March 6, 2013
Some people might call us crazy for getting up early on a Saturday to go bird-watching with mid-February temperature in the high teens—before wind chill. In all fairness to those people, we probably are a little crazy. But Dr. Frase, Jeff McGinty, Jade Metzler, Savanna Dorsey and I loaded up in a van anyway and headed to Pekin to look for bald eagles along the Illinois River.
Our first stop was a small park and boat launch on the Illinois River in Pekin. As we scanned the trees across the river, we came up with an early success—an eagle in a tree directly across from us, watching over the river. On our side of the river, a flock of ring-billed gulls covered the docks, while coots mingled with a few geese in the water.
We headed out to Emiquon, where we found eagles and much more. Canada geese made up the largest proportion of water birds, but were accompanied by pintail, mallard, and bufflehead ducks and two pairs of mute swans. Jade was just able to make out the long legs of a great blue heron flying on the other side of the lake, while flashes of white told us the birds circling even farther off were more eagles. A flock of snow geese passed by far in the distance, identifiable only by their brightness when they passed from cloud cover into sunlight. Shortly before we left, a flock of pelicans came to the lake, fluttering white spots swirling downward to land in the water. Getting a good view at the pelicans is what finally got us out of the van and into the freezing wind. Once we had stuck our uncomfortable cold binoculars to our eyes and gotten a good enough view of the pelicans to see that they did not, in fact, have giant hanging neck pouches like you see in cartoons, we headed back to the van and campus. Though not before throwing a few rocks through the ice.