these pelicans are taking advantage of the shallow water covering a flooded walkway along the Kaskaskia River
One sure sign of impending spring along the rivers and tributaries is the return of the migrating American White Pelican. As the rivers thaw, the water opens, the migrating American White Pelicans begin their journey back north to their breeding grounds in the upper Midwest, the plains and the northwest.
The large gregarious groups of pelicans can be quite comical to watch as they feed. Unlike their relative, the brown pelican, American White Pelicans do not dive from the air to grab their fishy feasts. Instead they most often work cooperatively with a group of pelicans swimming and herding fish into a ball, then dipping down with their gigantic beaks and pouches to scoop up the fish.
a group of cooperative fish herders
This cooperative feeding habit can sometimes cause a few fishy fights though, as two or more of the big white comics set their sights on the same fish. This pair engaged in one heck of a battle yesterday!
Lest anyone think these visitors in the spring and fall are doing damage to the game fish populations, luckily their preferred food choices are the rough fish. The same rough fish that most anglers and commercial fishermen find undesirable. It’s worth noting that one of their favorite foods is carp!
White Pelicans can currently be found throughout southwestern IL. If there is a flowing river and thawing backwater, a spillway, or areas of open water, you will likely find a few pelicans mowing through the rough fish as they refuel for the next leg of their northern migration. Most recently good numbers of these big white birds have been found at Crab Orchard NWR, Kaskaskia River Fish and Wildlife Area, Union County SFWA, and Carlyle Lake.
For those in the more northern reaches of the state, keep your eyes open, they will be visiting your area soon!
This image doesn’t even begin to show the sheer mass of snow geese on Carlyle Lake yesterday. I was across the lake and could not get a wide enough view. I’m not even sure a panorama would do this scene justice.
It’s no secret in the waterfowl community that I love snows, and truthfully I tend to chase them almost relentlessly from the time they first arrive in November until the start making their exodus to the tundra in March. All day Monday and Tuesday the calls and texts were arriving - very nearly in the same numbers as the arriving snows. There had been a big push - migrators had rode in on the southern winds. Snows, ducks, pelicans, you name it - if had wings and liked water they have begun to set there sights on their northern breeding grounds and it seemed as if they all have stopped to rest at Carlyle.
As soon as I saw the numbers on the latest IDNR aerial survey, I knew I absolutely had to ignore everything else on the to do list and hot foot it to Carlyle. All I can say after a an absolutely wonderful bird filled day is this - Where the heck was my fellow bird photographer and Heartland blogger Jim Mordaq when I needed him!?
I hope these images give you even half an idea of what a magnificent day it was as I wandered throughout the Carlyle Lake area. Whether you are a waterfowl hunter, a birder, or just someone who enjoys the outdoors there is no denying that this was a day to make your heart feel full and happy. As some one who remembers the days when a snow goose sighting was almost rare, and a group of even 2-300 created a stir, I am not ashamed to admit I was nearly moved to tears by the eruption of hundreds of thousands off the water.
It’s no secret that the 2013 Field and Stream Deer and Turkey Expo was a disappointment to most of it’s visitors. I have to admit I was a dissappointed in the show as well. (More to come about that in another post) However the bright spot of the weekend was when little Miss Clara Burton of Decatur stopped by the Heartland booth.
Clara cheerfully announced that she was Heartland’s biggest fan and she read all of her Pa’s Heartlands, but the magazines had to stay at Pa’s.
Insert big sad eyes
It didn’t take us long to scrounge around our stacks and copies of back issues for Miss Clara and in exchange for her agreement to model as Heartland’s biggest fan we sent her home with a full compliment of Heartland’s for herself to keep at her house!
I’m pretty sure the whole Heartland family joins me in wishing you a life full of outdoor fun and adventure Miss Clara!