Carlyle Lake Pelagic, September 30

IOS is pleased to announce this year’s Carlyle Lake Pelagic Field Trip to be held, Saturday, September 30th, 2017. This trip includes the popular three-hour pelagic aboard comfortable pontoon boats.

Sabine's Gull by Barbara Williams

Sabine’s Gull by Barbara Williams

As in past years, we’ll meet at McDonald’s off IL 127 in Carlyle at 6:30 AM. This is a full-day field trip, ending around 7:30 PM. We’ll begin with a scan of the lake from Dam West Beach before heading to Eldon Hazlet State Park to search for migrant songbirds. We’ll bird the Hazlet area all morning before breaking for lunch. Lunch will be fast food or bring your own. We’ll gather at the Dam West picnic area where we’ll be able to search for more birds from the excellent shade provided.

After lunch, depending on water levels, we’ll search for shorebirds and waders.


The boat trip begins at 3:30 PM from Dam West Marina. The late afternoon/early evening hours can be excellent for feeding gulls, terns and others. We hope to find SABINE’S GULL which has eluded us on the past three field trips! It’s also possible to tally RED and RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, EARED and PIED-BILLED GREBES, five or six Gull species and potentially any of the three JAEGER species!

Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, mud boots and your hat.

Those planning on staying Saturday night may wish to join us for a group dinner at a nearby restaurant. Recommended hotels are available in Carlyle, Greenville, Salem and Vandalia.

There is a fee associated with this field trip to cover the costs of pontoon rental, gasoline, and other expenses. The fee is $35 for existing IOS members and $55 for non-IOS members. The $55 fee for non-members includes the field trip registration and a one-year IOS membership and benefits, including four issues of the Meadowlark, A Journal of Illinois Birds, a quarterly publication of IOS.

This field trip is limited to 45 participants with IOS members receiving first priority. Trip registration and payment shall be made through the Pay Pal feature on the IOS website, if at all possible. Registration will not be accepted without full payment in advance. The trip leader is not accepting payment or registrations. Persons not using the website and PayPal must promptly register by sending full payment to:

P.O. Box 931
Lake Forest, IL 60045

Note that the payment is for “Carlyle Pelagic” AND call or e-mail the trip leader to notify him that payment has been mailed.

This trip is very popular and will fill up fast. IOS will not make refunds but will allow substitutes if you sign up for the trip and cannot attend. It will be your responsibility to notify the trip leader of your substitute. If you cannot provide a substitute, the trip leader will take the 1st name on the waiting list.

If you have any questions about the trip, feel free to contact the trip leader, Keith McMullen or by phone +1-618-560-9450.

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Rare Bird Alert - 12-Aug-2017

Neotropic Cormornat by Ron Bradley

Neotropic Cormornat by Ron Bradley

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck: Rock Island (North) – On August 7th, Steve Freed reported a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in the Zuma Creek Flats area of Rock Island County just southeast of the I-80 and I-88 interchange.

Wood Stork: Alexander (South) – A Wood Stork was photographed in flight at Sexton Creek Wetlands in Alexander County on August 5th.

Neotropic Cormorant: Moultrie (Central) – Ron Bradley photographed a Neotropic Cormorant at Bruce West Access of Lake Shelbyville, Moultrie County on August 4th.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck: Carroll (North) – On July 22nd, Ethan and Cindy Brown have found a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck along Army Depot Rd. near the entrance to the Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge in Carroll County.

Ruff: Mason (Central) – On July 18th, Colin Dobson found a Ruff at the pool south of Chain Lake, at Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area in Mason County.

Dowitcher Identification in Illinois

Dowitchers are large-bodied, short-legged migratory shorebirds with extremely long bills relative to body length. In general, dowitchers (including juveniles) have warm orangeish or reddish underparts from late spring through summer and early fall, molting to cold gray upperparts with whitish underparts from late fall through winter and early spring. All feed belly-deep in shallow water on mud flats, probing the mud with a stitching “sewing machine” motion of their bills. Flight is purposeful and direct (often in small flocks). In flight, all show pointed wings and a distinctive and conspicuous wedge-shaped white rump patch extending all the way up the back.

The difficulties arise when trying to distinguish the two similar species that occur as migrants. To clarify, only two forms are expected in Illinois: the monotypic Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), and the “prairie race” Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus hendersoni). For brevity, Long-billed will be referred to as LBDO, and Short-billed (hendersoni “prairie race” ONLY) will be referred to as SBDO. Although it is possible that other forms of SBDO may occasionally occur as vagrants in Illinois, I am unaware of any accepted records of SBDO forms other than hendersoni.

The most reliable way to distinguish the two forms year-round is by their diagnostic calls. LBDO flight call is a sharp “keek” given singly or in rapid series. SBDO flight call is a hollow, mellow “tu-tu-tu.” LBDO also often engages in soft chatter while foraging, unlike SBDO.

LBDO has a more northerly distribution (breeds in tundra of Alaska & northern Canada, winters in southern U.S.  and Mexico). SBDO has a more southerly distribution (breeds in the prairie provinces of Canada, winters as far south as the West Indies, Central America, and northern South America). Therefore, it follows logically (based on distance traveled) that LBDO arrives earlier than SBDO in spring and conversely, later in fall than SBDO. April dowitchers are almost invariably LBDO. SBDO arrives later in spring, usually not until May and arrive in fall by early July.

Per Paulson’s “Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest” (1993), LBDO bill length ranges from 54-81 mm; SBDO bill length ranges from 51-69 mm. Therefore, dowitchers with very short bills CANNOT be safely identified to species based on that character alone. On the other hand, dowitchers with bill length at the long end of the spectrum can be safely identified as LBDO, especially if other dowitchers are nearby for comparison.

LBDO averages chunkier than SBDO, often (but not always) showing a rounded back and belly (as if it had swallowed a grapefruit). LBDO bill also averages longer, thinner-based, finer-tipped, and straighter than SBDO, but there is much variation between the two species.

For all dowitcher identification, it is important to have a good grasp of bird topography and to have a decent understanding of terms like “tertials,” “scapulars,” and “flanks.” During the spring, all dowitchers are adults or near-adults that are either transitioning into breeding plumage or have attained full breeding plumage. Although it is true that LBDO in full breeding plumage have dark, brick-red underparts from throat to vent (more orange with some white in vent in SBDO), remember that spring LBDO migrants seen in Illinois are often still in transitioning molt and show a considerable amount of white on the underparts.

Transitioning adult LBDO (left) and hendersoni SBDO (right) photographed in April by Kevin Karlson.

Transitioning adult LBDO (left) and hendersoni SBDO (right) photographed in April by Kevin Karlson.

The most solid plumage clue one can use in separating spring adults (in fresh breeding or near-breeding plumage) of LBDO from hendersoni SBDO is the PATTERN OF SPOTTING AND/OR BARRING ON THE FORENECK, BREAST, AND BREAST SIDES. LBDO shows dark barring on the breast sides, with the foreneck and center of breast thickly spotted with black. On the other hand, adult hendersoni SBDO in breeding or near-breeding plumage show sharp ROUND BLACK SPOTS (no barring) on the breast sides, a clear foreneck with no spotting, and little or no spotting on the center of breast. Note also that breeding plumage LBDO shows a pattern of light and dark barring on the flanks (dark barring or spotting only in SBDO). Another very useful field mark in FRESH breeding plumage is the patterning of the lower scapulars: black centered feathers with bold white tips in LBDO vs. pale edges that wrap up and around the feather sides in SBDO.

Breeding plumage hendersoni SBDO (left) and LBDO (right) photographed by Kevin Karlson.

Breeding plumage hendersoni SBDO (left) and LBDO (right) photographed by Kevin Karlson.

From early July through the first week of August, the Illinois dowitcher migration is owned by adult hendersoni SBDO in fresh breeding plumage. Don’t expect to see much of anything else. Moving forward to the second week of August through the third week of September, the Illinois dowitcher migration changes considerably and is then dominated by juvenile SBDO (but smaller numbers of worn adult SBDO and LBDO may also occur). With a decent view, juvenile SBDO may be easily identified by their tiger-stripe, orange-buff internal markings on the tertials and scapulars.

Juvenile SBDO, photographed by Kevin Karlson.

Juvenile SBDO, photographed by Kevin Karlson.

Beware of worn adults seen in August, as they are notoriously difficult to identify. The rounder shape of LBDO is helpful in distinguishing between the two species, but not always reliable.

Worn breeding plumage LBDO (left) and SBDO (right), photographed in August by Julian Hough.

Worn breeding plumage LBDO (left) and SBDO (right), photographed in August by Julian Hough.

From late September through October (and into November), juvenile LBDO (molting into the gray winter plumage) is the expected form in Illinois. These are very different in appearance from juvenile SBDO. They are overall grayish, with a gray breast and only a touch of orange on the belly. There are no tiger-stripe orange-buff internal markings on the tertials and scapulars, but the scapulars are clearly outlined with bright reddish chestnut, which is a diagnostic distinguishing mark.

Juvenile LBDO, photographed on 24 September 2016 in DuPage Co. by Davida Kalina.

Juvenile LBDO, photographed on 24 September 2016 in DuPage Co. by Davida Kalina.


2017 IOS Grants Awards

Abigail Blake-Bradshaw, Grant Recipient by Ryan Askren

One of IOS’s objectives is “To promote scientific research and education in order to improve knowledge and awareness of birds in Illinois”. The IOS Grants Program was initiated several years ago to support this objective with funding.

The 2017 IOS Grants Program received nine requests for

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Rare Bird Alert - 23-Jul-2017

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck: Carroll (North) – On 22-Jul-2017, Ethan and Cindy Brown found a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck along Army Depot Rd. near the entrance to the Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge in Carroll County.

Ruff: Mason (Central) – On 18-Jul-2017, Colin Dobson found a Ruff at the pool south of Chain

Continue reading Rare Bird Alert – 23-Jul-2017

Recent Taxonomy Updates to the Official Illinois State List of Birds

The American Ornithological Society (AOS) recently issued its 58th Supplement to its Check-list of North American Birds. Since the Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC, a committee of the Illinois Ornithological Society) follows the AOS taxonomy in keeping the official Illinois State List of Birds, all relevant changes from the 58th supplement get reflected in the

Continue reading Recent Taxonomy Updates to the Official Illinois State List of Birds

Merlins Nesting In Illinois

Merlin Copulation by Eric Walters

Back on April 3, 2017, I was in a northeast Lake County area when I heard a loud, unusual bird chattering along with various birds and an Eastern Gray Squirrel running for cover. Suddenly, a Merlin came flying by, chasing after some prey. Over the next week, when checking

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Rare Bird Alert – 10-Jul-2017

White Ibis by Whitney Gregge

Anhinga: Jackson (South) – On 10-Jul-2017, while looking unsuccessfully for the White Ibis, Craig Taylor photographed an Anhinga flying over Highway 3 in Jackson County. This bird has been in the area since the spring.

White Ibis: Jackson (South) – On 9-Jul-2017, Don Mullison discovered an immature White Ibis

Continue reading Rare Bird Alert – 10-Jul-2017

IOS & Red Hill Birding Trip to Panama

It is with great excitement that IOS announces an international trip to the tropical forests of Panama! IOS will be traveling down to Panama June 26th – July 5th, 2018 (Click Here for Itinerary). IOS is partnering with Josh Engel and his new tour company, Red Hill Birding, for what is going to be a

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IOS Shorebirding Weekend, August 19th - 20th

Kevin T. Karlson is an accomplished birder, professional tour leader, speaker and wildlife photographer who has published numerous articles on bird identification and natural history for an assortment of magazines, journals, calendars and electronic media. Kevin is a co-author of The Shorebird Guide (Houghton Mifflin Co. 2006) and has completed a new book with

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