It wasn’t really that cold today, but not because of the temperature and accompanying wind chill factor. It didn’t feel all that cold most of the time, because mostly we were seated in our heated car. We also dressed warmly for the weather. Any car makes a pretty good bird blind, but a Prius moving in electric vehicle mode is exceptionally adept at this task. Although, for maximum avian stealth, you need to turn the heat off, because that will cause the gas engine to run, this makes more noise. That’s how we snuck up on the kestrel and almost on the Red-tailed hawk.

Anne and I spent the day bird watching at the Riverlands. Trumpeter swans were the most common species there today. We must have seen over a hundred. They are the largest bird in North America. There was a sign at the Audubon Center that said that in all of 1991 five Trumpeter swans were seen at the Riverlands and in one day last week 590 swans were sighted. That’s a lot of swans-a-swimming! That is also quite a comeback, especially when you consider that in 1993 we had the great flood and all of the Riverlands was inundated. It also begs the question, how do you count 590 swans? It is not like they sit in one spot all day. They move around a lot. They do roost on water at night, so if you have enough spotters and can watch all of their likely sites, then you can count them all at dawn’s early light.

The Riverlands is a bird sanctuary and during the winter almost all of its trails are closed to visitors. Years ago, when we first started visiting the Riverlands, we were ignorant of these rules. We traipsed back into the sloughs, where we were not supposed to go. I did make my most popular YouTube video out of the experience, but I would not dare to repeat it again. You do not want to mess with birdwatchers that are willing to get up before dawn and stand for hours in a freezing bird blind. Not them or the rangers that they surely have on speed dial.

There is a bird blind that is still open to the public. It is on the western edge of the sanctuary, but is a little difficult to find. We went to it again today, but got lost on the way. I recommend that you get directions at the visitor’s center. This bind is quite something. All that it is missing is heated seat warmers and flush toilets. Just kidding, it was colder than hell, being all metal and concrete. I like my Prius way more. It’s new this year and was designed and built by WashU architecture students. I was able to capture the harrier (new species) who was hunting in the tall grasses. The bird was only fifty yards outside the blind, but those buildings in the background are in Alton, IL, about a mile away.

Next weekend is the official kickoff of eagle watching season, but we saw more than a few today. I suspect that only the most mature pairs have staked out their nesting sites. Most of the one that we saw were kind of wandering about. Soon though, they’ll all be staking out their stretch of the river and woe be it to any trespassing bird. It is a felony to harm an American Bald eagle, unless you happen to be one too. The most el primo eagle watching pair is already open for business. They are on the east side of Illinois Route 3, across from the Mel Price Lock and Dam. We could easily see them both along with their huge nest, from the Missouri side of the river.

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