Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bluebell Heaven

Virginia Bluebells
Spring is a time of renewal. I personally look forward to this time to see nature transition from bare and brown to lush and colorful. On the woodlands floor, small flowers such as  trillium, jack in the pulpit, poppies and phlox start pushing their way through the blanket of old leafs. As beautiful as these flowers can be, they usually are found in small clumps which can be photographed as intimate landscapes. However there is another plant that in certain Chicagoland locations puts a large spectacular display year after year.

Around the second week of May, Virginia Bluebells are covered in clumps of small blue-purple flowers, which as the name suggests, look like small bells. There are many places where these flowers can be seen but my favorites are Starved Rock, Messenger Woods and the Morton Arboretum. Each of these places provides a unique way of seeing these flowers so they all deserve to be visited. In Starved Rock, these flowers can be seen growing in between the canyon walls where they almost look insignificant against the vertical sandstone formations. In Messenger Woods, bluebells grow along the riverbeds of this forest preserve covering every inch of the hilly ground as far as the eye can see. At the Morton Arboretum, they are found in many spots including the lakeshore of Lake Marmo. However, for those who like to explore the trails at the Arb, a much larger patch can be found in a secluded wooded area on the East Woods.

Morton Arboretum
Starved Rock
Messenger Woods
Unfortunately, as with many of the spring flowers, bluebells time is short lived and after a couple of weeks the flowers start fading away. If you missed them, there is always next year...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Just add Water

Wildcat Canyon and waterfall
I consider Starved Rock (along with Matthiessen State Park) one of the best Illinois State Parks in the northwest part of Illinois. The park consists of 18 canyons formed by glacial and stream erosion. Out of all these canyons, two has waterfalls flowing most of the year:
  • Illinois Canyon (fed by Armstrong Creek)
  • Lasalle Canyon (spring fed).
The other canyons waterfalls are dependent on precipitation (rain or winter snow) and most times they are dry. Best times to see these “seasonal” waterfalls are in spring or autumn.

The April 2013 showers brought a significant amount of water to the area. I’ve wanted to travel to the park since the days following the rain but the Illinois River, which borders the park, overflowed and caused significant damage to the park trail system forcing most of the park to close for weeks. Cleanup is underway and the park trails are slowly reopening.

The first three main canyons to reopen were Illinois, Wildcat and French (St. Louis never closed). Of these three, I had never visited the Wildcat or French canyons prior to this weekend as on prior trips when I’ve asked, no water was running through them. This was not the case in my last visit.

Both canyons are fairly close to each other and there are trails from both the lodge and visitor center. The main difference in the trails is the amount of calories you burned. From the lodge, there are “major” stairs to reach the canyons (word copied from the map which is a mild way of indicating going down and up about 100 feet).

Wildcat and French canyon are fairly narrow canyons with a waterfall that drops from the top of the bluff (about 100 feet). While in Wildcat there is a single jump, in the French Canyon the water flows down a number of steps. The lodge trail also offers a couple of vantage points from which to see into these canyons from the top.
I'm hoping that the remaining trails reopen soon before the remaining water runs off as I would lke to go in and visit some of the other canyons to see some of the other more elusive waterfalls including the rare double waterfall in Tonti Canyon.
French Canyon waterfall

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Time to Fly

I visited the Fabyan Forest Preserve last Friday afternoon (4/26) and the little owlet was perched on the edge of the nest and every so often it stretched his wings as if saying that the time to leave the nest was near. To my surprise, when I went back early on Saturday morning, he was no longer on the nest. It was perched in the woods a few hundred feet away from its home. It wasn't clear if it had flown/walked during the night or very early on Saturday morning but it is definetively on the move and it will require some searching to spot it during the next few weeks. Both mom and dad were fairly close by watching over it and the photographers and bird watchers that were congregating on the nearby area. It won't be long before he is gone from the area.

still missing some adult feathers