Amboy Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
This past weekend I was in the mood to see something different. So we did something different and headed down into Illinois, south past Rockford towards a small town called Amboy. There we navigated through some sort of festival going on and worked our way down Hwy. 52 to Mormon Road and found the parking area for Amboy Marsh.
What had prompted the decision to head to Amboy Marsh were recent reports of Blue-faced Meadowhawks, one of those striking species of dragonflies I’d really love to see. While reading some of the literature, I also learned that Amboy Marsh has some notable herptiles as well. Plus, I know that whenever I head south and west of where I live, I’ll find some good insects.
The day began with some fog and rather heavy cloud cover. Though the forecast called for clearing skies by 11 a.m., it would have been a big stretch to call the skies clear at any point of the day. Yet, the meadowhawk dragonflies tend to fly in light conditions that other odes (short term of affection for odonata, or the dragonflies and damselflies) wouldn’t be caught dead in, so the lack of sun didn’t entirely dampen the spirits.
The trails were heavily covered with dew which quickly soaked our shoes into our socks but the lack of annoying bugs like skeeters and deer flies made up for it. It was a very enjoyable way to spend several hours.
The habitat here is described as a wetland, black oak savanna/forest complex which I’d say fits the area rather well. Being late summer, many of the wetlands were well grown over but the smaller ponds had open water. Each small pond held at least a few Wood Ducks. If they spooked from our presence, they would fly off with a distinctive squealing sound.
A good number of migrants were seen from time to time, among them were perhaps eight or ten species of warblers, lots of Eastern Wood Pewees and various vireos, as well as a number of summer and permanent residents. Canada Geese flew over as did a few families of Sandhill Crane and at one point, a Great Horned Owl that had been roosting, hidden in the trees, flew out in front of us and disappeared deeper into the forest. Near the area known as Woodpecker Woods, we were thrilled to see a few Red-headed Woodpeckers. Once a common species throughout the area, their numbers have dropped dramatically in the last few decades (90% or more).
Herptile wise, the nicest find were the many Cope’s Gray Treefrogs we saw clinging to various types of vegetation. At one point we saw one, then without moving we found another half dozen within a few feet of the first. Beyond the treefrogs, I saw a single young Common Garter Snake, a Tiger Salamander and a quick dashing Six-lined Racerunner take off and disappear down a burrow of some kind.
Lots of insects at every turn from a few meadowhawks (alas, did not find the hoped for Blue-faced) to Eastern Forktail and Slender Spreadwing damselflies, a nice cooperative Robber Fly, various butterflies from Monarchs, Least Skippers, Silver-spotted Skippers, the seemingly ever present Pearl Crescent and a good number of Meadow Fritillaries. Highlight for me was a beautiful Festive Tiger Beetle found on the paths as we crossed one of the sand prairies.
All in all, I was happy to have taken the time and drove the distance to go to here. Hopefully there will come a time when I can visit Amboy Marsh another time. Different day and different conditions generally means I’d see something new, maybe next time I’ll spot that Blue-faced Meadowhawk!