Month: May 2019

Cerulean Warbler!

Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)

On one of my last field trips for my ornithology class, we stopped by the warbler spot Pomona-Cave Creek Trail in the Shawnee National Forest, and I happened to notice this Cerulean Warbler singing from a nearby branch. This is a long-time photo lifer I’ve wanted. A State-Threatened species, Cerulean Warblers tend to sing only from the very tops of the tallest trees in old woodlands. This one was slightly more obliging.


Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons)

Another, more common treetop singer, the Yellow-throated Vireo, also deigned to show off. This warblerlike bird can be distinguished from the warblers by a larger thicker beak. It too prefers old-growth woodlands.

Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros)

As Pomona-Cave Creek is a large wetland stuck between two ridges of the Shawnee Hills, lowland species like this Swamp Darner could be found perched on nearby trees. Swamp Darners are one of the largest dragonflies in the United States, and it’s difficult to get them to sit still, typically.

Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis)

Nearby, a lifer dragonfly, the Lancet Clubtail, perched on the ground. This little guy is a member of a large, confusing dragonfly family, the Clubtails, and they intimidate me a little as I get into this process of learning dragonflies. I haven’t seen a ton of new species yet as many emerge in June or later on in May, and with finals I haven’t been looking as much as I could.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Another unique species, the Pipevine Swallowtail, decided to sit and show off its glossy, reflective wings. Now, if only I could find its host plant… I’ve never seen any wild pipevines in Illinois.

Adder’s Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgare)

Still, I have found a few plants I’ve been after, among them this Adder’s Tongue fern which has been one of my longtime nemeses. This fern is supposedly more common in old fields and untreated cemeteries in the South, but I found it in a random patch of pine forest offtrail. A member of the odd Moonwort family, it emerges for a brief time in the spring, spreads its spores, and then settle down to live out much of its time underground.


Speaking of brief springtime emergence, the mating movements of the salamanders earlier in the year have resulted in young Spotted Salamanders like the one above, found in an area nearish the spot I named earlier. Soon they will lose the gills and scurry back under the logs and rocks of the surrounding woods, graduating from their larval stages into an adult form to do adult stuff.

In similar fashion, I’ll be graduating soon, and going out to do “adult stuff” myself! I’ve gotten a temporary job with the Illinois Natural History Survey for the summer, and I look forwards to finally working in my field.

Tanks for the Field Guide, Mom and Dad!

I’ve gotten a wee bit interested in fish of late. This all started when I saw a few Orangethroat Darters down in a creek in Trail of Tears State Forest while looking around there for plants.

Female Orangethroat Darter (Ethostoma spectabile)

Orangethroat Darters are one of the most common fish in shallow rapids in the creeks of the Shawnee National Forest, as you can see from how many I caught below:


Darters get their name from their habit of darting between hiding places to move. Between “darts” they lay still, propped up by their pectoral fins (the fins we think of as “arms”). Hundreds of species live in the US, most of these in the Southern Appalachians. The great appeal of darters is the male darter’s colorful appearance, as you can see in the next two photos.


Darters are not the only residents of the streams, however. I also got this Central Stoneroller below, a type of minnow common in flowing creeks in parts of the Midwest.

Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum)

Stuck on a rock in the middle of the creek was an American Giant Millipede, one of our most attractive invertebrates. Sure, it may have more legs than I’m comfortable with, but it’s somehow cute anyway. A couple of years ago, I could’ve ID’d this simply as Narceus americanus, but apparently that’s a species complex and you can’t ID them without DNA or something. Yay.

American Giant Millipede (Narceus sp.)

A much more easily ID’d animal, and one that made me yell “WHOO BOY” when I landed it, is this Banded Sculpin. Sculpins are basically insect hunters who lie in wait for insects to get too close, although they’ll eat quite a variety of animals. Anything that fits into their mouth is fair game. I removed the darters from the tank before photographing this little beast.

Banded Sculpin (Cottus carolinae)

While I was landing the Banded Sculpin, my friend Cody found us this Virile Crayfish. Crayfish have become a fun bycatch in many dipnetting attempts, and I’ve tried to figure out how to ID all the species I catch- not always the simplest process!

Virile Crayfish (Faxonius virilis)

As part of my interest in crawdads and fish, I bought two field guides. I’d just ordered my fish guide and mentioned this casually to my parents, who immediately owned up to the fact they’d bought me the same guide as a birthday present. Thanks to them for doing so!

Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)
Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

Due to my lack of experience with that field guide, however, I ended up just ID’ing these two minnows by asking someone on a Facebook page and then looking it up in the field guide to confirm. Turns out these are Striped Shiners- just not particularly stripy I guess!

Nearby ditches in the lowlands had a few other species, including this Dwarf Crayfish:

Dwarf Crayfish (Cambarellus sp.)
Kadiak (Palaemonetes kadiakensis)

It may surprise you to know that shrimp exist in Illinois. I’ve only found this one species, which goes by a variety of names, but I’ve found it in many of the floodplain pools, lakes, and ditches. I could call it Mississippi Grass Shrimp, Mississippi Glass Shrimp, etc. but I’d rather call it the Kadiak after the first part of its species name.

Featherfolil (Hottonia inflata)

My friend Cody and I ventured across the river to Missouri, where we found even more cool fish, but also one of my most-wanted plants. Above is a Featherfoil, an unusual plant that uses its inflated flowering stems to stay afloat on the still waters of swamps. It’s one I’ve waited a long time to see, and I managed to see it on my birthday.

Northern Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar)

I’ll round off this first of many fishing posts with a Northern Starhead Topminnow photographed at Larue-Pine Hills. This State-listed fish is one I’ve found lately, and I hope to find many more fish in the coming months. I’ve got another blogpost’s worth to show off so far!