Mason County

Chautauqua NWR

Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is well known to Illinois birders for waterfowl and shorebird concentrations. The water in the various pools is regulated, and if dropped at the right time of year the habitat can be outstanding for shorebirds. Even if the water levels are fairly high, there are usually mudflats in the SW corner of the upper pool (north of the crossdike). There is a small island and usually mudflats in the NE corner, viewable from the dike at Goofy Ridge. There are parking lots and trail access at the east end of each dike.

In season, and when proper habitat is present, this can be the best place in Illinois to find large shorebirds such as American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Hudsonian Godwit. Red-necked Phalarope and Wilson’s Phalarope have been found here in numbers some years. Very rare vagrants that have been seen here include Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper. Gulls also concentrate here, and Franklin’s, Sabines, Little, Lesser Black-backed have been recorded at Chautauqua. The south pool can have tens of thousands of waterfowl during migrations and is one of the best places in the state to see large numbers of Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose and Northern Pintail.

The area around the headquarters can be very good for migrating land birds, and there is an observation tower where you can get a good view of the south pool. The woods around the Goofy Ridge access can also be very good during migrations. Breeding birds here include Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Screech Owl, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

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