Eco Engineer at Work – watercolor

beaver handiwork

Whenever I perform a litter sweep on my work shift, I never complain. I love it. It allows me to walk the trails each week and take note of seasonal changes while keeping the grounds clean. So it was a nice surprise to see the handiwork of a beaver in a succession over a few weeks.

On or before October 26th, it chewed the smaller of the two trunks on this established tree next to the river. Then about two weeks later, it chewed the larger of the two trunks. Why did it not take the smaller one? I do not know.

Imagine trying to chew through the trunk of a tree.

How is this animal so powerful?

No, that orange color on its teeth is not tartar (see skull sketch above), but a layer of iron. Go beaver, go!

Beavers are a keystone species. That means, they’re fantastic ecological engineers as they create riparian (river edge) habitats wherever they dwell. This type of habitat will be a home and feeding ground to possibly hundreds of new species: frogs, turtles, birds, insects, plants, invertebrates, etc. With its iron, it completely changes the ecosystem for the better, for many.

While humans are destroying habitats, beavers are creating them. Go beaver, go!

This was the beginning. I had no idea it was not done yet.

double beaver chews

Was it the same beaver that chewed through the larger trunk? I assume so. Perhaps it did not take the tree because it was simply feeding on the bark. Beavers are active in the fall because they are trying to plump up for winter. They do not hibernate. They live in their lodges, eat their food reserves, and sleep when food is low, but they are still active in the wintertime. So now is the time to get fat.

I am so thankful to God for the ability to be a naturalist and see changes in nature as the seasons progress. I try to take nothing for granted.

Nature is beautiful. Life is short. All glory to God.

Kayaking the Wild Mile Chicago River watercolor

watercolor sketch of the Wild Mile - Chicago River by kayak
watercolor sketch of the Wild Mile – Chicago River

Yesterday I had the opportunity to kayak the Chicago River at the Wild Mile. What is the Wild Mile? It’s a stretch of the Chicago River that is actively being restored by installing floating native gardens along the river’s edge. Without these floating gardens, organisms cannot thrive. They do not have shelter from the sun, nor a habitat to feed and breed. A healthy freshwater ecosystem has trees (shade from the sun), floating wood debris (shelter and food for organisms), leaves (food), and a diverse array of organisms above the water and below. This could not happen with the original construction of the Chicago River which was walled in concrete. According to the Kayak Chicago staff, in the 1970’s there were only 5 species of fish found in the Chicago River. After the Clean Water Act of 1972 was instated, people thought differently about dumping pollutants into the river. As of 2016, a study found 27 species of fish in the Chicago River. Things are moving in the right direction.

The Wild Mile is not finished yet. More floating native wet gardens are being installed slowly but surely. With the addition of these gardens, I’m sure the species count will skyrocket.

Yesterday I was able to spot: a belted-kingfisher bird (Megaceryle alcyon) dive for food, five red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking in the sun, an unknown hawk species above the floating gardens, nests from cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), one unknown dragonfly, several Canada geese (Branta canadensis), and mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos).

floating native wetland garden along the Chicago River

Here is an up close view of garden #3. I think I recognized button bush from a distance.

native grasses and coconut husks visible near the water

Here is another section of floating garden where you can visibly see the coconut husks used to propagate the plants.

Chicago River

Bright blue skies over downtown provided this beautiful view from my kayak.

my yellow kayak

This was the first time I have ever entered a kayak in deep waters. I’m used to sitting in the kayak on the shore and scooting my way into the water. The staff of Kayak Chicago taught us how to enter off a dock in deep water. Basically, feet first, hold on the kayak tightly with your hands, and swing your butt in. They also held my kayak so that it wouldn’t swing away…only try this if you have trained staff to help you.

Kayak Chicago offers tours in several locations. This location was at 1220 W LeMoyne Street, Chicago, IL 60642. Go there if you would like to see the Wild Mile too!

September Spiders watercolor

september spiders watercolor sketch

Again, sorry to those who hate spiders! But… look how beautiful they are!

September has ended and so has the field trip I helped run, teaching children about the prairie ecosystem. In that short month, I walked with 500+ students armed with butterfly nets. They found a wide variety of treasures: many spiders, 2 praying mantis, beetles, butterflies, moths, damselflies, 1 snake, and even some deer bones. I couldn’t tell whether they had more fun finding things or running through grasses taller than themselves, while waving their nets high in the air!

I had a blast too!

Black and Yellow Argiope Watercolor

sketch of a black and yellow argiope spider

I’m sorry to some that may be squeamish about spiders, but hold on…give her a chance! She has her best dress on. And look at those long black gloves on her hands…so classy!

My place of employment is hosting field trips for grade school students throughout the month of September. My station is the prairie. I explain to the children the importance of a prairie. I talk about how it prevents erosion, filters rainwater, contains fertile soil, is home to thousands of different types of organisms that work together. But the most exciting part is walking through the prairie!

The prairie does not have a path. The children literally have to trample through grasses and plants that are about as tall and sometimes taller than themselves. This is my favorite moment…when the squeals and shrieks begin. Some run head first, some are afraid, but they all want to participate because they’ve never had the opportunity to learn in this manner.

One student found this female black and yellow argiope. AKA: the yellow garden spider, the golden spider, the writing spider, the zigzag spider etc. She was large and beautiful. She only lives about one year and will probably die before the end of autumn. Her job right now is to lay an egg sack. If it is too cold after they develop, the spiderlings will hatch next spring.

female black and yellow argiope

The zigzag pattern she wove in her web is called a stabilimentum. Some believe it is created to attract species to the web and some believe it is used to warn about the web. (Illinois Natural History Survey)

We also found deer bones in the prairie. To which massive loud shrieks and screams commenced.
Ha ha ha! They were amazed!

Hopefully we will find more interesting things in the prairie this month.

The Nest that wasn’t a Nest – Watercolor

bird’s nest fungus watercolor

I’ve heard about the elusive bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus stercoreus) but I have never seen them until recently. And it is no wonder…I was looking for something much, much larger. Think tiny if you want to find this organism. REALLY tiny.

bird’s nest fungus photo

And behold, on the north side of a large bolder, sat tiny bird’s nest fungi in the midst of wood mulch. The open nests are about 1/4-1/2″ (0.635-1.27cm) wide. The “egg” is also not an egg, but a peridiole, container of spores. When it rains, a drop of rain dislodges the peridiole and sends it flying. When it lands, hopefully it takes root in the ground where the hyphae grows, multiplying into a mycelium network (“roots”) underground. Whenever you see a fungus, you’re actually looking at a fruiting body. A fruiting body’s mission is to distribute its spores to multiply. Most of the “important” work is underground and out of sight.

But those fruiting bodies…they’re so gorgeous!

I hope you look low and see tiny things this week!

Flying Drop of Sunshine Harvesting – Watercolor

the flying drop of sunshine harvests seeds

He harvests.
When needed, nourishment.
He has no currency…
Nor concern to buy and sell.
Provided for
ministered by
and loved.
Just like you.

ripe purple coneflower

Friends, take courage. Do not lose hope. Things in the world may be troubling, but be of good cheer.
The Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world. He came to suffer, to pay for the sins of every being born…no matter what background, race, gender, so that we can be pure before God if we accept our debt paid, free of charge, by Him who overcame the grave.

And guess what? Shhhhhh…At the end of time, when everything shall come to pass, Jesus wins in the end. Revelations 19:11-21.

Be of good cheer.

This male American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), taught me this lesson when I saw him feast on my purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea). He flitted from flower to flower confiscating seeds, sometimes with a tiny shake of the head. Without words, he reminded me to lay my worries down. And just like that, they evaporated with the wind.

He Hides in Flowers – Watercolor

deer hides in summer flowers

Don’t you wish you could too?

Last week I ran a nature summer camp for children that focused on wetlands and the animals that live in and around them. As we hiked to the river, one young camper spotted this gorgeous male, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), hiding amongst the summer flowers. I had walked right passed him, less than a few feet away. Oblivious… So focused on presenting material…missing life right in front of me.

Thank you to the student observant enough and in the moment.

Thank you Mr. Deer…your secret place is safe with us. We wish you well.

deer, bee balm, and black-eyed susans

Each Tree for a Comfort

When I am melancholy, I paint a tree. When I am sad, I paint a tree. And when I’m longing, I paint a tree. I find myself painting them even when happy and content. They always seem to give me comfort. They’re my go to subject.

Perhaps it’s the fact that each has its own personality in the form of character, and completely changes season to season. They’re not loud, but calm. They shade you in the heat of summer and in winter uncover themselves bare. They can’t run away from you, they’re always present.

So after three days of silly arguing with my significant other, it was time to visit a tree. The latest one being in the bottom right-hand corner…an eastern redbud wearing its summer attire as it gracefully stands in the rain. Lovely.

I’m reminded of this quote:
“I will restore your health and heal your wounds,” declares the Lord.

Could it be that for some He uses trees?

Yes, I think so.

Only by kayak

only by kayak

Only by kayak is how to see this view
So few will observe it
Except maybe for the great blue heron…the one I accidentally flushed away
It saw me a mile away
I didn’t fool anybody
I only grasped its presence when the graceful wings gave beat
Then it was too late
The speed boats, they race by
Too fast to savor life when they fly

by way of the kayak

The only sound comes from the water beating on the rocks. Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, shhhhh. Every wave having a voice. Some louder than others.

bailey’s point

I camped at Bailey’s Point Campground in Scottsville, Kentucky. It’s on a peninsula which jets out over Barren River Lake. This is one of the west facing rock walls. It’s such a gorgeous location.

so thankful

Happy summer everyone!
Make it last before the cold sets in!!

Rose plume moth watercolor

watercolor of rose plume moth

Sometimes it’s the smallest things in life that make your day.
I just happened to notice this tiny moth as I was walking in my front door. Its thin bat like wings caught my eye. What a delicate and handsome insect.

From what I gather, July is a popular time to see them. However, all of my native flowers are blooming just a bit early. It is probably due to a very mild spring we had in the Chicago area. As the name implies, this moth feeds on rose leaves and buds. I do not have any roses growing in my yard, so perhaps this moth was just passing through.

photo of rose plume moth

More details on the rose plume moth can be found on iNaturalist.

It is so much fun to find organisms in nature and sketch them. I’ve learned a lot from practicing my art this way while documenting them in my sketchbook. And it really doesn’t matter how the art turns out…It’s the process that counts!