So, as I promised, here’s the first in a series of shorter blogs. Yesterday (3/8/19) I went out to Kinkaid Lake Spillway, which is an artificial waterfall designed to drain a lake, with the side effect of being the best-looking tiered waterfall in southern Illinois. The road to Kinkaid Lake Spillway is narrow but contains wetlands on both sides, and I’ve gotten incredibly close to both Pileated Woodpeckers and American Beavers here.
However, my best find yet was this River Otter (Lontra canadensis) hiding under the bank of one of the ponds. In Illinois, River Otters became incredibly rare in the 1980s, the population dropping down to around 100 individuals, but today there’s River Otters present in all 102 Illinois counties. It’s one of the best recoveries of a protected, non-bird species in this state.
After a few minutes, this River Otter dropped out of sight and I moved on to look for seedpods. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m participating in the iNaturalist Illinois Botany Big Year (at least through mid-May, after that it’s up to whether or not I get a job in-state) and I’ve started keeping more of an eye out for odd plants. This time of year, that’s mostly buds and seedpods.
One of those odd plants, growing at the top of Kinkaid Lake Spillway, is this Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia), which produces big yellow flowers in the summer and these gorgeous, ornate seed capsules from which the plants derive their name. I’ve wanted to see these seed capsules for a few years now, so it was a fun treat, especially after finding that otter.
I then ventured over across the dam into a wooded, rocky creekbed, where I discovered this unique leafy liverwort (presumably Porella sp.). This may look just like a “moss” to some people but it is in fact a different type of nonvascular plant. The minute complexity of mosses and liverworts is charming, especially on a late winter day when nothing else is particularly active. I haven’t found Porella species down here in Southern Illinois yet so this was a pleasant surprise.
Another pleasant suprise was this American Tree Moss (Climacum americanum). The shoots may resemble stems and leaves, and in a way they are, but like all mosses (and liverworts) this plant lacks the phloem and xylem veins that transport nutrients and water up and down stems (as found in “vascular” plants). New shoots resemble little Christmas trees, thus “Tree Moss”.
This bizarre, ash-like growth on the American Beech (Fagus grandiflora) is a unique fungus known as Beech Sooty Mold (Scorias spongiosa). It isn’t attacking the tree directly at all. Instead the mold feeds upon the sugary waste of Beech Blight Aphids (Grylloprociphilus imbricator), a species of aphid that only eats American Beech sap. Saps in trees are incredibly sugar-rich, so the aphid squirts out the extra sugars it doesn’t eat in its poop, and the Beech Sooty Mold eats the the sugars, in an excellent example of recycling.
Beech Blight Aphids are also sometimes referred to as “Dancing Aphids” and I’ll post a YouTube video showing why they get that name: https://youtu.be/yxc4xWQrT6M
Once I’d wrapped up at Kinkaid Lake, I drove around the Mississippi River bottoms and saw hundreds of ducks, most at great distances. If you want to see a few photos of them they’re on my iNat page but overall I was unhappy with how well those photos turned out, although quite thrilled to see such abundant migration. So I went to Fountain Bluff instead to look at that waterfall, and unlike Kinkaid Lake Spillway it was frozen solid!
After inspecting the frozen waterfall, I wandered over to Oakwood Bottoms, where amid the twilight migration of 10,000 Mallards (I subtract not a single mallard) I got to hear an early American Bittern doing its bizarre “water-dropping” call. In order to learn more about this and hear the sound for yourelf, watch this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/bAxAEoAVmuc
It was an excellent night to be out, and once it quits thunderstorming out today I look forwards to seeing what I find next!