Naturalist Notebook Reviews and journal entries inspired by nature in West Central Illinois. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 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
The Sounds of Nature Thu, 09 Aug 2018 14:32:00 +0000 When we think of the outdoors and the sounds we hear around us, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the birds and their songs. Of course, we delight in hearing these wonderful songs. However, there is much more out there to hear and learn about. Over the course of time, I have become familiar with some of these other sounds and the habits of the creatures that create them.

Take for instance, last week, when making my daily walk around the property. I came to a large oak near a ravine and began to hear a low sort of hum similar to an engine running. As I got closer to the tree, suddenly I saw the source of this sound. A large swarm of bees was hovering in the upper branches of the tree. It was a dense, twister-like formation and the sound was loud close up. I moved a safe distance away and watched as they moved from the oak to another tree. I had seen this once before and so the sound has now been etched in my mind as a bee swarm.

Another instance of discovering a sound that raises a warning happened to me while I was pulling weeds in my garden one day. I was bent over close to the ground and was aware of a constant buzzing noise much like a bumblebee. When I turned around behind me there was a large bull snake. The buzzing was coming from the snake as it thumped it's tail rapidly on the ground causing the high pitched buzzing. A warning- Do Not Tread On Me! I have since learned that bull snakes act much like rattlesnakes in their habits of defense. They vibrate their tails, coil up and strike in the same fashion when threatened. This often results in the unfortunate demise of this non-venomous snake as people will mistake it for a rattlesnake and kill it. I let them exist around me because they have been a great benefit keeping rodent populations down around my house. I take notice and give them their space.

Some of the smaller mammals that are about also respond to threats with unique sounds. I used to think the chirping and clucking noises of the ground squirrels and chipmunks were birds but now I understand they are the various communications of these creatures. Sometimes these sounds are the first clue that bull snakes are around so they also alert me to be careful where I step!

From time to time I have heard the calls of fawns to their mothers and even the sounds of owls as they watch their young ones take flight for the first time. In one rare instance I had the good luck of seeing coyote pups at play and hear their yips and yowls to each other sounding much like our domestic puppies at play.

I feel very fortunate to have experienced these new sounds around me and hope to continue to explore and learn more of this realm of nature.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist – July 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 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.