January 30, 2010 – A pair of Trumpeter swans surrounded by a number of Canada geese and a a few Mallard ducks were taking advantage of the open waters near the boat docks at the headquarters at the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area near Morocco Indiana this past week. A submerged aerator system sending bubbles of air to the surface keeps some small pools open and ice free. The open water attracts waterfowl during the winter when the rest of J.C. Murphey Lake is locked in ice. Getting a close look at the pair of swans, that have been seen at the lake for some months now, show that one of the birds does not have the usual black legs and feet that is normally seen on an adult Trumpeter. While photographing the Trumpeters at some distance this past August I noticed the yellow colored legs on one of the birds and assumed it was a juvenile. I was told at the headquarters at Willow-slough this past week that the swan with yellow legs was believed to be leucistic. Leucism is a genetic mutation that causes a reduction of pigments. We see the abnormality in mammals, birds, and even in reptiles. A few times a year while great flocks of Starlings are feeding in fields it is not uncommon to see a flash of white from the wings, tail, or the head of one of the birds in the flock. The birds with white feathers are missing the normal dark colors of the Starling and are considered leucistic. The young cygnet (baby swan) that is leucistic is bright white and the non leucistic young Trumpeter is gray. The leucistic birds end up with yellow legs and feet as adults Trumpeters. These rare leucistic Trumpeter swans have been reported and are still occasionally seen in Ontario. The leucistic swans are bit more common in the Rocky Mountain population and are also seen in the Yellowstone summer population.
March 6, 2019 – Despite the single digits and wind-chills to consider, some hints and signs of spring are starting to come into focus. The backwaters of the Kankakee river, the ponds, ditches, and flooded fields are slowly being liberated from their cold icy carapace. Male Red-winged blackbirds are beginning to stake-out their territories. They could be seen this past week perched on last years faded cattail stems and in small trees near water as they sang their songs of spring. Some ducks and geese are pairing up and keeping to themselves, while others with much greater distances to travel are together in flocks waiting to move north. Small flocks of Sandhill cranes have been seen heading north and recent reports out of Wisconsin state the news of early arrivals.
Soon our winter visitors from the upper Great-lakes, Canada and the North-west territories, and points east and west will be harder and harder to find as their numbers dwindle from our area and they push towards their nesting grounds. Rough-legged hawks will be noticeably absent from the skies above our prairies when they soon leave for the Arctic tundra. Greater-white fronted geese have recently been seen through-out the state and in our area in large flocks waiting for that moment to push north towards the high Arctic for their breeding season. As the weeks go by and warmer temperatures are here to stay and conditions north are stable and suitable for nesting, the waders and shorebirds will be making their move as the great migration continues.
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.
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.
July 18, 2018 – Alert and vocal, a male Northern Bobwhite finally came into view as it cautiously but quickly moved across the sandy ground into an opening surrounded by thick green cover near Stateline road at Willow Slough this past week. The bobwhite quail has struggled since the mid sixties from habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides. Habitat management programs involving conservation groups, state properties and private landowners has shown positive results for the bobwhite. In those areas of good quail habitat, if not actually seen, the Bobwhite quail can often be heard calling to other quail with that clear and strong song “bob-white” or “bob-bob-white”.
July 5, 2018 – The Michigan lily is a strikingly beautiful flower having blooms of yellow-orange to orange-red that are covered with purplish spots. The flower seems to float in the sea of the surrounding summer foliage. Their contrast of color against that summer world dominated by green can easily remind one of the paper lanterns of the Chinese Shangyuan lantern festival as the orange lilies give the impression of a glowing lantern hanging at the end of their long sturdy green stems. The lilies, with their unusual recurved peddles, bloom for about a month from early to mid-summer. They are perennial and can reach a height of 4 feet. These pendent lilies attract hummingbirds, butterflies and many other species of insects to their nectar. The winged visitors become covered in a yellow-orange pigment of pollen as they fly from flower to flower finding sustenance while at the same time pollinating the lilies. As the flowering stage wanes the glorious attraction of bright color soon gives way to those less glamorous earthy seedpods. The Michigan lily is not considered rare, compared to the almost indistinguishable Turks Cap lily found in a few counties in far Southern Illinois, but it is an uncommon native plant species found in scattered counties throughout the state and does require a healthy natural area to even exist. Michigan lilies can be cultivated adding both beauty and the benefits of nectar to a personal garden or landscape but the real treat is to see the plants with their showy blossoms thriving in the wild in some remote sunny opening at the edge of a wooded area where they will most certainly attract pollinators and nature lovers alike.
July 1, 2018 – Standing at the edge of a drainage ditch admiring some white water lilies and the beautiful pickerel plants that are now in full bloom I noticed a mother Raccoon with her young crossing a gavel utility road east of Kankakee just before noon this past Friday. Encouraging her five kits to keep moving, the furry little rascals quickly vanished into the deep grasses and that was the last I saw of them, but the mother stopped and turned towards me. Standing on her hind legs, rising above the cover of green and summer flowers to get a better view, she kept a leery eye my direction before she too, without further delay, disappeared into the maze of green near the edge of some cattails as the expected oppressive summer heat began to take hold.