Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cyclone wars

Thankfully we have survived the Great Lakes Cyclone. The wind has been blowing steadily from the west for more than 36 hours. We did set a record for barometric pressure at O'Hare. The skies have been bizarre--and beautiful--as evidenced by this photo from the ride home yesterday. It's strange in that this storm hasn't been accompanied by much precipitation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reversing course

Like the Chicago River in 1900, the blog is changing direction. Rather than being a remora to asian carp and other stories, the blog will include more first-person accounts of the natural world and occasional speed research like the pitcher plant post. This might mean fewer posts overall, but more original content. So we say goodbye to the carp by posting photos of the Chicago River lock at Lake Michigan, from an architectural river tour this summer, a lock that is literally in the middle of the issue. And we brace tonight for a storm that is on par with the one that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Starting pitcher

We saw a pitcher plant when we were at Volo Bog two weeks ago. They were right along the boardwalk in the middle of the bog, where the water/soil/peat is too acidic for most plants. I did a little research and it turns out New World pitcher plants are members of the Sarracenia genus. They are made of rolled leaves rather than leaf tendrils like the Nepenthes pitcher plants. The pitcher plants we saw presumably were Sarracenia purpurea, one of eight North American species. All of the other species are in the Southeast, but purpurea extends north and west into Canada. We are at the southern extent of its range. It's fun to imagine Volo Bog as a tiny bit of taiga in Illinois.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bog blog

Volo Bog is a relic of the Ice Age about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. A massive chunk of ice was stranded here ages ago and left behind the makings of a rare ecosystem. We visited yesterday on a warm, sunny fall day.

The 1,000 acre park includes much more than the bog habitat--prairie, upland forest, savanna to name a few. The open water of this quaking bog, which makes it so unique, is roughly the center of many concentric rings of differing habitat. Around the half-acre of open water is a dense stand of tamarack that includes sphagnum moss and carnivorous pitcher plants. We walked a 2.75-mile loop trail and a half-mile boardwalk that leads to the circle of open water.

The wildlife highlight was a glimpse of a great horned owl, in broad daylight, flying up from the trail about 100 yards from us. We also saw two sandhill cranes very close to the boardwalk and great egrets, green-winged teal and mute swans.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Seeking birdies

I've written before about how golf courses are good spots to espy wildlife. Yesterday was a glorious day in Chicago, sunny with temperatures in the upper 70s. I was fortunate to play a late afternoon round at Marovitz Golf Course, the historic Waveland Avenue course. It may be one of the most unique courses in the country, fitting snugly into the space between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive at about 3600 North. Many of the holes offer stunning backdrops of high-rises and historic buildings and of course Lake Michigan. All the better with leaves turning orange and purple and red.

It's also a great spot to encounter the natural world--I've seen a fox on the course as well as lots of birds. My favorite spot is the pond on the sixth hole (above). There I've seen beavers and sandpipers and night-herons. Yesterday, a great blue heron. Until this year, there was wonderful tangle of woods between the pond and Montrose Harbor (roughly where the green isthmus appears above). It was a place where the golf course dumped tree stumps and logs and was generally left alone. New management, I believe, carved a little road into the area and took out all the undergrowth and trees. It was a great migrant trap, and I enjoyed hanging out here peering into the grove from the other side of the golf course fence.

Still, the golf course itself nearly matches Montrose Point, about a quarter-mile away from the sixth hole, in terms of birding possibilities. Yesterday I saw my first dark-eyed juncos of the season, as well as brown creepers, fox sparrows, kinglets and hermit thrushes. The sixth hole, though, now has a better view of the harbor.