Monthly Archives: May 2012

Swimming upstream faster than the current… (part 2)

More details and suggestions in the second email from Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director, Marc Miller.

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Dear DNR constituent:

In Part 1’s email, I discussed how the victory on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Sustainability Bill demonstrated that the agency is swimming upstream faster than the current, and now I need to explain how the pension squeeze threatens to turn back DNR’s progress.

In order to protect the gains that have been won and work on improving the state parks, sites, and DNR programs, we need you to understand the pension squeeze and be engaged in demanding solutions to the problems. One of the best places for this is the This is My Illinois website, and I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Solving this “pension squeeze” problem can no longer be avoided. Basically, the problem has taken over 70 years to reach this point, and it is caused by avoiding the full annual payment needed to cover the costs of the pension system. Currently, only 45% of the obligations are funded.

The complexity of the problem provides some with the opportunity to shift the blame, finger point and avoid responsibility for the problem. But, there are concrete impacts to inaction and avoidance, and we must address this problem now. So, let’s get practical.

The squeeze has reached a point where the amount of money required to cover pension costs grows faster than the growth of tax dollars the state collects every year.

Many important state goals, like education, social services, police and public safety, and agencies like DNR, cannot be funded against this growing obligation. Over the last several years there have been cuts to each agency’s budget to “feed the squeeze.” There is no end in sight to this crisis, and each day the problem grows worse. In fact, for every day of inaction the state adds $17 million to the total bill of pension costs. In one short week, Illinois could save enough to fund the General Revenue portion of the DNR budget.

Because DNR had already been drastically cut for the previous 12 years, we responded by working for a bill that would help DNR be sustainable. We were successful, but if this larger problem with pension squeeze is not addressed, we will backslide to where we are today with diminishing resources to pay for DNR programs.

Please take a moment to check out “This is My Illinois” to get more information and learn how you can make a difference, and you should call your state legislator. This website has broken down the pension squeeze into clear, simple, language that explains the problem. There are also Twitter, Facebook and YouTube sites to visit and sign up for news and alerts.

All of us have a responsibility to make our government work for the people of Illinois – for ourselves, our neighbors and our children and grandchildren. For the last four years, we have tackled difficult challenges and have made progress against a swift current, and I believe the pension squeeze can also be fixed. We must act, however, and if there is one thing that I have witnessed here as Director, is that if DNR constituents are engaged, aware of the issues, and working towards practical solutions, this agency can be successful. If constituents are not engaged, then funding and resources will be taken away.

Please visit these websites and forward on to your friends and family.

Yours in conservation,
Marc Miller, Director
Illinois DNR

Pardon my Absence

I haven’t felt like writing much of anything lately.

I’ve also not been reading much of anything lately.

For all those with blogs that I usually read and leave comments, I don’t mean to be rude, but my head is filled with enough stuff and I’ve simply run out of room.

I’ve been out wandering around, doing a fair amount of fishing, finding what I think are cool things, taking what I think are interesting photos, but the words to describe all of this have piled up in my head and I can’t be bothered making sense of it all.

Maybe that’s for the better.

Don’t see this changing for the rest of the month, too nice out to be sitting around inside the house. Maybe I’ll get back in the swing of things come June, or not.

Till then, here’s a few shots of a cast iron frying pan I found next to a deteriorating stove out in the middle of nowhere. Literally, nowhere. Will follow up with more once the pan has been cleaned up, seasoned and put back to use.

It's half buried in the dirt to the right of the stove, in front of the tree. Were decorative shards of pottery all over the place too.

Salvaged one a few years ago from under a collapsed barn. Owner thought it had been there for a good 50 years. Works like a charm now.

No manufacturers marks or anything on it. Just a crudely drawn number 9 on the bottom to let you know the size. That tells me it's pretty old.

Speaking of Butterflies

I was out wandering the other day and stopped at a creek. The main goal was to see what kind of shape it was in after the recent rains. The other goal was to simply wander around a little.

There’s an old abandoned road near the creek. Each time I wander down it a little further. I know it’s trespassing, but it seems that landowners don’t mind gray beards with cameras wandering harmlessly on some parts of their property.

“Getting any good photos?”

I never know till I look at them later. You don’t mind do you?

“No, not at all. Feel free.”

And I do.

It was nice to be out with sky blue skies bringing out the intense greens of the rain soaked trees and grass. Luckily I was also watching where I was walking.

A large black and yellow object fluttered past my head. I knew it was a swallowtail butterfly and assumed it was a yellow swallowtail, but I noticed it was more black than yellow. It landed on a nearby tall blade of grass. I quickly shot a photo figuring it would quickly flutter off.

Since it didn’t move, I took a few more, always expecting it to fly off.

That never happened. It sat there, wings spread wide, soaking in the sun. I kept getting closer, pushing my luck.

It let me get within a few inches of it.

Then, apparently annoyed, it flew off.

As a kid I had a fascination with butterflies. I think it came from frequent visits to the Field Museum. I remember cases full of butterflies, pinned to backing with their wings spread wide like this one. I remember having a book about butterflies, loaded with pictures. That was 45 years ago or so and the memory of names and colors are long gone.

From what I looked up later, this one winds up being a Giant Swallowtail. And that it was, with a wingspan that was easily 5-6 inches. I found the pattern fascinating. It looks some what like a face, mouth open. I’ll assume it sits like this, wings spread, to intimidate predators. I never did find anything mentioned about that being a possibility.

I kind of like that idea though.

Monarchs and the Crazy Squirrel Lady

I’ve been getting out fishing. Creeks, Fox River, secret ponds and a heavily pressured state park. Caught fish at all of them. Some good, some not so good.

Going through one of my bouts of ADD, ADHD, OCD or some combination of all three. Keeps me from focusing on words. Can put down an interesting sentence, but that’s about where it ends. Then I get bored and don’t bother with any more sentences. Partial blame I place on rethinking, reinventing myself yet again. Taking too long this time, but that might be the boredom thing again.

Have been enjoying just wandering around, sitting around and taking a few photographs.

The first week of May we had two monarchs cruise through our yard. My wife and I were wondering if they could be the offspring of the 100 or so monarchs we’ve raised and released over the last two years. We let them go right in our yard and we’ve read that they somehow implant this into their genetic makeup and pass it on to successive generations. Who knows, but it’s an interesting thought.

The other day we went for one of our wanders around the lake at Silver Springs State Park, a five minute drive down the road from our house. We were coming across quite a bit of milkweed sprouting. My wife was wondering if their would be monarch eggs on them. I said, “it’s too early.” Not five seconds later a monarch lifts off of a milkweed plant. Of course this got the wife off on her search.

By the time we made it back to the car, she had collected 36 monarch eggs. In past years, we never even bothered looking till mid summer with most of the eggs found occurring in July and August. This was truly odd.

In case any are wondering, she then puts the milkweed leaves in small containers with a bit of water in the bottom.

In case you’ve never seen a monarch egg, they’re usually on the underside of a milkweed leaf and look like a tiny white speck. Once you find one, you get used to seeing them. You can see one on the leaf off to the left.

Two days later, they already started to hatch. They’re barely an 1/8th of an inch long when they first hatch and easy to miss.

They start gnawing away at the leaves immediately.

They grow fast and eat voraciously. We transfer the leaves into small clear storage boxes with lids we modified to have screening across the top. Fresh leaves have to be added almost daily. Basically they eat and shit all day long. By noon today we had 10 of them hatched. Time to go pick more leaves.

Also the other day, my wife got it in her head that she was going to train the neighborhood squirrels to eat peanuts out of her hand. She did this with flying squirrels a few years ago and thought it would be a good idea to try with your standard variety squirrel. I know she had the flying squirrel sitting in her hand once, but this was the best picture I could find.

I didn’t get a picture of it, but she actually got a squirrel to come up to her and take a peanut out of her hand. For the last two days, she’s been slowly coaxing other squirrels to keep getting closer.

They are extremely curious and know they want that peanut she’s offering, but it’s become a real cat and mouse game around the tree.

I think it’s going to be a matter of a few days and the damn things will be knocking on the screen door wondering where the peanuts are.

In this same tree is a squirrel nest. Back in March, we found three baby squirrels lying on the ground. They had fallen out of the bottom of the nest. They were all breathing, but lying still. We assumed it would be a matter of time and they would all die. The mother squirrel ran around in a panic. I always assumed squirrels picked up baby squirrels like cats pick up kittens, by the back of the neck. They cram practically the whole damn thing into their mouths. She did this and we watched as she carried them all to a hole in a nearby oak tree. We didn’t see them again. Again assuming they all died.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the squirrel was busy rebuilding the nest. One by one she led three baby squirrels back into the nest. She and the babies got so close to us that we could have reached down and picked them up. Since then we’ve been watching the three little ones playing in the tree, practicing to be squirrels I guess. Hanging upside down, making short jumps from one branch to another, but never coming down to the ground or the feeder.

My wife is hoping to train all of them to feed out of her hand.

And yes, I’ve already been reminded that these are pets, not future stew.

But you never know, accidents do happen.