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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Is EHD Rearing It’s Head Again?

Fri, October 04, 2019

It’s that time of year again in some parts of Illinois. The reports start showing up on social media, in gas station discussions, and as archery hunters begin to hit the woods.
“found another dead deer in the creek.”  “There’s a dead deer just at the edge of my pond. What do I do? “

Likely as not, the dead encountered was a victim of EHD. While northern IL has been inundated with rain, fighting saturated ground and some flooding issues, it’s been a completely different picture in other areas, especially southern Illinois where things are in a drought status.

I reached out to IDNR to get some hard numbers for this year’s EHD cases or reports, but at the time of writing, still no info has been forthcoming.

According to IL DNR, EHD is a viral disease, spread by biting gnats, which can cause high fever and severe internal bleeding in deer. While often fatal to deer, EHD is not hazardous to humans or pets. EHD-like symptoms in cattle have been reported where EHD has been confirmed in deer. Cattle can be successfully treated with medications. EHD is often confused with bluetongue, a similar disease that can affect sheep and cattle.

EHD does not impact deer populations evenly across the landscape. A mixture of deer combined with the presence of the virus and midges (biting gnats) that transmit the disease between deer are necessary for an EHD outbreak to occur. Heavy deer mortality can be observed on one property or in one area, while the property just the road will be hardly affected.

EHD affects bucks as well as does, adults as well as fawns and yearlings, though individual deer vary in their susceptibility to the virus. Some deer become infected and will be dead within 48 hours, while other deer will be minimally affected. Survivors of infection develop immunity to the virus. Dead deer are often found near water sources such as lakes, ponds, or streams, though a deer carcass found away from water is also likely to have succumbed to EHD.

EHD-related mortality occurs every year, but becomes more severe during droughty conditions. Limited water sources concentrate deer near exposed mudflats (lots of those left behind from receding floodwaters ) resulting from receding water levels. Midges hatch from these exposed muddy areas, resulting in abundant insect populations.
There is no effective management treatment for this disease. EHD outbreaks end when a heavy frost kills the midges necessary for transmission.


Il residents and landowners are advised to report any dead deer they find if the cause of death is not immediately attributable to accident, road kill, etc.

There are couple of ways to do this. The first is to contact the IDNR Biologist for your county. That information can be found here.

Another option is to use the online reporting form found on the IL DNR whitetail deer website. Just as aside – if you are using the online reporting form, it does include an option to include a photo. That is helpful to biologists if you can photo the deer when you find it.  Another aside – I have no idea where the online report actually ends up or how often they are collected and monitored.

Once upon a time we were encouraged to report to our local CPO. Let’s face it, those guys are covered up, it’s not a law enforcement issue, and they will in turn have to contact the local biologist, so just cut out the middle man and report to the biologist or use the online form.

The online form can be found here.

As additional resources, here are two good fact sheets and references :

Let’s us know dear Heartland friends and community – what are you seeing and hearing about deer in your neighborhood this fall?


Rend Lake Resort

Mon, September 23, 2019

Yesterday was a typical late September pre-dawn visit to Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA.  “Fitz” as we local like to call the park is favorite spot of mine – even more so this time of year as the leaves start turn, the fall bite on Rend starts to heat up and the deer and turkey start to show us what lies ahead for hunting in just a couple of weeks.

The early morning anglers were putting in at Sailboat Harbor – likely to look for crappie or catfish along “the rocks” of the IL State Route 154 bridge and causeway.

I had to wait a few minutes to turn into the park – several pickup trucks with dog boxes and beagles headed to the Goshen Trail Beagle Club event had the right of way.  Just on eo the many sporting dog events frequently held at Fitz.

I was scurrying just a bit – one eye on the sky and trying to calculate just how many minutes I would have of the pinks and oranges that were coloring up the eastern horizon. The smell of wood smoke from early breakfast campfires wafted out of the campgrounds. Young and still too nosy for their own good deer scampered around the edges of fields and across the road.  A flock of turkeys meandered across the road – quite unconcerned that they were costing me those precious few minutes that we photographers have to work with at sunrise and sunset.

As I rounded the bend to Hickman’s Point ramp – I couldn’t have been happier. Great sky, and two pleasant gentlemen and couple of boats at the well-maintained docks just added extra interest to the typical morning scene at Fitz.

As I sized up and shot frame after frame following the change in the quality and amount of light, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Despite the flurry of early morning activity in the park – looking across the water at the now shuttered and empty resort, conference center, boatel and cabins – I was stuck by the emptiness of that portion of the park. When it was still open and operating it would be bustling at dawn – filled with field trailers, anglers, those just enjoying the beauty that is sunrise at Fitz. Wildlife watchers, walkers, folks heading out for a day on the water or the bike trail; all enjoying the special moments of early morning, eager to get the day of activities at Fitz underway.

Yesterday morning it was silent, empty and quiet. A blue heron and white egret having a little territorial tiff and a lone bald eagle circling were the only sign of activity.
As quick as it started, the sunrise photo op ended so I decided to drive around to the abandoned resort area and see what I could see.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of general care. Peeling paint, untrimmed weeds, even the barricades blocking the entrances looked sad and abandoned.  I did have to smile a little – the wildlife seemed quite unfazed by the neglect – perhaps even a little happy about it. A family of fat racoons waddled away from a couple of overturned trash cans at the hotel, along with a happy go lucky skunk trundling around grabbing grubs.  Two turkeys seemed fascinated by their reflections in the patio doors strutting and gobbling and I can only guess trying to figure why that other turkey just wasn’t responding like they expected.  Fat fox squirrels chased and rambled around the roof lines and disappeared into a few spots around the roof edges. As I drove over to the one famous Flagship boatel to see how things were looking – I noted a several groundhogs happily plundering the landscaping and then they quickly disappeared under the foundation edges when I got too close for comfort. There were at least a few trucks and boat trailers in the weedy parking lot – a sure sign that boat ramp there was indeed still being utilized.

Still in all it was sad sight. I remember they hey days when any other Sunday morning would have found the joint just a jumping with activity.  Slowly the sadness I felt began to smolder into anger.

It will soon be three YEARS since the facility abruptly closed following the 2016 Directors Hunt that was held there.  At the time of the abrupt and sudden closure DNR cited multiple factors – “IDNR has several concerns about the condition of the buildings at the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center.  Mold, peeling paint, and other potential health and safety related discoveries led the Department to have safety concerns for visitors to the resort…The lease termination follows a notice from IDNR to Rend Lake Resort, Inc. last month that the firm was delinquent in rent and related lease payments totaling more than $205,000.  The IDNR is also of the understanding that the operator owes $14,000 in real estate taxes, $21,000 in utility payments, and $47,000 in hotel operator’s taxes.” Said IDNR in press release announcing the closure.

Since that fateful day in 2016 multiple requests for proposals have been issued by IDNR – each one announced with fanfare and alluding to the fact the resort would be open, up and running very soon.  Each time, no bids have been received. Each subsequent RFP has seen a little more in the way of incentives. Prospective vendors cited the high cost of mold remediation – so IDNR poured thousands upon thousands of dollar in mold remediation – nope that wasn’t enough, still no vendors. The next RFP saw a 1 million incentive added – nope still no takers. The most recent RFP (that is currently on its third extension and still no takers) increased the dollar incentives to 1.5 million total and gave prospective vendors the option to take on only a portion of the resort – such as the Marina, or the bar/restraunts instead of the resort as whole. Still as of today, with an October 3rd deadline looming, there have been no bids received.

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth, there have been some good ideas and concentrated efforts on the part of local tourism officials and politicians to bring in vendors but nothing that has resulted in any meaningful progress.
So, there it sits, continuing to deteriorate. So much so that one of the boatels has required demolition already. The specter of the recently burned Eagle Creek debacle hangs in the air and makes me wonder – Will Rend Lake Resort ultimately go the route of Eagle Creek?

Will it continue to sit empty and uncared for until it’s simply no longer feasible to re-open? I hope not, I sincerely hope not but I can’t seem to put my finger on anything that IDNR is really doing to remedy the situation.  I understand that in the current lean financial times it hardly makes sense to pour money into closed facility for maintenance and upkeep but on the other hand just allowing it fall into ruin doesn’t seem sensible either. Should IDNR perhaps explore operating the resort on its own while continuing to search for an adequate vendor or vendors to operate the facility?

Essentially, it’s time for IDNR to either fish or cut bait. Either renovate, open it, and make it the once vital region economic engine that the resort once was or give up now and just remove it all and redevelop that area of Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA. Reopen the ramps and docks that are closed – and just realize that the glory days for a resort at Rend Lake are over.


New Study Finds U.S. and Canada Have Lost More Than One In Four Birds in the Past 50 Years

Thu, September 19, 2019

A study published today in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats — from iconic songsters such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows and backyard birds including sparrows.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenberg, the study’s lead author and a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy. “We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results also showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

The study notes that birds are indicators of environmental health, signaling that natural systems across the U.S. and Canada are now being so severely impacted by human activities that they no longer support the same robust wildlife populations.

The findings show that of nearly 3 billion birds lost, 90 percent belong to 12 bird families, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and swallows — common, widespread species that play influential roles in food webs and ecosystem functioning, from seed dispersal to pest control.

Among the steep declines noted:

Grassland birds are especially hard hit, with a 53-percent reduction in population — more than 720 million birds — since 1970.

Shorebirds, most of which frequent sensitive coastal habitats, were already at dangerously low numbers and have lost more than one-third of their population.

The volume of spring migration, measured by radar in the night skies, has dropped by 14 percent in just the past decade.

“These data are consistent with what we’re seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said coauthor Peter Marra, senior scientist emeritus and former head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and now director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative at Georgetown University. “It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effects can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods — and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

Evidence for the declines emerged from detection of migratory birds in the air from 143 NEXRAD weather radar stations across the continent in a period spanning over 10 years, as well as from nearly 50 years of data collected through multiple monitoring efforts on the ground.

“Citizen-science participants contributed critical scientific data to show the international scale of losses of birds,” said coauthor John Sauer of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “Our results also provide insights into actions we can take to reverse the declines.” The analysis included citizen-science data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey coordinated by the USGS and the Canadian Wildlife Service — the main sources of long-term, large-scale population data for North American birds — the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and Manomet’s International Shorebird Survey.

Although the study did not analyze the causes of declines, it noted that the steep drop in North American birds parallels the losses of birds elsewhere in the world, suggesting multiple interacting causes that reduce breeding success and increase mortality. It noted that the largest factor driving these declines is likely the widespread loss and degradation of habitat, especially due to agricultural intensification and urbanization.

Other studies have documented mortality from predation by free-roaming domestic cats; collisions with glass, buildings, and other structures; and pervasive use of pesticides associated with widespread declines in insects, an essential food source for birds. Climate change is expected to compound these challenges by altering habitats and threatening plant communities that birds need to survive. More research is needed to pinpoint primary causes for declines in individual species.

“The story is not over,” said coauthor Michael Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy. “There are so many ways to help save birds. Some require policy decisions such as strengthening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We can also work to ban harmful pesticides and properly fund effective bird conservation programs. Each of us can make a difference with everyday actions that together can save the lives of millions of birds — actions like making windows safer for birds, keeping cats indoors, and protecting habitat.”

The study also documents a few promising rebounds resulting from galvanized human efforts. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) have made a remarkable recovery over the past 50 years, made possible by investments in conservation by hunters and billions of dollars of government funding for wetland protection and restoration. Raptors such as the Bald Eagle have also made spectacular comebacks since the 1970s, after the harmful pesticide DDT was banned and recovery efforts through endangered species legislation in the U.S. and Canada provided critical protection.

“It’s a wake-up call that we’ve lost more than a quarter of our birds in the U.S. and Canada,” said coauthor Adam Smith from Environment and Climate Change Canada. “But the crisis reaches far beyond our individual borders. Many of the birds that breed in Canadian backyards migrate through or spend the winter in the U.S. and places farther south — from Mexico and the Caribbean to Central and South America. What our birds need now is an historic, hemispheric effort that unites people and organizations with one common goal: bringing our birds back.”


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