TWiB Notes: Illinois lions, the rally goose, and Bell Bowl Prairie
Catching up with the first-known grosbeak x tanager hybrid.
The news that a Mountain Lion was killed two weeks ago on I-88 in DeKalb County caught my attention. There was further intrigue in that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) shared that it was tracking another Mountain Lion, one with a radio collar, fitted in Nebraska, in western Illinois.
Wildlife Illinois provided some tips as to what to do if encountering a Mountain Lion, aka Cougar. Of course, actually seeing one up close in the wild would be a little scary. Thrilling but scary.
One wonders whether Mountain Lions could re-establish themselves in the Midwest. After all, there is such a problem with deer browse in the forest preserves that it’s led to declines in nesting bird species like Ovenbirds. A few Pumas around might take care of deer overpopulation and protect the shrubbery (see the latest from LaBagh Woods).
There’s the little matter of the practicality of big cats roaming our woods and prairies, though. As much as the presence of lions would help our grasslands take on more of an American Serengeti feel. Events in recent days confirmed the thought that Mountain Lions might pose a lot of problems for the safety of people and say the outdoor pets they’d encounter. IDNR also shared concerns about “property,” which I took to mean livestock.
Soon enough, the western Illinois Mountain Lion was tracked to a neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois’ capital and a town of 113,000. The cat arrived on Wednesday, and IDNR kept tabs on it until Friday. The decision was then made to sedate the lion, and it ultimately was transported to a wildlife sanctuary in Indiana that houses big cats, one presumably with better standards than the Tiger King.
I suppose this beats the alternative, of what happened to the 2008 Roscoe Village Mountain Lion in Chicago with its untimely end.
As much as we enjoy our local White-tailed Deer, without any native predators around they are terrible for the shrubby layer in our woodlands. The reality is that other methods like hands-on restoration (and fencing) or occasional deer culls might be better to keep the population in check. As these Mountain Lions roam, though, they remind us that there was a time when this land belonged to them as much as it did to human beings.
A not-so-wild goose chase
On Oct. 13, I awoke to the news that a goose had interrupted the previous night’s playoff game between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. I’ve followed baseball more closely than usual all season because my favorite team, the Cleveland Guardians, were competitive and a fun team to watch. So that I missed this goose incident happen live was sort of a bummer.
I looked up a clip of the goose online and much to my surprise it was a Greater White-fronted Goose and not an expected Canada. GWFGs are Arctic species and a treat to see in the Lower 48. In Chicago, people are pretty excited when a small flock flies over or a stray bird hangs out with some Canadas.
They’re apparently more prevalent in migration in the west, and around Los Angeles in particular. I’m not too familiar with SoCal geography, but it looks like they’ve been seen quite a bit around LA proper, including near Chavez Ravine (home of Dodger Stadium).
Why this goose landed in the middle of a green grass field during a playoff game is a mystery, and I do fear for this Anseriforme’s well-being. It may have mistaken the grass for water. It also may have been disoriented by the stadium lights. After capture, the goose reportedly was safely released nearby.
The Padres were leading Game 2 at the time and went on to knock off the big-time favorites in the Dodgers. The goose became a sort of mascot for the Friars, buoying them through to their National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Unfortunately, the Pads’ luck ran out against the Phils and they fell 4 games to 1.
If anything, maybe the goose helped educate folks a little about the many interesting waterfowl species that we have, especially in winter. After all, for all their cement and steel, stadiums are part of an ecosystem, too, and the goose provided a reminder of how everything is connected.
Checking in on Bell Bowl Prairie
It’s been more than a year since longtime birder Dan Williams discovered bulldozers poised over Bell Bowl Prairie at the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. Williams and others caught sight of the equipment just in time to help halt the construction of a road through the ancient gravel prairie, which harbors incredible biodiversity on its slopes.
What’s come since is an effort to move the airport authority off of its position of building the road for a planned expansion. There’s been advocacy in the form of protests and rallies, and legal moves to delay construction. There have also been assessments, reviews , re-assessments, and re-reviews of the ecosystem at the prairie (hello endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee) by various government agencies. The airport hasn’t budged.
It’s hard to fathom that the enormous investment in time and resources in fending off the prairie advocates has been worth it. Another deadline came and went again on Oct. 15 without the resumption of construction (whew). A stalwart band of advocates continues to push forth the message that the prairie can be saved while the airport expansion continues.
When I was in graduate school, I took a class called “Beyond Market Strategy.” The focus on the class was managing public issues that businesses might encounter. The professor put up a photo of a group of politicians that he somewhat humorously described as the “seven clowns.” The purpose of the exercise was how do you get four of the clowns on your side so that you might benefit your company or issue. This could be through negotiation or through activism or an advocacy campaign. That’s sort of what I think of in Rockford, although you have one clown who runs the airport authority and won’t move from his position.
The Save Bell Bowl Prairie campaign has a long list of ways you can help. Support from outside Rockford, from Chicago, from other states is welcomed. That’s one way to get the airport authority to budge.
First evidence of a “tanabeak”
It’s the stuff of fairy tales. Many of us enjoy seeing a Rose-breasted Grosbeak or Scarlet Tanager in spring migration, especially the richly hued males. Their colors are so vibrant they defy belief. Now there’s proof that the species have interbred even though they diverged evolutionarily 10 million years ago. Researchers in Pennsylvania concluded that a 3-year-old “tanabeak” had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak for a mother and a Scarlet Tanager for its father.
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OK great essay! I now know about the ovenbird and that it's a small songbird of the New World warbler family. The band has been mostly into old world warblers but this will be some new discovery for us to enjoy. Greatly appreciating your craft as always.