what's debuting this season on nature's stage in Chicago
People who frolic in the shallows of our lakes, ponds, and
rivers are probably familiar with clams. Our waters hold
a wide variety of these bi-valves, some of which are quite
common as they can survive in polluted, silty waters. These
include the giant floaters and the charmingly named pigtoes.
Others, such as the rare creek heelsplitter, are intolerant
of pollution and can be found only in clear waters such
as the Kishwaukee River system in McHenry County and portions
of the Kankakee.
as this may sound, the "fall" bird migration is
now taking place. Beginning in late June, certain shore
birds are already beginning their long treks south. Local
researchers have noted the early arrival of least sandpipers,
short-billed dowitchers, and the greater and lesser yellowlegs.
They are coming from their summer breeding grounds in arctic
Canada, en route to their warm, winter home along the Caribbean
shoreline. It seems the first to arrive are the worst deadbeat
dads among the adult males. Theyre followed a few
weeks later by the adult females, and finally the abandoned
few people even longtime students of local fauna
are aware of our freshwater jellyfish. Uncommon,
craspedacusta are usually found as colonial polyps, attached
to the bottom of a lake or pond. But as the water warms
during the summer, the medusea, or free swimming stage,
may break away from a polyp tip and float through the water.
With their tentacles hanging down from their gelatinous,
bell-shaped body, freshwater jellies look exactly like the
marine species of jellyfish, although ours are usually under
2 cm in diameter.
dont like to say that some animals are smart and others
are stupid, unless Im referring specifically to politicians.
But if you compare the size of the brain cavity of a raccoon
with that of an opossum, you will see that our resident
marsupial has a tiny little brain. But no matter, opossums
have done just fine, adapting well to our suburban landscape.
During the summer, and after an amazingly short gestation
period of less than two weeks, the living embryos of the
opossum emerge and crawl along moms belly to the marsupium,
where 13 nipples are located. These peanut-sized babies
will lock on to their source of protein, firmly attaching
themselves while they continue their development. If there
are more than 13 babies, some will be out of luck and will
Cochran may have sung about the summertime blues, but he
might have sung a different tune if he watched a male indigo
bunting belting out his song in the midday sun. Buntings
are members of a group of birds known for their sexual dimorphism,
with the males often exhibiting brilliant colors in contrast
to the earthtone-colored females. Other local members of
this fetching subfamily of finches include cardinals and
For those of you who like both kinds of music that
is, country and western our native cacti are now
in bloom with their large yellow flowers. Prickly pear are
the only North American member of the cactus family found
east of the Mississippi River.
the Chicago Wilderness, prickly pear often grow on sandy
ridges among stands of black oaks. Early naturalists reported
them being especially abundant along the Lake Michigan shoreline,
south of the burgeoning metropolis of Chicago. These days,
our cacti can be found in the Braidwood Dunes, the Indiana
Dunes, and Illinois Beach State Park, near the mouth of
the Dead River.
Years ago, I worked with a girl whom our boss called "Ducky."
I originally thought it was because she waddled a bit when
she walked. (Boy, I hope she doesnt read this!) But
I later learned it was because her last name was phonetically
similar to "teal," the blue-winged and green-winged
variety of puddle ducks we have in our quiet ponds and lakes.
teal and green-winged teal are small, fast flying ducks
that will be one of the first to leave our area for more
tropical climates. They might even leave before my kids
start school in the fall. Perhaps some of our local teal
will be among the huge congregation of waterfowl that will
spend the winter in Brazos Bend State Park, in southeast
Texas, close to where my former co-worker now resides with
her husband and kids.
During the last two weeks of August, the eggs of the hognose
snakes will be hatching after an incubation of 40 to 50
days. Using an egg tooth to slit the leathery shell, the
young snakes will begin searching for toads, their favorite
defensive antics of a hognose snake are well known among
reptile enthusiasts. When feeling threatened, the snake
ominously inflates its neck like a cobra and
hisses loudly. It will strike with quick, short jabs. In
reality, though, these actions are mostly bluster as hognose
snakes rarely open their mouths when defending themselves.
If the perceived threat continues, hognose snakes will play
possum, feigning death by lying on their backs, even going
to the point of dramatically oozing drops of blood from
their gaping mouths. Their acting ability would make DeNiro