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!