Month: December 2016

Top Ten Lifer (Vertebrate) Animals and Top Ten Lifer Plants of 2016

Top 10 Lifer (Vertebrate) Animals of 2016

Honorary Mentions-  River Otter, Sabine’s Gull, Cape May Warbler, Peregrine Falcon, Smallmouth Salamander

10.  Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)-  The best find of a spectacular day, under a log atop a dry bluff (an unusual spot for salamanders).  While it’s by no means the rarest possible animal that can be found at Fults Hill, it’s one I’ve never seen, it’s colorful, and it was in an unusual location, although I’m beginning to not believe in the concept of usual and unusual locations anymore.

9.  Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerula)-  I don’t know how, but I somehow knew that I would find this bird when I went to the Beachhouse one day.  It’s an interesting example of something not really explainable, and an example of what I said before about not believing in usual locations.  This is a Southern bird that migrates north in late summer, which is atypical and very interesting to me.

8. Blue Racer (Coluber constrictor foxii)-   I have to say this is the best snake species of the year.  I’ve always wanted to see one, and now I’ve seen two, under my very first flipped piece of tin ever!  Plus, it’s yet another example of the awesome wilds of Mason County producing something amazing.

7.  Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)-  This is the bird that got me into birding.  Well, it ties for that with the Ruddy Duck, but as I’ve seen Ruddy Ducks in previous years I’m going to go with this one.  It’s one of my favorite moments I’ve ever spent with my dad, chasing this hawk down in a car in rural Sangamon County before managing to get the photo above.

6.  Beaver (Castor canadensis)-  This animal is not one I see often, and as I am fond of the book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, in which a pair of beavers play a crucial role, I am fond of beavers by extension, and one made my day back in April, and again in October.

5.  Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) –  The highlight of a day in Macon County, Eastern Box Turtles are among my favorite Illinois animals, and seeing this particular one under a metal canister was quite a surprise.  I was even more surprised to find a second one a month or so later at Lincoln Memorial Gardens.

4.  Common Gallinule [no photo]-  This bird appears to be parts of several birds mismatched together, with its oversized feet, chunky body, and small head.  That’s fine by me, considering I saw two of them back in March in Sangamon County.  Both the time and place are incorrect for these birds to be here, and yet there they were.  This is also my greatest missed photo opportunity of 2016, and as a result, the sighting remains unconfirmed, according to Ebird.  However,  I do know what I saw.

3.  Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)-  Moving from none to best on the photography scale,  I got, well, probably too close to this little bird when I found one on Marine Point this spring, but it seemed to tolerate this.  Between this and #1, I’ve now got a strong interest in sandpipers.

2.  Common Loon  (Gavia immer)- These are my favorite birds (when I have to actually pick a favorite, as many people ask me for one).  The only reason they’re not higher on the list is that I saw them where I expected to see them, on Lake Springfield.  I did not expect:

1. American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) –  Maybe not my favorite bird, but as far as quirky little creatures go, it rises to the top.  Between its adorable “dancing” and awkward appearance, the Timberdoodle makes #1 on this list. Besides, none of the rest showed up at my house. Now I just want to find its cousin, the irritatingly unseen Wilson’s Snipe!

Plants-  Notably, about half of these were at Indiana Dunes, and the majority of the rest were from Mason County expeditions.

Honorable Mentions:  (Both Indiana-native species of) Sundews, Safflower, Silvery Bladderpod, Yellow-fringed Orchid,  Grape Ferns (both Bronze and Cutleaf varieties)

10.  Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) – This may seem like an odd choice to include when I’ve seen far rarer plants, but the fact remains that this is the first plant I recognized in Mason County, and it’s one I’ve always wanted to see before then.  It’s a beautiful reminder of the odd flora of Mason County’s sandlands, and as such I can’t wait to look for it again next spring!

9.  Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)-  This was easily the best tree I’ve seen this year, on a day full of exciting discoveries.  The Eastern Hemlock doesn’t make it here simply because I found them last November.  This also wins best gymnosperm (out of two contenders for that title, I might add.)

8.  Royal Fern (Osmunda spectabilis)- I had to include a fern.  This is easily the largest fern I saw, and one of the few I’ve managed to identify this year.  Fern identification is an arcane, esoteric, nearly-mystical art form.  I have no idea how many of the small ferns are identified correctly.

7. Goats’ Rue (Tephrosia virginiana)- I’ve spent a long time looking for this plant over the last few years, and it’s always nice to knock one of these nemesis plants off my list.

6.  Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense)-  The first, and so far only, wild true lily I’ve ever found, this is one of the most beautiful native plants I have ever seen.  I found a couple of these within three days of each other, and I haven’t ever repeated that. Hopefully, next year I’ll get Turk’s Caps!

5. Tennessee Milkvetch (Astragalus tennesseensis)- Easily the rarest plant (or, to be honest, the rarest ANYTHING)  I’ve seen all year, this only gets fifth because it isn’t an orchid.  Nevertheless, this was still an awesome plant to find! It amazes me that it grows only a few hundred feet from a person’s house.  It feels like a plant you should only see hundreds of acres into the middle of nowhere.

4.  Eurasian Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine)-  This orchid species originated the term “Fifth Orchid” on this blog, as in a surprise discovery at the very end of the trip.  Since I haven’t found a birding, botanizing, or herping term to match its meaning, I keep saying it.  This is also the only nonnative of either plants or animals in my top ten lists.

3. Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum)-  This is the closest native flowering orchid I’ve found to me, as well as the only orchid I’ve found in Central Illinois (though by no means is it the only one around here).  I’ve always wanted to see one, and they are quite tiny, I have learned.

2.  Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule)-  This is a Ladyslipper Orchid, finally! I  don’t include it as #1 simply for lack of flowers.  However, seeing a Ladyslipper Orchid has been a goal of mine since at least fifth grade.  I got very close in 2015, so actually finding quite a few in 2016 (albeit out of flower in Indiana where I knew they grew) made my day, almost as much as:

1.  Grass Pink Orchid  (Calopogon tuberosus)-  It was easy to see, it was easy to photograph, and it’s an orchid and looks like one.   Grass Pink Orchids have been eagerly sought out by me since I first saw their picture, and like the best plants and animals on this list, it was a complete surprise to see it.

 If you haven’t noticed, I use the (just-invented) Spanish Inquisition Rule in assessing how much I like something. If I didn’t expect it, then it’s even better.  I give this its name from the Monty Python skit about the Spanish Inquisition, where the characters are constantly saying  “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”.   This Spanish Inquisition Rule, like the concept of the Fifth Orchid, will now pass into the lexicon of this blog (all of which can be found on the uppermost right, above the ad.)

Since this is the last post I’ll be putting out till after the 25th, Merry Christmas!

Year List #2 (AKA Discontented List)- 17 Goals for 2017!

My goats for this upcoming year (January 1, 2017- January 1, 2018)

This is basically a Scrabble hunt for what I want to see.  I want to complete at least nine of these, as a sort of challenge to myself.  I don’t know that all of these are complete-able, but I think they are.

Crossed-out means that they were seen before January 1.  Bold means they were seen after January 1.

1. Find Yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchids!  Bloom would be nice, but isn’t necessary.

2.  See five of the following birds: Rough-legged Hawk,  Long-tailed Duck, Golden Eagle, Mississippi Kite, (either) [Least] Bittern,  American Wigeon, Trumpeter Swan (in IL), Tundra Swan, Red-throated Loon. Western Grebe, Black Scoter, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Greater Prairie-chicken,  Dunlin, Whimbrel, Willet, Wilson’s Snipe, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Barn Owl,  Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snowy Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Nelson’s Sparrow, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, (either) Cuckoo, (any) [Virginia] Rail,  Northern or Loggerhead Shrike, Marsh Wren, Orchard Oriole, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Canada Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Pine Siskin, (any) [Red] Crossbill,  Purple Finch, and/or Evening Grosbeak.

How I’m going to do this:  Hope and pray for good birds at Montrose.  Just keep my eyes open everywhere else.  Some of these could be at Sand Ridge State Forest during the winter.

3.  Find two of the following reptiles: Ornate Box Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle, Spotted Turtle, Slender Glass Lizard, Bullsnake, Rough Green Snake, Smooth Green Snake, Western and/or Eastern Hognose Snake, Milksnake, Fox Snake, Lined Snake, Smooth Earth Snake, Coachwhip, and/or Plains Garter Snake.

How I’m going to do this:  Most of the turtles are northern, so check wetlands in Chicago area (revisit Volo if possible).  Most of the snakes are more or less within two hour’s drive of here, and many can be found in Mason County if I look hard enough.  Lined Snakes are theoretically in Sangamon County, so finding where they are will involve lots of research.

4.  Find three of the following amphibians:  Tiger Salamander, Marbled Salamander, Slimy Salamander, Silvery Salamander, Cave Salamander, Longtail Salamander, Two-lined Salamander, Spadefoot Toad, Eastern Red-backed Salamander,  Narrowmouth Toad, Green Treefrog, Bird-voiced Tree Frog, Wood Frog, and/or Illinois Chorus Frog.

How I’m going to do this:  Visiting Southern Illinois will make things easier.  I plan to hunt in March/April up in Mason County for the Illinois Chorus Frog, when they’re breeding in the sand ponds of the Illinois River Valley

5.  Find a venomous snake in Illinois, of any kind (albeit from a safe distance).  The best would be Massasauga, but that’s highly unlikely.  Most likely, this will be either a Cottonmouth or a Copperhead along Snake Road, maybe even a Timber Rattlesnake (again, from a safe distance of several yards, and hopefully downhill of me, as it’s harder for a venomous snake to strike uphill)

6.  Find a Kirtland’s Snake

How I’m going to do this:  Possible nocturnal hunts, and visits early in the morning after rain.  This is a very rare snake, and while they are supposed to live around here, I have no idea where to find them.

7.  Visit four new (to me) state parks and/or nature preserves (Meredosia NWR, Middle Fork Nature Preserve, Kickapoo State Park, Doris Westfall Nature Preserve, Howard’s Hill Seep Natural Area, Spring Lake, )

8. Revisit Fults Hill Prairie and find a Scorpion, Narrowmouth Toad, Great Plains Rat Snake, Flat-headed Snake, Coachwhip, Splendid Tiger Beetle or just something that’s rare that lives there.  (We’re going to count seeing my parents there as something rare.)

9. Visit Montrose Point, the birding capital of Illinois.

10.  Visit the Ozarks at least once, especially Johnson’s Shut Ins and some of the larger glades where I see videos of snakes being found under most flipped rocks!

11. Visit Snake Road (should help with a lot of these)

12.  See a live, wild skunk, bear, or badger  (from a good distance away)

13.  Find a Snowy Egret in IL.

14.  Find at least three of the following plants:  Bird’s Eye Primrose, Poke Milkweed, Wild Agave, Bunchflower, (either) Turtlehead,  Kalm’s Lobelia, Obe-Wan Conobea, Lance-leaved Violet, Powdery Thalia, (either) Boltonia, Cancer Root, (any) Orobanche, Prairie Trout-Lily, (either) Ginseng, French’s Shooting Star, Showy Orchis,  Indian Pink, Snow Trillium, Bird’s Foot Violet, Turk’s Cap Lily, (any) Twayblade, Pitcher’s Leather Flower, (either) Camassia,  French Grass, Violet Wood Sorrel, Missouri Coneflower, Royal Catchfly, (any) Spiranthes, (any native in Illinois) Rhododendron, Filmy Fern, Matalea, Heart-leaved Plaintain, Pink Corydalis, (any) Sabatia, Ozark Milkvetch, Blue Hearts, Lobed Spleenwort, Walking Fern, Fameflower, (any in Illinois) clubmosses, Green Trillium, American Chestnut, Water Tupelo.

How I’m going to do this:  This list is weighted towards Southern Illinois and Mason County for a reason.  Mostly, I just have to keep my eyes open.

15.  Find at least one of any Platanthera orchid species (Fringed Orchids), preferably in flower.

16.  Find at least one Coralroot Orchid  (Spring Coral-root Orchid)

17. Have fun!