January 7, 2021 – Each winter Bald eagles move south into Illinois in large numbers as hundreds can be seen perched in the tall Sycamores and Cottonwoods along the Mississippi river, near the locks and dams, where the churning ice free waters are abundant with fish that are easy pickings for the eagles. From December through March these wintering eagles are not hard to find, where there is fish there are eagles. There are festivals and eagle watches at many cities and parks that have rivers and lakes throughout the state. These celebrations give people the opportunity to learn about eagles from experts while observing these great birds of prey in the wild. Some of the eagle watching events may understandably be postponed or canceled this year due to the coronavirus but eagles can still be observed from the safety of your vehicle from the parking areas around lakes and along rivers. Recent estimates of wintering eagles in Illinois is over 3000 birds. The U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service estimates in 2004 there were 100 nesting pairs in Illinois, a number that has likely increased. The American Bald eagle is becoming more of a common sight here in Illinois in recent years. The Bald eagle recovery is the absolute result of the hard work of dedicated biologists, environmentalists, and citizen scientists. A number of state and federal laws enacted over the years, beginning with federal protection specifically for the eagle, was passed by Congress in 1940. Shortly after the Bald Eagle Protection Act became law the Golden eagle was added, and the name was changed to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. In 1972 the synthetic pesticides DDT that was being widely used and released into the environment without the proper understanding of the long and short term affects on humans and wildlife was banned in the United States. Rachel Carson’s celebrated but controversial book published in 1962, Silent Spring, raised public awareness with an urgent message of the danger and damage being done to the environment with the use of the pesticide DDT. It was found that DDT does not break down easily and builds up in the tissues of animals causing problems up the food chain. DDT was believed to have a profound consequence on Bald eagle reproduction causing their eggs to be brittle and easily damaged while being incubated. Eagle populations began to drop dramatically until the ban on DDT. Today eagles can be seen year around on the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers and with a little patience and some binoculars you are likely to be rewarded with something memorable.
February 22, 2019 – There were many species of migratory birds to be seen during last weeks visit to Carlyle lake and the Kaskaskia river bottoms in Clinton county. Snow geese, Greater white-fronted geese and even a number of the smaller Ross’s snow geese could be found. On a foggy morning I observed both large and small rafts of ducks with a variety of species that were noted as they drifted in and out of view in the distance. Lesser scaup, Canvasback, Common goldeneye, Common and Red-breasted mergansers, Ring-necked, Ruddy and Bufflehead ducks were on the lake. There were also over 400 American white pelicans feeding, resting, and waiting for spring.
Many thousands of Ring-billed gulls, some Herring gulls and a few Lesser black-backed gulls were also on the lake, notably in the harbors and inlets. Huge numbers of gulls could be seen and heard, flying in what appeared to be a chaotic flurry of white where they were vigorously hunting and feeding on gizzard shad. Large flocks of Ring-billed gulls could also be found foraging in the surrounding agricultural fields, where they looked a vivid white against dark fallow fields of late winter.
In the Kaskaskia river bottoms south of the town of Carlyle, the American bald eagles were an impressive sight. I counted around 35 in a stretch of about 7 miles. A quick glance as something caught my eye while driving, standing in close proximity in a muddy field near the river, were 10 adults and three juvenile Bald eagles. A few miles further south in flood plains of the Kaskaskia that still had standing water, Trumpeter and Tundra swans congregated. Many ducks and geese were using the area along with a number Ringed-billed gulls. Snow and Greater white-fronted geese were in the wet areas of the flooded corn stubble. Pintails, wigeons, scaups, mallards and mergansers stayed close together mixed in with the geese as eagles continued their repeated low flights just above the resting waterfowl looking for an opportunity.