One of our early wildflowers
Take a short hike this afternoon … or work in the yard? No hard decision there. Hikes usually win and did today. I can always work in the yard tomorrow. The afternoon temperature was at 74, with strong south winds and a cloudless sky. Buffy and I went back to the small creek we’ve visited often lately.
A profusion of white (which will continue to increase) showed from a distance as I parked the truck. Rain from last night had the creek flowing at a pleasing rate. Flowers “danced” in the wind, reminding me of a children’s picture book titled Dancing the Breeze. In it the father and his daughter imitate flowers blowing in the wind. It won’t be long before there will be a lot of “dancing” going on with such an early spring.
All the white was a combination of spring beauties and cut-leaved toothworts. (See earlier blog about spring beauties) Cut-leaved toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) is one of our earliest wildflowers. The plants grow 8 to 15 inches tall in moist rich woods. They have 3 leaves, each divided into 3 narrow, sharply-toothed segments. The leaf in the upper left of the picture clearly shows one leaf.
Cut-leaved toothwort is also the host plant for falcate orangetip butterflies. It is a common woodland butterfly in the spring throughout the eastern U.S. Both the male and female are white above; the male has an orange tip on the top of its forewing. Both have greenish-brown mottling underneath on the hindwing. They have a 1 3/8 – 1 1/2 inch wingspan. In our area (southern Illinois) they lay their eggs on cresses and the toothwort.
I wonder what might live in these trees.
Every time I pass these trees, I think how much fun they would be to have in my yard, and how much fun kids could have playing there. It’s difficult to tell if they’re one or two trees. The roots seem to combine between them, and there’s a cavity runs the whole length underneath. There are even more cavities tucked in several places. I’d have stayed and played, but someone had to cook supper.
… and then a male falcate orangetip flew around in the woods, looking for a female. Males emerge before females do. This was my first of the year. He never landed for pictures. Soon they will be common too.
The second part of a 2-part blog.
Buffy and I started back the way we came along the bluff. The black vultures were still on the ledge, and they didn’t seem concerned by my presence. I wore a camouflaged coat and drab pants.
We have both black and turkey vultures in southern Illinois. Turkey vultures are the most common. They both spend the winter not far south from here, and both began returning early because of our exceptionally mild winter.
I knew these were black vultures because of their black head. Turkey vultures have a red head, except for the immatures which have a blackish head.
Black vultures have a 23-27 inch wingspan, a white patch underneath near the wing tips, and a short square tail. They lay 2 eggs in tree cavities or shallow caves.
Turkey vultures have a 26-32 inch wing span, and their tail is longer and narrow. They’re black overall except for gray on the underside of their flight feathers. Their 2 eggs are laid in old barns, hollow stumps or logs, and rock crevices.
I had never been that close to a vulture before! A barred owl hooted its “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all” call 4 times as I took a few more pictures
A great hike just got even better!
First part of a 2-part blog.
It was probably better I didn’t know the elevation from the truck to the base of the sandstone bluff. The trail was steep enough to require switch backs. Buffy and I hiked at Stone Face, a site on the Shawnee National Forest.
The view from the base of the bluff extended 15-20 miles into a blue haze. We followed the trail along the bluff. It wasn’t the easiest place to hike with the ups and downs, and with so many rocks at the surface. I kept taking pictures of the bluff, turning often to check for picture possibilities behind me. Imagine my surprise when I turned and there was a black vulture on a ledge! Another one walked out of a crevice to join it.
I took a few pictures. Buffy and I then walked a little farther and stopped. We sat side-by-side, eating a snack. She was content just to sit, looking around and smelling the smells. A light breeze rustled dry leaves remaining on small trees nearby. No traffic sounds reached us. No other people were there. I prefer to hike where there’s as few people as possible. That way I can completely immerse myself in the experience.
We started back the way we came. The vultures were ….
Continued in a second blog for this trip.
Obviously, this downed oak tree is a popular place to dine. I would dine here too if I was a gray squirrel. Dining in the woods, listening to the creek gurgle by and sunlight warming the day.
These acorns look to fresh to have been buried in the ground. Gray squirrels also cache acorns and other nuts in tree cavities. They eat nuts in the winter and eat buds, seeds, flowers and mushrooms the rest of the year. They also take mushrooms and put them among twigs or in crotches of a tree to dry. The mushrooms are either eaten dry or added to their cache. Squirrels will also gnaw on bones for the calcium.
Gray squirrels build their nests from leaves and sticks, and they also nest in tree cavities. They have 2 broods a year.
Lightning downed this tree many years ago. Mosses, lichens and shelf mushrooms now cover most of the bark. A 4-foot strip of bark is missing on the top of the log, with acorns scattered along most of it. An inch-and-a-half hole disappearing into a more rotten part of the wood probably belongs to a mouse.
This downed tree is in the ravine on my property, and Buffy and I pass it often on our hikes. It will be interesting to watch activities around the log and its decaying process too.