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Horseshoe Lake — Madison County — has some issues.

First, there is this identity crisis thing. There are two Horseshoe Lakes in Illinois, located about 150 miles apart. Further complicating matters, both are located just a mile or two from the Mississippi River.

The similarities don’t stop there. Both are shallow oxbow lakes and both are waterfowl havens.

Second, Horseshoe Lake — Madison County — is located in a unique area. To the north are the oil refineries of Wood River and Roxana and the industrial complex of Granite City. To the south is the crumbling urban structure of East St. Louis.

Yet, Horseshoe Lake — Madison County — is a true wildlife magnet. Despite its urban environs, perhaps because of its urban environs, flocks of waterfowl and wading birds flock to this 2,400-acre lake. The lake is a waterfowl hunting hotspot. Remarkably several of the duck blinds afford outstanding views of the St. Louis Arch and skyline.

Not as scenic as its Alexander County counterpoint, nonetheless Horseshoe Lake — Madison County — is home to nearly 300 bird species. It is one of the few places in Illinois a person can see snowy egrets or Eurasian tree sparrows.

But, it is the waterfowl and wading birds that make Horseshoe Lake a popular attraction with birders. In addition to a wide array of species, a paved road cuts the lake in half and borders the north and east section of the lake, making wildlife viewing from the car a simple, and rewarding, process. There are also several small ponds bordering the northeast corner of the lake that holds waterfowl and wading species.

In the fall and winter months, virtually every species of waterfowl — ranging to Canada and greater white-fronted geese to Goldeneye and hooded mergansers can be viewed from the car window.

Songbirds and wading birds are plentiful in the spring and summer. The variety and numbers of wading birds remain surprisingly high during the summer. The best viewing for wading birds is generally south of the road that divides the lake.

A late-June visit to Horseshoe Lake revealed a large flock of white pelicans. White pelicans have become a springtime fixture in Southern Illinois, but most head to their northern and western homes by mid-May.

On the same visit, mute swans were seen gliding along the glass-smooth surface of the lake. Closer to the shore, graceful great egrets hunted for fish and lizards among the lily pads. A surprising number of snowy egrets populated the riprap.

Less numerous were green and little blue herons.

Again, the variety and quantity of wildlife make a drive to Madison County worthwhile. Horseshoe Lake is located just off Illinois 111, sandwiched between Madison and Granite City.

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Sports editor

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

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