Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Operation shorebird, part III: The new, improved Emiquon
The last time I'd been in the area, the Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preseve--a lovely reclaimed wetland along the Illinois River Valley -- had been a very frustrating place to drive past. The reason for this was that, from the busy road, I could see what felt like miles and miles of fabulous habitat, and absolutely no way to pull off the road and actually bird it.
That frustration, I am pleased to report, seems to be a thing of the past, as there is now ample public access, with trails, boardwalks, informational signs and observation platforms. The new, improved Emiquon will probably become one of my favorite central Illinois birding destinations. What can I say? I love wetlands, and I'm a sucker for boardwalks.
The deck is especially well-done, decorated with silver panels with cut-out silhouettes of different species of bird that can be seen there, which I thought was a nice touch. The signs showing the history of the river valley, from pristine wetland to farmland and now back to a state of reclamation, are also nicely done. From them, I learned, for example, that the seeds of the water lilies I admired as we drove past had actually lain dormant in the soil for all those years, as if waiting for their habitat to be re-established so they could bloom again. Call me a big environmental softy if you will, but I find that to be so beautiful.
Alas, the signs also showed that black-necked stilts could be found in the area, and the black-necked stilt is, like the yellow-headed blackbird, one of my state nemesis birds. It's gotten to the point where I want to say, Please don't even tell me about seeing stilts in Illinois. They don't exist here; there must be some sort of barrier that stops them as they try to cross the Mississippi.
And did I see stilts at Emiquon? No! I didn't see leprechauns, either, or the tooth fairy. Not that I'm bitter about never seeing stilts. Oh no, not me. Easy come, easy go, that's my birding motto.
Mostly what we saw were great egrets.
A tree full of swallows:
And several great blue herons.
As far as shorebirds go -- they were, after all, the point of this birding exercise -- I saw three noisy killdeer and one silent solitary sandpiper. No stilts or avocets. Still, I was thrilled to see the improvements at Emiquon and can't wait to come back later in the fall -- when the ducks should be coming through!