Monthly Archives: January 2013

Blackberry Creek Dam Removal Update, After the Rain

To play catch up, you can read the past progress reports here.
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After raining for over 24 hours and dumping a fair amount of rain on the area, curiosity got the better of me and I had to go take a look at the Blackberry Creek dam removal site. I had already checked the USGS Stream Flow Gage for Blackberry Creek. Normal for this time of year has the creek flowing at 48 Cubic Feet per Second. The last time I looked the creek was flowing along at 172 CFS.

USGS Real Time Stream Flow Data for Blackberry Creek

Years ago someone explained to me how the Gage Height in Feet works, but it didn’t make any sense then and 12 years later and looking at it on a regular basis, it still doesn’t make any sense. When the creek is practically dry and I can walk across parts of it without even getting my ankles wet, the flow is about 20 CFS, but the Gage Height in Feet says it’s at 3.15 feet.

Okay, compared to what?

The closest I got to the creek was the hill that overlooks it. Taking pictures at that distance didn’t make any sense and getting closer was out of the question. I’ve had more than enough bad experiences on muddy shores next to flooded rivers to know walking down there would be stupid, but what follows is what I saw.

Above is a shot of the channel right after they finished this section. If I were standing on the creek bed at this spot it would easily be six feet down. On the upstream end it’s maybe 18 inches. The whole stretch is filled with water. On the shallow end you can barely see the tops of the rocks. On the deep end you can’t see any rocks at all, they’re completely under water.

In the shot above is the pump that runs continuously to drain any extra water out while they were working on this stretch. I couldn’t see the pump at all so I’m assuming it was buried under the water.

It took a lot to fight the urge to go down to the first coffer dam to see if it was breached or if the water had collected this much in this stretch. When the ground was pretty well frozen it was hard to walk on the layer of mud. After this thaw and all the rain, I wasn’t really in the mood to be taking a mud bath if something went wrong.

The water was flowing pretty strong through the bypass and into the pond and it looked like the whole pond had come up a good foot.

The temperatures are going back down below freezing for the next five days and even below zero is called for on Thursday night. This should do a pretty good job of freezing all the mud and the water level in the creek should start going back down.

When I get out there on Sunday to check it out, it should be interesting to see how it all looks and maybe I won’t get myself killed in the process.

Please Don’t put up Pictures of Fog

But I like fog.

I like the way it visually cuts me off from my surroundings. This one wasn’t horribly dense, but you could see nothing beyond the trees on the opposite shore of the river barely 100 yards away. Even those were indistinct shades of gray.

In the tree on the left are a couple of bald eagles, no, really.

Fishing in fog like this is one of my favorite things to do. It makes you concentrate and focus on what is readily apparent rather than letting your mind wander on what is down stream and around the next bend. You can’t see the next bend.

This morning I had already been out on my porch listening to the bald eagles talk down on the river. The geese were being unusually noisy this morning too. Maybe because of the eagles. With the air temperatures just above 40 degrees, it was time to go for a walk. We’ve had a long stretch of below freezing temps and this year my bones are paying the price. Today they didn’t feel so bad.

I could tell by the sound that there were a lot of geese along the river. They were thick on the ice and in the shallow water below the dam when I got there. Some were already getting nervous about me walking along the shore and took off.

The geese that hang out around here all year don’t get so nervous. I can always tell how wild the geese are by how close they let you get. The more domestic ones will let you walk right up to them, they get used to people tossing them food. The wilder ones will start honking and moving around, getting agitated.

I decided to make matters worse by walking out on a spit of land that got me even closer to the geese. The honking kept getting louder.

It wasn’t long before they started leaving in small groups.

This kept up for a few minutes.

Till they were all pretty much airborne.

I quickly realized there were now a few hundred pissed off flying crapping machines over my head.

I flipped the hood onto my head and stood on the end of the spit of land to watch what I started. The honking was deafening and there were so many geese low over my head that I could feel the vibrations from displaced air coming off their wings and onto my eardrums. It took them a few minutes to realize I wasn’t leaving and they headed off down stream.

The other benefit of fog is that it deadens the noise of human activity, but I noticed that it had practically no affect on the sound of the birds on the river. I noticed how clearly I could hear the eagles this morning though they were two blocks away. As I walked home in the same direction the geese flew, I could hear them still pissed off and honking, but I couldn’t see them.

I think I’ve always noticed this, but not so distinctly as today. There must be something about the sound waves from their noises that cuts through the fog. I would assume so they can continue to know where each other are even if they couldn’t see each other.

The geese were heading down stream making a ruckus. I could hear them flying around and remembered that there were few places for them to land. The river further down was already filled with birds and I’m sure no further company was wanted. A half hour later I went in the house. The birds were still squawking loudly.

My mother-in-law was sitting in the living room and commented on the sounds of the geese as I walked into the house. She could hear the noise building out on the river two blocks away even in a closed up house.

Yeah, that was me. I decided to have a little fun with the geese.

“They didn’t sound like they were having fun.”

Larry_Eagle_1

Bald Eagles on the Fox River Update

Yesterday I put up a post documenting my 10 mile drive from Yorkville to Montgomery along the Fox River looking for bald eagles. When I had got to 20 of them, I quit counting and enjoyed just looking for them.

Relatively early this morning I took that same 10 mile drive and decided to let the OCD side of me count every single eagle I saw.

Last night we had temperatures down into the single digits out my way and when I headed out it was 12 degrees. I was a bit surprised to see one long stretch of the Fox River that was locked up with ice yesterday, suddenly have a wide open stretch of flowing water. Kind of flies in the face of logic, but the eagles liked it. Saw three there today where yesterday there were none.

All total I saw 39 bald eagles in this short 10 mile drive up the river. I’m sure there are many more. This 10 mile stretch of the river has long stretches that are inaccessible by car. Over the years, during the warmer months, I’ve waded just about all of it in pursuit of smallmouth bass, but with temps in the teens I couldn’t gather up the stamina to make the long hikes through tougher terrain just to look for eagles. A heartier soul with a good map should be able to figure out how to get to these more remote stretches.

There were quite a few others out early to do the same as me. Cars were moving slowly up Route 25, more cars were parked along the side of the road and people with cameras, tripods and binoculars were lined up to get a better look at the eagles. With the cloudless skies this morning, the birds were pretty well lit up in the sunshine and much easier to spot.

This weekend is Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock State Park. I know a few people that head down to that event every year. With what little competitive blood I have in me, I am looking forward to hearing their eagle sighting reports and hoping it’s half of what’s been seen so much closer to home. That’ll teach them.

No pictures today. All of the eagles seen were on the opposite side of the river and I’ve grown accustomed to the limitations of my camera equipment.

Photo courtesy of Larry Granat and his Facebook page The Kendall County Bird Page.

Blackberry Creek Dam Removal Update, Brief Interlude

To play catch up, you can read the past progress reports here.
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There was a lot of noise all week coming from the dam removal project on the other side of the river. When I got there this morning I expected to see a lot of progress. Progress there was, but they’re digging a ditch for the bypass channel.

Picture a ditch.

I couldn’t, so I didn’t take any pictures.

It’s a ditch.

Maybe next week it will be more picture worthy.

Till then, you might like to listen to some music.

Or, if you’re not so inclined, here’s a picture of a possum.

That’s right, a possum.

Larry_Eagle_2

Bald Eagles on the Fox River

Apparently I wrote about bald eagles on the Fox River in Yorkville back in January of 2012. Then I did it again at the end of December 2012. But when you see over 20 of them in one day, it’s hard not to bring it up again.

The small lakes and ponds in the surrounding area are all frozen over. Much of the Fox River is ice too, something hard to believe for water that flows. You wouldn’t think that’s possible. The ducks and geese that rely on open water have fewer places to go. The Yorkville dam is about a half mile away from me and the churning water over the dam keeps the river relatively free of ice for a good mile.

Everything that flies seems to congregate in these open areas. Thousands of waterfowl are gathered on the river below my house and many more arrive every day around sunset. The constant honking of the geese can be heard blocks away and it goes on well into the night. Blue herons are flying all over the place looking for spots between the geese to land.

For the last few days the reports of bald eagles on the Fox River have been appearing in earnest. The eagles too are looking for open water. Being primarily fish eaters, they have fewer places to go and I’m sure if all else fails, they’ll pick off a bird or two when hungry enough.

Friend and avid bird watcher, Larry Granat along with his wife Debbie, reported seeing 9 of them on Tuesday in Yorkville. For the birders, Larry runs a Facebook page called The Kendall County Bird Page and it’s worth a visit.

The photo at the top of this post is one of the photo’s Larry took that day as well as the following two. I really need to get me one of those cameras. I have film cameras that have this capability, but what’s film?

As far as I can tell, that’s a gizzard shad that it plucked out of the river for lunch.

On Thursday I went down to the river to see the eagles for myself. At the bottom of the hill and on the other side of the river is the mouth of a creek. Just outside the creek mouth is a small island. In the still water around the island were a few hundred geese and perched in the tree of the island were six eagles. By the time I got in position to take a picture, two of the eagles had flown off.

I know, they’re hard to see, but once you get used to what you’re looking for you can’t miss them.

Then I wandered over to the dam and got to see six more. Around 10 or 11 years ago I had seen my first eagle on the river and continued to see one now and then in the coming years. But the last few years have been bringing many more to the Fox River. I couldn’t believe I had just seen 12.

On Friday I went for a drive along the river from Yorkville to Montgomery, about 10 miles. Before even leaving Yorkville I had already seen nine eagles. I stopped at a number of places along the river only to find the river pretty locked up with ice. The few places that had small patches of open water were acting like magnets for the geese.

When I got to Orchard Road I noticed it was the dividing line between open water up stream and a river made up of almost solid ice. I didn’t expect this. I thought it would be all ice even further up. The mile and a half stretch from Orchard Road to Oswego has practically no access points for a car. You can hike that length, but it can be a challenge.

As I drove north along the river out of Oswego the eagles seemed to be every few hundred yards. Sometimes by themselves and other times three or four in a tree. I gave up counting them when I got to 20 and decided to just enjoy the ride and spotting eagles. I wound up seeing many more than 20 by the end of my ride.

With all this open water along this stretch, the waterfowl have congregated by the thousands. I couldn’t get in a good position to take a picture, so this shot from the same stretch a few years ago will have to do. Picture many more birds, but you get the idea.

On the way home, on the road along the river and below my house, I came across one eagle sitting in a tree about 50 feet away. I knew if I got out of the car it would take off, so with window rolled down and the zoom on my point and shoot camera all the way out, I kept taking pictures till it turned it’s head just enough to give me a profile.

I really do need to get a better camera.

Friends have been telling me that they are spotting eagles even further north. From Elgin to St. Charles and Batavia, but not in the numbers we’re seeing further south. So far anyway.

So get out your map and get to Montgomery right on the Fox River. You want to drive south on Route 25 starting at the dam. At one point you’ll want to take a side street that keeps you along the river and into Oswego. No, I’ve only been driving down that street for over a dozen years and I don’t know the name of it. That’s what maps are for, you’ll find it.

If you make it down to Yorkville, start at the dam. Right at the dam is a great little coffee house called River City Roasters . If you’re lucky you can get a window seat and leisurely gawk at the eagles. At least you’ll have a place where you can go in and warm up.

A lot of people in Illinois travel good distances to view bald eagles. Out to the Mississippi River, the Rock River and one of the most popular spots, Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River. I will grant that those areas may offer a better scenic view, but I saw well over 20 eagles in a short distance and it’s barely 50 miles from downtown Chicago.

You can’t beat that.

The 10 day weather forecast shows virtually no change in this weather pattern, so the conditions needed to keep the eagles around for at least two more weeks are pretty good.

Bring some binoculars and don’t forget your camera.

Hopefully you have a better one than I do.