Ellis Island

Registry Hall Windows Ellis Island, NYC

No, not that Ellis Island. In Missouri, at the Riverland bird sanctuary is another Ellis Island. On one side of the island is the Mississippi River and on the other side is a backwater slough. Just downstream from it is the Mel Price lock and dam, Lock & Dam #26, the last on the Mississippi. It creates the Alton pool that in turn makes Ellis an island. Without it, Ellis would only be an island during flood season. Less than a mile long, it is very flat, as befits the floodplain that it is. The Corps of Engineers manages it now and is about to close it to the public for the annual winter nesting season. We went there yesterday, just days before this closure is put in place. Parking at the foot of the Clark Bridge spanning the Mississippi, we could still hear the highway noise halfway across the island, but eventually the wind rustled leaves were enough to mask and drown out that roar.

The main trail is a gravel road that the Corps has been busy using lately. A digger’s tread marks paralleled the road. A new eagle nesting pole, water flow gates and erosion control rock piles speak to a busy summer. The nesting pole, really a telephone pole was adorned atop with four spikes designed to hold a Bald eagle’s deadwood nest. A few starter branches had been left up there to give the birds the right idea. Several of these nesting poles have been placed around the Riverlands, but I have yet to see any of them actually used. A half-mile south of the southern tip of Elis Island, next to Mel Price, on the Illinois side, is a huge eagle’s nest. It has been there for years. Built in a tree, the mating pair that “owns” it is likely too territorial to allow neighbors as close as Ellis.

It was bright out. The sun was alone in a cloudless sky, except that it wasn’t quite alone, because a waning moon was up there too. On the way out, we saw a raptor, probably an osprey that was eating a fish while perched high in a dead tree. Later, on the way back, a mature Bald eagle had taken its spot. Except for a few fishermen near the parking lot, we had the island to ourselves. It was eerie being alone in the bush. We saw plenty of herons and egrets, flushing a few from the new inland ponds on the island. Like I said the Corps has been busy. The pond by the nesting pole had a new fish habitat structure built in it. I guess that they were going for a bed and breakfast setup, for the new nesting pole. At the southern tip of the island is a bird blind, really just a horizontal slat fence, but there wasn’t much to see. Even the pelicans that we had seen from across the slough had moved on. Still it was a nice change of place for an outing.

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