In central Illinois, the challenge is the same for both birdwatchers and hunters. Waiting. Waiting for the all-too-short hunting season to roll around, and then hoping for good weather and plentiful game. Or waiting for the brief window of opportunity when migrating birds — from tiny songbirds to raptors — pass through Illinois.
In central Illinois, the challenge is the same for both birdwatchers and hunters.
Waiting for the all-too-short hunting season to roll around, and then hoping for good weather and plentiful game.
Or waiting for the brief window of opportunity when migrating birds — from tiny songbirds to raptors — pass through Illinois.
The potential is there for birdwatchers and hunters to conflict, since they are attracted to some of the same places.
But there are plenty of places where wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed without the fear of straying into hunting areas.
Binoculars and spotting scopes are recommended to help bring distant birds into focus.
Just northeast of Havana is the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed as a resting and refueling spot for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.
The refuge officially closed Oct. 15 to provide sanctuary, but some key areas remain open for bank fishing, birding and wildlife-watching.
The Eagle Bluff Access remains open and wildlife-watchers can park and walk a trail through the woods that includes a secluded deck overlooking the water. Or they can drive down to the boat ramp and try to view waterfowl from the car. Ducks often crowd into that northeast corner of the South Pool, although high water this year may mean less food available in what is normally a hot spot.
The South and North pools are separated by a cross dike that is closed.
At the north end of the North Pool, fishing is allowed from the water control structure to the bluff line. At the other end of the North Pool, fishing is allowed to the boat ramp.
The Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge, across the river, also offers some trails and access points.
“The Bellrose Trail, just off Illinois 78/97, is still accessible and closed to hunting as well as the South Globe area,” says Durinda Hulett of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Access the South Globe area off County Highway 9, which is the Dickson Mounds blacktop.
“They won’t bump into any hunters at the access point and parking area.”
The Nature Conservancy’s 7,100-acre Emiquon Preserve, adjacent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service property, is open to hunting on a limited basis until noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Dec. 23. Goose hunting will be allowed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 31.
Birders are urged to be patient as the Conservancy develops its public-access plan.Access to the preserve and parking - outside of scheduled hunting hours - is available, but visitors must first sign a waiver at the Conservancy's office. Call (309) 547-2730.
Future plans call for turnouts, canoe launch areas and other ways to get people in touch with nature.
But for now, caution is necessary, as Illinois 78/97 that runs on the west side of the preserve is a busy road with significant truck traffic.
On the return trip to Springfield, take Illinois 78 (affectionately known as Duck Alley) south from Havana through Matanzas Beach and Bath. Just north of Chandlerville, a sign marks the way to the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area.
The Sanganois is a popular public waterfowl-hunting area. It also is a great spot for birding. Opening weekend saw more than 275 hunters take twice as many ducks.
But duck hunters have to come in to check shortly after noon, and at 1 p.m. bank fishermen and birders have their turn. If the day’s trip starts with a drive to Chautauqua and then lunch in the Havana area, arrival at Sanganois should coincide with open hours for other recreation.
Site personnel say roads damaged by repeated flooding this summer have been patched and the site remains open.
Following the detour to the Sanganois, get back on 78 and go into Chandlerville. On the southeast side of town, the road curves around the hill where the cemetery sits high above the valley.
The road passes rare hill prairies under restoration. Signs will let visitors know when they are within the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. The 13,000-acre mixture of cropland, woodlands and prairie grass is a great place to watch for rare grassland birds. At dusk, look for northern harriers and short-eared owls in low-lying grassy areas.
Jim Edgar Panther Creek is a popular public hunting area, so use good common sense. Check in at the site office to be sure the area to be explored is open. Day-use areas near the campgrounds, picnic shelters and Prairie Lake parking area are closed to hunting and can be productive places to bird.
Watch for vehicles in parking areas that likely indicate the presence of a hunter.
Even though it is not required, wearing a blaze-orange hat and keeping an orange vest or jacket in the car throughout the fall is a wise precaution.
And watching birds and wildlife from the car on roadways can be just as productive as striking out into the woods. Deer and wild turkey often can be seen.
The site is closed to other uses during the two weekends of firearm deer-hunting season, and signs will be posted at entrances.
Remember, during the rest of deer season that runs through mid-January, bow hunters wear camouflage instead of orange and will be difficult to spot. Stay safe by wearing orange.
A little common sense can go a long way to be sure that everyone has a good time outdoors this fall, and that no one spoils another’s outdoors recreation.
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.