John Wesley Powell Audubon is a Chapter of National Audubon

John Wesley Powell Audubon, P.O. Box 142, Normal, Il 61761

In THe News

Enbridge Presents $2,000 community Investment Check

NEWS:  Enbridge presented a $2,000 community investment check

Butterflies are free to fly……thanks to the John Wesley Powell Audubon Society in Bloomington – Normal, Illinois.  The mission of the JWP Audubon is to engage and promote activities that foster an understanding and appreciation of our natural world, and to encourage others to join in this cause.

On April 25, 2016, Enbridge presented a $2,000 community investment check to Gretchen Knapp, President of the JWP Audubon in Bloomington-Normal.   The check presentation was held at Ewing Park in Bloomington, considered by many to be a bird-watchers’ paradise.   Ewing Park is an oasis because migrating birds tend to concentrate there to rest in the woods.  The park, centrally located in the Bloomington community, is convenient for people who enjoy bird walks. 

Knapp stated that the money from Enbridge will be used to continue work with the City of Bloomington Parks to improve native habitat for birds and butterflies.  She added, “We appreciate the collaboration of Jay Tetzloff, Director of Parks & Recreation, Cultural Affairs, and the Miller Park Zoo; and David Lamb, Assistant Superintendent of Parks, in this exciting endeavor.” 

Dale Birkenholz

February 12, 1931 – December 26, 2015

JWP’s beloved Dale Birkenholz passed away Saturday, December 26, at Taylor House in Des Moines, IA. He was born February 13, 1931, to Gertrude (Dykstra) and Louis Birkenholz in Prairie City, IA. After graduation from Prairie City High, Dale spent two years in the U.S Army. He received his B.S. in Biology from Iowa State University in 1956; his M.S. in Zoology from Southern Illinois University in 1958; and Ph.D. in Zoology from University of Florida in 1962. Dale was a member of the Illinois State University faculty from 1962-1991, retiring as Professor Emeritus in the Biological Sciences department.

Dale was a noted teacher, naturalist and conservationist. He will be remembered for his vast knowledge of natural history, and especially for his eagerness to share and establish a community for bird study and nature enjoyment. Hundreds were mentored by him in his role as Professor of Biological Sciences at Illinois State University and as Charter member of the Cardinal Bird Club, now JWP Audubon Society, where Dale served in every role from President to Field Trip Chair. Dale planted hundreds of trees in central Illinois, and worked in collaboration to develop the Parklands Nature Preserve, Rhymer Nature Preserve, and Hidden Creek Nature Sanctuary. He consulted on landscaping with native vegetation for Lake Bloomington, Lake Evergreen, White Oak Park, Heartland and Eureka College. He completed studies for Goose Lake Prairie, the Midewin, the Nature Preserves Commission and Illinois Natural History Survey. Notable in his accomplishments is the development of the extensive Natural History Collection at Illinois State University, preserving hundreds of specimens. The collection is inclusive of birds and animal skins acquired during Dale’s Fulbright sabbatical of research in Botswana, Africa in 1966-67. He also traveled extensively throughout his life, visiting all seven continents.

Dale was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.  Please consider attending his memorial service on Saturday, June 25, 2:00 p.m. at Illinois State University Alumni Center, 1101 North Main Street, Normal, IL

Dragonflies and Butterflies

By Matthew Winks, JWP Field Trips Chair

JWP held a field trip focused on dragonflies at Tipton Park in Bloomington on Saturday, August 8, 2015. We had a good turnout with around 10 participants including several master naturalists. Conditions were warm and overcast to start and then clearing. Everybody had good looks at the flashy male Widow Skimmers which were very obliging. Several Common Green Darners were flying around. A few Black Saddlebags, Prince Baskettails, Twelve-spotted Skimmers and Wandering Gliders were also flying, but not giving good looks. Other species seen were Eastern Amberwing, Halloween Pennant, Eastern Pondhawk, Blue Dasher, Familiar Bluet, and Eastern Forktail. Overall, I think it was a pretty successful trip.

Great Spreadwings at Ewing Park                                                          Summer 2015

By Matt Winks, JWP Field Trip Chair

A few summers ago I developed an interest in dragonflies.  During the hottest days of thesummer when the birding is often

slow, I became fascinated watching these swift and powerful flyers.  I gradually became familiar with our common species such as Common Whitetail, Widow Skimmer, Common Green Darner, Eastern Pondhawk, and Blue Dasher.  After JWP Fundraising Chair Shanin Abreu and I met, we started looking at damselflies a little more closely.  Compared to dragonflies they are typically smaller, less powerful flyers, holding their wings closed or partially closed when perched.  Dragonflies and damselflies are carnivorous insects belonging to the order Odonata and collectively called odonates.

In August 2013, Shanin and I came across a large and striking damselfly at Ewing Park in Bloomington.  We flipped through the field guide and quickly pegged it as a Great Spreadwing, a lifer for us.  This is a very large spreadwing with a broad yellow stripe on the side of the thorax. We did not know much about the status and distribution of damselflies in Illinois at the time and, for that matter, we are still learning as we go. 

Last summer (2014), we spent time looking at damselflies and never encountered this species anywhere else.  We went back to look for them again at Ewing Park and, sure enough, we found several.  After doing some research, we learned that Great Spreadwings had not previously been recorded in McLean County. The Illinois State Museum only has records for Jackson, Johnson, Monroe, Pope, and Sangamon counties.  Odonata Central, which is an online database similar to eBird, has records for Champaign, Cook, Dupage, Randolph, Saline, Union, Will, and Williamson counties, in addition to the ISM county records.

This damselfly could be more common than current records suggest.  The paucity of records might be due to a lack of field observers.  The literature describes its habitat as slow streams with wooded banks and perhaps restricted fishless waters.  It was historically only found in the southwestern United States, but has been expanding its range eastward and northward in recent years.  It is a very cool looking damselfly that reminds me of a darner when it flies.  July and August seem to be the best time to find this species locally, but there were a couple still flying into the first week of October last year.  We will definitely be looking for them again this season.

We hope you will join us on the Field Trip, Saturday, August 8, 2015.

Bird Tweets      Spring 2014

by Patricia Carlson, JWP Editor

Time to Build a Nest!

Time to Build a Nest!

Birders have been taking note of all the nest building going on the past couple of weeks.  

This morning the robins put up their nest, as they do most years, on top of the porch’s Doric column and the wren has moved back into the box on the garden’s edge.  The squawking jays have taken over the evergreen and the cardinals have set up shop in the barberry.  All systems go.

Encourage birds to fill your gardens and enjoy the sweet birdsong and babies by:

  • Providing habitat – plant native shrubs and trees conducive to nests
  • Adding a water source – fountain, pond or birdbath
  • Leaving things a little messy –this provides nesting materials,  food source, and cover for the birds

Remember not to trim shrubs and trees during nesting season and be habitat friendly by never using chemical treatments on your property.

Biodiversity by boat                                                                Spring 2013

by Lenore Sobota, JWP Vice President

If you want to get a close-up look at the biodiversity in McLean County, try paddling a canoe or kayak around Evergreen Lake.  Not only can you cover a lot of territory and a few different habitats, the animals are more comfortable with you getting close to them than I've generally experienced on foot.

The birds are the biggest attraction for me. And the biggest of those are the bald eagles that frequently visit the lake. The Great Blue Herons are among the most common big birds. Sometimes you see them before they see you -- sometimes it's the other way around and their loud, "Squawk!" can almost make you jump out of your boat.

During migration, other wading birds and shorebirds may join the herons -- Great Egrets and Yellowlegs, among others. Look closely and you could see Solitary Sandpipers almost any time of year as well as Green Herons. 

Then there are all the waterfowl. Canada geese, mallards, teal, wood ducks -- the list goes on.

I've also seen owls and osprey from my kayak.   The kingfishers are easily spotted darting along the water’s edge before they pull up into snags.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was a pair of snow buntings on the concrete near the spillway.

But boating is not just for the birds. Deer, raccoons, beavers, fox, coyote and muskrats have all been spotted as I paddled on Evergreen Lake.

The lake itself is the most obvious habitat you experience from a boat, but you'll also see wooded areas along its banks. Paddle up the creek feeding into the lake and see more of a river-related and even marshy habitat. The time of year also determines what you'll see and increases the diversity.  Red headed woodpeckers zip between the marshy snags and flickers move up the dead wood looking for a meal or nesting site, flashing their white rump and brilliant yellow under wings as they glide.

This closeness to nature not only increases the variety of animal and plant life you'll see, it also increases your appreciation of how diverse that little corner of the county can be.

One word of warning -- actually, two: Safety first.
The water stays colder a lot longer than the air in spring. Don't rush out on the lake that first warm day in March or April unless you are properly attired and prepared for possible immersion. Until your skill and clothing are appropriate for the water temperatures, admire the biodiversity from shore.

Listening for the Sound of Nature:                                                     FALL 2012


by Lenore Sobota, JWP Vice President

Too often when we hear or read words such as "biodiversity," we think of it as some complicated scientific concept that applies to far away places. But, at its roots (no pun intended) it's really simple and it applies near as well as far -- even as near as our backyards.

That's part of the message behind Doug Tallamy's talk at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 on "Bringing Nature Home."  But it's not just a matter of "rediscovering biodiversity" -- our chapter's theme this year. It's a matter of appreciating biodiversity and embracing biodiversity.

After all, diversity is what makes life interesting.  And biodiversity is what makes life possible, in many ways. It recognizes the interdependency of many living things and the way the parts contribute to the whole.

But I said I'd keep it simple, so here goes:  It's autumn -- dare I say, awesome autumn. Go out and enjoy the diversity of colors we experience thanks to the diversity of trees, each with their own special hues.  And don't forget the colors of the prairie, too, in all their seasonal glory.

Listening for the Sound of Nature:                                          FALL 2012


By Dale Birkenholz, JWP Stewardship Co-Chair

Audubon members, with few exceptions, enjoy the outdoors and wish to learn more about it as they gain experience from walks, hikes, and study.  An often quoted axiom in nature writing is “the more you learn, the more you enjoy something”.  For example, each time you observe and study an area like Ewing Park, Comlara, or ParkLands, you most likely will observe and learn something new!

When studying different places, an observable characteristic that often becomes apparent is that the number of species, plants, birds, insects, in different habitats often varies.  A mature forest harbors more species of birds than a grassland.  The number of species an area supports is referred to as its biotic diversity.  An area with a high diversity is also more likely to support some plants or animals that are less common or even rare.

This year, on our nature hikes, we plan to visit local areas where we are most likely to encounter something that is less common or at least somewhat unique.  Blue grosbeaks and pileated woodpeckers can now be found in McLean County if one is lucky!  Bald eagle nests, Kirtland’s warblers, and milk snakes have been observed recently.

Our theme for the forthcoming year will be “rediscovering biodiversity”.  Our updated website will provide an avenue for regularly communicating with the membership.  Come join us!

ALDO LEOPOLD AND EARLY SPRING                                           SPRING 2012

By Dale Birkenholz, JWP Stewardship Co-Chair.

                In Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, the first essay for the month of May is entitled “Back from the Argentine”.   In it he describes, in 1946, the arrival of the Upland Sandpiper to his Wisconsin pasture.  This shorebird was still relatively common in grasslands and hayfields of the Midwest at that time, and its rolling trill and spectacular courtship display was a delight to all who were familiar with it.  The species has today, however, become very uncommon, an almost rare migrant and nesting bird in this area.  Changes in farming practices beginning in the 1970s in which grains, especially corn and soybeans, replaced pastures and hayfields resulted in drastic declines of many of our grassland birds.  Populations of species such as the Upland Sandpiper, but also Bobolink, Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows, and Meadowlarks have declined as much as 80 to 90 percent.

                We can, however, still observe a shorebird, albeit only a migrant, that somewhat resembles the one that Leopold wrote about, and its presence is appropriate for inclusion in this newsletter.  Sometimes, in late March, throughout April and early May, flocks of hundreds to thousands of Golden Plovers can be observed resting in newly tilled fields in parts of east-central Illinois.  The best location to find these beautiful birds is in an area beginning a few miles east of Lexington and extending to the eastern part of the State.  I marvel at the idea that these plovers are following an historic route through an area of pre-settlement marshland and wet prairie that originally extended throughout that part of Illinois. 

These flocks are returning from the pampas of Argentina and Chile, crossing the Midwest to nest on tundras of the Arctic. Once there they will perform spectacular displays and calls before mating and nesting in tufts of arctic grasses and sedges.  Come fall they fly to the shores of New England and southeastern Canada to rest and fatten. Then a north wind beckons them south nonstop over the western Atlantic, Bermuda and the Greater Antilles, to the coast of South America.  Thence, it’s across the Amazon basin, and to southern South America.  The saga of this journey is something we can marvel at, even though we can, reluctantly, see them briefly each year.

As a postscript, a few other species make this trip each fall.  The list includes White-rumped Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, and amazingly, one warbler, the Blackpoll.  The latter is sometimes airborne for as long as 60-70 hours without a stop!     


The Anthropocene                                                                   Fall 2011

By Ellen Dietz, JWP Publicity Chair            

             The Aldo Leopold scholar Curt Meine introduced the Anthropocene to many of us in the audience at his November 8, 2011 presentation, co-sponsored by JWP Audubon.  “Anthropocene” translates to the ‘recent age of Man.’  That is, the influence of humans upon the Earth is so profound and so extensive that we are leaving a mark on the planet that will be evident in the geologic record.  We have, in tangible ways, ushered in a new period of Earth history.  Humans have influenced the vast majority of ecosystems on the planet, sped up extinction rates, and made such alterations in natural cycles, such as the nitrogen and carbon cycles, that we can no longer be considered “insignificant observers.”

                This year, JWP Audubon is highlighting the topic of environmental conservation.  Humanity’s manipulation of the environment, the Anthropocene, cannot be separated from that discussion.

                In May 2011, Nobel laureates penned the Stockholm Memorandum, in which they assert, “Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity.”  They go on to state, “Science makes it clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity.”

                Evidence that we are exceeding the Earth’s capacities is frightening realization, indeed. You are already aware of at least some of the effects humans are having on the planet, but we encourage you to read more about the Anthropocene, such as the internet articles that can be found in The Economist (“A Man-Made World,” “Welcome to the Anthropocene”) and Dot Earth (“Embracing the Anthropocene,” “In ‘Earth v. Humanity’ Nobelists Issue Verdict,” “Confronting the Anthropocene”). Searches on the internet will direct you to more reading, and a search at will list books on the topic. 

                One of the above-referenced articles reminds us that many actions taken together have major effects.  Perhaps we can use that knowledge for the common good:  many small positive actions, taken together, will have a significant positive effect.  Andrew Revkin said, “Some will see this period as a ‘shame on us’ moment. Others will deride this effort as a hubristic overstatement of human powers. Some will argue for the importance of living smaller and leaving no scars. Others will revel in human dominion as a normal and natural part of our journey as a species.”

                Where do you fall on this spectrum?  More importantly, what will you do about it?

If I were the Wind

By Dale Birkenholz, JWP Stewardship Chair

                 In his famous Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold wrote “Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark like a dog.  Soon it is louder, the honk of geese, invisible but coming on.  The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing.  When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk sounding taps for summer.”

                At that time, 1946, this Canada goose, the Mississippi Valley flock that nested in the muskeg west of Hudson Bay and wintered in Southern Illinois, numbered only 53,000.  That was the lowest ever recorded.  That fall the kill of geese around Horseshoe Lake was so great that the public and hunters alike feared the species would become extinct by the end of the season, and it was closed early and also the next year.  In subsequent years the Crab Orchard, Union County, and other waterfowl refuges were established and the population of the Mississippi Valley geese increased steadily.

 The Giant Canada Goose which originally nested throughout the Midwest and the prairie provinces of Canada was thought by many to have become extinct.  In 1962, however, Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey studied the winter range of Canada Geese.  He discovered that a flock that wintered at a power lake near Rochester, Minnesota, was of the seemingly long gone Giant variety.  These are slightly larger and somewhat lighter in color. In subsequent years this variety was restocked throughout much of its original range.  Its habit of adapting well to our lakes, ponds and streams, often in close proximity to humans, has resulted in an average six percent increase each year. These are the geese that are familiar to us in central Illinois and are sometimes considered a nuisance!  Today the management goal is to maintain the population of the Mississippi Valley and Giant flocks at about one million birds in the Mississippi Flyway.

                 In recent years the status of geese during migration has changed even more. The Richardson’s Canada Goose, a small dark variety that nests in the eastern Canadian arctic, has been shifting its migration pattern and it now appears in central Illinois in late fall. Recently it has been classified as a separate species, the Cackling Goose.  Walk around our local White Oak Lake before it freezes and you can sometimes observe, at close range, all three forms of these stately birds! 

                When Aldo Leopold wrote poetically about the geese of November they were considered wary, somewhat uncommon denizens of the wilderness.  Their status today, however, is much different from the time Leopold wrote “If I Were the Wind”.


By Lenore Sobota, JWP Vice President

In his forward to "A Sand County Almanac," Aldo Leopold writes, "There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot."  Leopold counted himself among those who cannot.  So do I.  Fortunately, despite the urbanization of our area, even in Bloomington-Normal, you don't have to go far to live with "wild things."

My quest to live with wild things frequently takes me to McLean County's Comlara Park -- specifically Evergreen Lake.  The key is to do your best to travel at their pace, to take time to look around.

For predator and prey, a key to survival is being observant.  For those of us who cannot "live without wild things," being observant is equally important.  It lets you see things you might otherwise miss and have a chance to see the wild things before they see you and run -- or fly -- away.  How often have I sat in my kayak, gazing in admiration at a bald eagle, perched high in a tree, while others in various watercraft passed by without a glance?

I first noticed eagles regularly appearing at Evergreen Lake last year while practicing for my kayak instructor's certification.  Had they always been there, visiting from their nest on the Mackinaw River? Or did I just notice them because I was spending more time at the lake?

The reason didn't matter; their presence is what mattered.  I came to think of the eagle in the tree across from the boat ramp as my personal cheering section and missed him (or her) when the perch was empty.

But the common creates uncommon delight, too, such as the ever present Great Blue Herons that squawk in indignation if you get too close.  And the little things are a big deal, too: dragonflies and damselflies darting about quiet coves and even tiny water bugs creating their own tiny, but visible, wakes, as they motor about in random paths.

Be thankful for the wild things -- and take time to enjoy them.

Nurturing Nature

By Lenore Sobota, JWP Vice President

There are few better ways to start your day than being serenaded by the tremelo call of a loon. It's truly a gift when you hear that classic Northwoods sound while in Central Illinois.  Their welcoming sound makes you forget getting up before dawn to get your boat on the water to watch the horizon turn from purple to pink to orange to yellow and the sun to rise.

Of course, the loons -- tourists pausing on their trip back home -- are only one part of the show for my kayak excursion. A cacaphony of chirps and warbles greet me and the sun. The morning chorus of birds provides a nice counterpoint as my paddle strokes set the beat.

Ducking into a little cove to escape the southeasterly breeze for awhile, I startle a Great Blue Heron. I watch him flap on pterodactyl-evoking wings toward a leafless tree until I am distracted by another sight. A whitetail deer is feeding on the edge of the lake. As stealthily as possible, I attempt to float up without attracting attention. But that's difficult to do when piloting a 16-foot-long craft through partially submerged tree snags. I smack into a log and he bounds away -- as do two other deer I hadn't noticed before.  But as I swivel my head to watch their tails disappear into the woods, I notice two black eyes staring at me -- a Barred Owl!

When I finally tear myself away and head toward the dock, a small flock of Forster's Terns provide a brief escort, as swallows dart about with no discernable destination. But it is the loons that captivated me, the loons that made my day.


Interested in doing some birding by boat? Send an e-mail to Lenore at to be put on the list for pick-up trips. At least one trip will be at Evergreen Lake, where canoe rentals are available if you don't have your own boat. I'll try to give at least a few days notice.


By Lenore Sobota, JWP Vice President

Assault and battery? No, a crow and battery

I own helmets for bicycling, climbing and downhill skiing. Apparently, I should start thinking about a helmet for birdwatching.

There was the time in Wyoming when I inadvertently wandered close to the homestead of a pair of nesting goshawks. They let me know with a few swoops that I was not welcome. No blood was spilled. I lived to bird another day.

Then came a Sunday morning trip to Ewing Park. I heard something hit the ground in front of me -- hard. Was it another meteorite? No, it was a battery -- Double A, not car.  Looking around to see who would throw a battery at me, I heard an unmistakable, "Caw, caw, caw," above me.

Apparently, this crow was among those of its kind that like to collect shiny objects. Was he laughing at me? I prefer to think the battery was dropped by mistake as the crow landed in the tree and this wasn't an intentional bombing run. Perhaps the "Caw, caw, caw" translates into, "Sorry about that."

And to think, when it came to birds overhead, I usually only worried about them dropping something else on my head.

Next time I'll be ever-ready.

Eurasian tree sparrow - Mclean county

A group at Heyworth Community Part confirmed the first nesting of Eurasian tree sparrow for McLean County. A pair of the species was seen about three weeks ago at a cavity on an island in the large pond. Saturday, three fledgling were seen around the cavity entrance.

Prairies                                                                          Fall 2009

By Dale Birkenholz, JWP Stewardship Chair              

Ever since the first European settlers viewed our tall grass prairie, their first reports commented enthusiastically about its beauty and the richness of its wildlife.  Here is one of the earliest accounts: 

 “I viewed the irregular outline of surrounding woods and the tall grasses, with their seed stalks six to ten feet high.  It presented a magnificence of park scenery, complete from the hand of nature, and unrivalled by the same sort of scenery in European art.”

So wrote Roger Anderson in his popular 1972 article “The Prairies” in Outdoor Illinois, quoting George Flower, one of the founders of a settlement in Edwards County as he first viewed an Illinois prairie in 1817.  Other early writers waxed as eloquently, and many also wrote of the beautiful array of flowers seen throughout the summer. 

Each year JWP selects a theme for its newsletter, programs and field trips. We had the year of the raptor, declining local songbirds, and last year, neighborhood wildlife.  This year we will feature prairies. Our native grasslands once covered 60 percent of Illinois, 90 percent of McLean County, but once the fertility of the prairie soils were realized the prairies were doomed.  Most were plowed up in the last half of the 1800s, and today there is only one tract of virgin, native prairie left in McLean County, the five-acre Weston Cemetery in the northeast part of the County.  It has been dedicated as a State Nature Preserve. For our first fall field trip we will visit the historic prairie at Weston (see trip details in this issue). 

Because native prairies have become so rare, the restoration of nativegrasslands has become more and more popular.  Although these will never be the same as our historic prairies, they provide wildlife habitat, illustrate first hand what much of our historic environment was like, and they also provide an opportunity to study the prairie plants and some of the wildlife. Much of the Route 66 roadside north of Normal has been yellow with blooming yellow coneflower, false sunflower, and several other species this summer.  How many people have noticed this colorful array and the clumps of strange, tall grasses, mostly big bluestem?  Few I imagine, and even fewer know what they are!

These species have a marvelous story to tell.  The grass stalks tickled the bellies of bison.  Prairie chickens built nests among the clumps.  When much of the prairie lay flooded in spring, millions of waterfowl and shorebirds foraged among the still dormant 

plants.  Their deep roots imparted large quantities of organic matter into the soil.  They produced the deep, fertile soils, some of the most productive in the world.  This year we hope to learn more about this important part of our heritage. As we learn we can also dream.