North American River Otter

North American River Otter

North American River Otter

September 27, 2018 – The North American river otter can weigh as much as 30 pounds and can grow to a length of almost four and half feet. Their sleek muscular body and webbed toes make them very efficient underwater swimmers, stirring the water up, and chasing prey, as they roll and make quick turns in their pursuit. The otter can hold its’ breath for as long as eight minutes and can cover some distance as it swims. Fish, frogs and crayfish are a big part of the otters diet, the otter is a carnivore, a predator with strong jaws and sharp teeth and will also take birds or other animals that are near the water. The river otter is a symbol or totem of many Native American groups, the Pottawatomie and the Seminole people see the river otter as one of their clan animals. The Ojibwa called the river otter Nigig, its’ skin, teeth and claws were used in their medicine bundles. The otter was hunted and trapped for its’ meat and skin, the skins were respectfully turned into pipe bags, pouches and quivers by the indigenous people of North America.

The otter eating a fish it just caught

The otter eating a fish it just caught

Once a common sight in Illinois, the river otter was all but wiped out by the mid 1800’s as human expansion continued and the settlers cleared and drained the wetlands. With no regulations and the wholesale trapping and shooting of these semi-aquatic creatures, any sightings were becoming quite rare. Most ponds, lakes and rivers were now void of this remarkable animal and they were now sadly missing from most of Illinois, with the exception of far southwestern Illinois in the area of the Cache river and along the Mississippi in the northwestern part of the state. Trapping was eventually closed for river otter in1929. By 1989 the otter was listed as endangered and the future for the North American river otter was not looking good here in Illinois. The population had shrunk to an all time low and there were only a few areas that held the total population of this species for the state, which was believed to be as low as 100. But there was hope as things were changing throughout Illinois, the health of our natural resources had improved and this presented an opportunity for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Conservation efforts on wetlands combined with the laws enacted over the past decade to improve water quality in the rivers and streams in Illinois were paying off and by the mid 90’s improved habitats existed where beaver were thriving and and beaver dams helped create wetlands with healthy aquatic systems and these positive changes to our natural areas was great news for the otter.

Large canines of the otter as it swims with its' mouth open

Large canines of the otter as it swims with its’ mouth open

Reintroduction efforts were in the works for the DNR from 1994 through 1997 with the release of captured river otters from Louisiana. The released otters were reintroduced in central and southeastern Illinois. Around that same time the Indiana DNR was reintroducing river otter to a few watersheds in the northern and southern parts of the state. Today we see the results of those efforts of reintroduction, which would not have been possible without the conservation laws of the 70’s. The American river otter has expanded north and west in Illinois and into northeastern Illinois most likely out of Indiana using ditches and creeks and the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers. Today in Illinois river otters can be found in every county with an overall population that may be greater than 20,000 and possibly as high as 30,000. Recent sightings of river otters in our general area have been reported in Newton county Indiana where Jed Hertz photographed a pair on August 30th at the Black Oak Bayou of the LaSalle FWA. I also observed a single otter at the White Oak Slough of the LaSalle FWA along the Kankakee river. Jed recently encountered an otter east of Kankakee, in Kankakee county, on September 14th. I was able to photograph that particular individual over a number of days while observing its’ ability to hunt. The otter certainly seems to be an effective hunter catching large and small frogs along with a number of fish species. The small prey was consumed on the fly, but a large Bullfrog or fish required two to five minutes to consume before the hunt would continue.

The North American River Otter

The North American River Otter

 

Reference:

“Wildlife Directory: River Otter – Living with Wildlife – University of Illinois Extension, https://m.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/directory_show.cfm?species=river_otter

“River Otter.” Education, Illinois DNR, www.dnr.illinois.gov/conservation/wildlife/Pages/River-Otter.aspx

“North American River Otter.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_river_otter

“The Ojibwe Native Americans.” The Ojibwe Native Americans – Traditions, http://ojibwenativeamericans.weebly.com/religion.html

webmaster@aaanativearts.com. “Potawatomi Bands and Clans:” Cherokee Houses, AAA Native Arts, https://www.aaanativearts.com/potawatomi/potawatomi_clans.htm

Orange Jewelweed

Ruby-Throated hummingbird

A Ruby-Throated hummingbird hovers at the flower of a Jewelweed plant. The bird picks up pollen on the top of its’ beak and face as it laps up nectar from inside the bloom.

September 10, 2018 – The remarkable native plant Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) goes by many names like spotted, common, spotted touch-me-not and orange balsam. The Jewelweed grows in most counties in Illinois and prefers moist and partly shaded areas. It thrives in low marshy ground, along creeks and trails and the damp areas in and along the forest edge. Appearing like hundreds of tiny silvered-glass mirrors glistening in the morning light, the delicate droplets of condensation that cover the leafs and flowers of a large patch of Orange Jewelweed will cause any traveler to stop and take notice. Blooming from mid-summer until a hard frost the showy flowers of the Jewelweed, with their red-orange speckles and a beautifully curved spur, attract butterflies, bees and other small insects that are in-search of that glorious nectar.

Orange Jewelweed

The flowers of the Orange Jewelweed attract many type of insects like this Viceroy butterfly
and the small Sweat bee on the flowers drooping petal.

It is not unusual to see high numbers of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, one of the main pollinators of the Jewelweed, busily going from flower to flower through the thick growth of the yellow bounty. When it comes to the season for the Orange Jewelweed to bloom Hummingbirds will certainly be seen in these semi-shaded areas perched at the tip of a long tree branch extending out and over the nectar rich plants. The tiny birds will commandeer a small sapling or tall bush surrounded by the Jewelweed while they vigorously guard their claimed part of the patch. Directly from our planets botanical pharmacy and well-known for generations by the Native Americans, the sap and leaves from the Jewelweed plant have apparent medicinal uses. Jewelweed can be used as a topical ointment for poison ivy, oak and the itching and pain caused by hives, stinging nettle, insect bites and other skin irritations. The sap has also been used as a successful to

Reference:

“Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens Capensis).” Touch-Me-Not family (Balsaminaceae) www.illinoiswildflowers.info/wetland/plants/or_jewelweed.htm.

“For Your Garden – June 2015.” Education, www.dnr.illinois.gov/education/Pages/FYGJun2015.aspx.

“Impatiens Capensis.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impatiens_capensis.

“Plant of the Week.” Johnston Ridge Observatory | US Forest Service, www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/impatiens_capensis.shtml.

pical anti-fungal treatment.

The Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

September 2, 2018 – A Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly probes with its’ long unfurled proboscis into the flower of a native species of thistle in search of that life giving sustenance, nectar. Native thistle is a very important plant for pollinators and non-pollinators alike, along with providing nectar for insects and hummingbirds. The plant also produces the thistle seed that is so important to finches, buntings and other songbirds. Little flecks of light colored pollen cover the legs, face and hairs around the head of the butterfly as it moves from flower to flower picking up and depositing the pollen, a trade off worked out over eons through a remarkable co-evolution.

The Woodchuck

Woodchuck

Woodchuck eating acorn from a White oak.

August 7, 2018 – The end of the time of plenty is only a few months away for the Woodchuck, when deep in its’ dark and silent burrow, as those cold winds of the northern latitudes push the chill south, it will curl up in a soft grass lined bed and slip into a winter hibernation. During this time of inactivity the Woodchucks body temperature will drop along with its’ heart rate and breathing. The heart will only beat four times a minute and the Woodchuck will take one breath about every six minutes. The continuous foraging into late summer on insects, grasses, flowers, fruits and acorns will bulk up fat reserves of this stocky rodent for its’ amazing underground sleep in its’ special hibernation burrow. The Woodchucks hibernation burrow is usually constructed in a wooded area away from its’ summer burrow and is designed to get the large mammal safely through those cold and lean months of winter.

Sandhill Cranes Migration

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

August 20, 2018 – Only a month from now the astronomical event known as the autumnal equinox will signal the official change from those lazy days of summer to the cool nights and colorful days of inspiration, reflection and the fall migration of the Sandhill cranes. There are small numbers of Sandhill cranes in areas of Northern Illinois and Northern Indiana that have been here through the summer and a few pair of the great birds that have successfully nested. Soon though, there will be a big push from points north as much cooler temperatures become apparent in Canada and the Upper Midwest. The spectacular migration will fill the eyes and ears of the fortunate with the amazing sights and sounds of hundreds of southbound Sandhill cranes heading for their staging areas of the Midwest. The cranes will amass in flocks of thousands where they will spend their days feeding, resting and dancing over the next few months. A well known and wonderful place to view the concentrations of Sandhill cranes is a little over fifty miles east of Kankakee at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana. By late December, as winter tightens its’ grip, most of the Sandhill cranes will have continued south where food can easily be found in the unfrozen fields and marshes of a much more tolerant climate of the southern United States.

Bachelor Groups

White-tailed Bucks

White-tailed Bucks

July 30, 2018 – Small herds of White-tailed bucks called bachelor groups are being seen throughout the area most often near a good food source. The photo shows three of the four mature deer that were spotted east of Momence recently, the forth buck had moved farther out in the beans and is out of the frame. These late summer bucks have antlers that are still growing and still covered in velvet. Soon their growing season will end, the velvet that is covering the antlers will dry up and wear away and the antlers will become hardened and fully developed. The bucks will become more aggressive trying to establish dominance, the group will quickly dis-band and the bucks will go their own way as the days grow shorter, temperatures drop and the rut, the mating season, grows near.

Egrets

Great Egret and the smaller Snowy Egret

Great Egret and the smaller Snowy Egret

August 7, 2018 – Standing just over three feet tall, the Great egret overshadows the smaller Snowy egret that only reaches a height of two feet. At White Oak Slough and the Black Oak Bayou at the LaSalle Fish & Wildlife Area, which is located along the Kankakee river in Newton County Indiana, there have been large numbers of Great egrets over the past few weeks hunting the shallows as well as using the trees to roost. The Snowy egret was an exciting find as the little bird would stay close with a group of Great egrets at the Black Oak Bayou. Snowy egrets have interesting techniques for hunting. I observed the little bird vibrating its’ leg as it moved through the water trying to scare up prey. It also has a behavior called bill-vibrating where it will rapidly open and close its’ submerged bill to confuse and force up frogs, fish, insects or crayfish. They also stomp their feet up and down as they move through the water as another one of their interesting hunting behaviors, to root out prey. Another exciting species of wading bird was noted at the bayou by Jed Hertz when he discovered two juvenile Little Blue Herons with a group of Great egrets on August 6th.

Juvenile Little Blue Herons

Juvenile Little Blue Herons

White-tailed Fawn

White-tailed fawn

White-tailed fawn steps into clearing

August 3, 2018 – A little White-tailed fawn stepped out of the woods into a sunny clearing as it explored its’ new world. I sit still while the fearless little fawn smelled and tasted plants. The mother soon came up the hill and into the clearing, immediately looking in my direction and giving a few warning snorts. The little fawn swiftly ran to the doe and they both vanished over the hill and into the shadows of the forest.

Wood ducks In Molt

Wood ducks

Male and female Wood ducks

August 1, 2018 – Feathers lay scattered and suspended on top of the green floating duckweed and watermeal below a pair of molting Wood ducks perched on a limb just above the water. The male Wood duck in the foreground with his red bill and blood red eyes, that are focused on the intruder, is lacking that stunning alternate plumage of those celebrated nuptial feathers seen during the breeding season. The males drab color is very similar to the female or a young male during this phase of the basic post nesting molt. As we move through the late summer the male that has been in his basic or eclipse plumage for the past few months will show signs of the pre-alernate molt which will eventually give the little duck those glorious and amazing patterns of color that is known as alternate plumage. Courting will not be far behind that dramatic change that is coming for the secretive little Wood ducks and continue into spring. After the paired ducks have completed a successful nesting season nature will once again trigger the next pre-basic molt and the cycle continues.

Turkey Vultures

Turkey vulture

Rain soaked Turkey vulture

July 16, 2018 – After a brief but heavy morning rain a small group of soaked Turkey vultures rotate on their perches to face the direction of the emerging sun. Their nearly six foot wingspan spread and slightly cupped helps dry those wet feathers and regulate body temperatures of the vultures before they can take to the thermals and glide above the summer landscape in search of carrion.