Friday, January 28, 2011

Starved Rock

The last few days have been spent at Starved Rock State Park.

The weather was cold but with proper clothing one was able to hike the icy trails to see the beautiful frozen water falls,

Frozen waterfall in St. Louis Canyon
and hike up to starved rock and view the bald eagles and other waterfowl.

bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) hangin' out below the lock and dam
We stayed at the Lodge which has the largest double stone fireplace in Illinois. If you do decide to go I would strongly recommend a pair of ice grippersfor your shoes or boots. The well traveled trails have become a combination of matted snow and ice and are very slippery. A week day visit is preferable; I was told that the weekends can get quite busy.
If you prefer guided tours, there is an all day trolley tour on Wednesday and on Thursday morning there is a guided hiking tour.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Evaluation Time

I have been reading the Prairie Ecologist blog for some time now. I was particularly thankful for the information he imparted to his readers in the recent post "How should landowners evaluate their prairies."

I have often wondered about this. What should one be looking for and how could we actually measure what we are doing? Mr. Helzer has given us some very specific things to do and observe, one of which I can start doing tomorrow: observing tracks in the snow.

A very good blog and a very helpful post.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More Snow

Due to the cold and snow, there is not a lot happening at Habitat home. It is very enjoyable to walk around and observe the beauty of winter but being so cold brings one back indoors rather least me!

So I have just finished reading Urban and Suburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spacesby Catherine Zimmerman. Not only is this book informative, with a wonderful plant list of native plants grouped according to soil type and information on where they occur naturally in the US, it also has great photos. The author explains in great detail and with wonderful photos how to establish a meadow and then how to maintain it. If that is not enough, there is a great regional resource guide in the back of the book.

Unlike most of the books listed on this site, this is not just about the Midwest. But I am adding it here because it is an excellent and easy reference source to check and see if that plant you are adding is indeed native to your area and if it will grow in the type of soil you are planting it in whether with plugs, plants, or seeds.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolved: Projects for 2011

It being 1/1/11, we "naturally" are drawn to the notion of making new year's resolutions. Here they are:
  • Build and place more bluebird houses. We appreciate the presence of bluebirds as they are excellent insect hunter/gatherers, and undoubtedly contribute to moderating the number of mosquitoes and wasps in our back yard. Habitat Home has at least one bluebird family in residence every season. In 2010, one pair had two broods, and there were bluebirds flying about through late fall, although it is hard to say if these were all local juveniles or birds migrating through. But the houses need to be watched during the May through July nesting season, and sparrow nests must be removed as they occur. We resolve to be more encouraging to returning bluebirds.

  • Invasive species removal. We have written about this issue at length before, but it cannot be overemphasized. We did not accomplish our goals for removal in 2010, but then the job will never be finished. So this year we resolve to be out at least once per week with the chain saw, clippers, and spray bottle of glyphosate (to apply sparingly to the stumps and/or plant leaves as appropriate) to remove the Habitat Home "Big 4":
  1. Bush Honeysuckle
  2. Autumn Olive
  3. Lespedeza
  4. Yellow and White Sweet Clover
  • Remove old fencing. This is not so much a habitat improvement goal as an aesthetic and safety improvement. We'll leave the ten foot corner marking the section boundary (Habitat Home occupies pieces of two sections of South Homer township) but remove some of the remaining fence separating the old tilled fields from the hillside woods and older pig grazing areas.

  • Enhance the meadow. The hillside east of the house started as four garden beds, which have slowly evolved into a meadow by some minimal introduction of native plants. Our plan this year is to intentionally manage this area by increasing the diversity of natives (providing sources for seed for propagating elsewhere on the property) and to group them (better serving as a showcase for the different plants for visitors and ourselves). We patiently await our 2011 catalog from Bluestem Prairie Nursery (Hillsboro, IL). A major spring project, this!
Sounds like quite a bit of work, eh? I'd better stop writing and get outside!