Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rice Lake--Peeps on the Floodle and Bees on the Berm

I went back down to Rice Lake on Tuesday morning, going in from the Banner Dike Road, and walking the same levee as before. This time Scott went with me, and we walked the full circle, a 2 mile walk. He was amazed at the Decurrent False Asters growing in the field surrounded by the levee. There is a huge amount of it growing there, filling a third of the field; all the high areas of the field are covered with a mixture of asters and millet (and pigweed).

We found many dragonflies on our walk: Twelve-spotted Skimmers (male and female), Widow Skimmers (dozens of males and females), Eastern Pondhawks (male and female), Ruby Meadowhawks (I think, female), Common Whitetails (male and female; one male was eating a tiny damselfly), and an Eastern Amberwing. Many damselflies we could not identify. Here are a few photos:

Common Whitetail, juvenile

Eastern Pondhawk, male

Possible Ruby Meadowhawk:

Twelve-spotted Skimmer, male:

Some butterflies were flying about: quite a few Monarchs, one Viceroy, a Buckeye, Cabbage Whites, and many tiny butterflies and/or skippers I could not identify.
Many small Leopard Frogs were scurrying around to get out of our way, as were hundreds of grasshoppers.

The highlight of the walk were the many peeps in the large pool of water (floodle) remaining from the summer floods at the far western corner of the field. The ones we could identify:

Greater Yellowlegs (I think, could be Lesser) -- 4

Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpipers -- 2

Semipalmated Sandpipers -- 5

Killdeer -- 12
Great Blue Heron -- one in the floodle, flew away. Two in the marsh at the north end of Rice Lake, one flew over.

Pileated Woodpecker -- 2 flying over

Red-headed Woodpecker -- 1 flying over

Geese -- 23 flew over
Blue Winged Teal -- one flew over
White-tailed Deer -- one with large rack

On the last leg of the walk, the longest one, along the levee running on the north side of the irregularly shaped field, Scott and I began hearing a buzz. It grew increasingly loud. We began seeing Bumble Bees flying low along the top of the levee, about a foot off the ground, or on the ground, or coming in or out of the many holes in the bare dirt on top of the levee. This part of the levee has not been driven lately; trees have fallen across the berm in several areas. We kept walking, climbing over trees when necessary, as our only choices were going back the long way, crossing the field of asters, or trudging through the swamp on the other side of the berm. The number of bees grew larger and larger. I have never seen any thing like this. They did not pay much attention to us, but I was paying attention to them, trying not to step on any!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rice Lake Conservation Area

I took a walk around the berm running around a former agriculture field that is now growing millet (planted by the DNR)and other marsh plants, including Decurrent False Asters, one of the state endangered species.

Here is a look back towards the check station as I walked along the berm:

-- from jward199 -

Decurrent false aster, sometimes know as false starwort, is a big river floodplain species. Populations of decurrent false aster have declined as wetlands have been drained and converted to agricultural crop production. Decurrent false aster is listed ENDANGERED by the state of Illinois and THREATENED by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Decurrent false aster grows in wetlands, on the borders of marshes and lakes, and on the margins of bottomland oxbows and sloughs. Historically, this plant was found in wet prairies, marshes, and along the shores of some rivers and lakes. Decurrent false aster favors recently disturbed areas and flooding may play a role in maintaining its habitat. Current habitats include riverbanks, old fields, roadsides, mudflats and lake shores. Decurrent false aster prefers a moist habitat but can tolerate drought.

I found a good amount of it growing in the field behind the trees along Banner Dike Road. This field is surrounded by a berm; it had beeen flooded until early summer this year, which may have helped the asters. Here are some photos of the lovely Decurrent False Asters:

-- from jward199 - (?)

This area is just south of the area that Capital Resources is trying to mine. Here is an aerial map showing the area. You can see Banner Marsh, a reclaimed coal mine (and it sure looks it!) as well as Rice Lake. The red marks the outline of the proposed mining site. I was walking around the berm just below the proposed site, the irregularly shaped light-green area surrounded by a deteriorating levee. If the Decurrent False Asters are growing here after the flood, you can be sure they are growing in the permit area that was flooded during the spring and early summer.

Dragonflies and a Butterfly

I think this is a Gatekeeper butterfly, but it wouldn't open its wings for me.

This might be a female Ruby Meadowhawk. It was hovering over a standing pool of water along side the berm, occassionally chasing another similarly colored dragonfly away.

A large number of Eastern Pondhawks were flying around the berm.

And quite a few Widow Skimmers.

Indigo Bunting, Great Blue Heron, and Coyote

This female Indigo Bunting was hunting bugs (a katydid?) and doing her best to keep my attention. She must have had a nest near by. I thought I had some rare grassland sparrow until I got a closer look. I don't see the females very often, as the more striking males get my attention. Well this little bird made up for it, give me lots of time to watch her as she stayed just a short distance in front of me as I walked along the berm.

A Great Blue Heron flew over:

A coyote was sauntering across the field off in the distance when something got his attention: