Happy Anniversary, Gene-Gene! We celebrated 18 years of marriage by taking an 8 hour tour of the birding hotspots of Central Illinois. Our outing turned out to be WAY longer than we had originally intended, but we saw some cool wildlife and had lots of fun! Our original plan was dinner and a movie. My parents kept the kids most of the day and all night Saturday, but with the predicted rain we didn't plan much. I woke up early Saturday morning, let Duncan outside and realized it hadn't rained at all overnight. Weird, there had been an 80% chance of rain that extended all day. I checked my computer and there was nothing on radar so I decided to go to the migratory bird walk at Forest Park Nature Center at 7:30am.
The hike included a couple in their early 30s, an older single woman, the naturalist and me. All of us were about equal in our bird knowledge; we could all identify all of the usual birds and were hoping for amazing knowledge from the naturalist. He apparently was burned out from all his end of the year school field trips because he spent the first half of our tour pointing out things like female cardinals and robins. Ummmmm... It finally occurred to him that we were a bit more advanced than that and he started identifying birds by song. We stuck mostly to the prairie area and didn't walk very far, but we saw indigo buntings and watched a flycatcher dip and dive catching bugs. It was a little disappointing because the previous day I went for a hike at FPNC by myself and saw a barred owl, indigo buntings, a common yellowthroat, a pair of loud and destructive pileated woodpeckers, turkeys and lots of the usual birds. I thought birding with an experienced pro would be more fun than it actually was. It whet my appetite for more birding.
I got home ~9 and Gene had some minor work to get done so grabbed his computer and headed off to Panera while I got the kids ready for their overnight with my parents and finished some laundry. My dad picked up the kids around 10. It now appeared that it wasn't going to rain at all the entire day! I devised a plan to go to Banner Marsh and then to Emiquon nature preserve and Dickson Mounds museum. I was sort of surprised, but Gene happily went along with the plan. (I wasn't sure he'd want to go to muddy, buggy places just to look for wildlife.) We decided it would be a good day to test Duncan. We've always crated him when we leave, but he's never been terribly destructive to anything other than pencils. We figured we'd be gone about 3 hours- a perfect test time.
We first headed to Banner Marsh. We did three of the four entrances- skipped the tick-filled wetlands trail- and saw zillions of geese with their goslings, lots of mute swans but no cygnets, hundreds of turtles, Gene's first indigo buntings, a green heron and lots of the usual birds. We headed on to Emiquon. I hadn't been in that area since grade school so had no idea what to expect. For some reason, most of the river area of emiquon was blocked off. We could only go to one small parking area with a boat launch. We saw a few herons and egrets and some snapping turtles. Oh well, at least I can say I've been there... We drove on and back to Dickson Mounds. Ooooohhhhhh, the nature preserve continues way back. We didn't see a lot of waterfowl (wrong time of the year) but I did stand on a bridge while hundreds of swallows dove and flew all around me. The Dickson Mounds museum without their uncovered burial mound that was previously the centerpiece of the entire place? It's sadly just not much to see. I think we spent less than 30 minutes there.
It was almost 2pm and we were hungry so we drove on a few miles to Havana and ate gigantic tenderloins at Toni's Family Restaurant. We were now so close to Lake Chautauqua it seemed silly to skip it. It was really windy and the water was choppy so the dozens of turtles weren't sunning themselves. Also, the woods were FILLED with singing birds, but the trees had "leafed out" so much in the past three weeks it was nearly impossible to see them. We moved on to Sand Ridge State Forest, the place I went with Ashley for her skink research. We saw a coyote run across the road and then saw lots of indigo buntings. We pretty much just drove through the park because neither of us wanted to be covered in ticks. We did stop long enough for Gene to see the cacti. We checked out the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery, but the building was already closed for the day. On to Spring Lake!
Finally, cygnets! Hurray! There were still around 100 mute swans at Spring Lake but we only saw three cygnets. They were stinkin' cute, though. We parked and hiked back along the lake road, checking out snakes, turtles, several muskrats and lots of birds. We spotted a rose breasted grosbeak and a Baltimore oriole, making the otherwise nearly insufferable gnats worth the hike. Our full list of birds for the day was impressively long. I was pleased with our herp and mammal sitings as well! Holy cow, it's almost 6pm! I wonder what Duncan is doing?!
Our original dinner and a movie plan included a "good" dinner. But now we were sweaty and though not actually filthy, we felt that way. Plus, the late lunch tenderloins made us not want anything remotely greasy. Ice cream was the logical answer. We had Cold Stone Creamery for dinner and then watched a movie On Demand. And Duncan? Left alone for 8 hours instead of 3? Nothing destroyed or damaged, nothing out of place. He was a good dog! It was a fun day. Thanks Mom and Dad for keeping the kids!