Saturday 3 June 2017. Greeting the Early Sun and Catching the Abundance of Spiderwort and Penstemon

It was 67 degrees F under mostly clear, mostly calm skies at 5:17 this morning as I wheeled Rhododendron down the driveway and toward South Race Street.

Was determined to be present to receive the gift of additional daylight and thus additional time with which to take in the outdoors. I am a morning person but this year have not quite managed to get up with the birds and not squeeze in too many little activities to make it out the door before official sunrise. Until today!

The bike felt smooth and easy, and the morning was fresh and of a perfect temperature, but today I felt very much not quite awake. As an inveterate morning person, this does not happen to me very often, but when it does I think of the night-people who have to be awake early for something unusual and am sorry for my past insufficient empathy for their situation.

Stopped not far into the ride for the irresistible pastel cabbage roses

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and the fuchsia-colored sweet peas

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Looked like there were lots of little apples on “my” tree.

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Saw some Amanita mushrooms under the spruce trees,

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but not tons of shiny, new, succulent specimens.

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Saw also a couple individuals of another species,

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which looked healthy enough.

At Meadowbrook Park, was delighted to welcome the rising sun.

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Stopped at several spots to take it in, over McCullough Creek at the rabbit-statue bridge

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and down the path a little way

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Wondered whether there still would be blue flag irises, and, oh, there were!

Framed by prairie dock leaves,

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and close-up.

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The park was empty, the morning fresh, already mint-fragrant!
the Penstemon

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and the spiderwort

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therapeutically abundant!

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Stopped at the Freyfogle overlook

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to check on the lead plant, which were in bud, but, alas, bearing a collection of robust shiny reddish-brown beetles on their foliage.

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Fervently hoped the beetles were just resting there or at least readily sated with little damage to the plant’s integrity.

Rode on through gloriously abundant white Penstemon and blue spiderwort. The landscape was deeply soul-filling. Was happy to be smack in the middle of another stage of the year that’s anticipated before it comes and missed when it’s finished.

Near the Vine Street entrance to the park got a shot of the abundant serviceberries

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Then rode west on Windsor to check the lead plant at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration, which more than ever looked in need of stewardship,

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so overgrown with invasive exotics. But the lead plants looked well enough.

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Did not want to walk through the overgrowth to check for beetles on these.

Rode south on First Street, which felt mostly uphill! My hip muscles were starting to tire though knees and shoulders were happy enough. At 900 S, turned back.

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On the way back stopped at the roadside prairie garden, which featured spiderwort, lace-edged (not an official name, just a description) cup plant,

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butterfly weed

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and a small, less showy milkweed.

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Spied a great blue heron while crossing over a creek on First Street. Parked the bike and carefully walked back to the bridge, Just in time to see the heron take off.

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They sure are wary.

Got a shot of a dickcissel (had been hearing lots of these “mini-meadowlarks”) on a fence post.

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The way home was mostly downhill, which I gratefully enjoyed!

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Saturday 5 July 2014. The Summer Frogs and Flowers of Weaver Park

It was 61 degrees F this morning at 6:15 (having trouble seizing that fleeting summer bonus of daylight!). The sky was full of loosely-packed clouds that seemed to be spreading apart. Another gorgeously beautiful day was beginning!

Wanted to ride out to High Cross Road and check the edges of Brownfield Woods and beyond, going east on Washington, north on Cottonwood (past Trelease Woods), west on one of those connecting roads and south on High Cross….

But forgot that Washington at High Cross was closed, so decided to stop at the “buffalo-wallow” pond at Weaver Park and just see what was going on and walk across (hopefully the path would be mowed) to Main Street and continue the planned Ride.

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Approaching the sunken pond, heard a strange roaring rumble that took a moment to identify. Bullfrogs, of course! The noise gathered and resonated to quite a volume. One voice would begin, then others joined in, and still others, the sound building, roaring, and then it would stop, just shut off, with a sound like the click of a microphone switch. It sounded like a concert hall full of untrained would-be musicians, each with a double bass, trying unsuccessfully to play together, then realizing it wouldn’t work, stopping, then trying again. It was rather hypnotic, even with the volume. Just wanted to stay and listen. Had an idea then that the distance of the trip might need to be shortened.

Heard so much sound, but even with the zoom of the separate camera did not actually see a single frog! Saw pond plants, including arrowheads and something that resembled lotus the way the new leaves were rolled like two ends of a scroll, except that the leaf was cleft and oval rather than making a complete circle around its petiole.

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Also, near the water was swamp milkweed.

Walking on, was delighted by the variety and abundance of flowers: Monarda, Culver root, Heliopsis, purple and yellow coneflower, mountain mint, for starters.

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It was especially nice to see the prairie clover, which was present pretty much from one end of the park to the other.

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Wondered whether it was the long, cold winter or the wet spring and summer that brought out all the prairie clover.

Got a reasonably good close-up shot of the wild quinine.

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Saw lots of butterfly weed, low and scattered among the taller plants.

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There were lots and lots of beautiful, full pink Monarda.

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There was handsome bush clover, and a late but lovely spiderwort bloom.

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Was glad to see the path had been mowed–it’s a lot of work to walk a bike through tall vegetation! the recently-mowed part, w, toward The more recently-mowed part wound toward the Main Street side of the park until it seemed like it would end in a dark patch of trees.

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Fortunately it turned at the trees’ edge though here it was more overgrown but passable. Hoped I didn’t get too many chiggers. In the middle of the path noticed side-oats gramma grass, with its bright red little flowers.

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Toward the end of the path was some blue vervain with a foil of black-eyed Susans.

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Made it across to Main Street then headed home. Noticed lead plant in the prairie garden in Main across from the west edge of Weaver but didn’t stop to photograph it.

Thought wistfully of pedaling longer distances but still was full with the sounds and colors of this morning at Weaver Park.

Monday 30 June 2014. Stalking the Royal Catchfly, Finding Deer

It was 73 degrees F and cloudy, very humid and calm this morning at 5:35.

Today’s objective was to see whether the Meadowbrook Park population of royal catchfly had started to bloom.

Rode to the Race Street pavilion, locked Rhododendron to the rack, and walked to the little wooden bridge just in front of the “soft” path into the middle of the prairie. The air was very moist and very quiet; thought of the expression “pregnant silence,” as if with rain, which seemed like it would start falling any minute.

Stopped at the bridge to see whether there still were deer bones in the bottom of McCullough Creek here. Though I saw a shin bone and took a photo.

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But looking at it now, seems more like a branch than a bone.

There was common milkweed a-bloom in the prairie,

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also butterflyweed (another milkweed), which I didn’t remember seeing in this part of the prairie before, and remembered again not seeing it this year next to the lead plant. Makes me wonder about what enables it to grow.

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As I walked in to the middle of the prairie saw a deer standing neck-deep in prairie plants on the north side of the path, not going anywhere but watching me intently.

Kept my eyes open for royal catchfly but did not see any red stars of flowers. The prairie was modestly decked with Heliopsis, Baptisia, and the long-blooming but gradually declining spiderwort.

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On the way back saw another deer, across the path from the first one.

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Wondered for a moment whether it would be a problem to come between the two of them, but when I stopped to photograph the second one, it actually came slowly toward me and stopped to look a moment before walking on, like I was dismissed. Do enjoy those moments of interaction with the resident creatures on something of their own terms.

Got a shot of some thimbleweed, which are not the most photogenic of flowers, though fairly distinctive with their long, thin, straight stalks.

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Noticed around the thimbleweed a lot of vigorous foliage of cream gentian, which I now recognize before the flowers appear. Still don’t know what the bloom will be like–exciting to anticipate!

Need to come back and see if and when the royal catchfly flowers will appear.

Wednesday 26 June 2013. Transition to the Summer Prairie

It was about 5:20 under wide but thin clouds as Rododendron and I hit the road this morning. Had stayed up late to finish one thing and another and was really tired, almost to the point of having to be careful to keep control of the bike. But it was a summer morning on the bike, after all, worth enduring a little initial discomfort to get to the ease that I knew would soon come.

Couldn’t get the phone weather ap but guessed the temperature to be about 65. Felt chilly and wished I’d brought a sweater, but had very little time, so pressed on with reasonable confidence that, being late June, it would quickly get warmer. Hmm. Not exactly living in the present so far this morning.

Been taking Vine Street more frequently, what with the construction on Race. Took a route different from my usual: turned left into the path that divided Meadowbrook and Clark-Lindsay Village, which gave a good view of the sunrise.

Felt a little sad that my trips to Meadowbrook Park have been less frequent than last year–one actually can see more the more one observes, and so felt less sensitive to what might be going on. But always there is something to see, and here I was.

Today there was little evidence of the once-profuse Penstemon. Purple coneflowers, relatively large blooms whose petals radiated at different length and different angles on different flowers, were now prominent. Got a nice close-up shot of one next to a Heliopsis bloom.

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The spiderwort were still a presence, and purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Heliopsis, and Baptisia were becoming more numerous.

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Got a shot of the sun just breaking above a couple of purple coneflowers and some grass spotted with water drops.

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Farther down, around the stone sculpture that reminded me of the word “to” was a very thick stand of rattlesnake master (a runner-up in the funniest plant name contest).

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A little farther still was an arresting patch of common milkweed in bloom,

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complete with several orange and black milkweed beetles. The plants were laden with pink spheres of star-shaped flowers and were very fragrant. Last year it took reading about them in another blog to catch my attention and focus on them, but this year they seem unusually striking. I think this is a better than average year for them.

Rode fast south and downhill toward the rabbit bridge over McCullough/Davis creeks, hitting the brakes before the bridge to stop and look at the water. It was high with the rain from last night’s storms.

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Just east of the south edge of the big loop saw the year’s first Monarda. Got a shot of the sunrise over the middle of the prairie facing north from the south edge, from between young walnut trees.

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Also saw the feather- like foliage of the
Liatris between the two little trees where it soon would be blooming. I’m guessing it’s a marsh blazing star (L. spicata) rather than L. pycnostachya, the prairie blazing star, only because it’s growing in a wet area.

Many red-winged blackbirds were giving their “Star Trek” call.

Caught a whiff of strong, fresh mountain mint. It was confined to a small area but so pleasant.

Around the southeast bend did not noticeCoreopsis or pasture roses where they’d been several days ago.

At the Freyfogel Overlook was a beautiful scene of early light spreading over the taller Baptisia and various plants getting ready to bloom.

And, of course, had to see the lead plant, many of the little purple flowers of which were abloom. It never disappoints! Got a shot of it with the golden light of dawn.
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Then homeward at high speed (awake!) on Race street (mostly), with a brief stop to greet and discuss summer travel with a couple of friends out for a walk.

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Thursday 20 June 2013. No Photos: Blazing Sunrise and a Smorgasbord of Smells

Today, the longest, or almost the longest, day of the year, was pretty sure I made it out of the house before 5! 4:55 counts!

The overhead clouds were tinged with pink; the northeastern horizon was a blaze of hot pink, orange, and magenta. It was a proper dramatic sunrise, what keeps us early birds getting out of bed at what some would consider ridiculous hours.

It was 66 degrees F but quite humid so felt warmer. Still the light sweater was comfortable in the biker’s breeze.
The sky was full of clouds–thicker at the horizon but with plenty of blue space among the ones overhead. The horizon was an intense pink-magenta–made me think of the word “blazing.”
Race Street was under construction, so took Vine to Meadowbrook Park.

Occasionally there was the lovely scent of linden, the bloom of which seemed a lot more staggered than I remember from the last few years.

Rode west on Windsor Road and took the big loop, speeding over the rabbit bridge without braking! Did, however apply the brakes at the sharp left turn just after the bridge.

The Penstemon were declining. Spiderwort were harder to assess because of their diurnal bloom cycle; at the moment it seemed they were not at the peak of opening. More Baptisia spikes were rising magestically; more purple coneflowers.

Think there must have been at least one place where one could smell mountain mint (it’s getting to be a while, already). Do remember that its fresh fragrance seems to have been confined to smaller areas this year, though the plants seem to be widespread.

The lead plant at the Freyfogel Overlook was almost, by not quite, blooming.
The deep orange butterfly weed blooms were just starting to open.

Rode to Philo Road then to Old Church. On the way caught a whiff of skunk.
Went only to the top of Yankee Ridge. Loved the quiet of that place and also the vantage over the spreading central Illinois landscape. Came back on Old Church past the Barnhart Prairie Restoration. The flower roll call was much like that at Meadowbrook: Baptisia, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, etc.

Saw a hawk (large, presumably a red-tailed) perched on a utility pole with a smaller bird (red-winged blackbird?) boldly flying at it, trying, it seemed, to chase it away. Courage!

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Near the large livestock-housing structure at the corner of Od Church and Race could smell a strong scent of manure. Remembered the smell from many previous trips (not sure why I almost always forget to mention it). It’s unpleasant when you’re not used to it–ask a new U of I freshman from the Chicago area–but otherwise it just means “farm,” which has other, pleasant connotations. Quite subjective.

Farther north, close to Meadowbrook, saw one great blue heron flying due east. A little later, saw another one flying southeastward. What would a summer morning be without a great blue heron sighting? Or two?

At the southwest corner of the big loop around Meadowbrook, in front of the electrical transformer, or whatever it is, stood an antlerless deer. It seemed a strange place for it to stop; wondered whether it was getting ready to bound across the road in front of me. But it didn’t; I (and presumably the deer, also) made it safely home.

Sunday 23 June 2013. Penstemon Passes the Torch, and a Quick Visit to Yankee Ridge

Darn; thought I’d already published this one…. Well, here it is: a little flashback.

It was 68 degrees F and cloudy at 5:15 this morning as Rhododendron and I headed to Meadowbrook Park. The cloud shapes were interesting, but the colors were relatively muted.

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Detoured around the construction and then back south on Race Street and around the usual big loop of Meadowbrook.

Penstemon flowers were visible, but no longer so common. The composition of the bloom was in flux, without a strongly dominant species. Baptisia were becoming more common. There still were patches of spiderwort, but most plants bore developing seeds with few or no blooms.

Got another shot of the handsome new bush clover leaves growing among the old seed heads.

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At the Freyfogel Overlook got my first glimpse this year of yellow coneflowers coming into bloom.

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The lead plant was coming into full, gorgeous, blue-violet and orange bloom. The sky was dramatic behind it.

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The butterfly weed was in full, gorgeous, very orange bloom.

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Almost to Windsor Road, a blooming common milkweed caught my eye, and then my nose. Didn’t recall noticing how pleasantly fragrant they are.

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Rode out on Philo Road, where there was standing water in parts of the fields.

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At Yankee Ridge on Old Church Road (such a quiet place!) saw cool light rays from holes in the clouds.

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Turned right onto what is called, at least for some of its length, “Yankee Ridge Road.” There was new, loose gravel in the road, which made me a little nervous, but remembered my experience on the ice last winter and boldly imagined flying over it, balancing.

On the way home along the north edge of Meadowbrook got a shot of the increasingly dense purple coneflower blooms and the sky above them.

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28 May 2012. Memorial Day: Meadowbrook and First Street

It was a holiday and the streets were empty!  The air was getting ready to be uncomfortably hot, but this early in the morning was exactly perfect. Still the linden trees are loaded with flowers and the air on the way to Meadowbrook Park was perfumed.

First went directly to the playground bridge (oh, it smelled ripe with decomposition!) and was excited to see the beaver swimming below.  Got what I thought were a couple of pretty good photos, but all of them turned out to be blurry so will not post them.  The beaver crawled up the bank so silently–the lack of sound was amazing.  The beaver was so plump it reminded me of a manatee on land.

Below the bridge there were plenty of frogs.  Also there were two gorgeous green herons, one of which flew off when it saw it was being observed.  The other one stayed a while, but still all I got were blurry photos.

After the bridge made a big loop of the park and saw a hummingbird, sipping, I believe, from the Penstemon.  It was there and gone.  Saw a good-sized deer sink into the prairie plants and disappear!  The spiderwort still are thick, even as new flowers start to bloom and get more numerous.  Mostly it was like yesterday, just gorgeous again.  Spotted a yellowthroat, a bird commonly heard but harder to see.  Again, the photo I got was not worth posting.  At least I could use it to make an identification.

Did make a point of getting a few good shots of wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium).  It’s a nice plant when you get to know it.  The flowers really do kind of look like little cauliflowers, as the article I saw said.  The butterfly weed was really lovely and vigorous this year; couldn’t resist a closeup shot of it.

Saw a tree swallow go into the nest box.  Saw a red-winged blackbird that, I swear, said “Mom,” in that monotone, repetitious way my kids used to use to get my attention when they were younger.

After Meadowbrook headed west and then south on First Street.  Residential development extended a long way down, especially on the west side of the road,  But the view to the east was rural; fact, it looked like there actually were hills out there.

On the west side of the road at the most southerly subdivision was a little prairie, or maybe a “prairie garden” that had been planted there.  There was a lot of butterfly weed (with at least one black swallowtail butterfly on it), what looked like Baptisia but with purple flowers, and also pre-blooming cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum).

Toward the end of the developed area was a farm house with a field behind it that was full of pink and some blue flags.  Can’t imagine what they were marking, but they reminded me of the idea of Memorial Day.

First Street was fun to ride: on the way south there was a slight, pretty much constant incline, and on the way back there was a lot of coasting.  The view was pleasant: the little hills to the east; to the west I-57 was just visible and it was quite flat.

The air was so comfortable, the sun was shining, there was so much plant and animal activity going on–ah, summer!