CLAYTON, Ill. -- Karen Jansen slowly backed her SUV out of the driveway while going through a checklist in her head.
Bug spray? Check.
Notebook and pen? Check.
Bird book? Oh. no.
Luckily, she had driven only a couple hundred yards or so from her rural Quincy home when she realized she had forgotten one of the most useful tools a bird watcher can have. It was the book her mother had given her as a Christmas present that offered pictures, descriptions and expected locations for virtually every species of winged wonders.
"Could I survive a day of bird watching without it? Of course," Jansen said. "Do I like to go birding without it? Of course not. Thankfully I was close enough to my house to turn around and retrieve it. Although I haven't seen anything I need to look up, I'm always hoping."
Afterwhat seemed like a frantic start to her day, Jansen settled in quietly to one of her favorite spots inside Siloam Springs State Park. There's a fallen tree on the edge of the lake near Cattail Cove that Jansen insists gives her exquisite views.
More importantly, it's where she finds an abundance of nests high in the trees and an ample food supply of waterbugs and worms that birds see as delicacies.
"It's the activity around here that I like," Jansen said. "There are times you feel like you're seeing the same birds over and over, but then you'll spot a cowbird or a chickadee or something you don't normally see. You get goosebumps when that happens."
This wasn't one of those days.
"The usual suspects," Jansen said. "Robins, cardinals, red-headed woodpeckers, the ones you expect to see. That's OK. Each and every bird, simple or unqiue, is beautiful."
Stephanie Longmeyer couldn't agree more.
"My brothers leave me behind when they go fishing," said Longmeyer, a 22-year-old Western Illinois University student from Brown County. "They laugh because I want to sit here and watch birds while they take a boat out on the water.
"There are days they come back empty-handed. I always see birds."
Occassionally, she spots something she hasn't seen.
This time, a unique sound led her on a quest to identify a bird she swore wasn't a red-headed woodpecker.
"It had red on its head, but only on the back of its head," Longmeyer said. "When I see a red-headed woodpecker, I think it looks distinguished, like an old man in a suit. This bird didn't have that vibe, maybe because it wasn't as big as much woodpeckers I've seen.
"It was definitely a woodpecker. I just don't know what kind."
It was suggested she had spotted a red-bellied woodpecker, a species with growing numbers in Central Illinois.
"I've never heard of one," Longmeyer said. "Guess I need to look that one up."
A couple hours later, she found a photo of a red-bellied woodpecker.
"That's it! I'll know it every time now," she wrote in a text message.
By keeping an eye to the sky, she'll get that chance.
Want to know which species of birds are native to the Land of Lincoln? Visit the Illinois Raptor Center's website at www.illinoisraptorcenter.org and view the Pictorial Guide to Common Illinois Birds. From songbirds and backyard birds to birds of prey and shorebirds, the guide offers a glimpse at nearly every bird known to call Illinois home.