A Dandy Bird
Aug. 20 was a great summer day. Thirty people piled into three vans after an early morning thunderstorm. Binoculars and field guides in hand, we set off to experience the beginning of fall migration.
Travelling south, we entered the metropolis of Goofy Ridge (yes it is a real place). This tiny neighborhood is located on the northeastern edge of Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Havana in Mason County. Each summer, the Refuge staff open gates in the levies to allow water to drain out of the pools. Large expanses of mudflats become exposed, providing prime habitat for migrating shorebirds in August. As we parked the vans and walked along the levy, we were not disappointed.
The first sound we hear is a series of calls from the water: ”yap yap yap yip yap” as a group of birds fly low over the water. They land close to us and stand on long, pink legs in the shallow water. They strut around looking to be dressed for a formal ball in black tuxedos. In the “leg-to-body ratio” department, they are only beat out by the flamingo. The Black-necked Stilt is a real treat to see. This bird once was only found in the Southwestern United States, but in the last few decades, it has become much more common in Illinois. As weather patterns change, so do the home ranges of bird species. So now, this dandy of a bird can even be found nesting in the Illinois River Valley in places like Emiquon Preserve in Fulton County. They put on a real show for everyone on our tour. We were able to get excellent close-up views through the several spotting scopes set up.
In all, there were over 28 species of shorebirds at Chautauqua on Saturday, and our tour got to see over 70 species of birds ranging from pelicans to hummingbirds. The diversity of Illinois on a fine summer day as migration starts can be simply amazing. Each day brings in new species. Soon the shorebirds will be moving on, and the waterfowl will follow in October and November.
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is a special place and well worth the one hour drive south from Peoria. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the establishment of Chautauqua as a National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge staff will host an auto tour and open house at the Eagle Bluff Access Area from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Oct. 15 in celebration of Chautauqua’s 80th birthday. Consider it an invitation, and you don’t have to be a dandy and dress in a tuxedo. Leave that to the Black-necked Stilt.