Month: February 2021

A Brief Life Update + Coolest Finds of 2020

Well, most of those who read my blogs already know me as a person, but this is for those who don’t follow me on Facebook or iNaturalist or around the store while I’m shopping (you know who you are).

In the last two years, I’ve worked for the Illinois Natural History Survey and for the Clifton Institute doing botanical surveys (summer 2019, and summer 2020 respectively). Summer 2021 looks like I’ll be back at it again in Alabama. I haven’t yet gained permanent botanical employment anywhere, so it looks like I’ll be going to grad school in fall 2021 to hopefully nail down a position that would let me be employed more full-time. That’s basically where I’m at, trekking across the eastern US every few months during a pandemic for employment.

I found approximately 1283 lifer species in 2020 per my iNaturalist records (660 plants, 418 insects, 48 birds, 24 amphibians, 25 reptiles, and some other stuff that I don’t actively list). A limited selection of some of my favorite animals from the year are shown below, understand that the list is MUCH longer as viewable on this link. (It would take too long to pick out the plants)

Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulatum) from Monroe county IL, a gorgeous, secretive snake species that’d eluded me for years but thanks to Kyran Leeker I managed to find under cover early in the spring of 2020.

I visited Florida in February 2020, before the pandemic. That trip, brief but spectacular, yielded stunning looks at this Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) predating an Io Moth caterpillar (Automeris io) in the mangrove forests of Sanibel Island, Florida. Apparently the stinging spines of the caterpillar don’t bother the cuckoo in the slightest.

I talked my mother into holding this harmless Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis) while we were visiting the high plateaus of West Virginia. Thanks Mom!

2020 is the year I got interested in mothing, and that really got sparked by this Ultronia Underwing (Catocala ultronia) coming to the back porch light I left on one night while residing at the Clifton Institute in northern Virginia.

Eastern Narrowmouth Toads (Gastrophryne carolinensis) had eluded me for years, so finding one with Kyran Leeker and Trevor Slovick on a distanced herping outing in October in eastern Missouri absolutely thrilled me. These ant-eaters, one of the smallest frogs in the East, typically hide under rocks and often burrow underground.

Content from 2021 will appear soon, I have done plenty of recaps on Facebook so I don’t think I’ll inflict many more.

A quick adventure up Hutchins Creek

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Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Welcome back all to the LONG IGNORED blog of mine. It’s been about eight months minumum? since I messed with this blog. Like an addiction, it’s hard to completely break away from this blog, so here I am back again. I had a ton of drafts that I never finished from 2019, so I’m going to post this retrospective adventure just because I have the photos embedded already.

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Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)

Anyway, at this time (May 2019) I was finishing up undergraduate school in Southern Illinois, and spending many a day out and about. I’d just gotten into dipnetting (in the two years since I’ve gotten even further into it). One of the finest creeks to visit in southern Illinois’s Shawnee Hills is Hutchins Creek, a few ridges to the east of Snake Road (Larue-Pine Hills). Despite their close proximity to one another, the two do not have a ton of the same snakes, with Midland Watersnakes prevailing as the dominant snake species along Hutchins Creek’s banks instead of Plain-bellied and Copperheads.

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Midland Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon ssp pleuralis)

On the drive from Carbondale to Hutchins Creek I found a delightfully colored up Box Turtle. These slow-moving nomads often get into trouble with careless cars, so I shuffled him (I believe the pale red eye makes it a him, but it might be a her) off to the side in the direction he was going.

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Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

A ford along the drive in provided a chance to catch Illinois’ two brightest fish, a Rainbow Darter and an Orangethroat Darter, on either side of the ford. Rainbows prefer the deeper, faster flowing streams when given a choice, and they have more blue bands, blue and orange on their anal fin, and a “bow” shaped marking on their caudal peduncle (the bit of the fish just before the tail).

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Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Orange throats are more spotted on the sides, and in the Shawnee Hills seem to have paired orange dots towards their tail end, as well as a solidly blue anal fin. The quick comparison over, I let them both back into their respective sides of the ford.

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Orangethroat Darter (Etheostoma spectabile)

Hutchins Creek’s somewhat popular as a swimming hole with the locals, with gravel bars forming a sort-of beach that people like to hang out on. This early in the year, however, it was too cold to go swimming… for sane people. Crazy naturalists, however, dove right into the water.

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Hutchins Creek

Attempts to get ahold of one of Illinois’ few populations of Bleeding Shiner were many, and it took twenty minutes of charging up and down creek until I managed to get some. In the two years since, I’ve learned from that expert fisherman, the heron- it’s better to wait and let them come close to you.

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Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)

Bleeding Shiners are restricted to a few creeks in Southwestern Illinois, but increase in abundance westwards in the Ozark Plateau’s many clean streams. Some populations were introduced near the St. Louis area per one of my friends, but the ones in Hutchins Creek are natural from my understanding.

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Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)

Creek Chubs are in every fish-supporting stream in Illinois, of course, and such was the case here.

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Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

Longear Sunfish hid under branch piles along the creek’s banks, daring me to get tangled up or trip and fall facefirst into the water. I did plenty of both.

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Slender Madtom (Noturus exilis)

I tapped a flat rock underwater and spooked this Slender Madtom into my net. Slender Madtoms live up to their name, being among the skinniest catfish in Illinois. Like all madtoms they have venomous spines in their fins and can deliver a painful sting, so they have to be handled with some caution.

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Common Logperch (Percina caprodes)

My one and only Common Logperch came from dipnetting along this stream. In the words of Steve Irwin, “Isn’t she a beauty?!” I decided to wrap up fishing here (I think I had some finals to study for or something, also), and decided to take a quick run up the Pine Hills on the drive home.

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Four-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia)

A gorgeous Four-leaved Milkweed awaited me at the overlook, and together we shared a brief sunset before I had to depart. That milkweed gets this every year!

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Top of Pine Hills Road (south end, at the picnic area)

If you want to follow more of my adventures, check out my iNaturalist! (https://www.inaturalist.org/people/wildlandblogger)