HENNEPIN, Ill.–When four guys clustered around common garter snakes Tristan Schramer held and studied them intently, I laughed.
When Tom Anton looked at me, I said they made my day. I know something about people getting into their loves.
So did Anton, who said, “This is a candy store, a herpetological candy store.”
Candy store sums up The Wetland Initiative’s first BioBlitz June 13-14 at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes. (Photo at the top is (l-r)MichaelMatthews,TristanSchramer,TomAntonandJoeCavataio excitedaboutafindwhilecheckingcoverboards.)
Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, the restoration project along the Illinois River, restores my soul and I stop any time I am near Hennepin.
Candy store sums up BioBlitzs in general, those 24 hours of experts leading volunteers to document the wild world at a site: fishes, plants, mammals, amphibians, birds, reptiles, insects, etc.
Anton was an expert for the herp groups. His groups found some neat stuff, but there were neat finds across the wild spectrum.
When I walked in late afternoon, as a storm brushed north, TWI executive director Paul Botts excitedly talked about finds in the first excursions.
Say fungi from the new part of refuge at Hickory Ridge. This was the first formal documenting of fungi, some 50, at the refuge. I would say try Auricularia auricula, except you probably have already and not realized it.
“That’s what you have in your soup at a Chinese restaurant,” Botts said.
And there was a “bullsnake the size of a small car,” he said, overstating slightly.
But when Anton brought it out of the sack to show everybody watched. As they should have, bullsnakes are badass-looking, which may work to their disadvantage.
“A lot of people kill them because they vibrate and make a lot of noise,” Anton said.
They are sand savanna specialists who often live in mammal burrows. Illinois is the eastern edge of their range.
As he talked, the bullsnake swiveled and bit his left hand, to which he said, “A snake’s mouth is probably cleaner than ours.”
Other good herps finds were eastern milk snakes, first for the site.
Gary Sullivan, TWI’s senior restoration ecologist, said there have been 700 plants and more than 270 birds documented. For his part, Sullivan and his group found several plants during the BioBlitz they have yet to ID.
I went with the group led by Anton. First was checking traps in water and finding crayfish, gray tree frogs, water beetles, western chorus frogs, bullfrog tadpoles and green frogs.
“Everything in there is what I predicted,” Anton said.
Then it was on to cover boards (metal or wood), which draw critters seeking shelter. In this case, it was primarily garter snakes, dozens of them in fact, and a few deer mice.
What I loved is that Joe Zito would get sidetracked by small things, such as a leaf miner (larvae of various insects) working through a leaf. I am glad somebody gives a damm about leaf miners.
Near the end, there was much excitement in finding racerunners near an old barn. Asked what is the big deal, Anton said, “They are the only members of the genus in the this area. Most are in the southwest.”
A storm moved in (the weather cut some of the planned groups for the night).
Back at the tent, hiding from lightning and rain, I checked with Doug Stotz, the conservation ecologist/ornithologist for the Field Museum, who documents birds at the refuge.
There was a mute swan pair with two cygnets, first breeding record at the refuge (a mixed blessing for the non-native), a state-endangered king rail and a common loon, a rare sighting in Illinois in summer.
Fish finds of note included spotted gar, redspotted sunfish and starhead topminnow; and, most importantly, no carp.
Notable among butterflies were summer azure and northern broken-dash; for odonates, there was common baskettail dragonfly and the emerald spreadwing damselfly.
The storm lifted northwest.
It was time.