Naturalist Notebook Reviews and journal entries inspired by nature in West Central Illinois. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Rocking by Cindy Owsley Mon, 11 Mar 2019 15:51:00 +0000 Rocking
By Cindy Owsley

Sitting in my rocking chair
in front of an expanse of glass
that looks out into the woods.

A thermal cup with hazelnut coffee
much too weak, white and sweet
for a true connoisseur.

My calico companion sits on the sill
with an enthusiasm equal to
but much different than mine.

I suspect she imagines herself as
a much more integral part of this
February ritual than do I.

The guests outside push and shove
gorging themselves on suet,
cracked corn and sunflower chips.

The myriad of colors, shapes and sizes
presents a constantly changing
kaleidoscope of flitting feathers.

As the dishes remain dirty in the sink
I wonder if I'm wasting my time
or savoring the best of it.

Peace by Cindy Owsley Wed, 27 Feb 2019 10:59:00 +0000 Peace

By Cindy Owsley

The need to be alone nearly equaled

the need for a close friend's hug

and so it seems that inertia prevailed.


I packed multiple armloads of hackberry

all split and dried into the cold cabin

and started a fire in the woodstove.


It was seasonably warm for late February

but the frozen ground held the snowmelt

in squishy puddles that soaked my boots.


The binoculars that dangled from my neck

assisted me in naming my feathery friends.

Red-headed Woodpecker. Blue Jay. Cardinal.


A veil of fog obscured the setting sun

and I ate cold leftovers from a clamshell

as the teakettle signaled its warmth.


As I sorted puzzle pieces into piles of colors

great flocks of snow geese barked across the sky

and coyotes yipped their favorite party songs.


Now the wood crackles its sauna warmth

as I pen these words to help me remember

all these things that gave me peace.

A Path Well Traveled Tue, 05 Feb 2019 14:40:00 +0000 For many years now, it has been a regular routine of mine to walk the many trails on our property on a daily basis. It doesn't matter what the time of year. In the depths of winter and height of summer, these trails reveal nature's wonders to me at all times.

We established walking trails about 12 years ago when we first acquired the property. At first, they were short trails because most of the land was still being grazed by cattle and we did not want to disturb their areas. There was only one way to cross the creek at that time and it was over a large culvert that the cattle had to use too. Because of that, we made very few excursions along the creek. Several years later when the cattle were gone we finally had the chance to explore this land we call our home.

When we created new trails we also wanted a way to get over the creek in different areas. My husband built a substantial footbridge on the eastern end of Henderson Creek so we could cross over and connect to other trails on the east side. This bridge has become a central crossing point not only for us but for all the creatures who travel these paths as well. By building these routes we have enabled the wildlife to travel easily across this property and connect to other natural areas nearby. The local wildlife biologist had encouraged us to do this and called it a "wildlife corridor".

We are continuing to add additional plantings to an easement along our hay fields so that wildlife have cover and food for their journeys.

I never dreamed that these paths would become so busy! Now that there is about a foot of snow on the ground, the tracks of many creatures can be seen along all the trails. Obvious proof that many creatures have active lives in the winter.

In order to understand what animals use these trails regularly, I placed a game camera with night vision on the footbridge to capture activity. It has been in that position on the bridge for a couple of years now and has filmed footage of many creatures common to Illinois.

Recently when viewing images on the camera from the last month I made notes on what the most frequent bridge user was. Topping that list was the coyote. Seen almost every night for the past month. This is their territory and hunting grounds so that is no surprise. The magnificent animal pictured above was captured on the camera a few nights ago.

It is important to me to understand my role as habitat manager for this property. I feel the trails have added value not only to my life as the observer but also to the many kinds of wildlife who travel these paths with me.

Rose Moore- Master Naturalist – February 2019

Reflections Mon, 10 Dec 2018 14:43:00 +0000 The year is coming to a close now and outdoor tasks are winding down as cooler weather moves in. The summer birds have gone to their winter homes and the chickadees, juncos, woodpeckers, and cardinals dominate the bird feeders. I delight in seeing these birds as much as their summer counterparts. My morning walks bring different experiences in the world that has changed its colors now.As the leaves fell and the chill came many creatures were busier than ever preparing for the long winter months.

Ground squirrels and tree squirrels were seen gathering food for storage. With this activity came the presence of owls once again. It has been an amazing year watching and hearing owls here. They have been especially close to the house at night and very vocal. Two Great-Horned Owls are regulars but there has been a Barred Owl from time to time as well. There is good hunting here as the rabbit population has swelled in recent years. I am grateful to these owls for bringing the rabbits under control and my gardens have survived much better this year for it.Recent heavy rains this fall brought the creek levels up again and fish populations were also high. Again nature has its ways of checks and balances. To my delight otters returned again to feast on the abundance. I happened to surprise an adult feeding on the banks of the creek. This time I got a real good look at it. It was a fairly large individual with brown fur tipped with gray and sporting a blocky head and long strong body and tail. A few days later I spotted two individuals swimming in the deep pools and splashing and making quite a bit of noise. After the early heavy snowfalls, I observed their rather strange footprints in the snow. Their front paws look webbed and they have a large back footprint kind of bear-like. Their visits have been a thrill for me to observe.

This time of year brings the drama of the rut for white-tail deer. It seems they lose their shyness and can be seen around here all times of the day. The other day I observed a large buck in hot pursuit of a doe in the middle of the day. Both were far from cover and ended up on the roadway. A magnificent sight to be sure but I was glad I wasn't driving.

As I reflect on this year that is now coming to a close, I feel privileged to be able to observe this natural world so close around me. Now with a beautiful coating of snow, its wonders seem even more extraordinary than ever.My goal of being a good steward of the land has taken on a new and important meaning and now I am seeing the fruits of the hard work done throughout the year bring abundant rewards.

Rose Moore- Master Naturalist

Journal Entry – December 2018

Pumpkin Time Wed, 03 Oct 2018 10:25:00 +0000 Autumn is a magical time of the year. Suddenly, as the air becomes crisp, the trees and other vegetation take on new and brilliant colors previously hidden in a green haze.

It is one of my favorite times of the year. Even though it means an eventual end to the growing season, it still holds many surprises and rewards for a gardener.

For many years now I have been growing pumpkins. There is a patch of ground in an old cattle pen on this property that has been ideal for raising these beauties. I grow them strictly for the fun of it and also share with nearby neighbors. Each year the varieties may be different but I get immense pleasure out of discovering what the patch has produced.

This year was exceptional. The 40 plants in the patch produced large quantities of unusual pumpkins.

There is "Polar Bear" - white on the outside and orange on the inside that averaged 50 – 60 lbs. each! These giants had to be brought out of the field with a tractor as well as "Big Moon"- several of which were over 100 lbs. We weighed the largest and it was 180 lbs. There were the usual Jack O' Lantern type but some of these were heavy also. My favorite has to be the one called "Wolf" which has an oddly thick stem but is very stout and lasts a long time. I also grew the warty types such as "Knucklehead" and "Peanut" which are fun and unusual. The kids I gave them to just loved them.

To successfully grow these giants I have incorporated a couple of techniques learned over the years. First of all the place where they are located has a heavy buildup of composted manure. Secondly, I have a ready source of fresh manure nearby and use it every year. Thirdly, I give credit to Ruth Stout, author of a book called The No Work Garden. She advocated the use of heavy mulches and no tilling to control weeds. She used old hay to accomplish this and I do the same with my patch. I put it on very thick so no soil is exposed and plant the pumpkins through it. I do not have to water as the moisture in the soil is preserved. I weed maybe once in the spring then after the pumpkins begin to grow weeding is minimal. Ruth Stout always said she did most of her gardening from the couch! I have used this method for other parts of the garden with much success also.

So now the fun of raising pumpkins comes full circle and the orange, white and warty fruits adorn every corner of the landscape here. As long as I am able I will continue to grow these fun plants and enjoy their beauty in autumn.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist(and pumpkin grower) October 2018

Today's post was written by Rose Moore. Rose is a Certified Master Naturalist serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. She enjoys exploring the natural world around her and recording the experiences in art and writing.

Don't Forget to Look Up! Tue, 28 Aug 2018 11:43:00 +0000 Most of the time, while doing my daily walks, I will be observing things from my height and perspective which is pretty close to the ground. However, many surprises have occurred to me over the last year because I have on occasion – looked up!

Each day I have my binoculars handy in case I hear or see something that is unfamiliar. Always on the lookout for a glimpse of the wildlife. Often when I am not prepared special things happen.

On a recent morning, down by the creek, I stopped to observe the activities of the fish in the water. I was looking down naturally but began to hear an unfamiliar sound coming from above. I looked up and there was a large groundhog in the branches above my head. It was perched precariously in a mulberry munching berries and very upset by my presence. I never would have guessed I could find a groundhog in a tree but there it was! I learned something new at that moment.

Some years back I remember a long and exhausting day of work and when it was over I came home and immediately disappeared to the "Back 40" for some peace and quiet. There was a bench in a little grove of trees far from the house and I was looking forward to getting to it to regain some peace of mind. I was so tired I just laid down on the bench and upon looking up, not far above my head, was a hornet's nest. No quiet time for me – I was out of there!

Just a few weeks ago on an early evening walk, I was rounding the path down from the east hillside and when the house came into view and with it the sight of 10 Turkey Vultures perched in the big old sugar maple beside the house. It was an eerie sight against the darkening sky. I love these interesting and necessary birds but they did give me a shiver. When I regained my composure, I tried to sneak back into the house unnoticed to get my camera. A few had flown off by the time I returned but I still was able to photograph a group on their perch. I have begun to look for these birds often now and have observed they also perch regularly on the cell towers across the street. What a view they must have from there!

Finally, one of my favorite looking up activities is viewing the Perseid Meteor Showers every year in August. This year I joined a few fellow naturalists out at Blackthorn Hills Nature Preserve for an evening of viewing. It was a great night with no moon and clear skies. When I returned home later I stayed up as long as I was able and caught a glimpse of more beautiful streaks across the sky.

So every day I remind myself to look up. Nature can be enjoyed from all angles. You never know what surprises await.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist – journal entry August 2018

Today's post was written by Rose Moore. Rose is a Certified Master Naturalist serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. She enjoys exploring the natural world around her and recording the experiences in art and writing.

Us Tue, 14 Aug 2018 15:31:00 +0000 Stepping out of my street clothes

Into the not quite warm enough water

Of the frog people who sang of desire

In the unique way of their kin.


The Chorus Frogs

The Bull Frogs

The Leopard Frogs

The Green Frogs


Others competing for the attention

Of a lady, perhaps seen, perhaps not.

The persistent songs shattering the

Quiet and calling others for back up.


The Barred Owl

The Coyote

The Crickets

The Katydid


Going about making their living under

The light of a crescent, waxing or waning,

With percussion provided by creatures

Announcing themselves in splashes.


The Bass

The Slider

The Raccoon

The Possum


Some drawing traces in the darkness on

The floor where the gooseberry ripens.

Some scribbling endlessly on the near

Ceiling higher than the tallest of the oaks.


The White-tailed Deer

The Skunks

The Little Brown Bats

The Nighthawks


Perhaps I was the only one cognizant of

My respective relatives on that night.

Perhaps everyone was immersed in

The special ambiance of this place.








By Cindy Owsley, Master Naturalist