And as we were leaving after dark, we heard the funny peenting of American Woodcock, and even heard their whirring wing sounds as they flew back down to the ground. Too dark to see them .
Spring fever brought out 40 birders to the annual Baldwin Lake & Peabody Coal Conservation Area, IL, Saint Louis Audubon field trip. A strong wind all day did not dampen spirits as record temperatures kept the group warm and active. Everyone met at Baldwin Lake State Park, with access to the boat ramps blocked because of the previously announced waste spill. Thousands of Snow Geese were loafing on the banks allowing close scope views. A Ross's Goose was singled out and easily compared with Snow Geese so all could see its small size and diminutive bill. At the end of the road, a small group of Greater White-Fronted Geese stood on the levee with Canada Geese and 2 Cackling Geese, again for nice comparisons. In the lake swam a flock of 40 Cackling Geese, American Coot, one female Scaup, and at a distance Redhead and 2 American Pelican on the far bank. Otherwise, there were very few gulls or other ducks seen.
We drove side roads to the IL DNR World Shooting Complex, with some members of the convoy seeing a Merlin, and all seeing numerous Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Horned Lark and Eastern Meadowlarks. The shooting complex habitat is similar to that at Peabody Coal Conservation Area and home to numerous Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks. One of the ponds had Gadwall and 2 American Widgeon.
After a picnic lunch, we drove farm roads to Peabody Coal Conservation Area. Last year all of the ponds were frozen, this year many visitors were fishing and enjoying the area which we usually have to ourselves. We walked the road towards the Kaskaskia River looking for shrikes and other birds, finding a few American Tree and White-throated Sparrows, a few year-around residents, and seeing a number of Ring-billed Gulls on the water. Ribbons of Snow and Greater White-Fronted Geese flew overhead all afternoon, vocalizing loudly.
Our persistence to find a shrike was successful when Mick Richardson spotted, and Bernie Favara confirmed, the spotting of one across from the pit toilet parking lot. Long scope views of the very cooperative bird confirmed the identification as a Northern Shrike; a narrow mask, white above the barely visible eye, buffy breast with light streaking, a large white wing patch.
One target bird for this trip is Short-eared Owls, but the condition of the habitat this year made us apprehensive about success. A large area along the road appeared to have been cleared or burned, and we saw no Northern Harriers, always present in past years. Our fears were confirmed when we waited till dark but saw no Short-eared Owls. As we were leaving after enjoying a beautiful sunset, Paul and Barb Johnson did find a Great-horned Owl at the top of a distant tree.
Enjoying the annual spectacle of thousands of Snow Geese alighting into the air together is always the highlight of this trip, and we were rewarded for our efforts on this beautiful day!
Pat Lueders, Saint Louis Audubon
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