When I started thinking of a trip to add more states in my 50/50/50 project, a major criterion was being able to cover at least three states on a single trip. With Illinois being immediately across the river from St. Louis and Missouri, it was an obvious choice as a second state. Kentucky was not far away for a third state and I figured I could add Indiana as well – making a four state swing in 8 days available for four days of birding and having some extra time for including places of interest which was also an objective of my “project”. So the initial plan was two days in Missouri, then two days to follow in each of those other states.
When Pat Lueders offered to provide assistance in both Missouri and Illinois in successive days, it confirmed my trip choice and provided some extra flexibility. It worked perfectly. Day two started with a visit to Pat’s home and a chance to see the Eurasian Tree Sparrows that nested there in those wren houses with 1 1/8″ entrance holes that keep the House Sparrows out. We found the Tree Sparrows quickly – a great start to the day.
Eurasian Tree Sparrows
Our first stop in Illinois was to be Horseshoe Lake State Park less than 10 miles into this new state. Our first species though was a Peregrine Falcon I spied as we sped along the highway – a good omen. We also had more Eurasian Tree Sparrows just outside the park, now only a new “state bird”. The park is almost 3000 acres – more than 5 times the size of Discovery Park in Seattle. Eighty percent of the area is Horseshoe Lake itself but that still leaves plenty of forest and mixed habitats. Almost 300 species have been seen at the park. Just in the month of May this year, 138 species were reported including 19 species of shorebirds and 14 warbler species. In September this year, the comparable numbers were only 93 species including only 3 shorebird species and only 7 warblers. So this clearly was not the prime time to visit, but we did very well finding 49 species with only a single shorebird – one Spotted Sandpiper – and an excellent 7 Warblers including two that were not seen the previous month. My favorite was one of them, the Chestnut Sided Warbler. It is a nemesis bird for me in Washington as I have chased several – always unsuccessfully.
Chestnut Sided Warbler
We also had a nice Tennessee Warbler – also a rarity in Washington but I have seen them at Neah Bay – not as well as here, though.
This area was not that different from some of the area we had birded the previous day, but the experience was certainly completely different when it came to migration. The day before we had not seen a single Yellow Rumped Warbler. Today they were everywhere. We conservatively listed only 40 on our Ebird reports, but there may well have been more than twice that many. Yellow Rumped Warblers are our most common Warbler species in Washington and I will never forget one incredible day at the Railroad Ponds in South Cle Elum when there were hundreds of them along the ponds – as many as 25 in a single tree. We also birded one area near the Borrows Pits (actually adjacent to Horseshoe Lake) where we had at least 15 Palm Warblers – clearly a flock in migration. In Washington, we have Palm Warblers in migration but they are not common and even 3 at a time is very rare. The 15 in Illinois were about the same as the top number seen on two days of peak migration in Florida in April 2017. We searched for different warbler species among them, but found only a couple of Yellow Rumps.
Yellow Rumped Warbler
We ended the day with 59 species – amazing to me since we had no sparrows, only the single shorebird species and only a single duck species – of course a Mallard. This was definitely a day where I doubt I would have had 50 species without expert local help. Pat’s ability to identify the species by their chip calls was very impressive. A case in point was a Northern Waterthrush, the other warbler not reported in September. This is seen regularly but uncommonly in Washington. It breeds in a small area around Calispell Lake in far eastern Washington and is found in a few other spots. It does have a fairly distinctive “chink” call, but in Illinois there are many other chips and chinks that to my ears were either too similar to identify or were even lost in the other calls and noises around. Pat had heard a distant call note and it told her a Waterthrush was around. Sure enough, we found great habitat and heard it several times – eventually getting a good look through thick brush.
The pursuit of this Northern Waterthrush is emblematic of what impressed me most about Pat Lueders. Of course it started with the identification based on fairly minimal input. But it was her determination to find the bird for me, yes, but also for her own satisfaction that made the difference. She was both confident that the ID was correct and that it was findable in a tough environment. She was being a birder, a guide and also a co-participant with me in my quest. Let’s segue to Pat as professional guide with Naturalist Journeys. I have birded with many excellent (and a couple not excellent) professional guides. Most are extremely good at identifying birds and finding them. The best also are very good at making sure that their birder clients also see the birds and learn about them – whether it is their field marks, calls, songs, behaviors or natural histories. And the very best can put themselves in the shoes of their clients, understand what is most important to them and as often as possible make sure that is what they experience. It was important to Pat that I see this Northern Waterthrush and she made that possible.
Naturalist Journeys is headquartered in Portal, Arizona and offers tours, safaris and cruises worldwide. Its stated mission is to provide exceptional quality experiences that foster a deep respect for nature, inspire wildlife conservation, and enrich and renew lives through shared exploration. Their tours definitely have an avian focus but many have a broader reach and strike me as perfect for those of us either ourselves or with partners who wish to experience the culture and natural history of an area beyond a lengthy species list. My 50/50/50 project proceeds on this premise – that my passion for birding gains me entrance into a wider world with wonderful experiences everywhere. Birding is the catalyst that gets me going. There are great people, places and all of nature waiting to be experienced.
Following our birding together, Pat was heading off to lead her “Southern Charm” tour. How’s this for an appealing vacation: “Discover the history, nature, and culture of the charming and beautiful South Carolina coast. Explore Savannah and Charleston, and make stops at historic forts and Morris Island Lighthouse. Relax on horse-drawn carriage rides over cobblestone streets, bird the beautiful Magnolia Plantation, tour antebellum museums and mansions, and indulge at famous local restaurants.” Oh yeah – lots of birds too in a massive National Wildlife Refuge area of over 1 million acres. I wish my schedule would have permitted me to take this tour as both Savannah and Charleston are places I very much want to visit. I will get there later and will have those 50 species days in both Georgia and South Carolina, but I am definitely going to take time for those non-avian pleasures as well.
I am happy to put in a good word for this company not just because of my great time with Pat, but also because I have had great experiences with other of their guides as well. In 2013, I birded with Michael Marsden in South Texas and Carlos Sanchez joined our Victor Emanuel Nature Tours trip in South Texas this year after Victor had to leave because of a schedule conflict. They were both excellent. I have also met Woody Wheeler in my home state of Washington where he is highly regarded.
This was not a day with cultural and historic content. No major attractions, no tourist appeal. One non-birding thing did make a major impression, though. Unlike many birders, I am not a butterfly guy. Sometimes I note them but except for example maybe the Blue Morphos of Costa Rica, I generally quickly move on and look for more birds. Moreso in Illinois than the previous day in Missouri, we saw many, all told well over a hundred, Monarch Butterflies.
The Life and Times of a Monarch Butterfly
Like the warblers, they, too, were migrating – heading south to warmer climes. Monarchs go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. The first three generations all include the four stages of egg (laid on milkweed plants) , larvae (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly. The adults of the first three generations move on north and east dying off after laying the eggs for the next generation. They live only 2 to 6 weeks. The fourth generation lives longer – making the entire return journey south and surviving until they begin the migration begins again in the following February and March the next year starting their complex life cycle anew. It was this fourth generation of southward bound Monarchs that we were seeing.
Monarch Caterpillar Becoming a Chrysalis
Monarch Emerging from a Chrysalis
Adult Monarch Butterflies
It had been two great days – the unseasonably high heat and humidity the only negatives. It was mission accomplished with more than 50 species in Missouri and Illinois and a great visit with Pat. And I was two days ahead of schedule. As will be evident from my next post, I found a good way to make use of this bonus time and added a fifth state to the itinerary. I said goodbye to Pat and thanked her for two super days and treated myself with a prime rib dinner. If only calories didn’t count on these trips.
Pat Lueders has been leading birding trips in the St. Louis area and Midwest for over 10 years. A love of traveling has taken her to many countries of the world and most of the US, often with Naturalist Journeys’ trips. When not out birding, she is the coordinator of volunteers for a number of Citizen Science projects partnering with many agencies including U.S. Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Audubon, National Trumpeter Swan Society, and Missouri Department of Conservation. Pat serves on the boards of St. Louis Audubon & Audubon Society of Missouri and is on a bird banding team.