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Posts Tagged ‘Great Blue Heron’

A sky that is hard to describe (from Andrew’s Bald in the Smoky Mountains)

My favorite kind of sky is the kind which, if I were to paint it on canvas, people would remark that it was just too colorful to be realistic.

I follow my Adventure Foot out the door for lots of reasons, some of which are easy to put in to words.  I like to get healthy, make friends, stay busy, visit new places, and be part of an active community.  Other reasons I follow my Adventure Foot are harder to describe.

After being caught in a storm, which is hard to describe. (Near Hull, IL)

There’s something hard to describe about kayaking quietly enough in the backwaters of the Mississippi River to get up close to a Great Blue Heron.

There’s something hard to describe about putting your head down and running through sleet when most people skipped the run and are warm and dry in their houses.

There’s something hard to describe about viewing the stars hung in a clear sky on a crisp night while standing on the flanks of a far flung mountain.

A day on the Mississippi, which is hard to describe.

There’s something hard to describe about the ornery way a friend smiles when he deliberately paddles a canoe the opposite way in which you’re paddling the same canoe!

There’s something hard to describe about cruising my bicycle down a hill where the golden evening sun has lit the tall corn through the summertime haze.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re a follower of my blog, you’ve read about a lot of the things I’ve done in the last year or two, and I’m frequently asked why I am so busy all the time and why I feel the need to write about it.  All of those easy to describe reasons are true- health, friends, community- and they’re all great benefits of a life of activity.  The better reasons though, are all of these millions of tiny moments where the everyday turns spectacular and that the only way to describe them is, “I guess you had to be there.”

My husband and I on a hike in the mountains… which is hard to describe.

I write about these places because I feel like it’s really important to help other people find their own moments that are hard to describe.  It doesn’t have to be some huge expedition- it can be (and often is) just a regular day.  If you’re out exploring the world, you’re sure to see an amazing sunrise or two, to spot a bear or a beautiful bird, to share a laugh on a lake or make a story about being lost in the woods or caught in a storm.  Adventure Foot is about inspiration to find inspiration.  Ironically, it’s about giving you ideas about how to get away from your computer and explore the Midwest and beyond.

Do you spend a lot of time daydreaming about going on a vacation and seeing the sunset over the ocean?  I’d put it to you that a sunset over a Mississippi levee is no less awe-inspiring.  Get out and explore the Midwest.  It’s great… though it can be hard to describe.

PS- Have you had an adventure trying something you learned about on Adventure Foot?  I’d really, really like to hear about it!  There’s this wonderful “Comments” section below… I’m just sayin.

PSS-  Enjoy this great cartoon by Adventure Foot contributor Jamie Green!

Cartoon by Jamie Green for Adventure Foot!

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Photo by Brandon Glasgow of humming birds at Siloam Springs State Park. There are feeders in the parking lot by the boat launch area with many hummingbirds always around!

This Saturday is National Trails day, and I’ve got good news if you’ve a mind to get out on local trails: the weather is going to be beautiful!  Sunny, highs in the 70s- a perfect day to follow your Adventure Foot!

Deer Run Trail runs near open prairie lands and is great for birdwatching!

There are many, many good trails at every state park in the area, but I wanted to take a minute to highlight Siloam Springs State Park.

The 3,323 acre park was purchased in the 30s and designated a state recreation area in 1940, but underwent major improvement in the late 1990s.  The park provides ample ideas for fun- there are great shelter houses, a playground, around 12 miles of hiking trails, campsites with restrooms, showers and electricity or primitive campsites, 23 miles of equestrian trails, and a large lake which is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, rainbow trout and more (you need to purchase an Illinois fishing license with trout stamp before fishing at the park.)  At the lakehouse, you can rent canoes and row boats very affordably.  There is also bait and tackle for rent.  The park is only about a 30 minute drive from Quincy or a couple of hours by bicycle if you’re in the mood for a nice long (65 mile round trip) ride!

Great Blue Heron at Siloam Springs State Park

I had the opportunity to visit Siloam last weekend, and was once again reminded how wonderful outdoor recreation close to home can be.  My husband, my friend Clint and I headed to the park in the very hot weather to spend some time on the lake.  We brought along a kayak (important note: if you bring your own kayak/canoe/boat you must have a current IL sticker to use the lake) and also rented a 2-person canoe.  The canoe cost $8 per hour and included lifejacket rental.   We had a nice time paddling around the lake and exploring each shoreline.  I especially enjoyed seeing wildlife including several great blue herons and lots of turtles!

After our paddle, we headed out to Crabapple Trail. This trail traverses 1. 5 miles of woodland, crosses a creek, and has neat outcroppings of limestone every so often.  It’s also one of my favorite trails in the springtime for mushroom hunting.   If you’re looking for a nice easy hike that you could do with a family, Crabapple trail is a good one to try.  It starts and ends in the parking area by the lakehouse, so its location is ideal.

Emerald Jewel Wings are common around the lake shore.

Mmm marshmallows! There are great campgrounds at Siloam Springs!

Another good route to try, especially for groups of adults or those with older kids along, is a combination of the Deer Run, Hoot Owl and Old Village Trails.  Deer Run Trail picks up at the Ranger Station and heads past some open prairie and down a moderate hill to the main Springs area. The prarie area is a great place for bird watchers- there are purple martin boxes and I’ve spotted indigo blue buntings, many types of finch and woodpeckers and even Baltimore Oriels in this area.  When you get to the end of this trail you’re at a great little creek.  I highly recommend fossil hunting in that area!  There are lots of shells, snails and crinoid fossils to be found in the creek bed.  After fossil hunting, you cross the park area and pick up the 1.5 mile Hoot Owl Trail.  This trail goes steeply uphill for a few hundred yards but is fairly easy after that.  I like it because it’s got the best view of the valley in the park, and also a dense stand of pine trees where I always spot deer or red tail hawks.    When you exit Hoot Owl, cross the county line and the bridge and, maybe after a stop for a picnic lunch at the shelter house, go find the Old Village Trail.  This short trail will take you up the bluff and back toward the Ranger Station where you started.  The whole loop ends up being 3-3.5 miles and will give you a great tour of the entire park.

I hope you get out and enjoy some trails this weekend.  Remember to keep our parks clean and leave no trash behind.   If you’d like to read more about another close-to-home State Park- check out this blog from last year about Cuivre River State Park in Troy, MO (1.5 hours from Quincy).   For more info on Siloam Springs including campsite fees, hunting regulations and other amenities, click here!

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Young Bald Eagle near Macomb, IL

I’ve always thought of cycling as the intersection of running and flying.  There’s a point at which your bike’s tires seem to break the hold of both gravity and friction and you lift up in to the great blue sky and take wing.  For a brief instant, you feel like a bird yourself.  A particular moment like that sticks with me from this winter…

Great Blue Heron, Illinois

I was cycling on a blacktop road near Burton, Illinois, and in the distance a bald eagle’s white head stood out bright against the backdrop of a crystal blue January day.  He was sitting to the left of the road on an exposed tree branch, likely hunting for some rabbits or voles that were out in the empty farm fields.  I’m sure the eagle’s trained eyes saw me from much further away than I saw him, but he watched my approach with his head cocked to the side, and, excuse me for anthropomorphizing, his expression was one of bemused curiosity.  At some point, the eagle decided that maybe my approach was a little too fast, and he launched himself into the air and glided on his enormous outstretched wings across the field.  The field dipped away on the side he was on- so that he flew almost level with the road- and I saw the opportunity to ride alongside him as he flew to the east.  I pushed up to over 20 mph and the eagle ended up on my left side nearly at eye level as we raced down the road.  I had definitely increased my speed to get a good look at the eagle, but I couldn’t help but feel like the eagle had slowed up in a similar way to get a good look at me on my bike.  We flew vis-à-vis down the road for long seconds- maybe a quarter mile- until the eagle broke sharply upward, crossed overhead and issued a loud call as if to say, “Nice riding with you! See ya later!”  The encounter left my heart pumping with the feeling of pure exhilaration.

It’s moments like that one that keep me on my bike all year long, and compel me to find the backroad-less-traveled.

American Kestrel, Illinois 2012

Ha! I got so lost in thinking about the moment with the eagle that I got off the topic I sat down to write about in the first place: birdwatching from your bicycle!  Cruising down the country roads on a bicycle is a wonderful way to view wildlife – birds especially.  It seems that the speed of the bike and its relative confinement to pavement keep birds from worrying like they might if you were on foot.  Out on group rides, I’ve become our resident ornithologist, pointing out birds on wires and offering up a fact or two if I know something interesting.  I love to be asked, “What’s that one?” and love even more if I don’t know the answer and have to go home and look the bird up.

To that end, I’ve decided that this year I am going to fill out a proper birding checklist for cyclists.  The tri-state area gives road-warriors the unique opportunity to view several major bird habitats including open grassland or prairie, woods adjacent to agricultural fields , wetlands and marshes, and of course, the tremendously important Mississippi River flyway.  Did you know that nearly half of all migratory waterfowl in North America as well as many shorebirds use the Mississippi River to navigate?  That makes early spring and late fall a particularly great time to cycle along the river bottoms to view species that do not normally make their homes in Illinois.

Ring- Billed Gull, Illinois

In 2012 the birds that I’ve checked off my bicycle-only viewing list are:  Bald Eagle, Red Tailed Hawk, Common Grackle, American Robin, Blue Jay, Turkey Vulture, Great Blue Heron, Bufflehead Duck, Common Golden Eye Duck, Canvas Back Duck, Mallard Duck, Canada Goose, European Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Killdeer, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Downy Woodpecker, Red Headed Woodpecker, Red-Winged Black Bird, Herring Gull, Ring Billed Gull and Cardinal.

Red Tailed Hawk, Illinois (Light Morph)

In my fairly extensive internet searching, I didn’t find a suitable checklist to fold up and put in my bike pouch, so I made one!  This list is from the website http://www.illinoisbirds.org/birds_of_illinois1.html and I have reformatted it here to print on one page front and back. It’s got over 400 species, so it will cover most of the birds you’d see in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.  You may download and print your own checklist by clicking below!  Enjoy bird watching from your bicycle and let me know if you spot anything unusual!

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