The Special Birds of Southern Illinois

Article excerpt

AS A CHILD growing up in Southern Illinois, Douglas Robinson and a friend became so intrigued with birds that they started drawing pictures of them out of a book.

Robinson doesn't recall exactly what prompted the two boys - then fifth-graders - to draw the birds.

"I suspect it was happy coincidence for my artist friend, and a genetic mutation in me," Robinson said. "There is something about 10-year-old boys who are exposed at a critical time to birds: If they `have the gene,' it fires off a lifelong love of birds; if not, they get into all kinds of other trouble." "Firing off a gene" is a biologist's way of saying that an inherited trait is encouraged by the person's environment. "My fellow bird-loving friend became an artist and I became an o rnithologist," Robinson, 30, said. Now a biologist, Robinson has authored a bird book of his own. He displays his insight into the birds of his native territory in the new book "Southern Illinois Birds: An Annotated List and Site Guide." The book was published last month by Southern Illinois University Press ($39.95; 485 pages). "It's for anyone who wants to know the birds in the southern part of Illinois," said Robinson, a doctoral student in ornithology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The region is so different from the rest of Illinois." Compiling Current Knowledge For Robinson, the region is defined as the southernmost 17 counties in Illinois and a portion of St. Clair county that includes Baldwin Lake. What's so special about the area for birds? A wide variety of habitat, or living conditions, he said. Unlike central and northern sections of the state, Southern Illinois still has large patches of upland and lowland forest and plenty of hills and dales. Also, it's surrounded on three sides by major rivers: the Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash. Comparing the habitats and bird life in the southern tip of the state with those in the rest of Illinois is like comparing them for southern Texas and the rest of the United States, Robinson writes in the book. "Southern Illinois has much to offer to anyone interested in the birds of Illinois, or in the birds of the midwestern United States for that matter," he writes. Among other aims, he wrote the book to compile current knowledge about the region's birds, point to gaps in current knowledge and encourage bird-watchers and others "to explore the many birding and scenic attractions" in the area. He acknowledges the help of 125 observers who gave him copies of their field notes. The black and white photos of birds in the book are by Belleville native Todd Fink, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who died last year. In the introduction, Robinson gives a brief history of bird study in Southern Illinois and describes recent findings on how forestry cuts into songbird populations. Next comes a list of the region's birds and notes about each species, including migration records, behavior, present status and habitat. The book's final section tells where to watch birds, how to get there and what to expect on arrival. Maps accompany some of the entries. For instance, the guide says Baldwin Lake in Randolph and St. Clair counties is "the most reliable site in the region for finding Ross' Geese. They have been found here annually since at least 1983. …

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