Sunday, May 2, 2010

Reelfoot to Hilltop

Upper Blue Basin
Reelfoot Lake is a complex of three shallow natural lakes called basins separated by bayou-like ditches (some natural and some man-made). Blue Basin is located to the south, while Buck Basin is in the middle with Upper Blue Basin to the north.  The lake complex was reportedly formed as a result of the massive New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812 (Reelfoot Rift)
Bald Cypress boadwalk
Today Reelfoot is divided up into three management areas. Reelfoot State Wildlife Area and Reelfoot Lake State Park include the Blue Basin. Upper Blue Basin and Buck Basin are adjacent to Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge.
Indigo Buntings littered our site. Not good for kids or dogs
but great for birders.
We stayed at Reelfoot in the mid-90’s at the state operated motel. Sitting atop raised pilings, each room had an outdoor deck that opened out onto the cypress swamp (only a birder would fully appreciate this!). The motel unit was closed due to a fire in late 2008. Contingent on receiving more state funding it may be repaired and reopened. However, with our RV in tow, we didn’t need the motel this time. We stayed in the main campground located on the southwest corner of Blue Basin.
Diamondback Water Snake (top) Northern Water Snake (bottom)
Up until 2003 Reelfoot was the world’s only legal commercial fishery for crappie. These days the principle use is for sport hunting and fishing. The lake is quiet since the use of jet-skis and water skis is forbidden. A common sense move, as much as an esthetic one - shallow basins have many snags and snakes.
 Black Bayou Refuge
We found the accommodations at the state park to be, well, very accommodating. Our two-night stay allowed us ample time to explore the area and to reach another birding milestone of sorts. On 4/25/99 in Texas we both had a heard-only Swainson's Warbler, which never showed itself. It’s been a nemesis bird ever since. After searching in earnest in TX, LA, and MS, one popped up in plain view and sang for us in the Black Bayou Refuge, part of the Reelfoot complex. This life bird addition rounded out Carol's ABA sweep of warblers (excluding two MX specialties that show up less than once in a blue moon in the lower 48). Tom needs to see one more, a the Hermit Warbler. Its range includes the Pacific Northwest. Not a life bird – but it will be his last ABA warbler tick.
After departing Reelfoot Lake State Park on Thursday, we made a swing through the federal portion where we found still more impressive drives and trails associated with the property. We added another tough to see species: Kentucky Warbler.
Our drive to Reelfoot had been very windy. Battling head or side winds tends to distract from an otherwise scenic drive. Fortunately we enjoyed southerly winds during our drive north into Illinois.
Zebra Swallowtail (top) Red-spotted Purple (bottom)
When we arrived at Hilltop RV we spied a familiar rig – it was the Smiths. Karen and Jerry had arrived three days earlier. Nice reunion ensued as we got caught up on birding updates as well as news about our mutual friends from Bentsen who have scattered for the summer. They also had some good tips on local birding. We added tough to see Prairie and Cerulean Warblers.
We spent Friday roaming the back roads including Ferne Clyffe State Park. The roads reminded us of areas around Baxter’s Hollow and the river valley near Wyalusing State Park in southwest WI. Rolling hills, heavily wooded lanes and now we were finally beginning to see familiar northern wildflowers in bloom. The Shawnee Hills region of southern Illinois has several wineries so we combined birding with a stop at the Owl Creek Winery to restock our cellar. Owl Creek is not only the oldest winery in the region but all the wines it produces are from its own vineyard.
Broadhead Skink
That evening we drove into town for dinner with Karen and Jerry then back to the rig to hunker down for another night of severe weather. Radar and TV reports indicated nearby tornado activity and severe thunderstorms with high winds. Fortunately we dodged another bullet – all we had to contend with was heavy rain, lightning and very loud thunder. Carol spent a good part of the evening online bolstering her courage by chatting with friends on Facebook. Another great use of social networking.
Two more overnight stops in Illinois before we’re back in WI on May 3…

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