Naturalist Notebook Reviews and journal entries inspired by nature in West Central Illinois. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 A Frog's Life Thu, 31 May 2018 15:20:00 +0000 Over the years, I have tried to provide good habitats for the animals that live alongside me on this land. Despite my efforts though it seems that some of these creatures prefer to dwell in or on the house that I built for myself! They must find it as comfortable as I do.

For the past couple of years, the tree frog population has seemed to be on the uptick here. Their loud nightly choruses are hard to ignore and now several have taken up residence on my back deck. My husband and I like to sit out on the deck at night and talk but when all the tree frogs start singing we can't hear each other! Not that I mind as I am very glad to know they are thriving here.

Several years ago, this was not the case as frog populations, in general, seemed to be declining. We rarely heard a tree frog or saw a frog in the creek. There was a time when we walked through the tall grass along the creek and frogs would jump out from everywhere. Then there seemed to be nothing at all. Did not even see a frog or tadpole in the water. This was a concern to me for I had read that frogs were possibly a measure of water quality. What I actually came to learn is that in years when the creek had several flooding events, the frog's habitat was greatly disturbed resulting in their absence. For the past 2-3 years, there haven't been any major flooding episodes and the water level has been relatively shallow for extended times. This has allowed for tadpole development once again and the return of many species of frogs to the property. This is part of the natural ebb and flow of things in nature but I am thankful the frogs are back again this year.

One of the little gray tree frogs on the back deck got into a bit of trouble last year when it decided to make our BBQ grill it's home. Every time I turned on the grill to cook, it narrowly escaped being toasted! To remedy this I came up with the idea of building the frog its own house near the grill but at a safe distance from the heat. My husband constructed a small wooden enclosure with an opening where the frog could come and go. It looked slightly like the lid of the grill. We mounted it on the deck railing close to the grill and waited, hoping the little frog would find it on its own. To our amazement one morning there was the frog on the porch of its own house and he ducked inside when we got too close. This year there have been several tree frogs that have tried out the house. It seems to be attractive to them as they can hide in it during the day then come out at night to feed close by.

It has been quite fun to observe these creatures up close and learn about their lives. I feel lucky they chose to live with me!

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist – June 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.

A Native Gem Wed, 02 May 2018 15:11:00 +0000 Tucked into a corner of my house on a gravelly hill, is a small shrub planted several years ago when I first arrived in Knox County.

This shrub is known as Clove Current or Ribes odoratum and it certainly lives up to its description! About this time every spring, it's spicy fragrance becomes quite noticeable. Bearing yellow tubular flowers along the length of its stems, it perfumes the springtime air like no other plant. An irregular growing shrub, it stands at about 5 feet tall and has a suckering habit but flowers quite abundantly on all branches.

The Clove Current – also known as the buffalo, golden or Missouri currant is thought to have been discovered by Lewis and Clark in 1803. It grows as far north as Saskatchewan and Minnesota and west to the Rockies and as far south as Texas. In the late 1800's, settlers brought the plant from the wild to grow in their gardens both for its fragrance and the small berries it produces on female plants. About that time a cultivar known as Crandall was developed and widely grown. It remained a popular garden shrub until it was discovered that Ribes species were alternate hosts for the White Pine Blister Rust. Unfortunately, White Pine trees that had been imported from Europe came into this country infected with the fungus. To protect the lumber industry at the time, Ribes species were restricted and even prohibited in certain states from being grown and many wild stands of currents destroyed. The Clove Current then fell out of favor and was largely forgotten. Some states still prohibit the planting of Ribes but Illinois does not.

This beautiful native shrub came to me many years ago when I was growing up in rural DuPage County. I became acquainted with a farm wife in my community who was an avid gardener. I loved visiting her farmstead and seeing her huge vegetable garden and beautiful flower gardens. One day I noticed the fragrance of this shrub near her house. She told me that it had been a part of that landscape from the early 1800's when her Scottish descendants came to America and settled there. She remembered it growing wild along woodlands near that house when she was a young girl. Later, when I owned my own farmhouse, one of her sons surprised me one day with a gift of a start of Clove Currant!

This shrub has come with me now to my current home and continues to delight me every spring with its wonderful fragrance.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist April Journal Entry 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.

A Fish Tale Mon, 02 Apr 2018 13:42:00 +0000 As a child, I was very fortunate to have grown up near a creek. The small stream known as Springbrook Creek that flowed by my house and through rural DuPage County was a child's paradise! Little did I know then that it would prepare me for becoming a naturalist and that I would be living alongside another creek later in my life.

The headwaters of Henderson Creek intersect my property as it flows on it's way to the Mississippi River. Starting about 2 miles south-east of me it bubbles up out of the ground and begins it's 65-mile course to the big river. Along the way, it picks up other branches of the Henderson as well as Cedar Creek on its journey westward and becomes a wide and deep tributary at the Mississippi near Oquawka. It is part of a significant watershed of these western Illinois counties.

Since living alongside this little stream, I have had a front-row seat to the ecosystem that exists along its waters. One of the more fascinating discoveries has been seeing the aquatic life that inhabits it.In the first years after moving here, we had cattle on the property. I never knew cows were aquatic until I saw that these gals spent most of their days in the water! Needless to say, they were very disruptive to the natural habitat. It didn't take long however for the ecosystem to recover once they were gone. It was then that the waters revealed their wonders to me and of particular interest was the discovery of fish.My neighbors claimed they had never seen fish here but they had hunted crayfish and had seen huge snapping turtles. I too have been witness to these giants when they would come up the hill toward the house to lay their eggs. Gradually I began to see small fish in the water as well. Their numbers would fluctuate with water levels but in the past 4 years, the population exploded. With that came more wildlife than I had ever seen before. Great Blue Herons, river otters, mink, and kingfishers have all been visitors to the feast. When my two young nephews would come and visit me they delighted in fishing here too. These fish were just the right size for them and they were amused by throwing bait in and watching the fish boil up out of the water, I have to admit I enjoyed it too! The exact identification of the species here has yet to be determined but most appear to be members of the minnow family. In my research, I have discovered that some small freshwater species are migratory and move into these tributaries when conditions are right.

This past winter was a tough one for these little fish. Water levels were low going into winter and snow covered the ice for many weeks. I saw the result when it thawed. The big schools of fish were gone.

This is part of the natural pattern of life and death in nature.Henderson Creek has been a vital part of my education as a naturalist. I will continue to watch, observe and work towards maintaining the natural habitat for all the creatures that live alongside and in its waters.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist April Journal Entry 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.

The Early Birds Wed, 28 Feb 2018 15:25:00 +0000 Just about this time every winter, subtle changes begin to occur in the natural world. There still may be snow on the ground and in the air but that doesn't seem to affect the invisible clocks of the creatures around us.

Every morning as winter gradually lessons it's grip, these changes become more noticeable to me. On this late February day, I immediately heard the noisy chatter of blackbirds as I stepped outside. This is a distinctive change from previously quiet mornings. Sure enough down near the creek a large flock of blackbirds could be seen in the honey locusts. I spotted a few red-winged blackbirds a distance away. Their cackles are the harbinger of spring to me as much as the robin. This chatter is a comfort to me and reminds me of childhood days spent outside in the spring.

Hundreds of European Starlings are also evident in the countryside now. They fly in organized shapes across the fields, swirling and spinning like a twister. Each year it seems these groups are getting larger and blackening the skies as they fly over.

Another bird I can hear now but have not seen yet is the Meadowlark. The song of the Meadowlark also takes me back in time to the once open meadows and fields surrounding my childhood home. It is a lover of the prairies and fields and there is plenty of space here for it to exist. I am never sure about which species lives here but it's songs are always a delight. It is also a fairly large bird with beautiful yellow plumage accented by black markings.

Overhead is the constant cackling of geese flying north in large groups. Both the Snow and Canada Goose fly together in these groups.

Every year is different of course as to the timing of the return of spring and summer birds but I have observed that it is pretty consistent as to the species that return every year. There may be less of some of them as the years go on but sometimes new ones appear or at least get my attention.

In 2006, I witnessed an extraordinary bird I had never seen in Illinois before. On a sunny warm April morning the bird chatter was louder than usual. Upon investigating what was happening I saw a small flock of black birds with distinctly yellow plumage on their heads. As I approached the birds, they got louder and seem disturbed by me but did not fly off. I had brought by bird book out with me to look them up and figured out they were Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. They are found in Illinois but not as common as they once were. This was probably a flock migrating through and had used my property as a resting place. The year before there were no humans occupying it so they were no doubt upset by my presence. I am honored that they stayed long enough for me to observe them. I have not seen them since that time.

So every year as the ground thaws and the air begins to warm, I pay close attention to the changes around me hoping to catch a glimpse of something wonderful. I consider these daily observations into nature's character a privilege and a delight that will never grow old.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist – February 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.]]>
Bald Eagles Wed, 24 Jan 2018 10:45:00 +0000 Since moving to western Illinois, in close proximity to the Mississippi River, I have been amazed to witness the fantastic comeback of the Bald Eagle.

Growing up in rural DuPage County and being an outdoor child, I had dreamed of one day seeing a Bald Eagle in the wild. At that time eagle populations were declining across the North American continent. Science eventually revealed the primary cause to be the widespread use of DDT. The chemical remained in the environment for a very long time and affected the eggs of the Bald Eagle to the extent that eggs were weak and would not sustain a chick. Consequently, their numbers dropped to where they were endangered. Fortunately, DDT use was stopped in the US and just in time to save Bald Eagles from extinction.

Many years later the results have produced a wonderful outcome for this bird. Rebounding in population numbers, I can now say that I have seen many wild Bald Eagles!

Back in 2007, I had a job that took me on a route along the upper Mississippi River into towns like Dubuque, Guttenberg, and McGregor, Iowa. It was during this time I witnessed the growing population of eagles along the river. Sometimes there seemed to be hundreds! Even in the crowded city downtowns like Davenport and Moline these birds sometimes perch in great numbers on building rooftops and on the bridges and riverbanks. They can be seen up and down the river for a good part of the year. Good viewing points are at Pike's Peak State Park near McGregor, Iowa as well as Effigy Mounds further north. LeClaire Iowa is a popular eagle viewing town as well as downriver sites at Burlington, Ft Madison, and Keokuk. There are festivals all around these river towns to celebrate the success of this magnificent bird. The Bald Eagle story is one we should pay close attention to as it could be a lesson and example of how we as humans impact our environment and other species we co-exist with on this planet.

A wonderful surprise greeted me recently as I returned home from a Christmas morning brunch to see a Bald Eagle perched on the roof of my house. I thought of how my childhood wish had been fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams.

I can now enjoy these birds in my own backyard and in the countryside surrounding my home. I am happy that they are a huge success story and hope they remain forever in their rightful place in our natural world.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist January 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.
Big River State Park Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:55:00 +0000 On an unusually warm and sunny December day, I had the pleasure of accompanying a small group of local girl scouts on their outing to Big River State Park.

The objective of the day was to learn about trees and identify at least 5 different trees on our hike.

Big River State Park, along the Mississippi River, is primarily an old pine plantation, established for the demonstration of growing marketable timber and good forestry management. The plantation includes white, red and jack pines. The girls learned to identify these 3 species right at the start of our hike. However, as we walked along the forest changed to include many other species of trees. Sycamore, red oak, pin oak and hickory were all trees we keyed in our guides and learned about their distinguishing features. The park has undergone changes over the years and now includes prairie areas and mixed hardwood forest. It sits on the edge of Henderson County which is known for it's sandy soils. We discovered the sands contain many interesting plant species. Prickly Pear Cactus and many interesting lichens grow here. In addition, the girls noticed the tracks of many creatures and had fun trying to identify what animals they may have belonged to. Deer, coyote and smaller mammals and horse prints were all noted. Overhead, Bald Eagles could be seen and we came across feathers of other different birds that inhabit the area. Woodpeckers and their activities in the forest could be seen and heard.

Although closed to visitors at this time of the year, there is a fire tower in the park and tours are available. It would be fun to be up there to see the scope of the forest and surrounding lands.

Overall, this was a fun and interesting place to visit and I believe the girls achieved their objectives for the day. The afternoon was topped off with cooking a meal of pizzas made with tree fruits(olives) and then finished off with wonderful cherry pie in keeping with the theme of the day.

It was an inspirational day for me and I know I will be returning to explore more of the lands of Big River State Park.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist

December 2017

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.

Fall Day Tue, 14 Nov 2017 16:17:00 +0000 Fall arrived this year rather late. The warm temps continued past the official start of the season and our area remained very dry for a time.

The beautiful colors that Sugar Maples typically display were missing.

Now, moving into late fall, a different kind of beauty has taken the place of Sugar Maple leaf color. Oaks will sometimes hold their leaves all winter but before it gets really cold these leaves turn a deep russet brown or sometimes golden yellow and the Red Oaks a bright orange-red.

I have noticed other tree species holding their leaves longer this year as well. Sycamore is now a brilliant yellow and shows up well in the brown native landscape. When it finally drops it's leaves, it's glory is revealed in the beautiful bark and patchy white and gray trunk which makes this tree a standout! This is one of my favorite trees and I love to observe them on a wintry day as they appear ghost-like in the snow.

This day is a delight to me as I make a morning walk around the property. It is raining and foggy but the trees stand out against this backdrop of cloudiness. I see an older oak tree standing alone against the fog wrapped in a coat of leaves that are a deep russet brown. Soon it will be unrobed by winter. The strong character of trees is revealed when they are leafless. The many differences in bark color and form are noticed now. Their branching and structure become evident. It truly is a marvel how nature is so diverse in even a very small patch on the planet.

As we approach winter and the days grow darker again there is still much to admire in the natural landscapes around us.

I feel fortunate to live in this part of our country where the seasons have their dramatic changes and I can enjoy the beauty that nature provides.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist

Journal Entry November 2017