As much as I love exploring all over the state, sometimes unique species can be had right in my own backyard of Sangamon county, Illinois, despite the majority of the county being a wasteland of agriculture.
The stout Common Snapping Turtle does fairly well in the creeks and lakes here, and they’ve started to emerge in order to lay eggs, with the recent flooding. This one ended up with a Dock leaf on it during its travels. I usually help turtles across the road in the direction they’re going, but I make exceptions for turtles that can bite off my fingers. Snapping Turtles definitely earned their nickname, and they can whirl around on their belly surprisingly fast.
The flooding has disturbed some of the local residents, including this ground-nesting Ovenbird. I’m worried its oven-shaped nest might’ve been destroyed by the 3.5 inches of rain we’ve gotten in the last few days here. The flooding made all my usual bottomland stomping grounds inaccessible, as well as a few roads, but thankfully that’s all at this time.
On the plus side, all this rain pinned a few migratory birds down, including a flock or so of these gorgeous Blackpoll Warblers. Blackpoll Warblers live in the spruce forests of Canada, even as far north as the stunted conifers along the edge of the taiga and the tundra. I’ve had a difficult time finding them up to now, and while they indicate the beginning of the end of spring warbler migration, I do enjoy seeing them.
A much more sedentary local, the Graham’s Crayfish Snake hangs out along the water’s edge and basks on sunnier days. As their name implies, Graham’s Crayfish Snakes eat mostly crayfish, especially freshly-molted crayfish. Completely harmless to humans, this species has locally suffered from habitat destruction and locals killing them out of misplaced fear of a “Cottonmouth”. Thankfully, at least of late I’ve seen more of them in Sangamon county than I had in the last several years.
I’d encourage everyone to take the time to check out their local lakes and patches. You never know what might appear!
It’s been a good year or so since I really wrote much on this blog. In that time I graduated from college, saw over 2,000 North American species, got really really really into iNaturalist, visited Florida, had a summer job working for the Critical Trends Assessment Program of the Illinois Natural History Survey, won second place for species in the 2019 Illinois Botany Big Year, and stumbled my way into 2020. I’ve decide to resume this blog for now, starting with my most recent adventures. If you want to go through a DETAILED list of everything I found in 2019, I recommend looking through this list on iNaturalist of my 820-odd 2019 lifer species: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=Wildlandblogger%27s%202019%20lifers&search_on=tags
Let’s just say I had a full 2019, and 2020 is shaping up to be quite entertaining as well. I’m moving to another state soon, so I’ll be finding quite a lot of new plants, and some new insects, birds, fish, snakes, etc.
Obviously, certain events have happened in 2020 that make outdoor exploration a bit more complicated. We’re not living in the end of the world or the darkest timeline or whatever other nonsense people might say, but we must do our duty to be inconvenienced for health reasons. For me, this has resulted in fewer camping trips out-of-state than I had initially planned on this spring, especially in Missouri, southern Illinois, etc.
My being restricted to areas within close driving distance, however, has led to a crazy number of reptiles and a few new plants being found by me locally this spring. Illinois has more snakes than I’d given it credit for having, and in 2020 I’ve seen 23 species of snake so far.
Above is a lovely Eastern Milksnake, one of my goals for this year, and one thankfully I didn’t have to travel too far to see. I’ve missed this one repeatedly for years, so it’s become a bit of a nemesis, like the other snakes discussed below.
The sandy prairies of Illinois have many Great Plains Species not found elsewhere east of the Mississippi. One of those is the unique Corydalis curvisiliqua, the Curvepod Fumewort, present mostly in the southern Great Plains. Despite its limited range in Illinois, this species thrives on roadside edges and disturbed habitats in the sandy bottomlands of Morgan county, Illinois. Bizarrely, Curvepod Fumewort does not occur further north in the Havana-area sand prairies despite a considerable amount of ideal habitat.
Near-ish to the Curvepod Fumewort, a Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) roamed about the sand prairie. State-threatened, Plains Hognose Snakes require decent-quality sand prairie with plenty of toads to eat and deep sand to burrow in. Plains Hognoses tend to stick close to their burrows, retreating underground during hot or cool weather. This sedentary, stay-at-home behavior is all well and good for avoiding predators, but it leaves the species’ populations isolated when the habitat nearby is developed or altered.
One of the more fun things about all hognose snakes is their elaborate death-faking behaviors. This one was no exception, crapping all over itself and flipping upside down with tongue out, in a performance from the William Shatner school of acting.
My most wanted species of all time is Kirtland’s Snake, named for scientist, politician, and generally cool guy Jared Kirtland. These rare Midwestern snakes take incredibly crappy habitat, so long as it’s wet and grassy. Originally, they would’ve been quite common in central Illinois thanks to the expanses of wet prairie here, but habitat destruction strikes again here. Kirtland’s Snakes are also State-threatened, and restricted to a few sites scattered throughout Illinois. Nocturnal snakes that hide in crayfish burrows, Kirtland’s Snakes are difficult to find, and it’s only taken me a good ten years to find one near my hometown, even though they’ve been recorded five minutes from my house before. (Quite frankly, I doubt they’re present at that site anymore, but you never know.)
At any rate, that’s some of what I’ve seen this spring. I’ll share more as I head off to Virginia, potentially even a few past finds I considered especially neat. In the meantime, I’m back for now!