A Special Guest Post by Tharran Hobson
Illinois River Restoration Manager
May 2010 — During the first week of April, I was thrilled to help kick off the spring at Emiquon by assisting in the release of state-threatened red-spotted sunfish into Thompson Lake. The Nature Conservancy is committed to bringing back this fish and other endangered and threatened species at Emiquon.
Red-spotted sunfish thrive in clear waters of vegetated marshes and streams. In recent years their numbers have declined with habitat changes including changes in water quality – they are even thought to be gone from the Illinois River. The Conservancy, along with Trent Thomas of the Illinois Natural History Survey and Rob Hilsabeck of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, took the initiative to help save this species. With the help of a State Wildlife Grant, the Conservancy and partners have been working for the past two years to re-establish red-spotted sunfish populations in Illinois through breeding and relocation, primarily at Emiquon.
The program began in 2008 when 50 sunfish were transferred from Fish Creek, one of only two known remaining red-spotted sunfish populations in Illinois, to the University of Illinois. In spring 2009 the fish were relocated to rearing ponds at Emiquon, where their numbers grew to about 4,000. This April we used trap nets to transfer over 200 fish into Thompson Lake, which reminded me of my childhood days using nets to fish with my father on the Illinois River. Along with the red-spotted sunfish we also have future plans to propagate other rare species in our rearing pond at Emiquon including starhead topminnow, weed shiner, emerald shiner, and iron color shiner.
We hope that our work at Emiquon will result in the red-spotted sunfish being removed from the state-threatened species list. Red-spotted sunfish produced at Emiquon are also being reintroduced at the Conservancy’s Spunky Bottoms Preserve, Hennepin and Hopper Lakes, and to the original Fish Creek location.
Other rare wildlife finds a safe haven here at Emiquon, from pumpkinseed sunfish to spotted gar, rails, horned grebes, and migrating American white pelicans. Fishing enthusiasts who come to Thompson Lake find a large and diverse population of fish, from rare, non-game species to larger game fish.
Update from Jason:
As fishing season continues, parking is currently available in a designated grass area. The regular parking lot will be available again once water levels are further reduced.