Bali starling at St. Louis Zoo.

Bali starling at St. Louis Zoo.

I was invited to speak on August 15 at Godfrey, Illinois, which is a bit south of St. Louis. This prompted me to reach out to other potential venues in southern Illinois, a region I am particularly fond of. Most helpful in my quest was Tom Connelley, who along with Curt Carter have been celebrating nature through their  gorgeous music for quite a while now. Cindy first introduced me to their work, and I have been in correspondence with Tom over a the of years but we have never met. Tom suggested a number of venues that might be interested in hosting my talk and arrangements were made with two of them.

At the end of the day, the Godfrey talk was cancelled so I headed directly to the St. Louis Zoo where education director  Louise Bradshaw arranged for me to make two presentations. Both the zoo and Forest Park, where it is located, are special to me. The park is across Skinker Boulevard from Washington University, where I went to law and graduate school. In the spring, the park is a great place for migrants; in the winter, friends and I joined the masses sledding down the hill in front of the art museum. And the zoo was inspiring throughout the year.

Saddle-billed stork at St. Louis Zoo.

Saddle-billed stork at St. Louis Zoo.

August in St. Louis can often be both hot and humid: sometimes the humidity can be so great I use to muse whether it was better to have lungs or gills. And so it was hot on the 18th, but Louise hooked me up with one of her staffers for a short tour. A stop at the bird house revealed a couple of rare species that I have been fortunate to see in the wild. One was the horned guan, which very few zoos have, and the other Bali starling, a species much more widely displayed.  (In 1992 when I was in Bali, my group made a special trip to see the one remaining wild flock of this stunning bird.  This required a boat ride to a remote peninsula where the birds could be seen in late afternoon when they returned to roost. The boat arrived at the dock and we exited for our short hike to the roosting site. As according to plan, the birds appeared and all was good. But by the time we returned to the pier and boat, the tide had receded such that the boat could only be reached by a quarter mile wade over coral. We all held our optical equipment as we tentatively made our way over the hazardous footing and then had to confront the challenge of entering a boat from the water.)

The talk went well. I am always excited to meet people for whom the passenger pigeon story really stuck with them, often since childhood and sometimes affecting even their career choices. One such person is Angie Jungbluth who read about the bird as a youngster. She and her husband Aaron volunteer with the Missouri Department of Conservation. They were among the principal organizers of an art exhibit and programming that was offered at two venues in the St. Louis area during September.

Tom Connelley’s day job is as Technical Director of the Southern Illinois University Student Center in Carbondale. He had sent my name to John Wallace, who serves on the board of directors for the local Shawnee Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society. Shawnee reached out to the SIU Center for Sustainability they co-sponsored my talk. Students arrived on campus the day before, I was interviewed by the local radio station, and the Carbondale newspaper ran an excellent story so all was in order for a  good audience. John not only coordinated my visit (including the media attention), but he and his wife Karen agreed to put me up for the night.

Great-blue heron over Washington County Lake.

Great-blue heron over Washington County Lake.

The distance from St. Louis to Carbondale only takes a couple of hours to cover so I meandered a bit, stopping at Washington County State Conservation Area. Land birding during the third week of August is usually pretty slow. But the conservation area features both Washington County Lake and Posen Woods Nature Preserve. The preserve is 40 acres of “southern flatwoods, dry-mesic upland forest, and intermittent stream communities” (Illinois Nature Preserves Pages). It is a lovely area deserving of a visit during a time more propitious for birding.

Posen Woods Nature Preserve.

Posen Woods Nature Preserve.

John manages Cedar Lake, a property owned by the city of Carbondale, and his home overlooks the 1,800 acre water body. He offered me a canoe or kayak if I wanted to explore the lake, but as an organism principally oriented towards the terrestrial I opted for prolonged observation of the hummingbird feeders he had in front of his house.  Then that evening we headed to the student center of the university. This was the first talk I have given where the presentation began with a musical introduction: none other than Tom Connelley, and Curt Carter. It was real honor meeting them, something I had looked forward to for quite a while.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds at Cedar Lake.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds at Cedar Lake.

After the show we went back to John and Karen’s house where we met a gathering of folks they had invited to join us. I was able to chat with Tom and Curt. And it turns out that John is a most fascinating guy himself.  He presents living history programs as John Muir- who died on Christmas Eve 1914, just a few months after Martha- and has a background in environmental education and activism. I met others who also identified themselves as environmental activists, people who spent a lot of time and effort back in the day to change logging policies that threatened the Shawnee National Forest. Some of my companions had chained themselves to trees to make their point. There were some lamentations that many of today’s the younger folks lack the fire they brought to the task: maybe it was time for the seniors  to step into old roles.

Blogger with Curt and Tom.

Blogger with Curt and Tom.

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