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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.