Birds of Illinois in Pike County-Spring Report
I used to hunt but now in my senior years, my greatest pleasure comes from birding activities. Birding comes with challenges similar to hunting in that one must know something about the life history of the birds in order to know when they will be present and what habitat they are likely to to be using. Equipment required for birding is not quite as extensive and expensive as hunting but a good pair of binoculars is essential and a spotting scope can be helpful. Several field guides are available to help with identification. Bird song programs are also available to download on your IPod or smart phone. Learning bird songs has been a huge challenge for me and my skills in that area are lacking but I am still working on it.
My spring birding generally starts around my home in rural Pike County, Illinois where I easily see many of the common birds such as Goldfinches, Robins, Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Chipping Sparrows, Barn Swallows and Turkey Vultures. Then I like to check the wetlands in the river bottoms where one is likely to see nesting Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers along with a few Blue-winged Teal and Mallards. Killdeer are often seen along roads where they may have scraped a spot in the gravel and laid their eggs. Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers may also be seen; however, most other waterfowl and shorebirds have moved to northern nesting habitats by early May. Soras may respond to their call being played on an IPod near a stand of cattails but they are rarely seen. The regal Bald Eagle and Red-tail Hawks are also a possibility. The sweet-sweet-sweet call of the Prothontary Warbler can be heard frequently in the wooded wetlands. They may be enticed to show themselves if they hear their song. Birds that may be present in the wetlands but rarely seen include Woodcock, Least Bittern, Northern Waterthrush, and Virginia Rail.
The woodlands along the roads up the hollows can produce a great show of colorful birds and a overwhelming chorus of sounds in the early spring mornings. The Cardinal and Robins are perhaps the loudest and most common, but with keen hearing and a knowledge of songs, one can sort out Warbling Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Summer Tanager, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and many others. A Louisiana Waterthrush may be found foraging for insects along wooded streams. Continuing on up the road to the open areas of the hill crests, birds such as Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Bluebird, Bobolink, Henslow Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow may be seen or heard in the fields of grass and legumes.
With a little patience and work, I can come up with 60 or more species of birds in a day but a good birder who knows the songs can come up with twice that many. A birding partner or two can provide extra eyes and ears to help in locating and identifying birds plus providing good company. Anyway, any day of birding is a good day for me. I encourage anyone of any age to give it a try. Birding is a great way to get out of doors and enjoy the wonderful gifts of nature that thrive among us and depend on us to ensure that they are here for future generations.