Friday 29 May 2012. The Elusive Royal Catchfly, and Other Prairie Flowers

Rode Discovery this morning; the back tire is good as new after a minor adjustment.

This was, hands down, the very hottest morning of the year so far. Didn’t get a numeric reading, but it just felt hot, which it normally does not, at 5:15 AM.  But it did cool off some going from home toward Meadowbrook Park.

Again today there were some clouds to give the sunrise some color and texture.

Compass plant against sunrise

Today’s post is pretty much all about the flowers of Meadowbrook.  At the southwest corner of the park, the yellow coneflowers were starting to make a yellow blanket.   More blooms were opening on those sentinels of the prairie, the compass plants.  There

Way-blooming compass plant

also were good-sized areas of green with white flowers: Baptisiaand rattlesnake master, especially.  Clumps of tall prairie grasses are becoming more evident.

Tall but still young prairie grass and sky

Really wanted to spot the royal catchfly this morning.  Stood on the observation platform and looked and looked but didn’t see

Can you find the royal catchfly? Hint: it’s behind a Baptisia.

it.  So was just going to go into the prairie and search but did finally see it from the edge before I went ahead, ignoring the possible attacks of chiggers and deer ticks (they must be out there, with all the deer) and got close and photographed the few

Royal catchfly hiding among a lot of other tall plants.

plants with the gorgeous red-star flowers.  It’s so easy to get a decent photo of them!  Cardinal flower (who knows what kind of

Royal catchfly closeup

year it’s going to be for them?) is still my favorite, but I do get a similar surge of endorphins when I look at these.

Also got a fairly decent close-up of Culver’s root.

Best shot yet of Culver’s root

Farther on, stood on the Windsor/Vine bridge for a while; heard a couple of brief bullfrog solos; saw the spreading rings where the tadpoles touch the surface to gulp air.  Occasionally one would jump part way out of the water, like it couldn’t wait to be in the more terrestrial stage of its life.  But I detected no beavers.  Also wonder where the duck family went.

There were at least three species of blooming plants the identity of which I was not sure.  Will have to look them up.

Saw lots and lots of red blackberries, especially at the northwest corner of the park.  The SD card had only one shot left, and I didn’t want to do a bunch of deleting just then.  Will get a pic another time, maybe when I figure out the mystery flowers.

Crazy flowers, including a mystery species, and sky

Thursday 28 June 2012. Main Street and Highcross Road Revisited

Today’s post will be brief.  It’s a good exercise to keep it short.

So, this morning went back east on Main Street and then north on to Highcross

The air was warmer and more humid, but still not too bad.

Drama in the sky

The sunrise was more full of shapes and color then it has been for a while.

Noticed that although a lot of the houses on Main were plain, none of them was really in bad repair (unlike a structure I saw later in the trip down on Highcross).

The only smells I noticed on this trip were melting plastic at the Solo plant and then some whiffs of the occasional dead things and a skunk farther on.  I miss the linden.

Passed Weaver Park and admired all the yellow coneflowers and Monarda.

Just over the I-74 bridge, was surprised on this road that normally is quiet at this time of day by a convoy of about 8 dump, etc. trucks w/ flashing yellow lights that barreled south on High Cross. A construction emergency?

Construction convoy

The dry possum with the snarling face was still there on the side of the road on the I-74 bridge.  It didn’t smell at all, from where I saw it.

Rode by the Apple Dumpling, through the dark woods, by corn and bean fields, a cemetery, a long row of hackberry and mulberry trees.  There were some birds on the wire overhead that looked interesting (and, oh, yes, plenty of goldfinches), but they wouldn’t sit for a picture.

There were no sparkling surprises today; that and the cloudy sky made me feel more moody than exhilarated, as is my usual state

Was feeling moody here

on these trips, at least by the second half.  But that’s just today’s report.  It’s all good, really.

Closer to home, waited for what seemed to be a very long red light at the corner of Main and Vine street.  Tried to be still.  It’s hard work.

27 June 2012. To Weaver Park: the Mini-Meadowbrook

Rode Blue (still need to work on Discovery’s back tire) on this slightly chilly (long sleeves good), very clear morning that is supposed to turn into a very hot (upper 90’s) day.

Decided, after days of considering it, to make Weaver Park today’s Velo destination.

Sunrise at the corner of Main Street and Cunningham Avenue

The trip to Weaver Park is a different ride than the one to Meadowbrook: busy streets (meaning any cars at 5 AM), businesses, several small houses of worship, houses in various states of maintenance, an old toilet out on the front lawn,  a VFW post.  There’s the Solo Cup plant, which has more going on than I’d thought at first: the fragrance of melting plastic and, even in a slow economy, signs trying to recruit employees .  Then there is “Detention Row”   (the Champaign County Jail, Nursing

Hiring at Solo Cup

Home, and Humane Society), ILEAS, the Highway Department, and an army reserve unit.  Also, there is a house with a prairie garden right near the street, which included butterfly weed and even a lead plant!  I believe it was where I saw some royal catchfly last year, but today didn’t see any sign of it.

The view of Weaver Park from Main was beautiful with yellow coneflowers and Monarda.  Took a few pics, but thought there should be some kind of path, so went a little farther on Main and turned south on Dodson to Washington Street (where there was some major building construction)  and back through the Prairie School parking lot to the south side of Weaver Park.

View of Weaver Park from Main Street


It didn’t seem like an official entrance, with its fence and expanse of mowed grass but seemed easier than bushwhacking from Main Street.

Back of Weaver Park from Washington Street

When I got to the prairie was delighted by the flowers and the pond (well, it does have a drain, but still) with frogs, ducks, and emergent vegetation.  Not sure on the species of those; need to look them up.  Actually, I was just recently (like today) told that this pond was once (before the drain was put in) a buffalo wallow!  How cool is that?

Pond in the middle of Weaver Park prairie

The plants at Weaver Park were largely the same as those at Meadowbrook, though I saw swamp milkweed here and haven’t yet this year seen it over there.  There was a lot of very lovely Culver’s root and some purple asters.

Swamp Milkweed, Monarda, Culver’s root, and emergent aquatic plants at Weaver Park

There was a mowed edge along the prairie and I followed it northward.  Tripped on a piece of wire mesh on the ground, something one does not see at Meadowbrook.  But was pleased to find, on the east side  (in line with Illinois Street), an official, if modestly indicated, entrance to the park!  This is where I will enter next time.  A little farther northward, the mowed path wound into the middle of the prairie.  Reminded myself not to worry about having to follow the path all the way and document everything today; there would be future visits.  Rode away from the park through a neighborhood with small, simple houses, few elaborate gardens, and no sidewalks.  Thought of how Weaver Park is even more of an oasis for this part of town than Meadowbrook is for its location.  I’m eager to return. 

Tuesday 26 June 2012. Obstacles, Doubts, and Delights

This morning had a hard time getting out of the house and was visited by thoughts of, “How much longer do I want to keep doing this blog?  Is it still fun?  Who cares if I do this?  Am I repeating myself too much?….?”  But when in doubt, just go out….

Then when I did get going, it became apparent after reaching the end of the block that the repair on Discovery’s rear tire, of which I was so proud, was not quite right but had a lump near the patched area.  So had to go back and switch it for Blue.

The air was quite cool: was comfortable in a fleece jacket.  The sky was clear.  Today paid less attention to the source of the new light than to where it fell as it crept up over the horizon.

Today’s would be another quick trip where I would try to control the urge to take so many pictures.  But had to try to get one of the deer on Race Street, being close and in a different spot.  Alas, the photos were blurry.

Below the rabbit bridge the creek bed was dry.

Farther along, after the left turn, the expanse of yellow coneflower/Monarda did not fail to delight.

Got a better shot of  Culver’s root than I had up to now.   This was on the north side of the path just before the little bridge at about the middle of the south leg of the big loop path. 

Stopped at the observation platform to see if I could spot the royal catchfly, which is at least several yards away from the path.  Near the platform (along with at least two or three young rabbits that were scurrying around under it) was some Desmodium, or

Did pollen explode out of some of these flowers?

tick trefoil.  I’m not sure whether it’s the prairie species (Desmodium illinoiense), which is described on the sign at the platform, or D. canadense,  showy tick trefoil.  The sign said that the prairie kind released pollen explosively when the right kind of bee does what it’s supposed to do on it.  Watched the flowers a while, but it was a little early for a lot of bee activity.  Poking the flowers gently did not result in a pollen explosion.

Looked from the platform for royal catchfly but could just not see it at all, which made me feel a little panicky.  What happened to the flowers?  How did I find them before?  Maybe the other plants had grown taller and obscured them.  Hadn’t planned to go out

The elusive royal catchfly

into the prairie to look for it but just did not want to leave without seeing it.  To my relief it was there, but there was not much of it, which worried me a little.  Later, I realized that its bloom is just beginning and likely there will be more to see.  Oh, patience!

At the bridge, a few bullfrogs sang, but didn’t see any beavers, even after standing there for some time.  Saw a line of suspicious bubbles but couldn’t be sure they were from a beaver.  Decided to look downstream, maybe at the dam.  But there were no beavers to be seen, though there was a tree with just a little bark chewed off at the bottom–the beaver was probably interrupted.  Checked several places where a path lead to the stream: at one there was a doe

Deer across the stream

standing right across the stream on the bank.  Walking closer, a bird exploded from the understory, though I couldn’t quite identify it.  Checked one more site and still no beaver, but flushed another bird as I got close to the stream; this time could see it was a woodcock–the beak is very distinctive.  I’d heard woodcocks in the spring doing their extravagant mating display flights and seen them as moving, and diving, specks in the sky, but I’d never seen one up close before.  But of course it was gone before I could get a picture.

On the way home, planned to stop at the northwest corner of the park to photograph an example of this years loaded blackberry brambles, but the light was too bright.  The place where it had smelled bad now smelled fine, though there was a pile of sand and some flattened grass there.  My guess is that an unfortunate deer got hit trying to cross Windsor and died in the vegetation.  I’m glad it was taken care of.


Monday 25 June 2012. No Camera, on Purpose

Today I left the camera at home.  It would be a short ride, and also  just wanted to observe and enjoy without worrying about good enough light, composition, etc.  It’s funny though, because I really think that stopping, photographing, and writing afterward have sharpened my observation and deepened my enjoyment of the world around me, especially of the details of Meadowbrook Park.

At Meadowbrook, rode south along Race Street (on Blue; Discovery had a flat (!?) and I hadn’t quite finished fixing it) around and down (fast!) past the rabbit statue and over the SW bridge, etc., a standard counterclockwise loop around the park.

The air was warm enough that I didn’t need the light long-sleeved shirt I brought.  The sky was mostly cloudy and, and the bunches of blue-gray were tinted faintly only in small areas with purple and pink.

The patches of yellow coneflower and (purple-pink) Monarda were increasing in number and size, but there were also large areas of green-on-green.  Inside the big loop, getting closer to the observation platform, especially, it seemed that the grasses (big bluestem, maybe) were starting to send up their tall stems.

Stopped at the observation platform to look for the royal catchfly.  But first paused to take in the spread of the prairie in its late-June splendor and asked for something that parents of teenagers, e.g., need aplenty: wisdom and  strength.  Seemed like it was out there somewhere.  Had a really hard time finding  the couple of tiny red spots of royal catchfly flowers.  It was kind of thrilling to know that hidden away in all that green was a cache (that few people would guess)  of flaming red star-shaped flowers.  I don’t want to disturb the place too much, but another day am going to go back there and get more pictures.  Talk about irresistible.

Saw a deer, with about one-third grown antlers, bounding (again) along the fence on the east side of the park.  It was really noisy, for a deer, especially.

At Windsor/Vine bridge, the bullfrogs were singing again.  A person walking around the park stopped at the bridge and asked if the beaver had been around,  I said I hadn’t seen it but did indicate some water movement along the shore to the south (downstream) of the bridge.  I said, “If you stay and watch the water, often you see a beaver.”  He glanced in the direction of the moving water, smiled and said, “Have a good day,” and went on.  About three seconds later, the beaver emerged, moving smoothly and quietly, low in the water but leaving quite a trail of bubbles: a long exhale.

Can’t leave  a post entirely without a visual, so this is today’s.

Sketch of beaver from memory

Sunday 24 June 2012. Crepuscular Animals and Surprising Plants.

After wanting for a while but not succeeding in getting on the road at the very first light of morning, I did it today. Of course  it wasn’t because of my resolve and determination but because I realized at 3:30 AM that I’d forgotten to water my friend’s thirsty container garden yesterday and couldn’t sleep. It’s a good thing I was up because I was able to chase away the raccoon that’s been raiding our trash can. After going over to check the plants, which, thankfully, were alive, headed out toward the Windsor/Vine bridge (this is a more precise designation than I’ve been using) at Meadowbrook Park. On Sundays I usually like to travel the otherwise busy streets of Champaign, but wondered what might be going on at Meadowbrook just a little earlier than usual.

On the way saw two small raccoons in the street. Thought there must be a bigger one nearby but didn’t see it. Was foolish enough to try to get a photo–too dark!  The two little raccoons squeezed into a storm drain.  It must be a hard life, that of the urban raccoon, the life of an outlaw.

Meadowbrook Park, along Windsor Road in early morning light, with sculpture

At the bridge, it was light enough to see movement in the water but not distinct shapes. The bullfrogs were singing away, lots of distinct voices, solos and choruses, coming from near and far. Then the beaver appeared, moving from downstream to upstream of the bridge and then out of sight. Didn’t try to get a photo, still too dark.

Made the big loop around Meadowbrook, trying not to take a whole bunch of pictures but not being able to resist the changing sky or the compass plants, but didn’t post them because there are already so many.   Stopped at the observaton platform to look for the royal catchfly; wasn’t sure I could see it in the still not very strong light. Will come back to follow its progress.

After Meadowbrook decided to see where Prospect and/or Mattis avenues went and headed west on Windsor. In a cut field (winter wheat, I think) were a whole lot of rock doves, pigeons, the kind of which you see in droves in downtown

Rock doves (pigeons) in a cut field.

Chicago, for example. Also, nearby was a murder (though don’t know how many it takes to make one of those) of crows.

A murder (?) of crows

Checked out the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration between First and Neil Streets. Among the plants in bloom were black-eyed Susans, Baptisia., and Yellow coneflowers.  There were some pre-blooming compass plants and prairie dock, but also a lot of exotics. There was water at the bottom of the slope away from the road with ducks, a non-great blue heron of some kind, frogs, and things that were not visible except as myseriously moving vegetation. Then, right at the base of the sign for the prairie restoration, I was amazed to see a large patch of purple prairie clover and even more amazed to see a whole bunch of lead plant, much more than there was at Meadowbrook!

Lead  plants

Something else for the guy who complains about the “Urbana Bozos” to rub in our faces, I guess.

Headed down toward Prospect and had a lovely ride until I saw this sign at Curris Road. What was beyond the sign looked like a

Sign at the end of Prospect Avenue, at Curtis Road

bike path, but the “no trespassing” kind of put me off, so headed down Curtis toward Mattis, past Carle Clinic and past some new houses, some with front porches.  At the end of Mattis Avenue was Willard Airport, which I might have known if I’d thought about it for a minute.

Rode east on Old Church to a sign pointing to the Savoy Recreation Center, which turned out to be Prospect Avenue, and very much a bike path, a nice one, at that. The kind of path a visiting friend or relative who otherwise doesn’t go in for bike riding

The Harold E. Ruppel Memorial Bike Path, a continuation of Prospect Avenue

could be induced to take.  At the end of it (Curtis Road, didn’t see it from the other side) was a little pond with ducks and red-winged blackbirds and planted around with some prairie plants. There were a lot of black-eyed Susans and TONS of what

Savoy pond with black-eyed Susans and lots of purple prairie clover

turned out to be purple prairie clover, something for which I had to search carefully at my beloved Meadowbrook. Guess   the prairie restorers planted it generously.  Still, it was a lovely surprise.

Continued north on the bike path now paralleling Prospect past a yard with a lot of tents and things from a recently concluded wedding reception and a garden that must have been on the garden walk, or could have been, it was so packed with flowers.  At the corner of Prospect and Windsor was this sign.  I think it meant, “please dismount to cross the street,” but it came off as a bit

Sign near the corner of Prospect Avenue and Windsor Road

bossy, like one couldn’t possibly carefully ride across the street.   I stopped for the red light though did not dismount (though at a time other than Sunday morning I might have done it),  just rode on Prospect, on the street, to Kirby and on home.

Saturday 23 June 2012. Total Success, Including Royal Catchfly

When I opened the door to go out this morning, the sky, in its first light, was an arresting pink.  Not possible to capture in a photograph, unfortunately.  Did get an ok shot of its next stage, right before it started to fade.

Colorful sky before the fade.

Decided that this morning’s trip would include a foray to at least one other (Barnhart, on Old Church Road, between Philo Road and Race Street) prairie site, not far but at least something in addition to  Meadowbrook Park.

Rode to Meadowbrook on Windsor Road directly to the bridge by the playground.  The place that smelled bad the last two days seemed a lot better, though one could still detect some of that distinctive odor of terrestrial animal decay.  No beavers or ducks were apparent at the bridge (though the frog was there in its usual place, and there was frog singing, even two voices overlapping); a person crossing the bridge with whom I’ve exchanged comments about animal activity in the park stopped, and we discussed our sightings of ducks and beavers.  We could hear a kind of chewing sound, and then a beaver appeared on the west side of the stream, the

Beaver lingering in the stinging nettle

south side of the bridge.  It lingered there among some stinging nettle, chewing.  We watched and chatted, but the beaver didn’t seem concerned, which surprised me.  I actually went on my way before the beaver did.

At the other corner of the park, just past the bridge by the rabbit statue, the Monarda and yellow coneflowers were again stirringly lovely.  I wonder what is about them that gives that uplifting effect.  Maybe it’s that the coneflowers look like faces turned up to the sky with hair streaming behind(?)  Also, the Culver’s root looked like little candelabra (is that the plural?) with their tapering flower spikes, but it’s so hard to get a sharp photo of them.  It all was beautiful, but didn’t think I could get a really good photo with the light as it was, or something.  Thought and thought about having seen this place so very many times–there might be times of not seeing wonders, or of not being able to capture them.  Wanted to stop worrying about getting better and better photos (had I maxed out, reached my limit?) and eventually, for that time, was successful enough.

The compass plants in the big loop continued to put up tall stalks and flowers bloomed farther down the stalks that had gone up before.  Took more photos (one of those irresistible-to-photograph plants) of them but am not including them in today’s post.

Saw a deer running and leaping and across the big loop.

The find of the day was the royal catchfly (Silene regia), which I’ve been looking out for during the past week.  There’s nothing like flaming red on the prairie!   The buds, with their little bit of red poking out, look kind of like little tubes of red lipstick.  The star-shaped

First Royal catchfly closer up

opened flowers are quite spectacular.  They’re almost as gorgeous as the cardinal flowers (my all-time favorite, the blooming of which the rest has been leading up to), which comes later in July, though I’ve already been on the lookout with how early so many things have been this year.  Well, that’s my opinion, anyway.  Looked out from the observation platform (very handy for this) and spotted some little dots of red.  Generally I don’t bushwhack into the prairie, but really wanted to get a close photo of the royal catchfly.  The vegetation was covered with dew, really wet, but no matter!  Do you agree?  On the way back caught this old spiderwort among dewy Baptisialeaves and pods. Also saw another nice bunch of purple prairie clover not far from that.  Heard the “Mom” bird.

Late spiderwort and Baptisia leaves

Headed out of the park to Philo road, where I hadn’t been for a while.  Decided to go to the top of Yankee Ridge and then stop by Barnhart Prairie on the way back home.  It was pleasant to travel that route again.  It looked so varied compared to the roads to

Total success, of course

Mahomet and even to St. Joe.  On the way saw a sign by the tall, dark green corn and thought it was inspiring.  While photographing it could hear the voice of a cyclist on Old Church Road saying, “Yankee Ridge.”

Took a photo looking east from the top of the ridge, which was surprisingly easy to climb with Discovery’s tires well-filled, then turned around and headed back west.

View to the east from the top of Yankee Ridge

Stopped at Barnhart Prairie Restoration, which is nowhere near as lovely as Meadowbrook Park but does have some nice native flowers (and still a lot of exotics) also a path mown through it, though I found it from the road and didn’t see where it started at

Barnhart Prairie path

either end.  I have to say it would be a lot nicer to ride along than monoculture fields on a long trip.

On Race Street heading north heard the distinctive call (“kill-deer”) and then saw the bird that made it, a killdeer.  One sees them a lot in open areas, even in farm fields, but somehow hadn’t stopped to photograph one till now.  Here are two. They are different sizes and have slightly different markings.  One might think they are parent and offspring; I’m not sure.

I’ve passed this University of Illinois research facility many times, and I understand their need to restrict access, but today the

Not exactly welcoming

signs just struck me as humorously inhospitable.

Coming home, registering how the air had gone, over the course of this trip, so gently yet detectably from chilly to pleasantly warm, I enjoyed one of those bike-euphoria states for a little string of moments, where everything, including my thorniest present concerns, seemed to fit into a great, benevolent plan.  Total success.  I smiled.