Category Archives: Nature

Bear | Yellowstone

This bear in Yellowstone Park was enjoying some flowers. Telephoto lenses are a great thing to have.

We entered the park from the northeast. What a gorgeous route. The changing sky and some rain added to the views. Looking forward to more in the next three days.

Easter Hike | Argyle Lake State Park

by Jim and Melanie

Our family gathered for a potluck dinner on Easter at a country church in Illinois. On Saturday, we drove down to the area from our home in Iowa. It took a little more than two hours. In the area is a state park called Argyle Lake. It had been many years since either of us visited the park. We decided to spend part of the nice day hiking. We chose a trailhead near the dam.

The 1700 acre park, with a 93 acre lake, was established in 1948 by the state of Illinois. The site was formerly known as Argyle Hollow. It served as a stage coach stop on the line between Galena and Beardstown, IL. The hollow was also home to many drift coal mines dug into the hillsides. The park today suffers from neglect by the state. Their lack of funds is obvious. The trails we hiked really needed attention. Tick spray with DEET was a necessary precaution, given the brush impeding on the trail.

One trail bordered the lake. We encountered this pair of Canada Geese sitting on a branch.

Show me more…

… And An Old Friend

by Melanie and Jim

One morning in February we had an unexpected visitor. A great horned owl perched behind our house, fending off harassing crows with its dignified, quiet pose. Though we’ve lived in this house for almost 15 years, we’d never known a great horned to stop here before.

As excited as we were, we also were a bit concerned. I’d read that great horned owls and barred owls don’t share habitat. If the great horned was here, did that mean we’d no longer welcome our old friends, the barred owls? There was no need for concern. The next day, the great horned owl was nowhere to be seen. Within a couple of days, we heard barred owls in the woods again.

On March 2 I opened the garage door to ready trash for pickup. As I did so, I heard a barred owl. It was close and sounded like it was across the street. I stepped out into the cool morning air, sky brightening but still dark before sunrise. The owl loudly called again as I searched for it, and I realized it was behind the house rather than in front. The echo had fooled me. I hurried to the side yard in time to see one land in the neighbor’s tree.

I ran in to tell Jim, and he was able to see it, too, through the window. Well, no need to worry about the great horned owls chasing the barreds out of the neighborhood. We had one a few feet from our house.

The bigger treat came later that day, as the sun was low in the sky. A bird called again, just behind the house. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?” came the characteristic hoot. (Listen to the recordings at All About Birds. Check the “Various hoots” first.)

We looked in the direction of the call. There on a branch, about 30 feet from the house, was this beautiful bird.

Barred Owl. Iowa, March 2, 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Jim also got a few seconds of video.

Since then we’ve heard these wonderful birds nearby several times. We’re fortunate to share our yard and close green space with them, and with the occasional unexpected visitor.

Hibiscus | Along the Garden Path

by Jim and Melanie

Our walking path takes us by the garden of a neighbor who has many Hibiscus plants nearby. We check on each pass to see which ones are in bloom. Their flowers are large and showy. Each is about 6 inches (15 cm) across. Some are deep red, pink, and white with different combinations.

The link provided here has many interesting facts, a list of the many species, and photos of many of them.

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Click to embiggen any image.

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Buttonweed | Velvetleaf | Annual Weed

Do you recognize this seed pod? It is from the annual weed I always called Buttonweed. By late summer the plant forms these characteristic pods. Each vertical segment contains from 2-9 seeds. It is 1 inch across. Later they split open for seed dispersal. Notice the many hairs.

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It is a member of the mallow family. The plant Abutilon theophrasti is native to China and India. It was used as a fiber crop in China since 2000 BC. The stem has long fibers suitable for cord, rope, binder twine, fishing nets, coarse cloth, paper and a caulk for boats (Mitich 1991; Spencer 1984). The seeds are edible.

It was apparently introduced to North America before the 1700s. Records show it was cultivated along the east coast for its fiber content. It is now widespread in the croplands of the U.S. and Canada and is considered a weed pest. It was one of the targeted weeds Dad told us to not miss when we walked the soybean fields in the summer.

Known for its ability to thrive in disturbed soils, it grows in the worst of conditions. Here are two examples I found in weedy patches by the trail. Buttonweed2

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The leaves are heart shaped with a point at the end. They and the stem are covered with fine hairs. Even the seeds have a fine hairs. The seeds are very durable. They can pass through the gut of animals unharmed. They can remain viable up to 50 years before germination.

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Matthiessen State Park

by Melanie and Jim

Last Friday we had time, opportunity, and weather for a perfect morning in Matthiessen State Park. Matthiessen is located in north central Illinois, very close to I-80. On Thursday evening we’d been in Sycamore, IL for my presentation to a quilt guild. On Friday we needed to head southward to my sister’s home. Matthiessen was right on the way.

The skies were bright and dry with early fall crispness. Clouds of dust arose on both sides of the highways, stirred up by farmers harvesting corn and beans. As we approached the park, there was little evidence of it besides a stand of trees in the distance. Like so many midwestern parks, instead of rising above the surrounding landscape, Matthiessen’s best features are below, hidden from view until you are deep within.

At the north end of the park are the dells trails around and through a water-eroded sandstone canyon. Reaching the upper trail requires descending a broad, stable stairway about five or six flights long, which some would find difficult. Once that far, the upper trail is a well-maintained loop and relatively easy for most hikers.

There also are stairways into the canyon for those who are more adventurous. Depending on water levels, the lower trails can be off limits. For us, they were open, though deep mud prevented us from exploring all the crevices we wanted.

 

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In the pictures below, you can get a sense for the lower trail within the canyon. On the concrete stairway stands an older woman who generously gave me a mom hug. I had explained to her that I’d visited Matthiessen as a child, and that my mom had led those trips. That day also was my mom’s birthday, which made a poignant reminder for me. That’s me in the bright pink shirt.

 

Below the staircase the canyon walls rose on both sides. A path allowed access both upstream and downstream of the stairs. Across from the stairs was a small stream, the seasonal remains of the eroding waterway.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

 

In the bowl, water has worn away caverns on the undersides of the walls. Kids enjoy exploring the small caves.

 

Jim created a panorama of the canyon bowl. He is standing below the roof line of one of the caverns.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

 

And here is his video in the bowl.

After we ascended the concrete stairway, Jim and I disagreed about the correct direction to take. Should we cross the bridge spanning the canyon, or go up farther to the trail from which we’d come? The quickest way to answer the question was to head up to the trail map at the top. We both climbed more stairs, up another five flights to check. And as it turns out, Jim was right! We wanted to cross the bridge below.

A little farther along, we descended into the canyon again. This area was less used and it had more natural impediments. At one point we picked our way along a foot-wide ledge, avoiding tumbling into the bottom 12 feet below. Here we continued upward, climbing up through a series of stone ledges. After another section of stream bed hiking, we exited the bottom and returned to the upper trail.

Matthiessen is a great park for families. With picnic areas above, a recreated French fort, easy to moderate trails, and fascinating geology, there’s something to please everyone. The park will always be on our list to return to.

Tornado Funnel Cloud

How I See It

We headed home late in the afternoon after visiting our daughters in southeast Iowa. A small thunderstorm was leaving the area we drove north of the town of Mt. Pleasant. We hadn’t paid attention to the weather notices since we were busy visiting. A severe storm watch had been issued. This small storm looked quite energetic. I remarked how the trailing part of a storm is often where funnel or tornado activity originates. Thank you spotter training 101. In all my years of watching weather, I have not seen a tornado in real time.

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We approached the rear of the storm as we drove north. The arrow in this radar map shows our location. The sky was bright to the west and dark to the east. A few cloud formations appeared low to the northwest. I was not driving the car and watched one funnel shape in particular. It was small…

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