too cold to get out of the car and explore Sand Ridge State Forest for more than ten minutes at a time (we were looking for crossbills, as there is a cruel rumor that those birds enjoy wintering amongst the pines of Sand Ridge--I would like to state uncategorically that numerous winter trips have yet to yield a single sighting for this birder), we decided to explore the region by car, and thus stumbled across Banner Marsh.

Birding-wise, I find the marsh to be very hit or miss. Some trips (including one at the end of August in 2009) have produced great lists. Others, I feel lucky to get a great blue heron and a red-winged blackbird. But at least it is always an interesting place; there is its history, of a once-degraded location brought back to a state where it can harbor birds and other animals; there is the interesting mix of water, fields and scrubby habitat, ringed by a tall embankment, which Sunwiggy and I once walked along; and there is the fact that the place has an all-around weird "vibe" which makes me feel, on certain mist-shrouded mornings, that I have traveled much farther than an hour or two down the road.

But no matter what else I might find, there are always swans. Well, except for yesterday. Seriously, what's up with this place? We saw several people fishing but, except for a small flock of Canada geese, no birds at all!

Until, on the drive back out, I noticed a bird hovering kestral-like over the water.

This was exciting because the hovering bird was obviously a tern of some sort, which was a year bird. (Beneath the tern, the snake-like neck sticking up from the water is a double-crested cormorant.)

Now the question becomes, common or Caspian? From that distance, the only give-away would be the color of the feet, and Greenturtle was a good sport, waiting patiently as I held up my binoculars until the tern turned (ha ha) to an angle that allowed me to see---it had black legs and feet, so the winner is, Caspian tern!

Right before we left, secluded in an area mostly hidden by reeds, we finally did see some mute swans as well.

With so few birds, I wasn't tempted to stay, and decided to head for my final stop in search of shorebirds, Emiquon, which will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your Caspian tern! Glad the snake-like neck belonged to a nice double-crested cormorant, and not some Banner Marsh version of the Loch Ness monster! I'll never forget our first visit there, and seeing those poor swans resting on the ice. It was so cold; I thought they were dead. Glad you saw some! Mom