GRAND TOWER — Since mid-February the Big Muddy River has inundated most of Southern Illinois.
Water flowing through the Len Small Levee breach near Olive Branch turned the western part of Alexander County into a vast wetland. The flood waters caused millions of dollars of damage to roads, homes and farmland.
Residents of the region are still cleaning up their homes, salvaging what possessions they can. While the Big Muddy River is finally within its banks, remnants of the flood waters remain, particularly in low-lying areas.
Fish, trapped by the falling water, are swimming in areas that are normally corn and soybean fields. While the overabundance of water was a scourge to the area's human population, it has been a boon to some animal species, particularly wading and shore birds.
From a wildlife standpoint, the area around Grand Tower resembles the Everglades.
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The usual Southern Illinois suspects — great blue herons, great egrets, double-crested cormorants — are abundant. However, species normally seen further south have flocked to the river bottoms.
Snowy egrets, little blue herons, cattle egrets and black-necked stilts are feeding ravenously in the pools, puddles and mud flats. Smaller shorebirds are scurrying about by the hundreds.
And, significant numbers of black-bellied whistling ducks, a resident of the tropics, have been seen in the area.