Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Prairie plants

This is the time of year, when summer hits the Prairie State, that I get excited about prairies! Not just the wonderful grassland birds--dickcissels, meadowlarks, field sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, Henslow's sparrows, bobolinks, red-winged blackbirds, common yellowthroats, swallows, etc. -- but also the beautiful prairie flowers. While I have slowly, over the years, gotten fairly comfortable at identifying the birds (at least they sing! and I have a good audio-memory so that is quite helpful) but I am also trying to learn to identify the plants. I took a look through our photo archives to see what kinds of pictures we have, and am embarrassed that, even with three wildflower books at hand, I am not sure of all of them.

So if anyone can help out...please do! And enjoy the gallery of Illinois wildflowers that follows.

This picture is of a spiderwort...I confess I can't tell the different kinds of spiderworts apart yet.

Blue flag (or blue flag iris) at Goose Lake Prairie

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Yesterday Greenturtle and I went on a car caravan tour at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, as I was hoping to see the Upland Sandpiper. Midewin has an interesting history, having once been part of the Joliet Arsenal, and established as the first national tallgrass prairie in the late 1990s. Since then, several public hiking trails have been established, but if you want to see the restricted areas, you have to go on a tour.

The morning was lovely, sunny and not as hot as we had feared from the weather forecast. The last week or so has been just miserably hot and humid, so we were lucky for such a pleasant tour. Being an introvert, I usually bird on my own, but it is fun to go out with a group sometimes. Birders, on the whole, I have found to be very friendly and helpful people.

We saw some nice birds on the three and a half hour trip, including several beautiful Baltimore Orioles, a virtuoso mockingbird imitating the calls of at least a dozen other species, and a great blue heron rookery. I got some looks at two groups of bobolinks, though not as up close and personal as I've seen them at Nachusa Grasslands. I think my favorite bird was a red-eyed vireo bringing food to his (or her?) nest. We even got to see the inside of one of the bunkers, which had some historic graffiti on the ceiling.

What I did not see were any upland sandpipers. One of the tour guides told me that when Midewin was first established, he saw the sandpipers all over the place, but now the population is only one or two dozen individuals, although apparently that has remained stable over the last five years. The cause of this decline is unknown, but his theory is that Midewin has stopped allowing hunting of mammals that predate on the eggs or young of the ground-nesting sandpipers, including raccoons, mink and coyote, while also clearing out a lot of the brush that would have provided habitat for other species which the predators could have fed upon. It is very sad, and I hate to see how many lovely species of Illinois birds are declining or barely holding on.