Monday, December 24, 2012

Winter Wonder Land

Well, the first snow storm of the winter has rolled through and everything is covered in white!  I love this time of year for several reasons.  The main reason is that I can spot animals much easier, although they can spot me even easier.  The other reason is that very few people venture out on the trails when it is so cold.

I got out a couple of times this weekend and it was bitter cold with fierce wind.  I headed over to Annawan, and the roads were horrible.  There were a dozen cars off the road!  I really didn't expect to see anything that first day after the storm because it was so bad.  I figured most of the critters took cover and were hunkering down until it was over.  I didn't see any tracks at all, and I started to believe I might be correct.  However, the little mink below proved me wrong.  It was headed back to the den with a hearty breakfast of fish.

I ventured out a little closer to home yesterday and on my way to my destination, I spotted 4 coyote in a field next to the canal path.  I have only seen solitary coyotes around the canal in the daytime, but these guys were hanging together.  They were just hunting and lounging.  I pulled over on the side of the road and just enjoyed watching them for awhile.  I was hoping to see some rodent pounces, but it never happened.

I was pretty sure that they had followed the canal path to that field since it is the only tree cover in the area, so I went up a couple of bridges to see if I could find their route.  Sure enough, I found four direct coyote trails on the main path headed in the direction of where I had last seen them.  So much can be learned from animals just by following and studying their paths.

The snow reveals every little nook and cranny that they investigate.  Coyotes mark with their urine frequently, and of course, this is easily spotted.  Don't eat the yellow snow!  If followed their path for a little more than 2 miles, and between the four of them, there were 13 urine spots.

Of course they left other little presents along the way as well.  Every scat i found was directly on this snowmobile track.

The tracks led up to the edge of the canal where apparently they had taken a little snooze break.  These little "beds" were nicely formed, to keep the wind at their backs.  I was a bit disappointed in the photos because these were perfectly formed little beds which can only be appreciated in person (or in 3D).  I could just picture them all curled up in little balls of fur trying to keep warm.  These beds were pretty fresh as there was very little snow in them, and the wind was still blowing.

I also found a spot where one coyote had pounced.  I'm assuming it was a rodent tunneling, as there were no other tracks.  A few feet away, there was a bit of evidence that the pouce was successful.  Tiny droplets of blood!

I tracked them all the way back to where I had first spotted them, and sure enough, they were still in the field.  Unfortunately, my tracking adventure stopped at the fence to the local farmer's field:(  I would have loved to try to get closer for some better photos, but maybe next time.

On the way back to the truck, I focused on getting some wildlife shots and came up with one final surprise.  This barred owl startled me as it bolted from a low lying tree, but not enough to keep me from getting a couple of shots.

The Hennepin holds many wildlife secrets, but many are revealed when the snow falls.  Get out there and see what you can find!  Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Another Boring Beaver Post

Well, I promise this will be the last post this year on beaver.........unless of course I can get a nice closeup of one......or a shot of scat........or a great shot of a tail:)  Actually, today was a good day in the fact that I found an active beaver den.  Now I'm not sure what the scientific difference is between a den and a lodge, but when I picture a beaver lodge, I am thinking of the giant conical beaver lodges from up north.  This seems more of a den to me in the fact that it doesn't fit the description that I just gave.  Anyway, this is the closest to a lodge on the Hennepin that I have found.  It is by far the biggest.

This is actually a den that I have watched being constructed over the past 3 or 4 years and have gotten nice photos of one of its inhabitants on a couple of occasions.   I remember when I came across it for the first time while biking.  It was just a little crevice in the bank covered with some sticks.  I haven't visited this one since last March.  Since my last post, I have been thinking a lot about the beaver and decided to go to Mineral to see this one since it had been awhile.  It has grown a bit since last year, so they have been busy.

The great thing about this visit is that I could actually hear a beaver in there.  When I first approached, I heard a little bit of water splash and then I could hear the beaver making some vocalizations.  I won't even try to explain what that sounds like, but there are audio clips on the net if you are curious.  I was just really glad to see that there was a or some active beaver left on the canal for me to visit.  It was a rainy, but very good day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trapping on the Hennepin

Over all the years that I have hiked the Hennepin, I have often seen the floating muskrat traps like below.  It is legal to trap certain species, such as muskrat, mink, and beaver, along the canal.

Honestly, trapping on the canal has never bothered me.  I spent a few years trying to hunt and trap, but found out through trial, error, and emotion that it wasn't my game.  This year was a bit different as far as the trapping game is concerned.  I noticed many more floating traps along the stretches that I normally hike.  I even saw the trappers passing by a few times in their boat out to check for their prizes.  It still didn't bother me much.  However, I have noticed that I have not been seeing as much wildlife in these particular areas.

Yesterday, while out on my daily hike, I saw a figure a distance away on the trail, and as it turned out once I caught up, it was a very nice gentleman who was pulling out his traps.  The water had begun to freeze over the other night, so he was pulling his traps to start a new area.  We discussed the canal a bit and finally got to discussing his trapping.  What he told me rather alarmed me.  He said they had taken many mink and muskrat, which of course is part of the trade, but it wasn't really this that bothered me.  

The gentleman then proceeded to tell me that since the season had started, they had taken 24 beaver from the area we were at to Geneseo.  This was less than a 5 mile stretch!  That number really kept playing in my head for several reasons.  Selfishly, I imagined them cleaning out the beaver population to the point where I wouldn't be able to photograph any more of them for some time to come.  But as the night went on, my reasoning beyond myself started to kick in a bit.  Mainly, this number tells me that the beaver population was obviously high for this area, therefore making it necessary to clean it out a bit.  The ecosystem needs a balance, and that is one of the reasons that trapping seasons are in place.  There are also many good people that rely on the supplemental income of trapping to make ends meet.

I still cringe at the fact that many of the mink, muskrat, and beaver that I have enjoyed photographing could now be pelts being shipped somewhere to make coats, gloves, or whatever else can be made from them.  However, I'm not really sure how strong the predator population is around this area.  Of course we have coyotes and foxes, but I can't imagine one of them taking out the 56lb beaver that the man told me they got last week!  Trapping is necessary to keep things in balance and it is something that I just have to deal with.  

I don't hold any ill-will toward anyone for taking animals legally, and I'm certainly not against hunting and trapping.  What it all boils down to here is just getting my thoughts off my chest, getting over my own selfish wants, and realizing that I have to share these areas with other people and activities.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Busy As A Beaver

As winter closes in each year, I always see quite an increase in beaver activity on the canal, obviously because they are preparing for it.  Rarely do I see beaver out in the day, and when on night hikes, I almost always hear the distinct slap of the tail on the water telling me to get out of the territory.  Below is a photo of one of the few instances that I did see one out in the daylight.

I was out hiking the canal near Atkinson the other day and discovered an area that I had never seen activity in before.  With foliage slowly disappearing, I saw a very wide path burrowing back into the thick brush like a small tank had barged through, and upon examination found a pretty nice sized tree that has been gnawed on pretty ferociously.  I have yet to see a beaver actually doing this.

Not far down the path, I noticed a newly built beaver lodge in a depression along the bank.  Beavers use wood, rocks, and mud to build their dens.  They have at least two underwater entrances.  Sticks are stored in their den due to the fact that once the ice covers the water, they do not exit their lodge very often, so the sticks become food throughout the winter.  Beavers do not hibernate.

A good friend found a beaver skull a couple of weeks ago and asked if I wanted it!  It's just like Christmas when I get little gifts such as these:)  It is a very large skull in perfect shape.  It really shows how robust a beaver's head is.

Other than the amazing, distinct tail, most people would probably think of the huge front incisors when discussing beaver.  Beaver teeth grow continuously throughout their lives.  The outer orange coating is hard, while the inside is softer.  This creates a "self-sharpening" effect as they gnaw on wood.  This, in turn, creates a chisel shape which allows for the amazing chewing power that they have.  Beavers have 176 pound per-square-inch bite force!!  Now it makes sense how they can get through the hardwood cores of certain types of trees.  Below, you can see the outer hard enamel and the soft inner dentin in the chisel form.

The beaver's molars act as a file or rasp which helps them break down plant fibers and smaller twigs.  These are certainly less intimidating than those incisors!

There are many beaver on the Hennepin canal and make for interesting learning opportunities if you stop to study their habitat.  If you really want to see one, it would be best to find an area that has fresh sign, take a bright flashlight, and go out after dark.  More than likely, you will be greeted by the startling slap of that magnificent tail on the water.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


I'm always looking to expand my limited plant knowledge, especially on the canal.  If it grows somewhere in Illinois, it probably grows on the canal.  Each season brings different opportunities for plant identification.  I tend to be a magnet to berries because I simply want to know if I can eat them!

Similax lasioneura Hooker

I came across the cluster above and don't ever recall seeing it before.  After a little investigation, I came across some information on Smilax lasioneura Hooker, or commonly known as green briar or carrion flower.  From what I found, it is called carrion flower because the green plant gives off a rotten meat smell.  Sounds appetizing doesn't it?  Although I would never eat anything that smells like carrion, apparently the young green shoots can be cooked and eaten like asparagus, and the berries are supposedly edible as well.  I think I'll pass!  Plus, there really was limited info available on this plant, so I'm not so trusting yet.  There are several species of Smilax as well, so I think I'll do some more investigation.

Smilax hispida

The species above was found on the same day one bridge down from the first plant.  Similar but distinct differences in the berry clusters and leaves.  This one is called Smilax hispida if my identification is correct.

Important Note:  Please consult plant guides and professionals as reliable resources for plant identification, especially if you are searching for edibles.  I am only learning my plant species, so I cannot, in good faith, say that my research is always correct.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Night Hike - Spiders

Just got back from a late night hike.  Very sticky and buggy tonight.  I was hoping to see some other species of snakes, other than fox, but I'm not complaining.  No snakes tonight, so I focused my camera on some smaller critters whose eyes show bright in the light....wolf spiders.  They are absolutely everywhere!  I was hoping to find some large Dolemedes tenebrosus fishing spiders, but no luck.  I did find a couple of other species with little surprises.

The wolf spider below is, I believe, a part of the genus Hogna.  I have a difficult time narrowing down wolf spiders.  However, the tank-like build of Hogna fits this example pretty well.  It looks big, but in reality, it is only about an inch long.  I guess that might be big to some folks.

The other species I found was the rabid wolf spider, genus rabidosa.  I already posted a photo of this spider the other night, but this one had some nice little surprises along with it.....

Rabid Wolf Spider with Babies

Babies a Little Closer

It's been really nice getting out this week.  I hope I can keep up with the frequency of hiking that I have.  One more day off!

Nikon 100AW

A year ago July, I had typed up a post on the Kodak PlaySport waterproof camera on my other blog, The Rural Path.  The post is found here.  I had anticipated using this camera while we were on vacation in Florida, and I did get to use it, however, I never got to keep the photos.  I never wrote about this camera again, because it is still floating at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico:)  I had put it in the pocket of my cargo shorts, and of course, it floated out.  I should have known better, but I am one who has to learn the hard way sometimes.

I have to say though, that I am happy that I lost it.  It dented my pride quite a bit, but I have replaced it with the Nikon 100AW.

Nikon 100AW

I'm not great at reviewing products, so I'll spare you all tiny technical details.  To keep things short, this is a 16 megapixel point and shoot camera that is waterproof, shockproof, and freeze-proof.  I don't intend on testing the latter 2, but have tested the waterproofness in rain and while kayaking.  It's still working, so that's good news:)  All of the pictures on the site so far (except for the 1st one -dragonfly), have been taken with this camera.   I bought it for two main reasons:  1. It's waterproof, and 2. Its macro capability.  I don't have a dedicated macro lens setup, so I wanted something that I could use for virtually anything, but had good macro abilities.  It turns out that this little camera does very will with macro shots and it is easy to pull out of my pocket when I need it.

I have also found that this little camera does very well with night shots, as you can see in the past couple of posts.  The flash is not too bright when the camera is close to the subject.  I could actually be a bit brighter, but I'm not complaining.  It retains the colors of the subjects very well without harsh brightness.

The only downside that I have found so far, and which is the same with most point and shoots, is the tiny zoom range.  This has a 5x optical zoom, with a 4x digital zoom.  I NEVER use digital zoom, as it terribly affects the image quality.  This could be the reason why every Bigfoot sighting photo has turned out crappy.  They used full digital zoom:)

All in all, excellent camera for what I use it for.  I hope it will come in handy in more situation once I figure out all of its capabilities.  It's a bit costly, but I found this one on sale and was happy with the price point.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Don't Be So Defensive!

1st Line of Defense:  Rapid tail rattling on the ground and coiled position.

2nd Line of Defense:  Quick strikes, and a bite

3rd Line of Defense:  Poop, and poop some more!

I feel it has been a good night when I have been bitten once and pooped on twice:)  I went on a third night hike tonight, but ended up rescuing snakes from the middle of the road along a stretch of canal.  The night air was a bit cool, so they were definitely trying to soak in some heat.  Two fox snakes the length of my arm and a small garter snake were removed from the road before getting run over.  The first one that bit me would have been dead had I not stopped to grab it.  A car was just turning the corner to watch me snatch it up.  He would have been mashed for sure.  I don't blame him for biting me.  I came out of nowhere and just grabbed him.  I would have bit me too:)

Gorgeous Fox Snakes

A Small Common Garter Snake (pooped on me too)

Other Night Time Highlights

Two Rabid Wolf Spiders (Rabidosa rabida)

Leaf Footed Bug (Family Coreidae) 

Oh, and yes, the new headlamp worked out great.  Black Diamond Icon, 200 lumens, etc.  Awesome!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Night Hike Again

At dusk, I was greeted by the best sound in nature....coyote's howling!  I love to listen to them communicate.  Two packs were going back and forth, one of which was quite close to me.  I just turned my headlamp off, sat on the ground and listened.  It sounded like the pack closest to me had some pups in it, but without seeing them, it is difficult to tell.  I would love to know what each yip and howl means.

Coyotes are much better looking!

As stated in my post last night, the reason for going out on night hikes for me is to find snakes, and tonight I did find one!  A gorgeous Western Fox Snake was hunting along the canal path just in time for me to see it.  He wasn't too happy with me, but he posed for a couple of shots and went on his merry way.  Fox snakes are harmless, although they do bite.  When threatened, they rapidly vibrate their tail on the ground or leaf litter.  Mimicking a rattlesnake is a great way to ward off predators, but it is unfortunately a great way for them to die.  People kill them on site, not only because they are a snake, but because they think it could be a rattler.  Very unfortunate, even if it was a rattlesnake. 

I would imagine that this little guy was after the main food source that I am seeing along the path......frogs!  Little bullfrogs are everywhere.  I'm actually surprised that I am not seeing more snakes simply because of this readily available food source.  Here's a couple more photos to add to last night's frog pics.

Until tomorrow night.....yes I will be out again.  I have a new headlamp coming tomorrow, so I can't wait to test it out:)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Night Hike

It's time to start patrolling the canal at dusk and dark.  As it begins to get cooler, the snakes will begin laying on the paved walkway to get some heat.  Tonight it was not quite cool enough, but still I had a very nice hike.  Mr. Beaver greeted me 3 or 4 times with the thundering slap of the tail, and my face is still covered with spider webs crossing the trail as I walked.

I love the night sounds!  They really get the imagination going, although I take more pride in knowing exactly what is making a sound without seeing it.  It is really a learning experience to turn the light off and just hike by moonlight.

Anyway, enough babbling!  There really wasn't much to see tonight, but I did get a couple of different young bullfrogs on jpg.

I also stumbled across this whole opossum skeleton along the trail.  It is odd that it was on the canal trail, and away from the road.  It always amazes me when something like this completely decays without being disturbed.  I guess I would not eat opossum either:......or would I? :))

More night hiking trips to come.  Hopefully some snakes will grace me with their presence, as well as some tree frogs.  Anything will do, as long as it makes a decent picture.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What's It All About?

Hey Folks, this is my first post of my new blog.  The intention of this blog is to take a look at the wild side of the Hennepin Canal and all of the natural wonders that it holds.  Every day, hundreds of people take to the canal paths to walk, run, bike, fish, etc., but may miss the amazing flora and fauna that it holds.

Most of my hikes and bike trips take place on the Hennepin Canal around the Geneseo/Atkinson area, but I often wander east and west of here to see what different things the canal will reveal.  It is amazing how different things are near Wyanet in comparison to here.

Hopefully I'll be able to share some things about the wildlife of the canal and interest others to explore it further.  It is not really viewed as a wild place, but once you see what really lives there, I think most would change their minds.

More mammals, bugs, flowers, tracks, and bones to come.  Please feel free to comment and discuss this gem of a place, especially if you know it personally.  I would love to hear from other canal explorers out there, and possibly even meet up and compare notes, photos, and maps.