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March 2010: Birding the Illinois River
Field Trip: March 6, 2010
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This year, we broke the pattern with what has become an annual field trip. Even with the thawing from last week, the "usual" backwater lakes of the Illinois River were still frozen solid. Trip organizers Maury Brucker and John Mullen elected to use a different strategy for viewing waterfowl. We elected to head to Lake Springfield, in Springfield, IL to see if we could find snow geese - and we were richly rewarded by a spectacle. The number of snow geese, in the flock by the lake was estimated as 10,000 on the low side to 20,000 on the high side. The reason for targeting the 4,260 acre Lake Springfield was due to the presence of a local power plant that used a portion of the lake for cooling. This meant that half of the lake was open water and not frozen. The geese were seeking the open water
With so many people interested, we filled two 15-passenger Peoria Park District vans, plus a smaller van for a day of birding. And, John arranged for a catered lunch at Dickson Mounds
Snow Geese in Cornfield near Lake Springfield
As soon as we were getting near Lake Springfield, we spotted a massive flock of snow geese in a nearby corn field. After viewing the corn field flock in for perhaps 10 minutes, we moved on to the lake itself. Then, within 5-10 minutes, as if right on cue by a Hollywood director, the flock rose up from the corn field and flew directly overhead to the waters in the lake. With a flock this large it took quite a while for all the birds to settle down.
Massive Flock of Snow Geese
Some of the snow geese were flying high, whereas others were just over the tops of our heads.
White and Dark Phases of Snow Geese
According to our birding guides, snow geese have two color plumage morphs, white (snow) or gray/blue (blue). The different morphs are sometimes called phases. According to the birding handbooks, the two morphs interbreed and the offspring may be of either morph. The two colors were once thought to be separate species, but are now considered to be two color phases of the same species.
Snow Goose - Dark Phase or Blue Morph a.k.a. Blue Goose
Snow Goose - White Phase
Everyone was in awe of having the massive flock fly directly overhead and so close.
With a flock so massive, it seemed that we were part of the flock itself. And, we had a front row seat for the spectacle.
Snow Geese over Lake Springfield (Large 2400x1607)
Then, as the flock was swirling around, the birds started landing in Lake Springfield.
Snow Geese Take-off and Landing on Lake Springfield (Large 2400x1607)
With this many geese, it was very challenging to visualize the enormity with photographs. Higher resolution images are linked.
Flotilla of Snow Geese (Large 2400x1179)
The sky was at times a whirling vortex of flying snow geese. Everyone was mesmerized at the sight.
Bring out the Scopes and Cameras
All eyes were on the snow geese. Whether viewing with the naked eye, binoculars, or spotting scope, the sight was fabulous. And, since Lake Springfield was the only nearby lake that was not frozen, the warmth and feeling of spring just around the corner added to the ambience.
Photographing the Flotilla of Snow Geese
The flotilla of geese were truly a Kodak moment.
Photographing the Snow Geese
Mike Miller Points to a Few Greater White-fronted Geese
There were a few other waterfowl species on the Lake, in addition to the massive flotilla and flock of snow geese. For the most part, the other birds were keeping to themselves - away from the flotilla of snow geese.
Redhead and Ruddy Ducks
After returning from the trip to Lake Springfield and Emiquon, the word spread in the birding community regarding the massive flocks of snow geese at Lake Springfield. Dave Heinzel of Springfield captured the following footage the week before. Dave was gracious to share his inspirational experience with us. The video helps capture the magnitude of the flock.
Video from Dave Heinzel on the Snow Geese of Lake Springfield
After Lake Springfield, we got back into the vans and headed to Emiquon, where we encountered another large flock.
Emiquon & Dickson Mounts - Click for Page 2
With incredible luck, as we came upon the 7000 acre Emiquon Preserve near Havana, we came across another flock of perhaps 10,000 snow geese. The area was frozen just the day before. The geese appeared to be congregating in one of the few areas that was not frozen. Note that the area surrounding the mud flats still had ice. In the above image, one can see the Dickson Mounds museum where John arranged a catered lunch for us.
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Photos are courtesy of Dennis Endicott for the Peoria Audubon Society
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