Spring is calling for the outdoors

The call of spring, at least for turkey hunters, is the barred owl’s “Who Cooks for You?” and, belatedly this year, a plethora of birds, greening plants and time to contemplate; plus the Stray Cast.

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Looking down from a bluff above a stream at Sandy Ford State Natural Area, where the understory, very late, was just beginning to green up on Thursday.

Looking down from a bluff above a stream at Sandy Ford State Natural Area, where the understory, very late, was just beginning to green up on Thursday.

Dale Bowman

STREATOR —A good hour after dawn came the call, “Who Cooks For You?”

Either a barred owl was out late into daylight or a turkey hunter was skilled at making the call Thursday at Sandy Ford State Natural Area.

I fancy myself a connoisseur of the call. Turkey hunters use it in spring to locate gobblers, who responsd out of horniness or orneriness.

With practice, it’s easy enough.

Exhale in three puffs: “Who,” Cooks,” “For You.” Don’t use your tongue, lips or voice box to make the call, only the puffs. Cup your hands to make a tunnel around your mouth to make it louder.

If you work the trades, practice in a small room with painters or drywallers, then ask their opinions. If back in the office after Covid, make the call hunkered down in your cubicle, then pop your head up and ask office mates for an honest assessment.

Live large.

Sandy Ford is not a noted turkey spot. Illinois Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Joe Rogus bluntly suggested I try different site next year.

But it was mine this spring because I screwed up and missed the first lottery, so only a few viable spots remained.

However, I loved Sandy Ford, not for the turkey hunting (no turkeys were harvested there last year according to the 2020-21 Public Hunting Area Reports), but for the site.

As IllinoisRiverRoad.org put it, “[T]he 200-acre Sandy Ford is located on the east bank of the Vermilion River at the western edge of the Farm Ridge Moraine, pushed up during the Woodfordian state of the Wisconsin glaciation during the late Pleistocene. The site possesses two creeks, a floodplain forest, dry bluffland forest, hill prairies, and sandstone cliffs.”

The bluffs above the streams are brutal. Somebody tied a heavy rope to a thick sapling to be able to climb down and up.

This spring has been cold, but the lack of leaves and understory stunned me.

Spring beauties, those ethereal bits, were about the only thing blooming. Mayapples were growing. Even with the enduring dankness, I had the biggest bee I’ve ever seen (a queen, which one unknown) working greened Missouri gooseberry.

Birds were spring ready. I heard or saw crows, Canada geese, vultures, red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, tufted titmouses, blue jays, a great horned owl, mourning doves, wood ducks and robins.

The Merlin Bird ID app’s sound portion added chickadee, cowbird, wood thrush, hermit thrush, white-throated sparrow, brown creeper, swamp sparrow, chickadee, yellow-throated warbler and nuthatch.

The warbler pissed me off. It was within 20 yards, but I never spotted it.

Neither did I see a turkey or hear any gobbles.

Yet, what a spring day.

On Sunday, I noticed the understory had grown significantly. A raccoon sneaked into a den tree in front of me in the dark. Mid-morning, the first tick of the year crawled on my neck.

It was time.

On the way out, I found swamp saxifrage, a first for me.

REMINDER

Spring turkey season ends Thursday in the south zone; the north zone, May 12. Until then, those hunting morel mushrooms (now going statewide) at state sites open for turkey hunting must wait until 1 p.m.

WILD THINGS

Spring Bird Counts are Saturday, reminded Cook County compiler Alan Anderson. They are wonderful, especially if you tag along with a knowledgeable birder. Illinois county compilers are at spring-bird-count.inhs.illinois.edu/county-compilers/. ... Our FOY Baltimore oriole came last week, which I find remarkable since we had almost no foliage.

STRAY CAST

Vocalizations of pileated woodpeckers share much with Fran Drescher.

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