Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Also, read about the dangers of Nalgene bottles here. I'm not sure what we'd do without them.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
One of the most memorable lines comes from an area man who lives with his family in a house without siding. In the last scene, he is tapping maples for syrup--all this man does throughout the series is hunt, skin game and slaughter animals (there is a bio and more about him on the Sundance site). Anyway, his youngest son says "We shouldn't cut down all the trees because we need them to breathe." The man replies: "That's right; we need them for oxygen. But don't be a treehugger. We don't want to save every tree because that's not good forestry."
Saturday, December 15, 2007
We stopped at Prairie Kame Forest Preserve and Lone Grove Forest Preserve on the way to Camelot Tree Farm. A kame is a hill-like glacial formation caused by meltwater 14,000 years ago. We nearly drove past Prairie Kame before realizing that the small hill was the destination. This is a scenic area of the un-McMansioned portion of Kane County.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Previously, I would visit each of the aforementioned sites for different purposes. NOAA's to check out the Illinois roundup, Accuweather's for the past 24 hours' temps and weather.com for current conditions and forecasts. Weather Underground includes all of this information on one page, including the daily extremes for the entire state.
I didn't realize it until recently, but Weather Underground was the weather Web site I checked in the mid-1990s on a text-based Internet browser. It started at the University of Michigan and now is its own company. It's a true Web pioneer that has not gone the way of Netscape or usenets!
Monday, November 26, 2007
The preview of the series was promising, and tonight's segments delivered nicely. Nothing ever could match "Hoop Dreams," but "Nimrod Nation" is definitely better than "Go Tigers," a documentary about football in Massillon, Ohio. One documentary that rivals "Hoop Dreams" is the PBS-produced "Country Boys," which follows the lives of two teens in eastern Kentucky during several years. There isn't a sports angle in "Country Boys," but it too traces the travails of young people in rural or low-income settings.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Second, a 29-year-old Illinois man was killed in Wisconsin while deer hunting. The cause was an accidental discharge while tracking a wounded deer. Also in that story is an account of a grandfather shooting a grandson after mistaking him for a deer. Grim stories for sure, but the dangers of hunting are always so scary. It is an endeavor where things can go horribly awry very quickly. There is no such thing as a minor hunting accident.
After these two anecdotes, a few positives to be thankful for: today's dusting of snow on the North Side of Chicago, the downy woodpecker I heard in our alley today and the golden maples leaves strewn all over our street in recent days.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
There has been a lot of local nature news of late. An aberrant green-breasted mango, a type of hummingbird, that appeared in Beloit, Wis., has been trapped and transported to the Brookfield Zoo. There also was a national story about a guy who shot a cat that was stalking a piping plover in Texas.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Artifical lakes are like non-alcoholic beer. Like many state parks in Illinois, Moraine View State Recreation Area has a large artificial lake. These dam-fed waters might be fun for some, but they only remind me that I'm in Central Illinois next to a fake lake. Moraine View actually has a nice walk-in loop in a woodlot next to the lake, though I fear it would be overcrowded in summer. The signs admonishing campers that "coolers will be searched" spoiled the wilderness experience even more for me. Still, the surrounding pancake-flat backroads of McLean County are laden with raptors and other birds in winter.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I was in the dune area just after dawn. I made one circuit through the dunes and then stood sentry on the fishhook pier overlooking the site. A couple other birders walked below and then circled toward the beach. Eventually, they flushed two sparrow-sized birds. The birds flew right at me, fluttered upward about 20 feet over my head and landed beside a big puddle about 20 yards away. Sure enough, two common redpolls, even more stunning in person than in a bird guide. These red-capped, rose-tinged birds would look great on someone's Christmas cards. Another new one for the life list.
Early reports indicate this could be a good year for irruptions of winter finches. There was an amazing flock of american goldfinches (goldfinches are not winter finches, fyi) feeding in the central meadow at Montrose this morning. There was an unusual song mixed in with the goldfinches, and it turned out it was a winter finch: a purple finch (I confirmed this through a recording on All About Birds when I got home). There were just 97 purple finches seen in Illinois' CBC last year.
All told, 25 species this morning, which is pretty good for this time of year at Montrose.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Now, I've been in Chicago all the way through autumn, and I have seen quite a bit of fall color. It's not the New England countryside, but the reds in the maples have blazed nicely. I'm guessing the yearly disappointments are because of the embellishments of state tourism photos and a mistaken nostalgia for the years of our childhoods when the colors were really vibrant. Sort of how everyone remembers winters with eight-foot snow drifts from their youth. And how it used to be a lot colder. And how it's been a lot milder in recent years. OK, well, maybe that is actually true.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
The publication is full of fascinating information. Like the high snow goose county count in Illinois was Union County with 8,000. Or that only 13 pine siskins were found on six different counts. Or that only 210 red-breasted nuthatches were tallied statewide (this is why I am so excited when I see one at a feeder in Minnesota or Michigan). Or the one pine grosbeak statewide, at Forest Glen Preserve.
Birders are known for meticulous list-making, and the Christmas Bird Count summary doesn't disappoint. One section is called "Summary of Highest Counts of Individuals for the United States." There are lots of California, Arizona, Texas, Hawaii, Alaska and Florida listings. The amazing ones include the eight northern goshawks at a dam in North Dakota, the 147 pileated woodpeckers at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the 89,000 american crows at Middle Fork River Valley, Ill. (Illinois!)
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Kids everywhere--even those residing high on the slopes of Volcan Pacaya--had pro wrestling T-shirts. They featured the stars of the "sport." The Undertaker, John Cena, Rey Mysterio. Most featured the emblem "WWF," which hasn't been used for some years since World Wildlife Fund sued the World Wrestling Federation. (The wrestlers then went to World Wrestling Entertainment.) I suppose these shirts are not licensed merchandise.
This raises a number of questions: 1) Is wrestling this popular in Guatemala? 2) How did this pirated merchandise proliferate? 3) Did all of these kids persuade their parents to buy these shirts? Way up on Pacaya, the same child asking us for a pop was wearing a John Cena T-shirt.
An aside, Rayovac logos are everywhere in these tiny villages. Do multinational battery companies really have a marketing strategy for towns 7,000-feet up in the highlands?
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Anyway, a brief review of the movie. (If you don't know the story, there's a synopsis here.) I enjoyed most the vivid characters McCandless meets along the way. A lot of the people and places were very authentic, and in many cases real people rather than actors were included. The aging hippies in California, the South Dakota farmer and the Salton Sea retiree all were realistic--though I struggled most to accept the goateed Vince Vaughn as the farmer. It's a tribute to Krakauer's reporting that he pieced this story together and tracked down all these people. I also appreciated the attention to detail: filming around the same abandoned bus where McCandless stayed in Alaska, using early 1990s fashion and lots of pay phones and letters. This is a maddening and tragic story along the lines of "Grizzly Man." Interesting that both took place in Alaska, and I think there's a line in the book from a resident Alaskan who comments on the random people that the state attracts.
Montrose and the Magic Hedge Sanctuary are always changing, in part because of the active restoration efforts but also because of natural shifts in the fluid environment along the lake. Montrose Beach Dunes, a state-protected area, has literally doubled in size in the past year. What started as a neglected pile of sand a decade ago has become a complex dune habitat that continues to grow. Here nature has taken over a disturbed habitat and expanded its reach onto a formerly groomed public beach. Thanks to a few volunteers, more acreage is protected and native plantings are recreating the ancient dune habitat that once existed along the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.
Snow buntings had avoided my life list until today. They're fairly common in Illinois in the nonbreeding season. The only "all-white songbird" breeds in the high Arctic. Today I saw two snow buntings along the new breakwall at Montrose Point. Their bright white wing patches make them unmistakable. (A note on the life list: I exclude species I've seen in the Bahamas, Central America and Europe.)
The mercury today dipped to 37 degrees. Frosts usually reach the lakefront up to three weeks later than areas 30 miles inland. A nice return to normalcy during a too-hot autumn.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Elsewhere, Openlands' future preserve along Illinois' Lake Michigan shore is making headway. This will be one of the few public access points for Illinois' morainal ravines that skirt Lake Michigan.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The great thing about Starved Rock is that it makes the outdoors accessible for people who might not otherwise go for a walk in the woods. Most of the trails are readily passable, and there is no admission fee. The park's magnificent cedar-lined bluffs and sandstone canyons are a short walk from most anywhere in the park. It's an easy day trip from the Chicago area, about 90 minutes one way. The view from the patio at the lodge is stunning. There aren't many places in Illinois where you can sit on a bluff and have a burger and a beer.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
One baseball-related comment: Why does Fox keep saying the Indians are underdogs even though they finished with the same regular-season record as Boston?
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Monday, October 8, 2007
6:38 - A late start to the diary, but it's OK as Grady Sizemore has just stepped in...and hits a long home run to center field! It feels like the first part of Game 3. Uh oh.
6:44 - Eric Wedge's new beard isn't looking that good.
6:45 - Play-by-play man Chip Caray uses the phrase "dulcet tones."
6:49 - Jhonny Peralta drives in former Ranger Travis Hafner! 2-0 Tribe.
6:55 - Good. Franklin Gutierrez is in right field again tonight. I don't care what Caray said in Game 3. Starting Trot Nixon was a bad idea.
6:59 - Former Ranger Alex Rodriguez stands in with two runners on. And strikes out.
7:03 - Former Ranger Kenny Lofton makes a nice catch for the third out.
7:09 - The Indians' Kelly Shoppach is a good No. 2 catcher. He's bunting here with two on and nobody out. The umps call a hit by pitch on a bunt attempt! Bases loaded.
7:14 - Yankees starter Chien Ming Wang is removed after just one inning. Before the game, I told anyone who would listen--OK, one person--that Wang was inexperienced in the postseason despite his 19 wins this year.
7:17 - Mike Mussina comes in for the Yankees. His best days may be behind him.
7:19 - Mussina induces a double play but the Tribe adds a run.
7:22 - Poised rookie Asdrubal Cabrera adds an RBI single! 4-0!
7:26 - I appreciate Caray's neutrality. ESPN Radio's Jon Miller gushes all over the Yankees at every opportunity.
7:31 - Who would have thought the Indians would make it this far without Keith Foulke, Andy Marte, Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers. All were key parts of the preseason roster.
7:40 - New York mounts a rally, but crafty veteran Paul Byrd gets Melky Cabrera to pop out.
7:45 - Yankees catch a break when umpire Bruce Froemming misses a checked swing call. Bases loaded, one out.
7:47 - Johnny Damon pops out for out No. 2. Whew.
7:48 - Crap. Infield hit scores a run.
7:52 - Byrd escapes, yielding just one run.
7:55 - I'm eating an apple that was grown at Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center in Hastings, Minn.
8:04 - Mussina looks good in the third inning.
8:07 - Byrd strikes out A-Rod looking. Nice.
8:16 - Shoppach hits a ground-rule double.
8:16 - Yanks coach Ron Guidry leads the American League in best-groomed mustache.
8:23 - The fundamentally sound Asdrubal Cabrera lays down a perfect sacrifice. Hafner is walked to load the bases.
8:27 - Two-run single by Victor Martinez! 6-1!
8:29 - A lot of Yankees fans got the memo tonight to wear light blue shirts.
8:41 - Caray calls Paul Byrd "dazzling." This has been a quiet dazzling.
8:47 - A-Rod records a rare postseason hit.
8:49 - Byrd through five complete!
8:53 - Indians catch a break on a Grady Sizemore infield hit.
8:57 - Caray just called Melky Cabrera "The Melk-man." Meantime, Mussina departs.
9:03 - Arli$$ is in the house.
9:07 - Robinson Cano hits a solo home run. Damn.
9:10 - I didn't need this Jon Bongiovi interview.
9:16 - Darn. Yankees start a rally against Rafael Perez with one down in the sixth.
9:20 - Perez jams Derek Jeter and gets a double play!
9:23 - Kyle Farnsworth comes in for the Yanks, and it appears he's wearing reading glasses.
9:42 - Pace of game stalls even more. Perez starts seventh by striking out Bobby Abreu.
9:45 - A-Rod cuts the lead to three.
9:53 - Perez is looking wild. I'm feeling nervous.
9:54 - Cano grounds out to first to end the seventh.
10:00 - Shoppach hits his second double of the game.
10:02 - Yankees decide to leave Jose Veras in the game. Maybe not. Here comes Mariano Rivera.
10:22 - Rafael Betancourt sets down Yanks 1-2-3 in eighth while I do knee exercises.
10:24 - Doesn't it seem like Joe Torre has been depressed for the past three years or so?
10:24 - Nice. TBS plays the theme from "Major League" while showing Indians highlights.
10:27 - Craig Sager reports that the Indians' wives are keeping away from their husbands.
10:33 - Joe Borowski was considered the big weakness for the Tribe before the series. Here he comes.
10:34 - Jeter pops out.
10:36 - Abreu homer. 6-4. Here comes A-Rod.
10:39 - A-Rod F-9.
10:40 - Posada misses a home run by a few feet.
10:41 - Posada strikes out swinging. The Indians win it, oh my god the Indians win it! They're celebrating tonight from the Appalachian foothills to the Lake Erie islands to the high ground east of Cleveland.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
I've been asked to offer opinions on the Cleveland Indians' baseball games against the New York Yankees. I will give the people what they want. There will be more to come, especially if the Tribe makes it to the American League Championship Series.
Before the series, I thought to myself: the Yankees have an unbelievable lineup, but the Indians have better pitchers. Then I thought of the simple axiom that good pitching beats good hitting. That's when I decided the Tribe would win the series. I also looked at the teams' entire rosters. The Yankees field a fantasy-quality offensive lineup, but their pitchers are either very old or very young and inexperienced. They have big names like Mussina, Clemens and Pettitte, but not much substance.
Typical Midwesterner that I am, I soon became enraged by the East Coast bias I perceived regarding the Yankees. All of the pre-series (and season-long) focus was on the Yankees and their running mates the Boston Red Sox. Young Yankees like Joba Chamberlain and Shelly Duncan had already become ESPN-generated household names. The Indians' phenoms, Fausto Carmona and Asdrubal Cabrera, both of whom had far, far superior seasons, were completely off ESPN's map. So when a swarm of midges caused the Yankees to wilt yesterday I had little sympathy. I think it was a back-breaker. Good bye, Yankees.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
This weekend I verified that red squirrels inhabit central Ohio as well as gray squirrels. We camped at a private campground outside of Mount Vernon, Ohio. This is a land of rolling hills, deciduous forests and cropland that is bisected by the Kokosing River Valley. Camping is becoming expensive. Rustic Knolls Campground charged a total of $84 for a two-night stay for four people. That's $21 per person per night. The owner cited the fact that we had two tents, a reasoning I've never heard before. Thankfully, we had a large grove mostly to ourselves.
There are a few differences between private and public campgrounds. Drinking is usually OK at a private campground. I've witnessed sketchy behavior in both private and public settings. At Rustic Knolls, dozens of semi-permanent trailers are the lifeblood of the business. There is a community there, including a hog roast on Saturday night in the rec hall. Massive pickup trucks line the lanes of the trailer park. It's not a bad spot to spend summers and weekends, but I wouldn't want to stare at RVs all day. That isn't camping.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
A very special performance took place tonight in the Camp Chicago area. The Beastie Boys played a Gala Event at the Riviera Theatre in Uptown. My quick analysis is that the Beastie Boys have parlayed a really stupid album from the mid-1980s ("Licensed to Ill") into a platform for some great music and a lot of fun. They actually still seem to like each other and their audience. The brilliant New York trio opened the show up to cameras and camcorders. I have a lot of footage and photos besides this one.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
The early meteorological autumn chill has continued in recent days. This morning, Freeport, Ill., on the edge of the Driftless Area, registered a 32-degree reading. According to accuweather.com, this breaks the previous record of 38. It was just 42 at O'Hare this morning and 36 at Aurora. Madison, Wis., and Fond du Lac, Wis., reached 33 degrees for overnight lows, and Champaign, Ill., chilled to 37 degrees (accuweather lists the record as 40). The crisp air has made for near unlimited visibility. The colors were particularly vibrant at Montrose Harbor today (above).
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The meteorological seasons begin on Sept. 1, Dec. 1, March 1 and June 1. Of course, it can be hot here in early September and frigid in early March. And brisk in early June. Still, most of us think of June as a summery month and December as a wintry one. Our climate just doesn't quite align with the solstices and equinoxes.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Also, a driftless area correspondent reports that St. Paul, Minn., is home to red squirrels. (Best I can tell, St. Paul is not actually in the Driftless Area. This is instead referencing someone who reads the blog.) In addition, roadkill observations indicate that fox squirrels do reside in Williams County, Ohio, in the extreme northwest corner of the state.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Forest City Yacht Club is a place where you can see a polka band one moment and a sleek cigarette boat (not pictured) the next. We spent the day as guests at the club, which served as a vantage point for the Cleveland Air Show, not to mention double-crested cormorants and a great blue heron. Cleveland's nickname of the Forest City has roots that extend to Alexis de Tocqueville.
Other recent wildlife highlights: two coyotes lounging in the grass along Lake Shore Drive just south of McCormick Place; a broad-winged hawk at my friend's house in Avon Lake, Ohio; red-tailed hawk, fox squirrel, turkey vulture and most notably yellow-billed cuckoo here at the homestead.
Friday, August 31, 2007
The Labor Day weekend will be spent in Northeast Ohio. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has an excellent regular birding column. Here is the latest story, this about a few area hotspots including a place I journal-ed about last year.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Still, it's not really clear why grays dominate some areas and foxes in others. "A Field Guide to Mammals" suggests that fox squirrels reside in wooded areas with large clearings and gray squirrels in hardwood forests and river bottoms. Neither description accounts for the urban and suburban squirrels. One of my early conclusions is that only gray squirrels live in intensely urban areas. If I'm wrong, let me know. Further input from other areas would be much appreciated. The fox squirrel, right, can be distinguished from the gray squirrel by its larger size (like a small house cat) and golden-tinged tail and underparts.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
While recuperating, I've had time to develop two new projects. I'll detail the first in this post. Movies often use bird songs to add a sonic backdrop to natural scenes. Most of these songs are canned, and most get the birds way wrong. Two recently viewed movies illustrate this problem. First, "Bourne Identity" includes a scene where Jason Bourne hides out at a farm in winter in central France. The call of an eastern wood-pewee accompanies the pastoral scene. Impossible. A) Eastern wood-pewees breed in eastern North America and winter in northern South America; B) In the case it was a European pewee species...no flycatcher species can subsist in a wintry climate.
In "Dirty Dancing" Baby confronts her angry father who is seated on a porch overlooking a lake in the Catskills during summer. A common loon emits a single, haunting wail. Again, impossible. A) Common loons do breed in Upstate New York, but only much farther north; B) "Dirty Dancing" was filmed in Virginia and North Carolina which only adds to the fact that this was a taped loon call.
Finally, an ode to a movie that gets it right. "On Golden Pond" includes actual common loons--footage and calls--throughout the movie, which takes place in New Hampshire in summer.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
We also spotted one of the black squirrels (we suspect there are more than one of them) carrying a hot dog bun in its mouth.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Thank you to one of this blog's most ardent readers (correspondents?) for submitting this link. Maybe one day I can offer simple "hat tips" in the way Andrew Sullivan does, for example, to the DailyKos or Huffington Post.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Meantime, a couple notes from the driftless area. Previously, I've written about my love-hate relationship with an outfitter called Acronym. After leaving Niles for Northbrook this year, Acronym reportedly is planning a location in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
In other news, Sean Penn is directing the movie version of the Jon Krakauer book "Into the Wild." The story chronicles the post-college wanderings of Chris McCandless, a 1990 Emory University graduate who abandons his possessions and winds up living in an old school bus in the Alaskan bush. Outside Magazine has a bunch of information on the production, due out next month.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Finally, diapered animals (recall the kangaroo wandering Wisconsin not long ago) have become a primary focus of this blog. Here is another story from the land of cheese.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Monday, August 6, 2007
Sunday, August 5, 2007
I've been seeking the olive-sided flycatcher for a while now. They are uncommon and reside in the north woods, but they are often seen in Chicago during spring migration. I identified it by its distinctive "quick three beers" call.
I've been in black-backed woodpecker territory before but never had seen one. The Peterson guide describes them as "scarce." I saw the woodpecker land in a tree in the island across from where we were camping. Its call was a cuckoo-like "chuk," which is unlike any of the other potential woodpeckers of the area. I immediately ruled out downy, hairy, red-bellied and yellow-bellied sapsucker. When I saw it fly, I was pretty sure it was either a black-backed woodpecker or the more northerly american three-toed woodpecker. A little research confirmed it was the former.
Birds I should have added to the life list included the boreal owl and boreal chickadee. I'm near certain I heard them both but didn't realize it at the time.
Meantime, one of the unfortunate developments of the trip was the realization that a secluded lake adjacent to where we were camped is increasingly being utilized by anglers. The lake heretofore had only been accessible by a 2.5-mile boat ride and .3-mile portage. A new road has eased ORV access to the marsh at the south end of the lake. We fished the lake four times and didn't see anyone, but we met someone who fished it on one of the days we weren't there. In general, there was more traffic in the area as commercial interests and more vacationers have begun to seep in.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
The woods and lakes were teeming with so much life; I kept thinking about the book White-Out, which is a paean to the fertility of Antarctica. I'm back on the Allegheny Plateau now, and I hope to provide a detailed trip account soon. I should have at least two new bird species to add to the life list.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Meantime, as I prepare to head to Canada, Ontario residents are concerned about the perils of backyard wildlife.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The Astana Web site bears a startling resemblance to Borat's Web site. Both are from Kazakhstan.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Also, today, another coyote ran wild in Lincoln Park (I suppose all coyotes run wild, actually).
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I'd like to blog live from one of the small towns in the vicinity. It's been five years since I've been to this place so it'll be interesting to see if any public Internet connections have been established. More updates to come!
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Still, I admire the sustainability ethos. Nau stocks a limited supply of clothing in-store and encourages customers to try on clothes, order in the store and have garments shipped to their homes (shipping is free and you get 10 percent off on the purchase). Five percent of profits are donated to nonprofit organizations, many of them local. Nau has only four locations, and Chicago's is in Lincoln Park.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
This black morph gray squirrel has infiltrated the ranks of the typical gray squirrels in our neighborhood. The grays seemed to be approaching it with caution a few days ago. If other career opportunities fail, I plan to study the squirrels of Uptown like Darwin studied finches.
Monday, July 9, 2007
If there's one universal truth it's that Southwestern Wisconsin is not Patagonia. But it is quite a scenic getaway. The above photo was taken at Nelson Dewey State Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. This is, in fact, the driftless area of Wisconsin.
Disc golf is something that hasn't previously been mentioned on this blog, though it's a passion of this blog. The disc golf course at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville incorporates the undulating terrain of the driftless area alongside a college campus. The layout includes several signature shots across broad expanses and down steep hills.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Monday, July 2, 2007
Saturday, June 30, 2007
I woke at dawn and drove to Iroquois County State Wildlife Area and the adjoining Hooper Branch Savanna Nature Preserve. I was looking for a nearby escape and hoping to see a breeding summer tanager at Hooper Branch. The ride to these places passes through the backroads of Kankakee County. Here ancient sand dunes stretch to Indiana. Much of the area has remained wooded or savanna-ed rather than cropland. Pembroke Township is a particularly fruitful birding area. The first notable sighting of the day was a northern bobwhite standing in the middle of a country road. I later heard the bobwhite's cheerful call several times from the road. The pavement begins to splinter into sandy, unpaved lanes in the southeastern part of the county. It definitely feels a lot farther than one hour south of the Loop.
Hooper Branch Savanna is located off one of these remote dirt roads. It took me about one hour to walk the loop trail at the savanna. I saw a lot of red-headed woodpeckers and blue jays. I also scared the crap out of an adult deer and a particularly miniscule fawn. I learned that deer do indeed have vocal chords, as the adult let out a couple of raspy barks as it bolted. Then, I had just passed a big oak when I heard commotion behind me, and a barred owl rose from its perch and made a beeline northeast. I had walked right under it without noticing it. In a previous post I mentioned that the tufted titmouse in particular seems less common. I was waiting near the car, hoping for a glimpse of a tanager, when I heard a titmouse for the first time in a long time.
As for the tanager, I heard a member of Family Thraupidae calling and did find the singer high in an oak. I looked hard at a bright red belly, hoping that the bird wouldn't have black wings (summer tanagers are uniformly scarlet). I caught a glimpse of black on the side. The bird eventually turned around, and it was unmistakably a male scarlet tanager with its jet-black wings.
I drove west toward Kankakee, scanning the roadside along the way. A grasshopper sparrow was singing in one overgrown area along with a few dickcissels. Also saw a covey of quail chicks next to a cornfield. In addition, the number of birds on electrical wires was overwhelming. It actually looked like the "Roadside Silhouettes" page of the Peterson guide, which shows about 20 different species on the same wire.
Next stop was Kankakee River State Park. I hadn't been before but wanted to scope it out for campchicago.net and future camping potential. In a quick drive-by, it appeared as a fairly typical Illinois state park: ballfields, pavilions, short trails. It's very wooded, and there are some modest bluffs along the river. The camping area I saw seemed OK: also wooded and fairly secluded. There is a full evaluation of the Potawatomi Campground here.
The final tally was 52 species. The final stop of the day was the Blain's Farm and Fleet in Bourbonnais.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Also, one of the seven wonders of Uptown was featured in the Chicago Tribune today. Learn more about the tunnels underneath the Green Mill on http://www.chicagotribune.com/. There's also a nice video and photo gallery available. And mentions of Suicidal Tendencies AND the Beastie Boys in the story!
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Chicago Tribune printed an insightful story Sunday on a similar issue involving bike paths around Chicago and its suburbs. There are many paths, which is great, but most also have annoying dead ends and cutoffs. The good news is that local governments and organizations are working to link up these trails.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
We did see a signed poster from Bode in the Cannon Mountain visitor center. He signed it 'Keep your eyes on me.'
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
What may be more surprising are birds on the list including eastern meadowlarks, horned larks and field sparrows. I only have 20 years or so of data to go by, but I have found these birds fairly common in the right habitat. There must have been many, many more back in the day. Also interesting are the birds that have increased their populations in Illinois. (Here's a story about the situation in Wisconsin.) These really don't come as a surprise to me. While I grew up in a different part of the Midwest, I can't recall species such as wild turkeys, turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks as being as common as they are now.
Anecdotally, a few breeding birds that are now less common in my view in the Midwest: tufted titmouse, house finch, pileated woodpecker.
More common: american kestrel, mute swan, northern mockingbird, baltimore oriole, cedar waxwing.
Here's a nice line from the Wisconsin State Journal. For me, southern Ohio is a whip-poor-will mecca:
In fact, imagining a summer evening in the fields and forests of Southwestern Wisconsin without the call of the whip-poor-will is akin to thinking of the forest-bound lakes of the North Woods without the wail of the loon.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Monday, June 11, 2007
Also, no cicadas yet in Uptown.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Meantime, catching up on reading and noticed funny ads from the Honda Element. I've uploaded one to flickr. (Click the image to enlarge.) There's one that's funnier and it involved a great black-backed gull, but I couldn't seem to find it. There are television ads available online, too, but I think the print ads are funnier. They remind me of the comic strip "Red Meat."
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
When I was in college in central Ohio, I saw an emu ambling through campus. Now, it was in the middle of a rigorous round of frisbee golf so I may have been imagining things. However, it turned out there was a nearby emu farm that had lost one of the flightless birds.
Also, no cicadas yet in Uptown.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Also, no cicadas yet in Uptown.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
CORRECTION: Ivan Basso has not admitted to doping, contrary to a previous driftless area post. Here is a quote from Basso, via The Associated Press:
"I have admitted attempted doping only. I've never taken any doping substance nor undergone any illegal blood transfusions."
Basso said he intended to participate in the Spanish doping ring busted by Operation Puerto, going so far as storing bags of blood, but never did.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Highlights of the ride up included an american white pelican soaring over the I-43 bridge in Green Bay and a male northern harrier gliding across US 141 north of Titletown. We pulled into Lost Lake campground in the late afternoon on Saturday. Of 20 sites or so at the campground, only about two-thirds were taken. We chose a site on a slight rise that offered a good deal of privacy. Trillium carpeted the forest floor in much of the Nicolet, including the area right around our site. (I've uploaded a few photos from the trip. Trillium was not camera shy.) The campground is in the middle of an aspen-maple forest. It doesn't offer direct views of the lake, but the shore is readily accessible.
Expensive fossil fuel prices be damned, we decided we wanted to see Lake Superior on Sunday. We drove an hour to the town of L'Anse, where the nearest arm of the lake comes in east of the Keweenau Peninsula. A bank temperature gauge gave the Fahrenheit reading as 54, but with a stiff wind blowing the wind chill must have been in the 30s. This didn't stop intrepid Yoopers from wandering along the shore in shorts and setting up a picnic in the town pavilion.
We stopped off at Canyon Falls on the way back toward Wisconsin. Here the rushing Sturgeon River plummets about 30 feet in a narrow gorge. I don't think pictures or a written description can really capture how green and lush the vegetation was throughout the trip. The Sturgeon Gorge was especially impressive after a rain shower.
The skies finally cleared when we settled in at camp yesterday evening. The last bit of sunset had disappeared when we heard a steady rustling in the underbrush. The noise was approaching our site. Flashlight beam showed a rotund gray animal moving steadily past the site. If it was a raccoon, it was shocking how little interest it had in us and our food. Two outhouses are just about 30 yards away, and soon we hear a steady scratching at the rear of the men's latrine. The flashlight revealed not a raccoon but a porcupine. Having never seen one before, at first glance I thought it was an incredibly mangy, weird raccoon. But it would occasionally flare the quills on its back. (We thought porkies could shoot quills but later learned this is not true.) It had a long neck and a thick, furry tail. The porcupine continued gnawing on the wood of the outhouse wall for at least an hour--apparently eating wood is part of its diet. In the morning, we saw that a large patch of siding in the shape of Australia had been removed.