Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Pelican 4

A white pelican soars across a small patch of open water at Crab Orchard Lake.

Les Winkeler

An early errand already completed, I stood on my driveway Monday morning.

It was a Chamber of Commerce kind of day — the sun shone brightly. The air was cool, crisp by late July-early August standards.

One thing was certain — this was not a morning to waste in the office.

This would be a perfect day for a drive around Mermet Lake, I thought. Or, Glen O Jones, or Sahara Woods, or Turkey Bayou, or Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

Eventually, I opted for Crab Orchard. It proved to be a good choice as there were white tail fawns grazing in the fields and white pelicans soaring over the lake. But, the actual sightings aren’t the point of this story.

It’s amazing to live in an area where there are so many incredible options for wildlife viewing.

And, the brief litany of possible destinations listed earlier barely scratches the surface. Dixon Springs State Park, Pyramid State Park, Giant City State Park, Ferne Clyffe State Park, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Murphysboro, Dolan Lake and the Rend Lake complex are all within an hour’s drive of home.

Think about that for a moment.

Granted, Southern Illinois doesn’t offer the breath-taking views of a Yellowstone, Glacier or Grand Teton national park, but you can’t drive 30 miles in any direction without bumping into a state park or national wildlife refuge.

That thought crossed my mind as I puttered along Refuge Drive Monday morning. All of us take the natural beauty and diversity of this region for granted on a daily basis.

The white pelicans at Crab Orchard are a prime example. That sighting was unexpected, but in Southern Illinois, the unexpected can be the norm. There are few limitations on what you might see.

Drive to Kaskaskia Island, you could see a whooping crane, a little blue heron or a Hudsonian Godwit. A trip to Turkey Bayou could result in an anhinga sighting. As for Mermet Lake, you can see anything from a mink, to a common moorhen to a prothonotary warbler.

Or, even taking wildlife out of the equation, there are the blooming water lilies at Mermet, the stately cypress trees at Horseshoe Lake or the spider worts or French’s shooting stars at Giant City.

Finally, there is just the amazing topographical diversity — iconic Camel Rock at Garden of the Gods, the Cache River’s cypress swamps or the imposing limestone bluffs of Inspiration Point.

With all those potential adventures, it really is difficult to drive to the office in the morning.

For the record — I made it to the office Monday morning … eventually.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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