A pair of Sandhill Cranes were seen mating on April 26 in the wetlands of Heron County Park in Vermillion County, IL, six miles west of the Illinois/Indiana state line. This marks the first known Sandhill Crane mating activity in east central Illinois in nearly 140 years!!
Here's a map showing the location of Heron County Park: http://bit.ly/bJZxtX
In a posting to the Illinois birding list, Illinois Natural History Survey biologist Steve Bailey noted that "This is quite a ways south of the most southern known Illinois nesting right now…at Grundy County's Goose Lake Prairie S.P."
According to "ENDANGERED AND THREATENED SPECIES OF ILLINOIS: STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION - VOLUME 2: ANIMALS" (published by the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board in 2004) the last known Sandhill Crane nesting in east central Illinois was in neighboring Champaign County in 1872!! (It also happened to be the last known nesting in Illinois before the cranes returned to the state in 1979).
Specifically, the report says:
"Former Illinois Distribution: The sandhill crane was once abundant on the large marshes in northern and central Illinois but had become very rare by the late 1800s (Kennicott 1855, Nelson 1876b). Prior to its return to the state in 1979, the last known nesting in Illinois occurred in Champaign County in 1872 (Greenberg 1980)."
The report is on the Illinois DNR website. Here's the short URL: http://bit.ly/bvx8ty. It's on page 134 of the PDF, but the page number printed at the bottom of the page on the source document says page 120.