- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

ARCOLA, Ill. (AP) - The two prairie falcons that are roosting in a crab apple stump east of Humboldt have become celebrities among the bird-watching community.

These prairie falcons were the top billed attraction on an Illinois Ornithological Society field trip that Tyler Funk of Charleston led Saturday. Funk said he and the other bird watchers were unable to spot the falcons, but did see a snowy owl and a variety of water fowl during their trip in East Central Illinois.

Funk, 55, said he started bird watching when he was child but had never seen a prairie falcon in his native Coles County until 2010. He said these falcons typically reside in open country with low lying vegetation in the western United States.

“The prairie falcons are considered to be a rare bird for Illinois,” Funk said. The bird watcher added that he and the Illinois Ornithological Society are studying the two prairie falcons to determine what has brought them to Coles County.

In 2012, Funk first spotted this pair of falcons. With the help of other bird watchers, Funk said he searched for the roosting site that winter and eventually narrowed down his search area to a crab apple stump near Walnut Grove Christian Church, which has a rural Arcola address.

Funk said he has been watching the two prairie falcons every winter since then. He said these falcons tend to have a high degree of fidelity for their nesting and winter roosting sites, so he believes the same pair has been returning to the crab apple stump year after year.

Two years ago, Funk placed a trail camera near the stump. Funk said he has been taking photos of the prairie falcons, plus videos of them preening and stretching. Funk said he might otherwise only get glimpses of the falcons as they fly a few feet above fields in search of small birds and rodents.

“The video has made for a much better learning experience than just capturing still images,” Funk said. “Having those close images has been just a lot more fun for appreciating how pretty they are and learning how they behave.”

Funk said he has been posting information about the pair of prairie falcons on the eBird online checklist for bird watching. He said this has caught the attention of bird watchers nationwide who are looking to add prairie falcons to their “life lists” of birds they have seen in the wild.

Bird watchers from as far away as New York, Ohio and Michigan have stopped by to look for the two falcons in recent years, Funk said. He estimated that he has taken more than 100 requests to guide visitors to the crab apple stump, including many visitors from the Chicago area.

“They don’t get a lot of the woodland birds we get here in Central Illinois,” Funk said of the Chicago area.

The Illinois Ornithological Society decided to organize Saturday’s field trip to give more bird watchers an opportunity to look for the pair of prairie falcons, Funk said. Despite the frigid weather, Funk said the trip drew six participants for the full day and another six joined up in the late afternoon.

Funk said they did not spot the prairie falcons in the vicinity of the crab apple stump but nearby they did see a snowy owl, which is also rare to the area.

In addition, the field trip group went on a sparrow spotting walk at the Larry Closson Habitat Area near Hindsboro and counted trumpeter swans and other waterfowl at the Universal Mines quarry in eastern Edgar County.

Funk said he and other bird watchers are always looking to see new birds and familiar favorites, and to learn more about their appearance, calls, behavior and habitats.

“It really becomes a lifelong learning experience about the birds,” Funk said.


Source: Mattoon Journal Gazette and (Charleston) Times-Courier, https://bit.ly/2i9v79l


Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, https://www.jg-tc.com

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