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One Day Road Trip!?

Good Tuesday Morning All!

I planned to do this post yesterday, but getting caught up took more time than I figured. Caught up from what, you ask? If you have a minute I will explain.

My two birding friends, Gay and Therese, had invited me to go with them on a birding trip to the south last week. We planned to leave on Sunday and return on Saturday or Sunday. The weather didn’t cooperate, giving us snow and ice on Friday and Saturday, making for treacherous travel on Sunday, so we decided to leave Monday. Monday was no better, so it was decided to just do a day trip on Tuesday.

“Just in case…” we decided to pack an overnight bag in the event we got too far away to get back in one day, or the weather made that decision for us. The radar map looked like a lot of precipitation, and who knew whether it would be snow, ice or rain? So far, so good.

We first went to Keokuk, IA to Lock and Dam #19, thinking we would see lots of Bald Eagles, and maybe some ducks. We saw a few, but not as many as expected. We moved on into Missouri, stopping at Canton at Lock and Dam #20.

Pay dirt! Over 100 Bald Eagles were there along with numerous Ring-billed Gulls, Common Mergansers and Common Golden-Eye. The Black and white ones are the male Golden-eyes and the darker one is the female. Pretty ducks.

common goldeneye

Several of the 100 or so Bald Eagles were perched, but some were fishing and I managed to get a couple of shots. This one is of an adult coming in for a fish (he hopes), and the next one is hitting the water. He did get the fish, and somehow transferred it from talon to beak.

bald eagle

eagle hit water

fishing eagle

That was pretty exciting!

After that we thought we should go into Illinois for a stop at Lock and Dam #21 at Quincy. On the way there we stopped at a small pond where there were thousands of geese and a few Trumpeter Swans. It was quite a sight and noisy too! This is just a few of the Canada and Greater White-fronted Geese, maybe 1/8 of the total on the pond. There were 6 Trumpeter Swans there also.

geese

When birding with Gay and Therese, there is always a plan, but that plan changes frequently! You just never know where you might find birds. From there we went to Quincy, Illinois to Lock and Dam #21 where we saw more Bald Eagles and plenty of ducks, mostly Mallards but a few Redhead Ducks also. This guy is SO handsome (or maybe it is a she since it is so big-females are larger than males).

sitting eagle

Nearing the end of the day we decided to hit one of the 9 National Wildlife Refuges in Illinois, and spend the night nearby. From there we would follow the Illinois River upriver toward Peoria, to see what we might find, then find our way home.

No lodging in the town nearest the Meredosia NWR, so we went to the next town, thinking to double back the next morning. We never made it to Meredosia NWR. Nor did we get very far upriver. The next likely place for birds was Emiquon NWR, also on the Illinois River, but there wasn’t much there as the water was frozen. This would be a place to return to in the spring.

We did see a couple of Bald Eagles, but more birds were seen along the road en route to Emiquon. Among them were 1 Eagle, 1 American Kestrel, 1 Eastern Bluebird, 2 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Song Sparrow, 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 1 Blue Jay, 3 Northern Cardinals, 5 Dark-eyed Juncos, 1 Swamp Sparrow, 2 Downy Woodpeckers, 2 House Sparrows and 6 Pigeons. Not terribly exciting.

We then took a side road through the Emiquon NWR and came to a spot where we saw a gorgeous Northern Harrier, a smaller hawk that used to be called a Marsh Hawk. It was sitting in a grassy field, so we stopped, thinking I might get a photo. It apparently had some prey in mind as it began to hop around and fly a bit, then hover. I love birds of prey, and the Northern Harrier is my favorite hawk.

northern harrier

I wish he had been a bit closer as I had to crop the image a lot to get this view of him hovering. So far, this was the highlight of the day, actually the trip, except for the fishing Bald Eagle the day before.

In discussing heading home and checking the weather, which was worsening (at home) as we talked, we decided to head south and maybe miss the 5-8″ of snow expected at home that night and the next couple of days, along with some mixed precipitation. It turned out to be an excellent decision.

Long story made much shorter, we did head south¬† and crossed back into Missouri. Moving on, we went south in Missouri then crossed over into Illinois at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where we found a lovely lake called Horseshoe Lake. It was what we were looking for….open water. There were hundreds of ducks there as well as crows, woodpeckers, White-crowned Sparrows and geese. Greater White-fronted geese are quite handsome with their white faces and orange feet.

Greater White-fronted Geese

We then went south into Kentucky, Tennessee and into Arkansas. Our day trip turned into a 6 day trip!! Good thing we are flexible and not afraid to wear the same clothes for several days! We each had a change of clothes, and it was no problem to wash underwear at night. Also necessary were the meds that some of us have to take, and fortunately they had taken enough with them for several days.

What I missed most were my battery charger for the camera, and my computer. I thought for one day I wouldn’t need either, and I probably didn’t, but it would have saved me some anxiety to have had the charger. I did take an extra charged battery, but who knows how long it might last, right? It turned out to be enough.

Crossing into Arkansas at Memphis, TN, we spent the night at Marion, which is near the Wapanocca NWR. We got an early start and went directly to the refuge where we saw maybe 52 species. The area has forest, grassland, wetland and open water, so many species were present.  Not many photos here, as most birds were either in trees and half hidden by branches, or too far away for a decent shot. Also, they do tend to fly around! However, I did get a Pied-billed Grebe to share with you.

Pied-billed Grebe

We spent about 4 hours at the refuge, and, speaking for myself, I would like to go back in the spring. There were THOUSANDS of Snow Geese on the lake as well as many duck species. Who knows how many species would be there as the weather turns warmer? Leaving there put us on Interstate 55 which quickly took us into Missouri and back home. On the way we saw our target bird, a Loggerhead Shrike. Woo-Hoo! Every time we go looking for birds, we say we would like to see a Shrike. This was the day for our Shrike. It is not a great photo, but he was pretty far away, and it is a SMALL bird.

shrike

According to texts from family and neighbors, the highways at home were clear, but side roads still pretty icy. We spent one more night in Missouri and made the final leg of our trip on Sunday, crossing back over into Illinois on the chance that we might see an Eastern Screech Owl located at the river cabin of a friend. The owl was cooperative, so we added one more species to our list.

Lisa has named him (or her) Ollie, who hangs out in a Wood Duck house on their property. As an interesting side note, Lisa is the daughter of the publisher and editor of the local newspaper (back in the 1980s), who gave me my start as a photographer. Dean Gabbert loved the Mississippi River and spent as much time there at this cabin as he and his wife could manage. They are both gone now, but I think Dean would be pleased that I have a decent photo of the owl.

screech owl

Back in Iowa at Fort Madison, we took secondary roads, you know, so we could see more birds. You can’t just stop on an interstate highway to look at some birds and try to identify them!

On Highway 16 we saw MANY Horned Larks, 3 Northern Harriers, and a Rough-legged Hawk, as well as other species. The Rough-legged Hawk cooperated to land on a utility pole long enough for me to get a photo. Until this time, I did not have a good photo of a Rough-legged.

rough legged hawk

By now, it is about 3 p.m. on Sunday, and our day trip on Tuesday was just about to end. You probably (if you are still reading this) think we must be a little bit crazy to do what we did. Maybe so. But, I am thinking that life is short, and you have to be willing to bend a little bit to take advantage of opportunities that you would otherwise miss.

For the trip we saw 84 species of birds, which is not too bad to my way of thinking. Some species we saw in every state (5 states) and some only migrate through and are only where habitat allows. Others are indigenous to certain areas. No matter, it was fun, educational, and gave us an appreciation for other places. It also gave us an appreciation for home, clean clothes, and chargers! We did have phone chargers, so we were not completely out of touch.

In anticipation of a week-long trip, I had notified the post office to hold my mail, and asked my granddaughter to check in on my aging cat and feed the birds. After our plans changed, I had let her know we were only going to be gone ONE DAY, so she didn’t need to go over to my house. By the time I let her know we were going to be gone much longer, the roads were too bad for her to risk the 7 mile trip. Thus, my greatest concern was that my poor kitty would be very lonely, and that the birds wouldn’t be able to find food with all the snow.

Everything was fine…the cat was lonely, but had plenty of food and water and litter box for survival. The birds ran out of food, but came back quickly enough when I filled the feeders. My excellent neighbor, Rick, cleared out my driveway. All I had to do was unload my car and scoop off the sidewalk. Easy Peasy!

All’s well that ends well. I thank God for the blessings of good friends, good weather (where we were), and good BIRDS! It was a wonderful day trip and we think we might try another one when it warms up a bit.