Monday 30 July 2012. Two-Part Birthday Velo

The problem with trying to plan a lot of fun, celebratory things to do is that there is only so much time in which to do them, and celebration can easily turn into stress.

This early morning of my birthday I wanted do three favorite activities: bike, swim, and work on this blog over coffee at Cafe Zojo.

It was a bit complicated but planned to have it  go more or less like this: 1.  Look for beavers at Meadowbrook Park.  2. Ride out a little past Yankee Ridge.  3.  Swim.  4. Ride back to Meadowbrook.  Get closeups of cardinal flower and look for signs of gentians at the Marker statue and the Freyfogel Lookout (official name of what I’ve been calling the “observation platform.”).   Also check other sites for signs of cardinal flowers.
5. Get coffee and granola bar at cafe Zojo.  Write about what I just did.

An so it was, with a little stress but nothing unmanageable, on Blue.

Part 1.  Got to see one beaver swim from downstream of the bridge to upstream, where the drain is. It was not the huge one, who

always seems to go first, and didn’t see any more after that. A fellow beaver-watcher pointed out that there was a newly beaver-

felled tree a little downstream from the bridge.  Here it is. Wow.

Rode without taking many pictures to the “Mount of Quiet,” Yankee Ridge on Old Church Road.  It’s amazing, even with some

intermittent traffic, how quiet that place is.  The only continuing sound was that of crickets.  This is the song that played in my head and that I sang some of.  It’s a little heavy on the “I’m a sinner” idea, but the point was that, here on my birthday,  I really would like to aim the rest of my life toward helpful choices.  A more difficult task than it seems when we’re young and idealistic.

Rode past the beautiful prairie garden around my friend Janice’s house: compass plants still tall, yellow-flowered; prairie dock tall also but starkly smooth-stemmed, still with many buds; Liatris starting to fade.  Was tempted to stop and take a quick photo but was glad I didn’t.  The dog from last time ran next to me on the road to the end of its territory, barking. Fortunately it didn’t continue to chase me. It was well-mannered to that extent.

Rode fast toward home but did veer off of Race Street long enough to get a quick, distant shot of the cardinal flower and then sped home and to the pool.

Part 2. Rode back to Meadowbrook toward the rabbit bridge, looking for a way to get close to the cardinal flower.  Wound up just

climbing down into the dry stream-bed and did get a bunch of close-ups.  Of course, no photo does it justice.  I love how the reds of the royal catchfly and the cardinal flower both are so wonderfully intense but not identical.  The royal catchfly tends a little to the orange side, the cardinal flower ever so slightly to the purple.

At the Marker statue looked, and what do you know, found, signs of gentians, with very small, green buds so couldn’t tell whether

they were the cream or the blue kind.  Goes to show, once again, that the more you look, the more you see.

Also examined the Freyfogel Lookout, and sure enough, there the gentians were, again, in tiny bud. A lot of these looked pretty

sad, likely an effect of the drought.  Interesting that the cream gentians at the “Inner Prairie” were so far along and so healthy looking.

Before heading to Cafe Zojo took some time to admire the late-July composition of the prairie near the Lookout.  Was struck by

the pods of the Baptisia, many of which were a lovely dark indigo (hence the common name). They looked especially handsome next to the golden yellow compass plant flowers.

And on top of all that, and some other things, my older son (his own idea!) made me some special pancakes for lunch.  Life is good.


Sunday 29 July 2012. All Year I Wait for This

It was another delightfully cool morning as I donned a light sweater and headed out on Blue for Meadowbrook Park.  The plan today was to check on the beavers (though haven’t seen them the last few times and wasn’t holding my breath), make most of a clockwise (atypical) loop, and then spend some time in the “Inner Prairie” with the cream gentians and royal catchfly.

As I stood at the cool, damp railing of the Windsor/Vine bridge could hear munching sounds and quickly located the large beaver

on the east bank, north of the bridge, using its little hands to eat.  Meanwhile, noticed on the other side of the stream a dark, elongate, ferret-looking creature slithering away from the stream.  My guess is it was a weasel.  Unfortunately, couldn’t train the camera on it fast enough to get a picture before it disappeared into the vegetation.   After a while, the beaver trundled noisily over the grass and into the shallow water,  swimming through the duckweed upstream a ways and to the other side.  It got out and walked to the where the stream flowed into a drain and out of my sight.

Then looked downstream to see if any other beavers were about, and, as if on cue, the other two came swimming toward the

bridge, one passing the other.  They also swam north out of sight.

After that satisfying visit, rode counter-clockwise around the park, stopping to see the Site #2 royal catchfly, still in firey red bloom.

Farther down came to the statue entitled, “Marker,” which represents  a young woman looking over the prairie toward where the

sun comes up.  It’s where I’ve seen gentians, both white and blue, in years past.  The statue makes me think  of “youth,” (which says something about my own age), but then there is that skull she’s standing on, which makes me think of the brevity of youth, and also about how the prairie during its cycles shows both youth and fecundity and also age and death.  How appropriate.

Anyway, didn’t see any sign of gentians here.  But will keep my eye on the site.

Passed the lovely little tree-bordered cluster of Liatris and got a few shots of them.

Looked carefully for cardinal flower among the willows just west of the Liatris but didn’t find any.

Crossing the rabbit-statue bridge remembered that I’d seen a couple of cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) plants the last two years down below the bridge, where Davis and McCullough creeks came together.  Looked near the bone-dry streambed and sure enough, there was a

spike of red flowers!  Yes, they are my much-anticipated favorite.  Wondered how long it had been blooming–there were quite a few flowers open.  Couldn’t help thinking how totally cool it is that they appear right before my birthday.And while the royal catchfly are still going strong!  Couldn’t get very close to the plant, at least not today.  Maybe I’ll do some climbing in a few days to get a better shot.

Took my time walking through the “Inner Prairie.”  The light was different from last time.  Thought, as often before, that you can’t step into the same prairie twice.  The place is totally enchanting.  Couldn’t believe how many cream gentians there were, and

loaded with flowers and buds of all sizes.  Some had already been visited by bees: they were slightly open.  How odd that I didn’t find any at the other places I’d seen them before.

The royal catchfly were spread out in that stretch in the very middle of the “Inner Prairie.”  So very gorgeous, but

again,  felt like I just couldn’t quite convey the extent of their loveliness photographs, alas.

Came out of the “Inner Prairie” at a different place than last time, so got to look at the cardinal flower again.  Tried to get a little

closer but realized it would be more of a project than I wanted to undertake just then.  It would wait for another time.  Was just relieved and happy it survived the drought!

Saturday 28 July 2012. To Brownfield and a Little Beyond

For today’s velo wanted to check the High Cross (this seems to be the more common spelling) Road bridge over I-74 to see if the possum remains were still there.  And maybe get to Thomasboro if the time allowed.  Though it would have been simple enough to go the way I’d gone before, checked to see what Google Maps would suggest.  The Google Maps route did not cross I-74 at High Cross, so thought I could go the old way and come back the other.

The morning could not have been more gorgeous, unless, of course, it had been pouring down drought-quenching rain. Short of that, the air was delightfully cool and bell-clear. Didn’t even attempt to photograph the sun-disc, which was blinding right from it’s appearance.

Another reason not to shoot the sunrise was that the camera battery was low. But didn’t even feel particularly observant, even with the perfectly comfortable weather.  So settled into limited-ambition mode, focused on enjoying the sensation of riding.

Got quite a way out Main Street before my attention was arrested; it was a pair of tubular lights on the lawn of the Champaign

County Highway Department Couldn’t tell what they were supposed to be illuminating.

The possum remains were there, not changed a whole lot, though the face of the former critter was less defined.

Along the edge of Brownfield Woods and across the road were still some Joe-Pye Weed, American bellflower, and brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba).

Rode past Olympian Drive but not as far as Ford Harris.  There were things to do today.

Instead of going all the way to University on High Cross turned south on Airport Road, at the southeast corner of Brownfield Woods.  Just inside the woods when I turned was a small crowd of deer, including at least three still-spotted fawns and one or two

does; no bucks.  Got a pretty close shot of them before they walked into the woods.

Saw a clump of wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) next to a clump of ironweed on the edge of Brownfield.  Yellow and purple

flowers always look nice together.

The woods seemed to have not much understory and a lot of fallen trees in various stages of decomposition.  You can see the

effects of the drought on the leaves in the foreground of this photo.  Could hear the eastern wood pewee song, echo-y in the woods.

Out on Airport Road (the Google Maps Route) past the woods got faked out momentarily by a deer statue.

Didn’t turn on Brownfield Road because I was looking for Perkins and almost ran into US 45.  Backtracked to Brownfield because I did not want to make the mistake I once did of being on a bike on US 45.

Also missed the turn onto Eastern Avenue.  When Brownfield ran into Perkins I just stayed on till it crossed Cunningham as Country Club Road and then turned south on Broadway: a brick road but downhill.

Stopped at the bridge on Broadway at Crystal Lake Park.  Could see several kinds of fish, which is always satisfying as it normally takes a lot of patient looking into an Illinois stream to see them.  Remembered the days when I worked for the Illinois Natural History Survey and helped seine fish to see what was at various stream sites.  Wished there would have been a way to have watched them in situ rather than stir up the bottom (hard work, at that) and yank them out of the water.

Noticed that there were just a whole lot of oak trees at this edge of Crystal Lake Park then noticed this street sign:

Was feeling nicely exercised, which made the theme from “Chariots of Fire” come into my head, which made me laugh thinking about Rowan Atkinson on the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics last night.  Then thought about the idea of the 86-year-old and very proper Queen Elizabeth II jumping (I know it wasn’t really she, but even the idea was funny) out of a helicopter with James Bond and parachuting into the Olympic arena.  But thought the part about the National Health Service was a bit strange….  Where am I anyway?

But then came back to the beautiful morning in Urbana and on home.

Friday 27 July 2012. Looking Up

It was cooler for this morning’s ride on Discovery to Meadowbrook Park than it’s been since Saturday.  Last night there were some large clouds and a little lightning and thunder and about a half-hour’s worth of light rain.  There were clouds again this morning that hinted at rain and made for a lovely appearance of the sun.

The song playing in my head was “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads, because it has references to water in it.

Actually, it’s been getting light later (as starts to happen this time of year), and there isn’t really enough light to take pictures of anything but the sky until pretty close to 6 AM.  So the sky was pretty much what I shot this morning.  It was the darkness, and also thinking about yesterday’s royal catchfly and cream gentians on the “soft” path, which there wasn’t time this morning to visit.  But I did urge a couple of passing walkers I thought would be interested to go check it out.
Saw the little patch of Liatris between the little trees.  Checked for and found the royal catchfly at the #2 site.  It was still bright and gorgeous.

There were more nice clouds as I approached the southeast corner of the big loop.

Wondered about the red-winged blackbirds I didn’t hear.

Stopped briefly at the Windsor/Vine bridge and leaned briefly on the dew-wet rail, but saw no beavers.  Didn’t stay long because I was feeling a little discouraged by the continuing drop of the water level.

Just beyond the bridge on the way home along Windsor Road, noticed the sky looking dramatic, with pinks and purples.  Got just

a shot of the tall Coreopsis, which really only work from some distance because they are so, well, tall, and thin in the


It’s hard to tell what they are close up.  So got a shot of them with sky.

Went a little out of my way–west of Race on Windsor–to get a good view of the sun coming up.  This is something nice about living in central Illinois–you’re never too far from the horizon.

Heading back on Race Street caught a view of the corn and more clouds.  Of course the song in my head (which I did also sing out loud, and no one objected) was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

Did get one flower (moonflower) closeup, though from a garden near home.  Sometimes the cultivated flowers also demand attention.  The person backing out of the drive way next to the plant agreed that the flowers were “mind-blowing”  and was happy I was photographing them.

Thursday 26 July 2012. There Be Gentians!?! And More Surprises!

On this warm, humid morning, the sky looked like it was thinking about rain, though it’s done that several times recently, with no effect.  Still, it was colorful and rather dramatic.

Yes, it was another Meadowbrook morning for Blue and me. The difference today would be a little walk on the unpaved path into the middle of the big loop.

But first was the usual counter-clockwise ride around the park.  Looked carefully among the willows near the bronze marker in memory of Bruno Scheileth for cardinal flowers, which I’d seen around there last year around this time.  Thought maybe they’d be early this year, but there was no sign of them.

The little patch of Liatris between the little burr oak and the little walnut(?) tree was giving its display, a couple of the stems with

a bit of a jog to them.

Near the observation platform noticed that not only was the red-winged blackbird that said “Mom” not there, but there didn’t seem to be much RWBB presence at all.  Have I just gotten habituated to them?

Checked for the second-site royal catchfly and found it, in all its glory.

Saw the Liatris near the northeastern corner of the  park.

At the Windsor/Vine bridge looked for beavers but found only bullfrogs–plenty of those, some inflated-looking, though not

singing a whole lot, and many sunfish.  Poor fish were crowded together in the pool under the bridge as if in a net being gradually drawn in.  Thought about the rigors of nature, whether the cardinal flowers would survive the drought, about death and extinction.

Went to the edge of the stream next to the bridge to remove a large styrofoam cup from the harsh but  enchanted tableau of nature.  Several frogs leaped into the water. On the way back to the bike saw some blooming side-oats gramma grass.  It had beautiful dark

red, tiny flowers but was so hard to get into focus.

Rode to the bike rack near the garden plots, locked Blue, and went on foot to the unpaved prairie path. It might be a stretch to include this walk as part of a velo, but it did start and end from the bike, and, besides, I claim it as part of my “grateful to be alive” pre-birthday celebration.

Thought I might walk vigorously and get exercise that way, but was so overwhelmed by the beauty of this road less taken that I could only slow down and take pictures. There were a pair of tall Liatris spikes, lots of compass plants, plenty of ironweed that

was only starring to bloom, and cup plants, though the cup plant seemed to bear a lot of “failed ” flowers. There were lots of

rattlesnake master and Monarda that were still fresh.

There were goldfiches, gorgeous in the starkest of surroundings, feeding in the midst of the gorgeous prairie.

Remembered seeing white (“cream,” actually, as my research has revealed) gentians here last year and wondered if the foliage would be evident yet or whether they might not appear at all.  Then, there they were, lots of them, in profuse bloom. Oh, wow…

But wait, there’s more….   While trying to get a shot of the gentians noticed these RED flowers, again, a lot of them.  Cardinal

flowers??  Didn’t seem like a wet enough place. They were royal catchfly!!!

Well, cardinal flowers still are my favorite, I think, but if they did miss this year, or–perish the thought–become extirpated from the park–this show of the royal catchfly would be some consolation for it.

When I came out of the prairie had to regain my bearings–it was one of those died-and-gone-to-heaven kinds of feelings and I had to work a little to disengage.  I’m sorry the photos don’t do it justice. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

For now, there was so much more to contemplate than extinction.

Tuesday 24 July 2012. Plants and Animals on a Southward Jaunt

This morning the sky was overcast, the air very warm and humid, uncomfortable except for the biker’s breeze and a little bit of wind from the west.  The dawn is getting later; didn’t really get going till almost 5:30 AM.

Did the standard counter-clockwise big loop around Meadowbrook Park.  Noticed how much the clouds can affect one’s mood, even if there is a drought and clouds might bring so-welcome rain.  Noticed that the yellow coneflowers and Monarda continued to fade.  Since I’ve never observed the prairie in quite this much detail before, couldn’t remember if this is the usual fade for this time of year or whether the drought is making it more pronounced.

Saw two deer on the north side of the southern stretch of the big loop, apparently doe and buck, interacting in a familiar but

low-key kind of way.  I think the rut is later in the year; it seemed like his antlers were still fuzzy, anyway.

At the observation platform did not check for the royal catchfly; was sure it was done for the year.  But on the other side of the path, at the other place I’d seen it, there it was, still intense against the other plants!  It even had a few unopened buds.  Couldn’t help but feel the mood-o-meter go

up, seeing those red stars.

The compass plants still looked impressive against the sky, even when their petals are withering.

Saw a couple of hiding Liatris but not the ones I saw last time.

Checked the Windsor/Vine bridge for beavers, but today my luck had run out.  Saw no beavers, but heard and also saw quite a few frogs.  Pointed out a big one to two people crossing the bridge at different times who wondered about the sound.  Got a frog singing on video (is that cheating?) which I did not post, but here is a still.  Noticed that the frogs seemed more round, kind of bloated, than I

remembered seeing them before.  Wondered if they were supposed to look that way.  Then noticed while photographing that when the frog’s  “chin” pouch inflated (what it uses to sing), its belly got smaller, the air going from shrinking belly to expanding chin pouch.  Never observed that, exactly, before, but it makes sense.

Saw some sunfish near the surface of the water by the bridge, not looking very happy in the warm, shrinking beaver pond.

Then rode on Philo Road to Old Church Road past the Barnhart Praire restoration, which had plenty of standing, blooming

compass plants.  Also there were quite a few tall prairie dock stalks in bud.

On Old Church, at the crossing of the very upper Embarras River saw three small, dark wading-type birds, flying, that made a screeching kind of call I would have associated with some kind of hawk.  They were very skittish and flew far off from the shore of the creek when I approached. Could see them circle back toward the spot where the’d been as I was leaving.

Rode as far as First Street then north to Curtis.

Heading back east on Curtis Road saw a red-tailed hawk land on a utility line. Don’t know why there seem to be many fewer of

them around here in the summer than in the winter.  Seems like there would be a lot for them to eat.

At the Embarras River crossing at Curtis there was swamp milkweed growing right next to the water.

Stopped at Cafe Zojo on Philo Road for a cup of the most delicious coffee around (black, of course) and a home-made granola bar, which I enjoyed outside with the sounds of birds and a view of waving grass and sky.

Rode back on the sidewalk on the south side of Windsor Road and enjoyed the goldfinches that congregate and fly about the

chain-link fence next to the row of cedars.

Monday 23 July 2012. Almost a Break

Was going to give Velo du Jour a rest for a day but then decided to post just a little about the morning ride, which actually was yesterday.

Just went to Meadowbrook Park to see what the beavers might be up to (you just never know what else there may be to see) and then took the small loop.

Got a nice video of one going from upstream to downstream, toward the dam, even making a turn near the bridge, but only a blurry still.  Sorry not to post the video; the last one took an hour and a half to load on YouTube.  As always it was fascinating to watch the beaver swim.  Take my word for it.

There was quite a lot of bullfrog action, singing and even frogs jumping into the water, which they haven’t seemed to do much

when I’ve watched them on my rides.  Here is a shot of one.

On the small loop found some wild senna (Cassia herbicarpa).  Actually I’d seen this plant on the big loop on the south side of the

park, but this was closer to the path and easier to photograph.

Got a shot of a bright rosinweed flower in the sunrise at the end of the small loop before heading home.