Tuesday 23 April 2013. Shoots, Buds, and Flowers of Mid-Spring

30 Days of Biking Day 23.

After a string of days with minimal rides was thrilled to make a midday trip to Meadowbrook Park.

Seemed like it would rain any time, but there was only an occasional light sprinkle.  The sky was thickly cloudy, but the temp was 57 F, and the wind rather light: plenty comfortable!  Indeed, the fragrance of, e.g., Narcissus, was evident in the mild air.

To my delight, the white-throated sparrows in the neighborhood (and also at Meadowbrook), at least some of them, sweetly and clearly intoned the first three notes of the the solo in the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  I knew the ones that knew it were out there somewhere.

Headed south on Race Street, where the shifting tilt of vultures gliding overhead caught my eye.  At least two or three lit and roosted in the

Vulture over Orchard Downs

wall of spruce trees along the sidewalk.  Amazing how hard it was to see those large birds sitting among the spruce branches.

At Meadowbrook parked Blue and walked toward the soft (yes, now it truly was) path to the interior of the prairie.  In the wooded area near the bike rack were Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) in bloom and pre-blooming May apples (Podophyllum peltatum), their umbrella-like leaves

Bluebells and May Apples

recently opened.  Also caught the scent of garlic, most likely that invasive garlic mustard Alliaria petiolata).

On the way to the prairie there was a lot of water near but outside of the creek.  Saw lots of large, wide, new crayfish chimneys.

Two Big Crayfish Chimneys

Water flowed noisily under the low wooden bridge over McCullough Creek.  In the bottom of the creek near the bridge could see bones, which I assumed must have belong to one of the beavers that had died since last summer [Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette]  But closer

Deer Bones in Creek

inspection revealed that the bones were long and must have belonged to a deer.  No sooner did I recognize the bones than realized a couple of live deer were almost close enough to touch. They seemed unconcerned by my presence.

Unconcerned Close Deer

A little way into the prairie saw a bluebird (not an indigo bunting because could just detect a rusty underside) perched on an old compass plant stalk, and it was indeed blue.  Stunning!  There was another, of a less saturated blue, near by.  Oh, for a camera with zoom!

Not much appeared yet growing above last year’s thatch. Wondered if any evidence of the shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia) I’d seen

First Shoots of Compass Plant

in past years was visible and checked out the site.  Yes!  Leaves and flower stalks were up; flowers were in green bud!  How exciting to

Shooting Star Buds 2013

see them from this early stage!  How exciting to watch the subtle, quiet beauty of the winter prairie transform into something striking and obvious.

Couldn’t resist catching this splash of cultivated spring color on the way home.  What an amazing show: narcissus, hyacinths and grape

Spring Primary Colors

hyacinths, and tulips all blooming together.  Maybe not as cool as native plants, but still  a pleasure to behold.

Blue Hyacinths and Foils


Sunday 21 April 2013. April Frost.

30 Days of Biking Day 21.

The sun already was almost out, the dawn chorus already starting to calm down as I took off on Blue at 6:00 this morning.  Exciting to anticipate this opening of time to ride with the increasingly early daylight.  Now to get out in time to see it!

Cold April Sunday Morning

The rainy weather (which, among other things, caused three inches of water to ooze up from the ground in our basement) this past week made for some brief bicycle rides, despite the inspiration of 30 Days of Biking.  So was really eager to get on the road this morning.  Dreamed of going lots of miles, but after this week, even Meadowbrook Park seemed a reasonably ambitious destination.  The sky was reasonably clear and there was only a slight east wind, but it was back down to 34 degrees F; frost was visible on the  edges of the new, lush greenery.  The temperature was perhaps an obstacle to maximum visual and olfactory enjoyment, but I don’t mind a prolonged early spring.

Caught the sun coming up over the Meadowbrook garden plots.

Sunrise Meadowbrook Garden Plots 21 Apr 13

Got a shot of the high water at the Rabbit bridge. The cardinal flower place was submerged, bathed.  Remembering last summer’s

High Water Davis:McCullough 21 Apr 13

drought, it was hard to be anything but delighted about it.

In the Walker Grove was some standing water.  Hope it helps the cardinal flowers to reappear there this summer.

Wet Land 21 Apr 13

Saw and heard lots of red-winged blackbirds parceling out the treetops and remaining compass plant stalks.  Yet more of last year’s

RWBB Displaying

plant growth was flattened.  But some still stood.

At the southeast corner of the park, the contrast between the frosted new growth and last year’s was pronounced.

April Frost on Greenery

After finishing the big loop of Meadowbrook had intended to get out in the country, but realized I’d been wanting to get a couple of items at Meijer and so stopped to get them.  Was greeted on my way to the door by a lone goose with an apparently lame foot.  Poor thing, a casualty of the goose population boom, I

Meijer Goose

suppose.  The expansive aisles of Meijer were pleasant in the lull of this Sunday morning.  Made sure to pause and enjoy the orchids on the way out.

Headed east on the sidewalk along the Stone Creek subdivision.  The water in the ditch was high and fast, the golf course pond full.  In

Coots at the Golf Course

the pond were a pair of coots. (Again, it would be so nice to have a camera with a decent zoom.   You’ll just have to take my word that the black dots in the photo are in fact coots.)  Rode almost to High Cross before deciding I was running out of time and needed to turn back.

On the way home stopped at the Windsor/Vine bridge over McCullough Creek and got a shot of an alder with a few catkins left, tiny

Tiny Alder Leaves and Fruit

fruits developing, and tiny leaves starting to emerge.  The water level seemed low for so much rain having just fallen.  The mats of algae that had been accumulating a couple of weeks ago had apparently been washed away.

Stopped a little ways downstream to check the chewed alders; the chew marks continue to fade.  Was dismayed to learn from the

Chewed Alders after 4 Months

Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that all of the beavers (seven were counted) appeared to have died since this summer, apparently the victims of tularemia, a rodent disease.  Was sad to observe their work still so evident.  Wondered if there might be any survivors, or how

Flotsam on Beaver Log with Green

  long it would be before some other beavers from “out of town” might find and settle in this habitat.

Sunday 14 April 2013. Some Fresh April Miles

30 Days of Biking II, Day 14.

At 6 am today it was 45 degrees F, the wind light and variable. The pavement was wet, but the sky was mostly clear.  Made me think of the word “fresh.”

Late-Clinging Oak Leaves 14 Apr 13

The dawn chorus was lively and polyphonic: robins and cardinals of about equal voice.  Also the white-throated sparrows sang especially earnestly, like they were determined to make up for lost time.  Didn’t hear the Dvorak Largo among them today; heard yet another variation of notes, but no piercing melancholy.  Amazing how many variations can comprise a species’ repertoire.

Rode right past Meadowbrook Park (what restraint!) and on south on Race Street, just in time to see the sun come up above the black,

Sun Crowning 14 Apr 13

yet-to-be-planted fields.  Sunrise out in the country!

Went south on Race to Old Church, then north on First Street.  Rode a long way without stopping; it was so good to put on some miles at last!

Race and Old Church 14 Apr 13

At First and Windsor was a pond with ducks; noticed for the first time a sign at the northeast corner, from which the only words

Izzak Walton Pond

I caught in quick passing were “Izzak Walton.”  The ducks were too far away to identify with certainty.  Probably they were mallards, though at this time of year possibly other species might also have been there.

Headed north on the bike path along First Street and noticed a good number of small earthworms on the path.  Then turned east on St. Mary’s Road, the pretty, narrow road with horses, barns (including round ones), and a hill(!), where cars, cyclists, and runners all like to travel, though at

Horses about to Kick

this hour it wasn’t a problem.  Still I’m perplexed that the recent improvement of the road made no provisions for cyclists or pedestrians/runners.  On St. Mary’s Road the worms were really big, the kind we used to call “night crawlers.”  The worms out on the

Large Worm on St. Mary's Rd

pavement were yet another marker of awakening April.

Monday 8 April 2013. Warm Wind and More Riding

30 Days of Biking II, Day 8.

Got back today from a wonderful (but bikeless, really, alas) trip to Wisconsin, where there still was snow on the ground.  Was greeted in Urbana, in contrast, by a temperature of 66 degrees F–stormy-warm.   There was no rain, but the sky was overcast with sculpted clouds with the occasional gap.  Neutral colors still predominated, but you could feel (wind) hear (bird song, even white-throated sparrows!) see (a little more green, buds and early flowers), smell (wet ground and what goes with it) the powerful stirring of spring.  Wondered what it must be like for my 15-year-old, when even this 57-year-old is getting swept up into it.

Soon as I got home, took Blue out of the garage, put a little lube on the chain, topped off the air in the tires, and headed south into a bit of wind, toward Meadowbrook Park and beyond!

Cornus mas Aflower 8 Apr 13

The creeks were running and increasingly festooned with filamentous algae, something I noticed in other places between here and Chicago also from the train on my trip.

Getting Green, McCullough:Davis Creeks

The remains of the prairie plants at Meadowbrook continued to get flattened to the ground, though several stalwart stalks of compass

Still Standing Stalks

plants still stood.   [Saying that was fun.  Makes me think of Beowulf.]

Rode E on Windsor and S on Philo. The gusty SW wind picked up.  Turned E on Old Church Road and up then down where Yankee Ridge lifts the road, not quite to High Cross.  Went down at full speed, enjoying the little danger–wheeeee!  But going back, up and into

Yankee Ridge, up and into the Wind

the wind, was more work than I’ve been used to for a while.  Whew!  Still so so good to be riding outside with no gloves!

On the way back, stopped at the Windsor/Vine Bridge and photographed the alders in bloom, catkins diagonal in the breeze.

Alder Parts in Wind

Remembered last year’s first observed rides and really felt the fullness of the turn of a year.  Felt an urge and hope to keep going with Velo du Jour (which is never guaranteed!) but also to refine it, to let it “evolve” somehow.  We shall see…

Sunday 31 March 2013. Life Stirs!

It was 45 degrees F at 6:20 on this cloudy Easter Sunday morning, and even before I opened the front door, could hear the insistent, almost frantic, robin solo leading the dawn chorus.

A lot has happened since last week’s light snow–like another foot of it, and then most of it melted.  Also, the dawn chorus–what a

Snow Remains 31 March 13

wonderful epithet for the mass bird-song of early morning!–has made its debut for the year.  In winter one hears bird-song I (recall cardinals, especially) but they are more isolated, maybe just a reminder that a lot of birds don’t leave for the winter.  But now the air is filled with the urgent voices of spring–birds on a mission.  And it’s hard not to be stirred by it.

The second (for me) round of 30 Days of Biking, the event that started me on this blogging adventure, approaches (tomorrow!).  Can hardly believe it was enough to tell about my daily ride in a 150-character “tweet” with no links, not even photos!  So am going to make a serious effort to be more terse and concise in these posts.  Hard once you start putting up lots of pictures and getting wordy.  Let’s see how it goes…

Had two goals for this morning: Meadowbrook Park and the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration.  At the first site checked the alders: along with last year’s flower remnants were lots of tender, dangling, new catkins.  When, exactly, did they appear?

Alder Flowers against Early Morning Sky

Got another shot of the chewed alders.  Noticed the water level in McCullough Creek seemed low for a foot of snow recently melting into

Chewed Alders, Closeup 31 March 13


Along the PR Hickman wildflower walk was a crowd of people gathered for an Easter Sunday worship service, which made for a very different atmosphere in this usually quiet, “lonely” place.

Got more pics of the pussy willows, a week further along in their bloom.

Pussy Willows and Crowded Parking Lot 31 March 13
Looks like some of the flowers are crawling up the stem.

Then headed west on Windsor Road.  Loved the feeling of vastness of the empty fields on either side, which I could enjoy more without the discomfort of the recent cold temperatures.

The City of Champaign Prairie Restoration looked kind of trashy with last year’s vegetation now so beaten down and weathered away, exposing scattered human paper products, etc.  But there were also points of interest: along with a good-sized animal burrow, at least one duck and a solitary(?!) goose were a group of five coots that got close enough to photo sans zoom.  Closer to Windsor was what

Coots and Duck at CCPR
Coots, honestly.

looked like a muskrat lodge.  Seems like the effort to look is always rewarded with something to see.

Probably Muskrat Lodge

Now that the spring is in motion, I don’t mind leaving winter behind.

Scilla Emerging
Back in the neighborhood