Whether I am helping with a Christmas Bird Count, a spring hike, or a kayak trip with the Illinois Audubon Society, every birding trip reveals something memorable at Emiquon. I am amazed by the migrational waves of more than 200,000 Snow Geese, thousands of American White Pelicans, hundreds of Trumpeter Swans, plus hundreds of thousands of ducks, dabblers, and divers.
In the summer, the upland prairie hosts nesting Dickcissels and Henslow’s Sparrows. Spring and fall migrations bring rare terns and shorebirds. And I will never forget seeing the first pair of Black-necked Stilts to nest in Central Illinois in 100 years. Their elaborate courtship dance is like a Spanish bolero with flamenco rhythms.
Emiquon was once a backwater slough on the Illinois River, one of the most fertile fisheries in the United States. A levee was built 100 years ago to drain what became a farm. The Nature Conservancy bought it, turned off the pumps, and recreated the floodplain, now a wetland of international significance. A viewing platform at Dickson Mounds Museum gives a great overview of the wetlands and river beyond. The Nature Conservancy has built boardwalks, observation decks, and more. Beyond birds, otters, turtles, butterflies, and fish have returned in abundance.
Wetlands, prairie, upland forests, levee, and river.
Viewing platform and short boardwalk provide easy overlook of wetlands and open water.
Snow, Ross’s, and Canada Geese, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, American White Pelican, Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, Dickcissel, Common Yellowthroat, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sandhill Crane, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy and White-faced Ibis, American and Least Bitterns.
When to go
Year-round. Late winter for waterfowl, summer for sparrow and stilts, spring and fall for warblers and shorebirds.
Boardwalk and observation platforms. Restrooms and picnic shelters available at adjoining Dickson Mounds State Museum. Neighboring communities of Havana and Lewistown for supplies or dining.
Nature Conservancy property. Open dawn to dusk, permit required (at Dickson Mounds Museum) for canoes and kayaks. Non-gas-powered boating (paddles and electric motors only) allowed but requires a free permit available at museum during normal business hours.
Bugs are not a problem except for one week in early June (annoying buffalo gnats). Bring spotting scopes and long lenses for viewing waterfowl and shorebirds on the lake, or better yet bring a kayak to get up close!
Banner Marsh State Fish and Game Lands
About 20 miles north on Route 24. Another IBA and recreated wetlands with a network of roads that give you easy access to nesting swans, waterfowl, waders, and warblers.
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge
Visible across the river, but 14 miles by road, just north of Havana. This is the place for rare shorebirds in their late summer migration.
Brian “Fox” Ellis is a storyteller, an author, and a naturalist who performs as John James Audubon, Charles Darwin, and Meriwether Lewis. Fox is a highly sought keynote speaker at regional and international conferences including the International Wetlands Conservation Conference, National Science Teachers Association Conference and the North American Prairie Conservation Conference, et al. Fox is also the Artistic Director for Prairie Folklore Theatre, a unique theatre company that celebrates ecology and history through original musical theatre productions. He is the author of 16 books, including the critically acclaimed Learning From the Land: Teaching Ecology Through Stories and Activities, (Libraries Unlimited, 2011) and the award-winning children’s picture book The Web at Dragonfly Pond, (DAWN Publications, 2006).
Brian “Fox” Ellis on social media
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