Owls etc. at St. James Farm

by Carl Strang

This has been an eventful spring at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. Thanks to the covid-19 epidemic, volunteers have not been allowed to do restoration work. My response was to take walks through the preserve almost daily in late April and May, gaining a much more detailed understanding of what has been going on there.

Owls, for instance, have provided significant insights. Early in the season I found that great horned owls had commandeered the nest used by Cooper’s hawks the previous two or three years.

My first look at the two nestlings

Though I checked them at a distance, they clearly knew I was there.

Shortly before they branched

The parent, perched nearby, was not concerned.

The youngsters branched (left the nest), and I did not see them beyond a week after that. At the same time, however, I saw an adult great horned owl with a flying youngster at the opposite end of the preserve. Though it is possible that this second nest had been across the road at Blackwell Forest Preserve, the relative number of suitable nest trees leads me to believe there were two great horned owl nests at St. James Farm this year.

The barred owl pair keeps a low profile, and I seldom have heard or seen them. That this is due to the presence of the more powerful great horneds was underlined by my finding on May 13 where an adult barred owl had been killed and plucked. I was left hoping this was a naïve wanderer rather than one of the savvy resident pair, and that hope was intensified when I learned that someone had picked up a young barred owl from one of the interior trails and brought it to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, the rehab facility for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Some days after that I encountered an adult barred owl with a branched youngster, and Willowbrook deputized me to return their bird to its family.

A leaning black cherry provided a good place for the owlet to climb up.

The youngster quickly climbed more than 10 feet above the ground. His wings were sufficiently developed that he probably could fly.

The owls all were elsewhere by the next morning. Normally I would not share information about owls in this way, but at this point in the season they are so good at staying out of sight that it would be a waste of time for anyone to attempt to find them in St. James Farm’s large forest.

Plenty of noteworthy observations added to my knowledge of the preserve’s flora and fauna. For instance, I found a white river crayfish on the lawn near one of the ponds.

White river crayfish

I got a more detailed list of first flower dates this year, thanks to my frequent visits.

Butterweed pops up in widely scattered open areas of the forest.

This was a cold spring, and first flower dates in May were a median 8 days later than in earlier years of my records. A highlight of the season is the blooming of blackhaw, St. James Farm’s dominant understory shrub.

Though some blackhaws mistakenly were cut last winter by some inexperienced seasonal employees, that was in a limited part of the forest, and even there some were missed, as shown here.

The cut ones will resprout, and the restoration clearing of the forest has been followed by places with bunches of small blackhaws, like this one.

It was an enjoyable season, but now my attention shifts to singing insects. Spring field crickets and green-striped grasshoppers are singing, and periodical cicadas have begun to emerge in some open residential areas.

St. James Farm is Blooming

by Carl Strang

Spring flowers continue to open at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. Today’s post is a gallery of highlights. On the large scale, I have been delighted to find that black haw is a dominant understory shrub in the central forest.

Black haw is a native Viburnum.

Black haw is a native Viburnum.

Blooming black haws are prominent in the forest area cleared of invasive shrubs this past winter.

Blooming black haws are prominent in the forest area cleared of invasive shrubs this past winter.

Diverse herbaceous plants are blooming at the ground level.

Jacob’s ladders are common in parts of the forest.

Jacob’s ladders are common in parts of the forest.

A few declined trilliums also have appeared. The white trilliums have become rarer in DuPage County thanks to people picking them, which kills them. All plants are legally protected on the preserves.

A few declined trilliums also have appeared. The white trilliums have become rarer in DuPage County thanks to people picking them, which kills them. All plants are legally protected on the preserves.

Butterweed is an uncommon and short-lived member of the ragwort group.

Butterweed is an uncommon and short-lived member of the ragwort group.

This bulbous cress plant is benefitting from last year’s restoration of the stream and its corridor area.

This bulbous cress plant is benefitting from last year’s restoration of the stream and its corridor area.

I look forward to many more botanical discoveries as the season progresses.

May Phenology

by Carl Strang

It’s time to update my record of flowering phenology at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Through April, plants were blooming a median of 13 days earlier than in 2009. In May I have an additional 41 species to report. Five of these were new to the list, and so I have no 2009 dates for comparison. These include nannyberry, about which I reported earlier. Other new shrubs are black raspberry, and autumn olive (shown).

I am not sure how I missed a prominent trailside patch of common speedwell last year.

Even more intriguing is this one:

Clearly a member of genus Senecio, this single plant keyed to butterweed. It is blooming close to the center of the preserve, so I am not sure how it got there. Butterweed is not native, and apparently is not commonly encountered in northeast Illinois, though DuPage Forest Preserve District botanist Scott Kobal tells me he has found it much more frequently in recent years.

Returning to the species for which I had flowering dates in 2009, I had to divide them into two groups. I was out of town for significant portions of May, and so found 16 species blooming profusely that had begun in my absences. The dates I was able to record for them certainly were later than their actual first flower dates must have been. The median was 3 days earlier than in 2009, range 15 days earlier to 5 days later.

Of more interest were the 20 species for which my 2010 first flower dates were reasonably close to the actual. There the range was 4-23 days earlier, with a median of 13. At least so far, 2010 flower phenology continues to be significantly ahead of 2009.

Curiously, migrant bird arrivals do not show the same pattern. The 15 species whose May arrival dates I can compare reasonably between years all appeared later in 2010 than in 2009. The range was 3-15 days later, with a median of 8 days. No explanation immediately comes to mind.

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