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Guide for wildlife & birding: Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife opens the picture of southern Illinois wilds

Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife provides clients with the camera equipment and good spots for viewing birds and wildlife.

A killdeer by gravel turnaround in Crab Orchard NWR, photo taken with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife equipment during a tour. Credit: Dale Bowman
A killdeer by gravel turnaround in Crab Orchard NWR, photo taken with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife equipment during a tour.
Dale Bowman

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS — As we started, Les Winkeler said, “Sit in back, that way you can take photos out either window.”

I did Sunday, taking the best wildlife photos of my life and viewing a plethora of birds and wildlife.

When Winkeler retired from The Southern Illinoisan, he planned a wildlife guide and photography business. He’s in the right spot with the biodiversity of four converging geographic regions. After a year on hold for the pandemic, Winker’s Wings and Wildlife is now launching.

“[My wife] Judy and I did it at two National Parks, Voyageurs and Rocky Mountain,” Winkeler said. “It was so helpful to go look with them rather than driving around blindly. The two guides were so good.”

We started at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. An indigo bunting was the first species.

“How familiar are you with a telephoto lens?” Winkeler asked.

Not really.

“Ok, we’re going to have a conversation,” he replied.

I picked up the basics of holding the long lens and using the focus. At Crab Orchard, there are lots of deer and great blue herons, big enough to make practicing easier.

A deer moving in and out of shadows provided good practice for using photography equipment on a tour with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife. Credit: Dale Bowman
A deer moving in and out of shadows provided good practice for using photography equipment on a tour with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife.
Dale Bowman

Taking good bird photos is tough, as Winkeler noted, “You start taking bird photos and your favorite phrase becomes, `You little bastard.’ “

Clients can use their cameras or rent his: Canon 50D and 60D cameras, Sigma 50-500 or Canon 400 mm lenses. He has Nikon Pro Staff 3S binoculars for clients.

Les Winkeler demonstrates how best to use his camera and telephoto lens at Crab Orchard NWR. Credit: Dale Bowman
Les Winkeler demonstrates how best to use his camera and telephoto lens at Crab Orchard NWR.
Dale Bowman

“Any day we go out, we should see at least 25 species,” Winkeler aid.

We doubled that.

Winkeler does a mix of driving and walking, but he said, “I don’t have an agenda, I will do whatever a client wants.”

Next, mourning dove, bluebird, cowbird, cardinal.

“Crab Orchard is 12 months a year, I would not be afraid to take a client there anytime,” said Winkeler, who will go any time, unless roads are unsafe.

“The most important word a client can say is `stop,’ “ Winkeler said.

He is deciding how to deliver photos to clients. For me, he emailed the best 15, then mailed a disc of all 330.

A nesting bald eagle photographed during a tour of Crab Orchard NWR with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife. Credit: Dale Bowman
A nesting bald eagle photographed during a tour of Crab Orchard NWR with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife.
Dale Bowman

My first surprise was black vultures, a relatively new species to southern Illinois, feasting on something reeking. Next, barn swallow, phoebe, great blue heron, orchard oriole, great crested flycatcher.

“I have suggested trips, but I will do about anything that a client wants,” Winkeler said.

Week days are easier because of less traffic.

Next crow, rough-winged swallow, red-winged blackbird, dickcissel, yellowthroat, bobwhite quail, tree swallow, killdeer, white-eyed vireo, blue grosbeak, grackle, Baltimore oriole, cedar waxwing. Both oriole species were on one mulberry tree.

“If somebody is into orioles, we will sit here for however long they want,” Winkeler said. “If somebody wants to get species, we will hit and run.”

Next, tufted titmouse, brown thrasher, summer tanager, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, blue-gray gnatcatcher, warbling vireo.

“Wear comfortable clothes,” Winkeler said. “You don’t have to wear camo, but muted colors would be nice.”

Next, crow, towhee, red-shouldered hawk. While viewing an eagle nest, we spotted starling, mockingbird, robin, turkey vulture, blue jay.

Then to Grand Tower Levee, where we added snowy egret, cattle egret, eastern wood pewee, little blue heron, red-headed woodpecker, prothonotary warbler, mallard, lesser yellowleg, eastern kingbird, house finch, field sparrow, purple martin.

In Grand Tower, we bought fresh-made sandwiches from the Fast Stop, then ate at a pavilion overlooking the Mississippi River with a view of a rock formation known by many names on the Missouri side.

In review, we missed some common species: wild turkey, wood duck, green heron, chickadee, nuthatch.

Winkeler took us on a side trip to Oakwood Bottoms, where we added goldfinch and red-bellied woodpecker.

It was time.

For details, see winkelerswingsandwildlife.com.

A cattle egret, eating along a newly mowed roadside on Grand Tower Levee during a tour with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife. Credit: Dale Bowman
A cattle egret, eating along a newly mowed roadside on Grand Tower Levee during a tour with Winkeler’s Wings and Wildlife.
Dale Bowman