Friday, November 21, 2008

Dixon Springs State Park

We made two visits this fall to Dixon Springs State Park which is located within Shawnee National Forest. I will do a longer post on Shawnee National Forest but will only mention that most of Southern Illinois is a well kept secret and is topographically quite distinct from the rest of the rather bland state. The park is on a large block of rock (Caseyville Sandstone) that has fallen 200 feet along a fault line. The resulting boulder formations make for some beautiful scenery as well as providing plenty of climbing challenges.

A moss and fern embanked creek meanders through the moist and boulder strewn valley. It is fed by a spring which runs throughout all seasons. At the head of the spring, there is an artisan well that is commonly frequented by locals for drinking water. The park has several hiking trails that follow the ridge and valley. The woods are dominated by various species of oak, maple, beech, pine, sycamore, sweet gum, cedar, and several species of hickory including my favorite - the shagbark hickory. The hickory nuts were quite plentiful this year and there were numerous signs of squirrels feeding on the nuts.

I am always amazed at the great lengths a tree will go to establish itself in very inhospitable conditions. This sizable sycamore apparently finds plenty of water and nutrients within the cracks and crevices of this rock formation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mushrooms and Woodchucks

I need to catch up on some observations from October.

Whilst moving leaves into the compost pile, I discovered these rather small but bright mushrooms buried in the leaves. As yet, I have not been able to identify them but it is possible that they have not yet reached their mature form and color.

I regularly take a walk down a lane that runs into the countryside. I had noticed a woodchuck (Marmota monax) living in an embankment which was covered with the highly invasive Kudzu. A county road crew was mowing the shoulders of the road and exposed Mr. Woodchuck's hobbit hole. I have only seen him in quick flashes of fur as he dives into his warm abode.

Here is a very small, 3-legged praying mantis (Mantis religioso) on our fence rail in typical "praying" stance and mimicking the color of the fence. I noticed many praying mantises around the homestead this fall. While they do eat many undesirable insects in the garden, they do not discriminate and will eat beneficial ones as well.