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Re: IBET Southwest Illinois weekend birding (+ Mountain Lion!)

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  • Jane Ward
    Hi Eric, I have encountered big cats before in Illinois. About 6 years ago at Springdale Cemetery in Peoria I was kneeling down to photograph a wildflower when
    Message 1 of 2 , May 1, 2008
      Hi Eric,

      I have encountered big cats before in Illinois. About 6 years ago at
      Springdale Cemetery in Peoria I was kneeling down to photograph a
      wildflower when my husband tapped me and said "Jane, look." I looked
      up and about 100 yards away in the woods on the other side of the
      ravine was a large cat, bigger than a German Shepherd, all black,
      sitting up tall and staring at us. He stared at us for several
      seconds. I was frozen and didn't think to raise my camera to take a
      photo (it was set on macro anyway and a photo wouldn't have turned
      out). Then he stood up, turned around, swished his long tail, and
      sauntered away. We didn't report the sighting, as people in Peoria
      have always labeled as eccentric anyone who reports seeing a cougar in
      the cemetery. (There have been other sightings of cougars there over
      the years, when the cemetery was in a much neglected state and over
      grown with grass and weeds.) I did report this to a website devoted
      to cougar sightings, and was informed that this cat was likely a run
      away black panther.

      Another time, Scott and I were walking the trail at the Henry Allan
      Gleason Nature Preserve with our dog, Anna. We heard that guttural
      sound cats make in their throats and we smelled cat. We left
      immediately. Once when I was walking with a friend on the trails at
      Robinson Park we smelled the cat smell, then heard that guttural
      sound, so we left the area. And one other time at Detweiller Park,
      walking the trails along the bluffs with Anna, we all three smelled
      the strong smell of a big cat. Anna started freaking out. We were on
      our way down the bluff anyway, so we just kept going.

      Now, you can see that I do believe that big cats are in Illinois along
      the river system. However, I really don't believe that the IDNR is
      releasing them to control deer population. I rather believe that the
      IDNR would be more interested in removing any cougars (physically or
      by killing them) to prevent danger to our huge human population.

      I did a quick search on IDNR and cougars and found this
      "Flood also addressed rumors sometimes mentioned in these hoax emails
      that the IDNR is releasing these animals into the Illinois ecosystem.
      "It is absolutely not true that the Illinois Department of Natural
      Resources is releasing cougars anywhere in the state for any reason,"
      Flood said."

      That being said, I truly enjoyed reading about your encounter, and I
      am sure that the hunter you spoke with believes what he told you.


      On Wed, Apr 30, 2008 at 10:04 PM, ericwalt40 <ericwalters7@...> wrote:
      > I went down to southern IL this past weekend as did others, but
      > decided to focus on areas I've wanted to bird in the springtime for
      > many years, but never had the chance. Specifically I wanted to focus
      > on the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (Calhoun) and Pere
      > Marquette State Park (Jersey County) complex, where the Mississippi
      > and Illinois Rivers join.
      > I was surprised to hear that others in S. IL thought the weather was
      > good as it was quite poor where I was at. It rained when I was
      > driving down there, rained both days and rained as I headed back
      > north... and there was even a front advisory for Sw. IL for the night
      > I left! Where's Spring anyways???
      > In my opinion, the Spring is still delayed, although not the 12-15
      > days behind that it seemed like back in March. But still, I would say
      > it's about 6-8 days behind schedule. In fact, outside of locations
      > where 'good' breeding birds were known to exist, finding warblers and
      > other migrants was downright challenging. I would think if one took
      > away some of the key breeding locations in deep Southern IL, the
      > birding probably wouldn't be so great. It feels almost like last late
      > April when I visited Se. IL. I wonder if the true peak for S. IL is
      > closer to May 5th rather than late April, like it was always thought
      > of a few decades ago. You'd still get the good breeding species, plus
      > increase the chance of additional migrants.
      > Anycase, some of the highlights of my trip are as follows:
      > Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge:
      > 32 Eurasian Tree Sparrows (1 flock)
      > 10 waterfowl species/9 shorebirds species/8 warbler species
      > 10 Cattle Egret (flying south, probably to Alorton colony)
      > Snowy Egret (flying north)
      > American Bittern (flushed from marsh)
      > 2 Long-billed Dowitchers
      > 11 Common Snipe
      > 13 (not so) Solitary Sandpipers
      > 240 Pectoral Sandpipers (including a flock of 185 flying north)
      > Pere Marquette State Park:
      > 92 species in 4 hours, including 20 warbler species
      > 5 Worm-eating Warblers (inc. one paired up)
      > 18 Northern Parula Warblers
      > 3 Golden-winged Warblers
      > 1 Yellow-breasted Chat
      > 6 Summer Tanagers
      > 4 Scarlet Tanager
      > 1 Blue Grosbeak
      > 1 Purple Finch (late)
      > 2 Red-breasted Nuthatch (late)
      > 3 Broad-winged Hawk
      > 3 Red-shouldered Hawk
      > 55 Greater Yellowlegs (one flock)
      > 1 Clay-colored Sparrow (1st time I've seen in S. IL)
      > A half hour night survey of Pere yielded 2 'singing' Whip-poor-Wills,
      > 4 gobbling Wild Turkeys, Barred Owl and nearby a pair of Great-horned
      > Owls.
      > I also wandered a day in other locations:
      > Frank Holton State Park (St. Clair County):
      > 86 Cattle Egret
      > 12 Little Blue Herons
      > 2 Snow Geese (late)
      > 1 Forster's Tern
      > I had a my first Dickcissels (5) along with a newly arrived flock of
      > 47 Bobolinks in fields south of here.
      > One farmer told me that this is the most flooding and high water since
      > the famous 1993 Mississippi River flooding. He also indicated that
      > the nearby levee is only one long, strong rain storm from being breached!
      > This was an ongoing theme of the weekend - rain in its various
      > expressions. I saw extensive flooding in most areas, even more than
      > what I saw after the Winter thaws/early Spring rains brought
      > significant flooding. Most well-known birding hotspots were under
      > water, including hotspot Jersey County Gilbert Lake, with the path
      > currently under 2 feet of water and therefore completely unaccessible.
      > One other good find was a Baird's Sandpiper, a bird that traditional
      > doesn't pass through IL during the Spring. I had to keep looking at
      > it as spring Pectoral Sandpipers can easily fool one into a
      > mid-identification. But it had all the marks of a breeding plumage
      > Baird's. It's the first time I've found this species in IL in spring.
      > I also visited St. Clair's Baldwin Lake where I had 2 Forster's Terns
      > and 6 Snow Geese along with a nice selection of warblers.
      > It was near Baldwin that I had the encounter of the weekend. I was at
      > the Kaskaskia River boat launch immediately northeast of the town of
      > Grigg in Randolph County (a mile southeast of Baldwin Lake). While
      > birding, I was put into shock status when I heard the bloodcurling cry
      > of a Mountain Lion (ie. Cougar) on the peninsula across from this
      > small park. I was joined in 'freak-out' status by a Red-tailed Hawk,
      > Pileated Woodpecker and a flock of perched Tree Swallows. We all in
      > unison decided to high-tail it out of there in the opposite direction.
      > When the Lion let out its roar, some other kind of mammal gave some
      > kind of squeel, then there was some kind of other noises, then
      > silence... I surmised that this Cougar uses its scary cry to freeze
      > its prey in terror for a moment so that it can attack it. Whatever it
      > was, I'm sure it didn't survive the Cougar's attack.
      > 10 minutes later, I heard some Pine Siskins calling by a feeder and
      > while confirming this amazingly good find (due to being extremely late
      > migrant), the homeowner came out. She confirmed she's been seeing the
      > "yellow-winged" birds at here thistle feeder for a couple months now.
      > Makes me wonder if they are nesting there. I mentioned to her
      > about the Mountain Lion less than a mile from her place and she wasn't
      > to happy about that, especially since she hunts in that area in the
      > Fall. She confirmed there was another Cougar sighting this past
      > winter in southeast Randolph County, so it's possible this was the
      > same Cougar.
      > 5 minutes later I passed by a field on the east side of this penisula
      > and saw a fully clothed guy in hunter gear. I went to him to warn him
      > about a nearby Cougar, which didn't scare him (as he's been hunting in
      > IL for decades), but he did indicate something that took me by
      > surprise. Apparently the state of IL (IDNR?) has been releasing
      > Cougars in the wild within IL for a couple years now. The main reason
      > for this is to address the overpopulation of deer within the state.
      > The Cougars would prey upon the weak and sickly deer (which is
      > probably what I heard it catch).
      > So these recent Cougar reports are likely all of IL's release decent!
      > As a little bit of icing on the cake (and to help push the very
      > disarming and unexpected experience of being so close to a Mountain
      > Lion without knowing it), I happened to find 5 Lark Sparrows in the
      > farmland countryside in Washington County as I headed back north.
      > I've never found them there and they appeared to be on a territory, so
      > I'm guessing they will nest there. They weren't found during the past
      > Illinois Breeding Bird Atlas nor am I aware of any summer record at
      > all in that county for this species. So it was a nice ending for my
      > southwestern IL trip.
      > Eric Walters
      > Zion, IL

      Jane Ward
      Peoria, Illinois
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