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Blackbird insanity: Millions of birds in Mascoutah, IL
HD VIDEO: March 3 and 4 - Millions of blackbirds
This is a consolidation of blog posts on the Blackbird flock in southwestern Illinois near St. Louis - photo galleries are below
On Tuesday, March 2nd, I decided to try out a grocery store I hadn't yet been to in the town of Mascoutah, which is about 6 miles southwest of New Baden. (Mascoutah is in St. Clair County, about 20 miles east of downtown St. Louis.) The 'county road grid' here is paved and well-maintained, in this case making those roads a faster route than taking the Interstate. On the way past the bare cornfields, I encountered a huge flock of several thousand blackbirds, more numerous than anything else I'd seen in nature before. I spent the next 45 minutes following and shooting photos of this mass of birds. I was impressed enough with it that I decided to return the next day for more photos.
On the evening of Wednesday the 3rd, I found a similar-sized flock of birds and followed them as they flew west. The prairies of Illinois consist of flat, open farmland that is mostly devoid of trees until you encounter a river, stream or lake. In this case, Silver Creek, which runs north-south just west of Mascoutah, is one of the more wooded spots in the area. When I reached Silver Creek, I ran into 'blackbird armageddon'. This made what I'd seen the day before seem like nothing. Literally millions of birds were flying southward along the creek in a single, unbroken mass about a quarter mile wide, flowing like a river in the sky. Photos didn't do this justice, so I shot several minutes of video. The 'river of birds' was in progress when I got to the creek, and flowed continuously for at least 10 minutes afterward.
I found some sources online that said that the birds would leave their roost at sunrise in an even more abrupt mass than the craze at sunset, so I returned to Silver Creek at around 5:45AM CST on the morning of the 4th to wait for the show. The sources I'd read were exactly right - the rush of birds was even more intense than the evening before. The video of this tells the story more than anything. The video starts at Silver Creek near Mascoutah just before sunrise, and follows the flock as it moves northeastward into the prairies toward New Baden. As the stream of birds passed over, many would land in the trees until the limbs were filled to capacity. Then, thousands of these birds would take off simultaneously with a loud roaring sound that you would never expect small birds to be able to make.
In all, this was an amazing experience that will rank high on the list of the things I've seen in nature.
From March 3rd and 4th (click thumbnails to enlarge):
This was the first flock I saw on Tuesday the 2nd, flying westward between New Baden and Mascoutah. At the time, I thought that even this size of a flock was impressive (click thumbnails to enlarge).
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