A Nature Journal Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/rss.xml Hidden Treasure https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_13815/ Tue, 26 Feb 2019 14:09:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_13815/
It's not easy to hide 1,000 acres of wooded ravines and bottomland. And to be sure, the area is on maps, so the existence of these acres is not exactly a secret.

Yet the 1,000 acres that comprise the Warbler Ridge Conservation Area are unknown to just about everyone outside Coles County where they are located.

Purchased over a period of six years by the Champaign County-based conservation organization Grand Prairie Friends, the parcels of land that make up Warbler Ridge represent a unique Illinois natural area.

Situated between the city of Charleston and Fox Ridge State Park, the area owes its unusual topography to the glaciers that covered the land tens of thousands of years ago, and the river that drained the water from the melting glaciers.

During the last ice age, the Wisconsin glacier extended south as far as the middle of Coles County. There it stopped, leaving a massive ribbon of glacial debris known as the Shelbyville Moraine. Some of the water from the melting glacier drained south via the Embarras River, which cut through the moraine. Water running into the Embarras eroded the land, forming the deep ravines of Warbler Ridge and the surrounding region.

"That's all very interesting," you may be thinking. "But aside from the geology lesson, what does that have to do with me as a Master Naturalist?"

I'm glad you asked! Warbler Ridge may be unknown to all but a few, but Grand Prairie Friends doesn't want it to stay that way. So let me tell you a bit about what you might see if you visit.

First, there are the wooded ridges and ravines. Even if there were nothing else, these alone would be worth a trip. It's hard to beat the feeling of peace and relaxation that comes from a hike through the woods in summer. But then, as if to show you that the woods are not one-dimensional, summer turns to fall and the forest puts on a spectacular show of fall colors.

Winter can be a bit dreary, but once April rolls around the woods provide a whole new array of attractions. Early spring is actually a wonderful time to look for birds. The leaves are not yet out on the trees, giving hikers an unobstructed view of birds, a view that would not be possible later in the year.

Hikers who look down as well as up are in for many more treats. Spring is the time for ephemeral wildflowers to make their appearance. The Warbler Ridge Conservation Area has been surveyed to assess its floral diversity. Over 100 species of plants were identified in the original 144 acres of woodlands purchased by Grand Prairie Friends. With the addition of bottomland and more forested areas to the site the total now is considerably higher.

Looking down has rewards at other times of year as well. Many colorful mushrooms and other fungi are abundant on the forest floor and on fallen tree branches. Although some are easy to see, most are small and not immediately obvious. Animals such as Eastern box turtles are also abundant, though not so commonly seen.

But suppose that, although you love nature, you don't love the thought of hiking up and down to climb into or out of ravines. Warbler Ridge has something for you, too.

The Embarras River was not only responsible, albeit indirectly, for the striking ravines eroded out of the surrounding land, it also carved out a wide floodplain of its own, land that floods just about every spring when the river swells with snowmelt from winter.

The plant and animal life on this bottomland is, as you might expect, completely different than that found in the forested areas. Plants that grow there must be able to withstand annual inundation. And the animals must be able to thrive in open areas with few trees and a different collection of plants than are found in the adjacent forests.

Life is certainly versatile, though, so if you hike along the river, there will be plenty to see. The Embarras River itself is worth a glance. Except for the spring when it floods, the river is a placid, slowly moving stream that exudes a sense of tranquility. The unimproved trails along the river afford many beautiful views.

If you like flowers, hiking along the river may be just the ticket for summer or fall hikes. Woodland flowers are at their peak beauty in the spring. They leaf out and flower to take advantage of the sunshine that reaches the forest floor before the leaves appear on the trees. By early summer, they are mostly gone.

The bottomlands along the river, on the other hand, have a different flora, and many of the flowers there bloom well into the summer and early fall. For an attentive Master Naturalist, this pattern of flowering can be instructive.

Flowers bring insects. Hence, not only will you see a different collection of flowers in the bottomland than in the forest that cloaks the ridges and ravines, you will likely also see many more insects, and different ones than tend to inhabit the woods.

But that's not all. Where there are insects flying around there are predators that would like to make lunch or dinner of them. That means spiders and their webs. If you hike there in the fall you are likely to encounter many webs. Orb-weaving spiders, though many are only an inch or less, legs included, often spin large webs, several feet in diameter. These webs can be quite beautiful, especially when backlit by the morning sun.

Unfortunately for hikers, the webs are usually positioned across open areas –such as hiking paths. If you're not careful, you may walk right into one. The spider is unlikely to get on you because something as large as a person in a web will simply cause the spider to run off to the edge. Most people just don't like to deal with strands of a spider's web on their faces or in their hair.

Of course, as a Master Naturalist your reaction to a spider's web may be to whip out your notebook and camera rather than saying "ugh!" If we learned nothing else from our Master Naturalist training it is that there's always something new to learn about in nature. Even if it's in the form of a yucky spider web.

So there you have it, 1,000 acres of Warbler Ridge Conservation Area in a nutshell. Just kidding, of course. Even a much longer article would only begin to scratch the surface in describing the natural wonders to be found in this amazing site. Take a look at the map here and go for a visit. When you do so, bring a friend or five. If you love being out in nature, you won't be disappointed.

You can get more information from the Grand Prairie Friends website. Check it out.

This blog was written by East Central Illinois Master Naturalist Fred Delcomyn (2017). It can also be found in our volunteer driven newsletter Field Notes. Find more from Field Notes here!

Are We There Yet? https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12958/ Fri, 03 Nov 2017 09:39:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12958/ Story and photos by Roger Inman (2010)

As a group we Master Naturalists are a hopeful bunch. Just about all of our work anticipates future rewards. And so it is with the "pollinator pocket" my wife Cathy and I began two years ago. First, of course, we had to go to the Grand Prairie Friends plant sale. We got a Missouri ironweed, a milkweed, a cup plant, and a fourth plant which did not survive (probably New Jersey tea), all encircling our city street lamp. Unfortunately, we don't have much sunlight in our yard. The easement around the streetlight was our most promising location for prairie plants. The cup plant and the Missouri Ironweed were the only two that bloomed last year. But we are ever hopeful.

In the process of making the pollinator video last year (https://youtu.be/IrEIUKoi16g) we expanded our modest plot and covered it with dried leaves from the maple trees that were responsible for our shady yard. Again, we went to the GPF plant sale in the spring and added about a dozen new plants, including three New Jersey teas. I also put a short wire fence around the area to deter rabbits.

The waiting began. Waiting for the plants to grow. Waiting for them to flower. Waiting for the pollinators to arrive.

The New Jersey teas still don't look like they've grown at all, and one even died. Blooming was another story. The cup plant, now with six stalks up to maybe seven feet tall, is loaded with yellow flowers. The black-eyed Susans are also in full bloom. The great blue lobelias are actually showing some blue, and the Missouri Ironweed is teasing us.

I feel like the kid in the car who constantly pesters his parents. "Are we there yet?"


I feel the same about the ECIMN. Over the last year Maddie Kangas has done a great job keeping us on track and organized. Almost a year after losing our founder and leader, Sandy Mason, now we have gained a new educator, Ryan Pankau, and an expanded relationship with Trent Hawker. Our membership is growing, dedicated, talented, energetic, and forward-looking. We might as well accept it. We'll never "get there" because what we do, whether planting, removing invasives, improving habitat, or mentoring new MNs, is always forward-looking. I wouldn't have it any other way. But I would like for the Missouri ironweed to bloom soon, and then the goldenrod.

Invasive in Paradise https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12710/ Fri, 07 Jul 2017 08:31:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12710/ While hiking the trail along the rim of Kilauea Iki volcano crater on the Big Island of Hawaii last July, we came across a dazzling beauty of a plant. It had multiple tiers of yellow flowers off a single central stem. As we neared the end of the trail, we came across knobby growth covering large areas of the floor of the tropical forest. We stopped a passing park ranger to ask what it was. She explained that these were one and the same plant—Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum). It is native to the Himalayan area, and brought to the Hawaiian Islands in the nineteenth century for its ornamental value—its root is not edible. This beautiful plant is the second-most invasive plant on Hawaii—Faya Bush or Fire Tree (Morella faya) tops the list. Kahili Ginger grows very quickly and chokes out the understory native vegetation, including trees—much like Illinois' bush honeysuckle! The park service is battling the plant by cutting it close to ground level and treating it with herbicide, followed by continued trimming of the regrowth that eventually kills the plant—a very labor intensive effort.

Story by Joe Niernberger (2015) and Carol Jo Morgan (2006)

Photos by Joe Niernberger

Kingfisher Attack https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12684/ Tue, 27 Jun 2017 09:25:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12684/ A two-century-old homestead site, turned into a public garden, once had a large wood lot for fuel. The wood lot, part of the upland forest along the upper reaches of the Sangamon River corridor, is now declining. Huge earthbound white oaks spatter the wood lot's western cusp with snags and declining limbs in the canopy. This is where a pair of kingfishers perches year after year, peering down on a small landlocked koi pond not more than one hundred feet away.

The koi minnows appear like orange beacons in the murky water, easy prey for the kingfishers; and an oriental-style footbridge crossing the pond makes a perfect place to dine. The kingfishers take turns dropping from a dead branch high in the canopy, opening their wings in a free fall flight. One of them swoops down, descending upon the pond, and catches an orange and white spotted koi minnow nearly as big as the kingfisher's body. Like a "hot shot" pilot, the kingfisher ascends, maneuvering under the bridge going into a half barrel roll to position itself for a landing on the bridge handrail closest to its mate perched high in the oak tree. The minnow is still wiggling and flopping in the kingfisher's beak. Putting on a show for its mate, it flips the minnow several times so that the minnow's head is facing down the kingfisher's throat. Then the kingfisher starts banging and hammering its dinner on the iron rail of the bridge until it is lifeless. In two or three choking gulps, the minnow is down. In an almost duplicate flight pattern, the kingfisher's mate takes and eats another minnow. Minnow number two is gone.

This feeding ritual takes place over and over again each morning and early evening, every day until the young are raised. Large koi produce thousands of offspring every season, which would overpopulate a small pond very quickly. The pair of kingfishers is beneficial to the health of the pond and the uneaten koi minnows. So, it's a win-win situation for the kingfishers and the koi pond, except for the minnows that disappear… sushi.

Story by Larry Beckett

Photos by Nancy Harmon

How One Master Naturalist Changes Our World https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12652/ Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:02:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12652/ INVASIVE SPECIES REMOVAL

Much of the work over the last year has focused on the removal of invasive and/or aggressive plants along the Copper Slough. The work initially focused on the removal of honeysuckle, autumn olive, multiflora rose, and willow. This was followed by a big initiative to remove poison hemlock and, as the season progressed, giant Ragweed.




Last year, none of the multiflora rose, autumn olive, honeysuckle, or poison hemlock set seed along the stream corridor from Bradley Avenue south to the bridge. Of those species, only the poison hemlock should require major efforts to control along the stream over the coming year. My hope is to remove the rosettes early in the season, continue to exhaust their remaining seed bank and encourage the growth of native species. Giant ragweed likewise will require major efforts again this year. Hopefully, we can get them out while they are still small and, ideally, deplete their existing seed bank over the course of the summer.


Other species of concern along the stream have included minor infestations of Star of Bethlehem, teasel, Canada thistle, and crowned vetch. All seemed to be under control at the close of last year's season.


My earliest work at Heritage in the fall of 2015 focused primarily on the area originally designated organic at the south end of the prairie. In the first few months, I removed over 300 callery pear trees in addition to clearing a large patch of crowned vetch. The area cleared from crowned vetch and callery pear removal was replanted with a seed mixture provided by Bruce Stikkers of Pheasants Forever. It filled in very nicely. Because both crowned vetch and callery pear respond to burns with aggressive growth, I asked that we wait and get these species under control prior to burning. Hopefully, that area can be scheduled for burning in the fall of 2017. Plans for the coming year include monitoring the area and removing any remaining crowned vetch and callery pear, getting an earlier start for ragweed removal, thinning/removing much of the common goldenrod, and keeping the poison hemlock and wild parsnip under control.



Dodds Park

While the Dodds Park area is beset by infestations of a number of aggressive, invasive, and unwanted species, it is very rich in wildlife of all kinds: many, many species of birds, crawfish and other aquatic life, but most particularly, insects. A few days before the Fecon mower came through, I walked the entire stream through Dodds Park to Parkland. The whole area was alive with insect life. Swarms of insects were everywhere along the entire stream corridor. While I haven't been closely following the movement to promote pollinators, it has occurred to me since that what we have there may potentially be the county's largest pollinator pocket.

Trash Pickup

Keeping and clearing litter out of the Copper Slough appears to be one of the area's biggest challenges. While there may be some littering and dumping in the park itself, its been my impression that much of it is blown in from around the city. I contacted David Oliver a year ago about potentially organizing regular cleanups of the surrounding areas through the Keep Champaign Beautiful Program. At the time, he was focused on the Boneyard Cleanup and too immediately preoccupied to do any long term planning. Perhaps this is something we could work on this year after the Boneyard Cleanup is finished.


Three people besides myself have expressed an interest in stewardship at Heritage Park. Leslie Penner has been coming on her own to pick up litter throughout the park. Creel Lancaster has come to most workdays and been involved with removal of invasive species along the slough for more than a year. Julie Niesset of UIUC's Wetland Ecology Group at the Prairie Research Institute has also expressed an interest in being involved with planting and restoration along the stream corridor.



Important Refuge for Wildlife

One of the most amazing aspects of working along the Copper Slough has been the opportunity to observe the area's rich populations of wildlife. While its hard to imagine the Dodds, Heritage, Kaufman corridor as serving an important role as an urban wildlife refuge in southwest Champaign, it very much appears to be filling that function in our community. A few of the species that have been observed there include muskrats, mink, coyotes, herons (blue, green, and crowned), redtailed hawks, and mallards. To the extent that food and habitat for wildlife is an important goal of any conservation efforts, it is hoped that future developments will allow the area to continue serving this important function.

Interagency Cooperation

As HIPP and its member organizations continue to make inroads on educating about and eradicating invasive species within our communities, the need to work with others across property boundaries becomes more evident. For optimum effectiveness, we will need to work closely with Parkland, the city of Champaign, and adjacent landowners. Its also to be hoped that the focus will expand to embrace the larger issues of ecology and the broader perspectives from which the health of our environment can be enhanced.

Natural Areas Committee

Over the last year, I have served on the Urbana Natural Areas Committee. As I understand its function, it serves as a citizen's advisory, with a two-way flow of information. It would be wonderful if the Champaign Park District had something similar. These photos were taken at Heritage Park along the Copper Slough. One of the things that excites me most about doing restorations is finding plants like these that nobody planted, but somehow or other just found their way back home spontaneously as the invasive species were removed.

Elizabeth Kirby (2014)

Editor's note: If you're like me, you're inspired by Elizabeth Kirby's amazing energy and commitment to our natural world. This story comes from her report to the MN board about her past work and upcoming projects. Hope you will join Elizabeth on one of her many workdays!

Meet the White Dogtooth Violet https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12623/ Mon, 05 Jun 2017 10:52:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12623/ You might actually know this plant more for its mottled leaves than for its flower. White Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium albidum, is a delicate, early spring, native perennial; it is usually found in colonies and has an affinity for moist soil on gentle woodland slopes. The word "Dogtooth" appears in the name since the plant grows from a small edible corm which some folks think looks like a dog's tooth. The word "Violet" appears because the flower in some ways resembles a violet. But perhaps a better common name for the plant, one which seems more logical, is White Trout Lily, given that the species is a member of the Lily family, Liliaceae, not the Violet family, and the leaves are generally mottled like trout. Well, that's behind us!

The basal leaves are really attractive — up to 6" long and 2" wide — with a lanceolate or elliptical shape, smooth margins, and a pale green upper surface usually mottled with maroon or brown spots. New or immature plants have just a single leaf. They are sterile and thus bear no flower, and plants usually remain in this single-leaf state for 3 to 8 years. Mature plants boast two leaves and usually produce a flower — a single delicate upside-down flower on a slender, naked, drooping stalk. That drooping stalk may reach a height of perhaps 6 inches or more.

The leaves appear in colonies, and the single leaves always outnumber the pairs of leaves. The colonies appear because the dogtooth-shaped, 1-inch long corms, which are several inches underground, occasionally send out stolons which create new plants several inches away. It can take decades without disturbance for large colonies to appear, and these delicate plants don't respond well to being transplanted, so it is best to leave them where they are.

The flowers can reach a diameter of 1.5 inches or more. They are made up of three white, lanceolate-shaped tepals and three similar petals which curve backward and reach for the sky. The white tepals and petals are accented by six stamens with very long yellow anthers. In the center is a stigma with three spreading lobes. The flowers generally appear in April and bloom for close to two weeks. These flowers are pollinated by just about every kind of bee in the neighborhood. If fertilized, the flowers are replaced by 0.75" long seed capsules.

Apparently, in times past, this plant species was used to address a bundle of health issues — the treatment of gout, to heal wounds, as a contraceptive, for tumors and inflammation of the bowels, for relief of nosebleeds and sore eyes, for hiccups, and even for vomiting.

White Dogtooth Violet is found throughout Eastern North America. Indeed, this attractive, but fragile, wildflower is common throughout Illinois, appearing in every county but Jo Daviess. How many of you know where that county is?

Dick Robrock (2007)

An Acrostic for Our Friends https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12568/ Thu, 18 May 2017 11:26:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb397/entry_12568/ NATURALIST
N ature
A bounding with
T errain
U rban
R ural
A ll around
L and forms
I slands in lakes and oceans
S treams and rivers
T rained observers for science and education

Cheers for Susan Post who taught me about acrostics.
Jim Hoyt