Saturday, April 29, 2017

Road Trip 2017 - Part 3

After staying the night in Paducah, Kentucky we set out early back over the Ohio River and to the Heron Pond Preserve near Belknap, Illinois.  This spot is known as an area where many northern species meet their southern extent and vice-versa.  I was told to check this spot out for a variety of herpetofauna, but as with Snake Road the day's all good...plants, birds, you name it.

A few Red-headed Woodpeckers darted throughout the treetops during our hike of about 5 hours.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seemed abundant here as well.
Heron Pond is known for having one of the most northerly Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) swamps.  Here an unidentified snake suns itself in a root referred to as a 'knee'.

The banks of the watercourse were prime basking habitat for turtles including these Spiny Softshells; there were 8 in the original un-cropped photo.

Marbled Salamander was a target species and a lifer for the trip.  This adult was about 10cm in length and covered in Sycamore seeds.

Another lifer, a Gemmed Satyr butterfly.
Exploring an area of rail line ditch I stumbled across this fresh clump of Green Dragon, an uncommon relative of Jack-in-the-pulpit (uncommon in Ontario that is)..

A sign of the Trillium diversity to come once we reached the Smoky Mountains, this is Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum), or, as it's also known 'Bloody Butcher'...yikes.

Jacob's Ladder, otherwise known as Greek Valerian
As best I can tell, this is Southern Adder's Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum), an interesting fern species I found growing alongside Green Dragon at the edge of a swamp.

The foliage of Bald Cypress beginning to emerge.

And then there was the State Champion Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)...

What a beast!  This tree is a well-known attraction at the preserve and seemed to be in pretty good shape.  Here's hoping it can add to those impressive stats.  It's not an 'open grown canopy' by any means but a 35m crown spread and a diameter at breast height well over 2m make this one the biggest of it's species in the state of Illinois.

Like nothing I've ever seen before, the Bald Cypress swamp from the boardwalk.  The knee roots pop up through an endless carpet of Lesser Duckweed.  It was really neat to see this habitat having come across isolated Bald Cypress trees in Indiana Dunes State Park last year.

The next day we were off to Nashville for 2 nights were we enjoyed a bluegrass show at the Station Inn.  After that we made our way east to Waynesville, North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains which will be highlighted in my next post.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Road Trip 2017 - Part 2

Leaving Kansas City we made our way east toward St. Louis then drive south along the Mississippi toward Snake Road in Shawnee National Forest.  We arrived late morning and the first thing that struck me was the lack of herper-types there...we had the place to ourselves.  This turned out to not be ideal as 2 sets of eyes spotting snakes is not nearly as effective as the perhaps 15 sets of eyes I had imagined.

Larue Road, otherwise known as Snake Road
Ken Burrell had mentioned I should listen for Louisiana Waterthrush, and moments after stepping out of the vehicle...

 This Red-bellied Snake was the first snake we spotted, no Timber Rattlesnake, but hey.

Cave Salamader was a new one for me, these little guys can be found in the crevices of damp caves.  They tended to be a little camera shy, receding back into the cracks when spotted.

The odonates, including this Common Baskettail were out in modest numbers.

I bounded down the road after this Zebra Swallowtail, a lifer and a nice looking butterfly.

It seemed like Fringed Phacelia (Phacelia fimbriata), the white flowers in this photo, was the plant getting all the pollinator attention that day.

Phlox and Phacelia
Try as I might to find Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) in bloom, I could only spot a few vegetative plants.  The spiky brown fruit in this photo belongs to American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), imagine stepping on one of those in your lawn!

Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor)

Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum) on the face of the bluff.

Wild Hops (Humulus lupulus)
 It became clear to me within 5 minutes of arriving that although being at a spot known for snakes, I was going to spend a lot of time looking at the plant life.  This picture shows a nice rocky embankment of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)...not too shabby!

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) in flower.  Large clonal populations grow along the roadside.
 I think the highlight of the day for me was spotting this budding flower which I recognized as Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides) from my time spent on Pelee Island each May.

The plants on Pelee Island in May are typically clumps of basal leaves just beginning to send up a flowering stem.  I had never seen this species in flower before, so I was pretty excited to look up a slope and find a couple hundred of these!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Road Trip 2017 - Part 1

Hey, let's take 14 days, drive 4500km, get a hike in almost every day, and see cool stuff!

That was pretty much the plan for a trip Alyssa and I executed a couple of weeks ago.  She had finished a contract in Medicine Hat, Alberta, the following week I had booked us into a week stay in the Great Smoky Mountains, we live in Kitchener...only one way to go about this!

Heading south from Regina we spotted many a raptor (and a Snowy Owl) on the endless telephone poles we passed.  We crossed the border at North Portal, SK.  North Dakota was, for the most part cropland and the odd coulee, but our intention was to put km's under the wheels.

We arrived at our first night stop, Sioux Falls, SD.  Checked into a Super 8 which may have been where Alyssa's credit card was compromised by a nice fellow with "LOCO" tattooed on his knuckles, oh well, those 2 charges of $200 to a Sioux Falls Walmart probably made someone happy.  Late in the evening we made our way to J.R. Beers where I was happy to try a 'Top 10 beers in America'.

The next morning I was eager to hit the road Broken Kettle Grasslands we go!  This impressive site is managed by the NCC and is Iowa's largest prairie.  The 3000 acres of Leoss Hills beauty is home to a herd of about 175 Bison.

Not a bad view for a lunch break.

And hey, it's not everyday you see Bison droppings.

We proceeded to the nearby Five Ridge Prairie which has a few trails to hike.  The landscape was a continuation of Broken Kettle with slopes of tallgrass prairie interspersed with treed valleys.
Alyssa watching Bluebirds

Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca)
We passed a swampy area with a chorus of Boreal Chorus Frog calling.

Prairie Clover remnants, not much to look at plant-wise in early April!
Not much to look at except for Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla patens), the one wildflower I wanted to see during our time in the Dakotas.  Hundreds of these stout wildflowers, also known as Pasqueflower, peek up from the grassy thatch.

We made it to Kansas City that night, had outstanding short rib at a BBQ spot, and prepared for our drive the next day to the famed Snake Road in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.