Monday, April 30, 2012

Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve - 4.15.12 - Post 3

Okay, the next set of spottings...

Prairie Trillium (028 - 2012)
 So I first noticed Trillium in Tennessee.  I didn't think we had it up here, or at least I'd never noticed it before.  But hey, look!  The one in Tennessee was called a "Sweet Betsy".  This one is called a Prairie Trillium.  At first I couldn't see much of a difference between the two, but one of the websites I looked at made me look at the leaves closer.  These leaves are two distinct shades of green.  The Sweet Betsy has solid leaves.  It also has taller, thinner flowers than this.

Eastern Gray Squirrel (029 - 2012)
They're pretty ubiquitous around here, but I found this Eastern Gray Squirrel to be pretty adorable.

He's the original tree-hugger. :)

He didn't see me for a while , but you can see in this shot that he'd finally figured out what was going 'click-click-click'.

Which prompted him to do this.  Turn ninety degrees and hang out sideways for a good long time.  Strange little dude.  Cute... but strange.
Tiger Beetle (030 - 2012)

The arthropods and other cold-bloodeds started sticking their heads out in March when we had that freakish warm spell.  But for the most part, they've gone to ground as the temperatures have normalized.  This lone tiger beetle was the only 'crawly' I saw this trip.  There will be butterflies later, but this is the lone 'bug'.
Blue-Winged Teal (031 - 2012)

 Okay, this shot is *abysmal*, which is really disappointing.  It's a totally new species and from pictures I've googled they're cool looking water foul.  But at least now I know they're around and what I'm looking at when I see them.

It's a Blue-Winged Teal.  Teal, in this case is the type of bird it is.  Like we'd say 'duck' or 'goose' or 'grebe'.  So it's not in one of those groups.  It's in the group called 'teal.'

So, I know this shot is awful, but since I'm pretty sure I've never seen one before, I don't want to take the chance that I won't see another one.  So for now, I'll post the horrid shot, and hopefully I'll be able get better ones before migration is over.  (This was one I was glad I had the magnet board in the visitors' center to check the species on, because the picture is so incredibly bad.)

Creeping Buttercup (032 - 2012)
Okay, wild buttercups have a tendency to look a lot alike.  Now, there's a sign in the cultivated area that says these flowers are swamp buttercups, but when I Google that, I get a very different picture.  So I poked around for a while longer and what I think I actually found out in the 'wilds' was a Creeping Buttercup. If anyone is better with Illinois wildflowers and has a better idea, I'd love to hear it.  Thanks!
American Robin (033 - 2012)

So it occurred to me the other day that I'm ignoring some species because they're as common as dust around here.  Then I realized that my blog has been seen in 35% of all the countries in the world. Which means that for at least a few people, what's common to me probably isn't so common to them.

One of the things I haven't been blogging and counting are what I think of as 'the six second grade birds.'  See, when I was in 2nd grade (about 7 years old) we had to learn to identify the 6 birds we were most likely to see wild in Northern Illinois: sparrows (and they were all just lumped together, but I think mostly we saw pictures of house sparrows), robins, crows, cardinals, mallard ducks and Canada geese.  So to me, these things are just everywhere and not that 'special'.  But I should probably get them in here if I want to have as complete a record of what's around here as I can get.

Also fair to note, apparently the American maturity rate has sunk to about eleven years old and gotten stuck there long enough that they renamed this bird since I was in 2nd grade.  We learned it as the "Robin Red-Breast".  You know like the White-Breasted Nuthatch from the last post?  Well, apparently the word 'breast' is now too controversial so it's now called the "American Robin."  Dear school children and those who act like them over the name of a bird... Grow up. 

Red-Breasted Woodpecker (034 - 2012)
So from the very common to the quite uncommon.  I know I saw one last year, but that was it.  I saw one.  All year.

And apparently I never got it blogged, which makes it new for the count. :)

This is a male Red-Breasted Woodpecker.
Possibly one of the strangest names ever for a bird.

Now, given, Red-Headed Woodpecker was already taken.  But still, look at that first picture.  Do you see any red on his breast?  And it's not just a weird specimen; when you check on line, the notably red part of this bird is his head.  His chest is mostly white with maybe a bit of a rose blush.  I totally don't understand how this bird got the name he did.  (On the flipside, at least he's rare enough that he didn't have to undergo a name change to avoid making school kids giggle like crazy every time he came up in conversation.)

In this shot you can see that he has a bit of blush around his eyes and red around his beak... but still no red breast.

Okay, that's it for this post.  More sightings tomorrow.

Total Identified Species Sited for the Year: 34
Total Unidentified Species Sited for the Year: 1
Total New Species: 18

Prairie Trillium*
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Tiger Beetle
Blue-Winged Teal*
Creeping Buttercup*
American Robin
Red-Breasted Woodpecker*

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve - 4.15.12 - Post 2

So here we go with the first set of spottings from Fullersburg...

White-Breasted Nuthatch (025 - 2012)

Here's my one new bird for the walk.  I saw a lot of birds, got some good shots, but I think this was the only one that was brand new for me.

This is a White-Breasted Nuthatch.
Nuthatches and creepers are really similar birds in both shape and behavior.  The easiest way to tell them apart - mostly - is by watching them on the trees.  Creepers will *always* go head down and around in a circle.  Nuthatches will travel in any direction, their heads going the way they're going.

So, of course, I happen to catch a nuthatch that's going down the tree, head-down.  Which led to me researching creepers for far too long before I realized it wasn't one.  *sigh*

Virginia Bluebells (026 - 2012)
 I didn't realize we had wild bluebells in Illinois.  I think I've mentioned before that I love seeing blue in nature.

 One of the nice things about Fullerton, besides the indoor chart, is that they have a cultivated area where they've put in a few of each wildflower and a sign that tells you what they are.  I know I've advocated shooting the signs before.  All these shots are from places I found them outside the cultivated area, but it was really nice to get shots of the signs and the planted bits, because it makes identification so much easier when I get home.

So, the rest of this post will be about the Common Snapping Turtles I found courting when I was walking near the river. 

Putting this spotting up at was awesome, as there were some people there who gave me some great information.
Common Snapping Turtles (027 - 2012)
Neil Dazet told me, "Those 3 ridges that you see in the 2nd picture are common in this species, but they tend to smooth out and be less defined in older individuals. Also, female snappers are slightly bigger than male snappers. So it looks like an older male snapper attempting to mate with a younger female."
 Which, just... how awesome is that?  I know which species I've got, which one is which gender and their relative ages!  So cool!
 They were in the water the whole time and most of the time (and I was watching for about 15 or 20 minutes), they were 'hugging' - carapace to carapace with their legs holding on to each other - most of the time.

 During this time, I saw more soft parts of turtles (no, not like that!  Well, not that *I* could recognize anyway) than I ever have before.

They were so unconcerned with me that I was even able to sit and take some video of them.

 So you can start to see why my accidental walkabout (due to the broken bridge) wasn't the worst thing that's ever happened to me. :)  More animals tomorrow!

Total Identified Species Sited for the Year: 27
Total Unidentified Species Sited for the Year: 1
Total New Species: 14

White-Breasted Nuthatch*
Virginia Bluebells*
Common Snapping Turtles*

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve - 4.15.12 - Post 1

A second new place for me this year was Fullersburg Forest Preserve in Oak Brook, Illinois.  It's part of the DuPage County forest system, and I have to say, most of the DuPage parks I've been to have been pretty nice.

I actually came out here with a few other people and we walked, what came down to, the short loop together.  And I got another reminder why I really, really need to stop thinking I can sign up for community events like hikes and think I can shoot while I'm there.  Most people just don't want to stand around and wait for that butterfly to land for fifteen minutes.  And they don't understand why I'm willing to lay down on the gravel path to get 'eye-level' with a beetle.  So when they left I ended up, sort of on accident, doing the big loop.  Or, one of several possible big loops, anyway.

One of the great things about this place is the Visitor's Center.  While the grounds are open, it's staffed by a docent.  Next to the docent's desk is a big magnetic board with fabulous, labeled pictures of all the flora and fauna *currently* being seen, so you know what to keep an eye out for.  Even better, when you're done you can go back and put a name to what you saw.  I need to go back out on a better day (it was pretty gray and windy when I went) to look for some of the more exotic birds like killdeer and teals that they said were currently hanging out.  (I really need to find out how a little bird like that got the name 'killdeer'.  Because I promise you, it never killed a deer in it's evolutionary life. :)

One of the other cool things they have in there is a mostly-complete skeleton of a wooly mammoth.  It was apparently found in the forest preserve.  There's signage (look behind the ribs) that explains that a.) the head was always missing.  When they found the rest of her, the head was gone.  It could have been carried off by a predator, the skull could have been washed down the river, etc.. and b.) that they know it's 'her' by her hips and that she had had calves and c.) there's some debate over whether or not she was killed by people or died more naturally.  There's a big chunk of the femur missing.  Was it pried out by people?  Gnawed on by another animal?  Anyway, it's worth looking at if you stop by the visitor's center.

So, as soon as you enter the forest preserve, you're greeted with signs that a large bridge is out.  They aren't kidding.  And yet, while I was there, I saw a rather elderly jogger climb over the big barricade at the end of the bridge and walk across it.

Now, obviously this happened quite a while ago.   There are a ton of really well-done metal signs all over the place about it. 
 Even the trail signs have been redone to show that the bridge is out.

Which leads me to wonder... wouldn't it just be cheaper and faster to replace the bridge?  It's a wooden bridge across a slow moving stream that's maybe 50 feet across.

Not to mention that it is a fairly huge inconvenience to not have that bridge.  It's the only one in the center of the park.  There's one at the extreme north and extreme south ends, but once you're over one of those, the only way back to the other side is to get to other one. So if you walk from that big black spot in the middle of the map, and go west and then north and around to the eastern leg of the trail, you now *have* to do that whole southern/southeastern trail.  And by whole I mean clear down the the other big black spot in the bottom right hand corner and then back around to the middle which is where your car is parked.  It basically forces you to double your hike, unless you go part way and then turn around.  There is no other bridge over the entire length of the river.  Now, I didn't hate it entirely because some of my best shots came from the area when you're heading northwest from that bottom corner and you get to that spot where the gray trail meets that dark black trail.  But it's kind of a lousy layout if you have someone who does *not* want to walk the entire perimeter of the preserve.

The other annoying thing about these maps is that the trails branch off of each other all over the place.  There are a fairly good number of trail marker arrows (red arrows for the red path, green for the green path, blue for the blue path, etc...), but they don't do a great job of telling you which of the two paths that branch off to the right is blue and which is red.  And not one of those maps has a 'you are here' anywhere on it.  And with that bridge out, you can end up walking for quite a long while before getting back to where you started.

For some reason, this sign - mostly the white one on the bottom - amused me.  I should have gotten a landscape shot of where this thing is. (Next trip)  But it's near the bridge that's out, right next to where the trail goes along the bank of the river.  But at normal times, the river is about four feet down a very steep hill/bank.  So in order for the trail to actually flood, the river would have to rise about four feet.  Now apparently this *can* happen.  If you look at the signs about the bridge, it was a 'raging river' that took it out.  So one would assume that if the rains and weather have brought the river up *four feet*, that, yeah, the trail should probably be closed for a while.  Illinois is having a MONSOON!

But like I said, taking the long way around wasn't the worst thing ever for me.  When you get to the south end there's Graue Mill.  It's a huge, old, flour mill powered by a waterwheel on the river.

I would have gone in to take pictures, but I'm watching my nickles and dimes right now.  Too bad, since I love old historical 'stuff' like this.

Speaking of signs that amused me...

If you can't read it at the size I have it at, it says "Please keep off the mill wheel", of course, you could always click on it to make it bigger.  Really?  I mean, this thing is at least 18 feet in diameter and moving fairly quickly.  Are there enough people out there trying to prove that Darwin had a point, that they actually need a *sign* for that?

So... that's the background of the place.  I give it a pretty solid A-.  Maybe it'll go to a solid A once they actually get that bridge replaced.  Next few posts... the actual sightings I had while I was there.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Magic** Hedge, Post 2/2 - April 6, 2012

This is the last set of shot from my inaugural walk through the Hedge this spring.

Honeysuckle (2012 - 021)
 So it actually occurred to me to shoot the Honeysuckle Hedge that was the origin of The Magic Hedge Name.

I'm also just now noticing, I never explained the Magic Hedge.  (Or if I did, I did a horrible job labeling the post.)
 So Honeysuckle is an invasive species in Illinois.  I spent several hours on a work detail last year hacking a bunch of it out of a forest preserve.

It's in the Montrose Point Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary as a leftover from the days when Montrose Point housed an army base.  There were barracks where the actual hedge is now.  And to keep some measure of privacy for those who lived on the first floor, they planted the honeysuckle bushes.  When the army pulled out, they leveled the buildings, but left the honeysuckle.  Pretty soon, people started noticing that a lot of migratory birds were hanging out in this old, abandoned army location and it was reconditioned as a nature preserve.  So the actual hedge is still there, but it's the only real remainder of the old missile launching site.  So even though the honeysuckle really doesn't *belong* there, I suspect no one will pull it out due to it's connection with the site's history.

Common Blue Violet (2012 - 022)
So this is newly-blogged flower.  The Common Blue Violet.  It just so happens to be our Illinois State Flower.  So it's probably about time I got around to shooting it. :)
Cabbage White Butterfly (2012 - 023)

And my first butterfly of the season.  A little Cabbage White on a Dandilion.
This is the kind of shot that reminds me why it's worth it to drag my tripod through the woods when it's at all feasible.

These appear to be Ranunculus bulbosus or St. Anthony's Turnip or bulbous buttercup.  Normally they bloom from April until June, which means that being out and this large on April 6th is odd, but given a March that had temperatures frequently in the 80's we're finding that most of nature is about 3 to 5 weeks ahead of schedule.  These are an introduced species, but they seem to be doing quite well here in Chicago, hanging out with the other invasive from this post - the honeysuckle.  (Now all I need is a European Starling with them and I'd have an invasive species hat trick!)

Up next, a new locale and a truly ridiculous number of butterflies!

Total Identified Species Sited for the Year: 24
Total Unidentified Species Sited for the Year: 1
Total New Species: 11

Common Blue Violet*
Cabbage White Butterfly
St. Anthony's Turnip (Buttercup)*

* - New Species
** If you notice every once in a while I typo and type "Magick Hedge" with a k.  It's not that I don't know how to spell the word, it's that I had a ferret who was Magick-with-a-k for years and I wrote about her way more than I ever did prestidigitation, so my fingers got in the habit of adding the K.  Sorry for the ones I don't catch. :)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Magic Hedge, Post 1/2 - April 6, 2012

So April 6th was my first trip to the Magic Hedge for the season.  Not a whole lot there yet, and nothing *terribly* exciting, but a few new things and some nice signs of spring.

There was one thing that has me wondering what the season will be like at the Hedge.  They did a massive slash and burn.  I *do* know that burns are part of keeping a wild habitat vibrant and sustainable.  But the vast majority of the area is prairie savannah and all of the tall grasses and flowers have been taken down.  All that's there now is about a month's growth of ground cover plants.  Which means there's no real good places to look for caterpillars or butterflies.  All the birds have taken to the very high trees.

Now, maybe it'll be better in a month or so when some of the prairie grasses have a chance to recover, but right now, there's a whole lot of nothing out there.  Well, not *nothing*... but not a whole lot yet, either.

This is a House Finch.  I'm not sure if I've not seen these before or if I was calling them female Northern Cardinals.  Either way, they're new!  Yay.

House Finch (2012 - 016)

Another House Finch.  Just a different view.  Hopefully the next time I see them, I'll get clearer shots, but these guys *are* skittish.

Brown Creeper (2012 - 017)

A creeper!  My first one for the season.  There will be another one in the North Pond shots that will go up next, but here was the first.

The finch and the creeper are both birds that migrate through Chicago, so it was good to see signs of the migration season starting.  It's a few weeks early, but with the very bizarre weather we had this winter and early spring, this is not surprising.  I just hope we don't get socked with a surprise really bad cold snap that would be very bad for warm-climate birds.

Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker (2012 - 018)
The flickers have come back in.  This particular flicker is a male Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker.  His most distinguishing feature (in terms of telling him apart from other forms of flickers) is the black patches on his cheeks.

Now, I know I saw a small flock of them on the ground at Lincoln Park last year, but apparently they never made it to the blog.  I got some great shots of what looked like courting behaviors, but now when I go to look for them, I don't see them here, so I guess I never posted them.  So the good news is, it counts as a newly-blogged species. :)

It was a bit gray and cloudy when I was shooting, so my camera was jumping up to 800 ISO when on automatic settings.  Which is too bad, because this would have been a pretty good shot if it were less grainy.

Northern Cardinal.  They stay all year, and they're fairly common, but I still love seeing them.

Song Sparrow (2012 - 019)
This guy is a Song Sparrow.  Less common than the House Sparrows that we get by the millions (or so it seems).  It was awfully nice of him to turn and look at me while I was shooting him. :)
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (2012 - 020)

One of the effects of the burn is that the bunnies have all relocated.  They used to hang out in the grasses, but now they're chased into the more forest-y areas.  It makes them a bit harder to see, because at least when they were living in the grasses, they'd come out onto the paths to run and play with each other.

Just one more post for this shoot. Like I said, it was pretty slow and the savannah was gone.  So I'll keep going back to see how the habitat responds, but it could be a slow year at the Hedge. ;)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plants of Bledsoe Creek - Tennessee, Part 3

There were a fair number of wildflowers growing at this particular park.  Here's hoping my Google-fu will let me figure out at least most of them.

Columbine (2012 - 010)
 This one is columbine.  We have this one in Illinois. :)
Sweet Betsy (2012 - 011)

This is called a Sweet Betsy.  It's in the Trillium family.  The map I found for its range says it does make it up to Illnois, but I get the feeling the map filled in the whole state, even if the plant doesn't appear in all areas.  In this case, I'm guessing it stays further south in the state.  I've never seen one up here in or near Chicago.
 So these are three shots of the same plant.  As my dad and I worked our way through the forest we kept finding large piles of these flowers laying on the path.  Not off the path, just on the path.  And we couldn't find any still on the plant it came from for ages.
 Eventually we stumbled upon this one vine that still had their flowers.  It's called a crossvine.  Like the last flower, it apparently comes up into Illinois, but I've never seen anything even remotely like it up here.  The only climbing vine flowers I've seen in the wild up here are morning glories.
Crossvine (2012 - 012)

Here's a long shot of the crossvine stretching between two trees.

Rhododendron (2012 - 13)
 This is some form of Rhododendron, but from what I see around the web, that's like saying "It's some kind of dog".  There are apparently a ridiculous number of distinct varieties of Rhododendron, and figuring out exactly which one this is is tougher than you'd think.

This appears to be another version of Rhododendron.  This bush was right next to the one above.  And again, with the over 1000 varieties (as listed on one website), I couldn't pin down exactly which kind this one was.

In summary, for my goals:

Total Identified Species Sited for the Year: 13
Total Unidentified Species Sited for the Year: 1
Total New Species: 4

Sweet Betsy

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just a few last things from Tennessee - Post 4

These are the odds and ends pictures for Bledsoe Creek (which, by the way, I never did see a creek there.  There was a lake... no creek.)

 The Tiger Swallowtail and the Pipevine from the first post were actually hanging out together when we were shooting them.  That was one of the major reasons I thought the pipevine was a black morph tiger.  Just look at the accent color schemes on both - the same blue and orange dots.

American Funnel Web Spider (2012 - 014)
 Wow, I think I was actually able to research the name of a spider.  It's harder than you think.  There are a truly stupid number of different spiders out there.  Also, I kind of gave myself the heebie-jeebies while doing it because of the pictures of Black Widow spiders on the same page.  Being from Illinois, especially northern Illinois, I forget that there's a lot of really, really dangerous wildlife in warmer parts of the country.  We don't have poisonous snakes or spiders to speak of up here.  So anyway, this is an American Funnel Web Spider.

Here she is in her entrance, the stripes on her legs a little easier to see.
And here is her funnel web.  Which, honestly is what made her so easy to identify.  Apparently there's only one particular funnel-web in Tennessee. :)

Northern Cardinal (2012 - 015)
 While going through my older posts for the comprehensive lists I realized I'm ignoring things I find commonplace.  Mallard ducks, robins, red-winged blackbirds...  And cardinals.  Like the Blue Jay, I want to get a really good cardinal picture some day.  This is about as bright as Illinois constant-dwellers get.  This one was seen in Tennessee, but we do get them up north and I need to stop ignoring them just because *I* see them all the time doesn't mean everyone else does.
And as a closing note... Cyprus tree nodules.  These projections are coming up off the Cyprus tree roots.  There's something very "medieval people go to Stonehenge" looking about these odd bits of tree root.

So that was my nature-seeking in Tennessee.  Chicago's starting to warm up now so I'm getting some baseline shots.  What animals are here now, in April, so that as the migrations start in the next couple weeks, I can track the timing of various species coming and going.