Tag Archives: monarchs

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.

A Walk in the Park a Source of Revenue for the IDNR

My wife and I went for our usual walk around Silver Springs State Park on Sunday. Living only a 5 minute drive away, we find ourselves there 2 to 5 times a week.

Sunday the parking lot on the east end was full, we got the last spot. What a change from our weekday walks here when we have the whole place to ourselves. People have become weekenders when it comes to getting out, they should consider changing that.

A number of families were hanging out having picnics. A half dozen boats were out on the lake being paddled or rowed. A few fishermen were hanging out dunking worms.

We ran into one family and compared notes with them on how many monarch caterpillars were being found. We suddenly didn’t feel so odd walking up to milkweed plants and checking the underside of leaves. We’re not the only ones out here doing it.

On our walk we ran into a Cub Scout Den going for a hike, almost 50 kids and parents. More people were walking the shore along the Fox River. From our vantage point we could see a few parking lots on the west end that also looked full.

Off in the distance the sound of shotguns could be heard at the shooting range. Based on the shooting, there were quite a few up there. I have no doubt there were a few taking advantage of the archery range, there usually is.

We didn’t see any horses out here this time, but there are times when a couple of parking lots off the main road are full of horse trailers.

Did I mention the few fishermen? Couldn’t have been more than 10.

And yet, they were probably the only ones that paid something in order to take advantage of all the different things available at this state park.

You have to have a fishing license.

I think it’s time to change this.

Over the past 10 years the general revenue portion of DNR’s budget has fallen over 50% – from $100M to $48M – and this is the portion of the budget that funds state parks, law enforcement, museums and regulatory functions. I think the average user of the states parks doesn’t know or notice this. It’s only a matter of time till that changes with the cutting of services or the closing of some facilities.

I remember reading not too long ago that Illinois was considering charging entrance fees to state parks much like what is done in Wisconsin. If you’ve never looked, they’re not unreasonable.

Wisconsin DNR Park Fees

I already buy over $50 worth of fishing and hunting licenses every year. If Illinois implemented a fee structure like that in Wisconsin, I would gladly pay another $25 for a sticker that would allow me into any of the state parks for the year. Based on how often I go to fish and hunt, and how often my wife and I go just for a walk, it comes out to less then 50 cents per visit.

I’m sure it would take a few years to implement a program like this, a lot of work would need to be done building check in gates at each of the parks alone. I’m sure there are some park properties where this simply won’t work, but over the long haul, revenue would be coming in from people using the state parks that goes above and beyond just anglers and hunters.

To me it’s a very simple question that needs to be put to those that don’t fish or hunt, but like to visit the state parks.

What is Illinois’ natural resources worth to you?

If you’re like my wife and I and it comes out to less than 50 cents per visit over the course of a year, I would say that’s money well spent.

A Walk in the Park

I guess I do spend a lot of time there.

Living on the Edge of Civilization

A little after 5 o’clock and I’m leaving the office building hell that surrounds O’Hare airport for the 50 mile commute home. Luckily 98 percent of the drive is all highway driving. Unluckily there are still far too many people on earth that will never grasp the concept of highways. Why they insist on even trying to drive on a highway will always remain a mystery.

If it weren’t for the clueless, my drive home would be almost a half hour shorter. One can only wish to see that happen in their lifetime.

Dinner was ready when I got home. Afterward the dishes get done, get some laundry going and from behind me I hear…

“Want to go for a walk?”

A glance at the clock and it’s only 7:10, a good hour and a half of daylight left.

Five minutes later we’re at Silver Springs State Park.

For my first 35 years I never lived outside of the Chicago city limits. Now fifty miles isn’t far enough away, but I’m still shackled to the Chicago job market. Where I live is the limit for traveling east. Until something resembling a job opens up even further south or west, this is where I’ll stay put for awhile.

Out here, as soon as I get out of my car in front of the house, it’s quiet. We have bugs and birds, but none of the incessant drone that you hear all the time in the city. On breaks at work I hang around outside. The noise is never ending, a constant from land and sky. Once upon a time I’d have to say I never noticed it. Now I find it barely tolerable.

Five minutes west to the park and it gets even quieter, if that’s possible. Rustling trees in the wind, the splash of a fish on the water’s surface, a great horned owl off in the woods somewhere echoes in this little valley. You can feel you’re heart rate drop to something normal.

So far this year there have been a few disappointments on our walks. We normally go to collect monarch caterpillars and blackberries. This year their are few of each. The giant patch of blackberries where we collected a few gallons of berries last year is completely devoid of fruit. The vines are all in place, they are simply empty.

By this time last year we had collected around 70 monarch caterpillars. We were able to raise almost 50 of them to butterfly stage. So far this year we’ve struggled to find about a dozen of them. We’re not seeing many flying around this year either.

My wife tried to compensate for the lack of caterpillars by picking up nearly 100 small furry ones.

They were all bunched together so it was an easy thing to do. They turned out to be little eating/shitting machines. She was constantly feeding them ever more milkweed leaves and they quickly filled the bottom of the container with shit.

She looked up what they would turn into and it turns out to be a simple, plain, brown moth. She was disappointed.

They are now all in my neighbors yard devouring his hosta plants.

The other critters don’t seem to have been as effected by the weather as the monarchs. There is no shortage of other butterflies.

The big yellow spiders are more numerous than we remember. She’s blaming the spiders for the lack of monarch caterpillars, but that’s only because she’s severely arachnophobic.

The grasshopper population is already starting to die off. Far fewer of them seen than just a couple of weeks ago. What few are left are hanging on for dear life.

This freelance job near O’Hare has the possibility of going on indefinitely. My wife and I talked about moving further north and east to cut down on my commute. 100 miles a day and over $100 a week in gas can wear on you. The trade off is to abandon living on the edge of civilization.

We think we may have reached a compromise.

As soon as it can be afforded, I’ll be getting a car that gets better gas mileage.

The river had been looking good…

I was able to get out fishing on Friday and at 6:30 PM I found myself wading the Fox River in North Aurora. The last few hours of the day are my favorite time to be in the water. If I fished till dark, I would have over two hours of fishing under my belt. Perfect way to end the day.

Forty five minutes later I was done. The sweat was pouring down me so bad, down into my waders, that I thought I had pissed on myself.

To make matters worse, violent storms had been tracking through the area all day. They were mainly staying just to the north. I had heard that one of the storms may have dumped 6 inches of rain further up stream. It all had to flow down stream sooner or later.

While I was out there for that brief time, I could see the water level rising. A bare set of rocks on the river bottom when I started was now covered with a couple of inches of water. It’s very disconcerting to be standing out in the middle of the river while it’s rising. I know too well how fast the river can come up. I didn’t care to find out whether or not I was going to make it back to shore if I stuck around just a little too long.

I did manage to catch one dink smallmouth for my troubles.

By Saturday afternoon more storms had come through, all of them north of where I am in Yorkville. Down here it drizzled, not enough rain to even get the ground wet underneath the trees. The river was now high, fast and muddy. The plan had been to go do some exploring of sections I’ve never waded before. It will have to go on the back burner again.

I had noticed that the bulk of the storms had missed the two small watersheds of the two small creeks near me that I like to fish. Of course I had to go check on them and they were in perfect condition. Came up a couple of inches, but were running crystal clear.

Rather than go fishing the last light of the day, my wife and I went caterpillar hunting at Silver Springs State Park. We found our first 3 monarch caterpillars of the year. Last year we raised well over 50 of them.

We also came across a slew of white furry caterpillars that loved chowing down on milkweed leaves as much as the monarchs. We brought a number of them home to see what happens. Distant vague memories tell me that furry caterpillars tend to turn into moths. This could be interesting.

One other caterpillar was found, but it blended in well with it’s surroundings and looked so intimidating, that I decided to leave well enough alone.

Around 11 PM Saturday night a very small violent storm blew up directly over the two small watersheds of the two small creeks I like to fish. Lightning flashes could be seen off to the north. A quick check of The Weather Channel showed storms appearing out of nowhere directly to the north of me. Not a good thing. Hopefully the ground would suck up that small amount.

I was up before sunrise for the possibility of fishing one of the creeks. Out on my picnic table was a 6 inch tumbler. It now had an inch of water in the bottom. Not a good sign.

As a just in case I stopped at an old abandoned bridge that crosses the creek far downstream from where I wanted to fish. Why drive further if things were no longer perfect.

Things were far from perfect. They must have had a lot more rain just a little further north. The creek was much higher and had turned to mud, unfishable.

I had checked the radar before leaving the house. Two storms were converging to form one huge one and I only had about an hour and a half before it started blowing through. I considered going to a nearby fishing spot, but decided that fishing mud wasn’t all that appealing.

I hung out around the bridge for awhile. Wandered off down the little road that once was the purpose for the bridge.

Back in my artist days these old bridge structures were an attraction. I did a few pieces a long time ago made of concrete, wood and rope. Then I would put them out in the open and let them rot away.

I’d like to see the Picasso face in downtown Chicago left to rot away. The surrounding buildings made of the same steel are meant to last 75 years. They can all go at once.

There was no point in going home, may as well watch a storm blow through.

Back at Silver Springs I sat on a bench facing west. Clouds were swirling over head from all directions. A black squall line was off in the distance trying to get through. I sat it out till the lightning was hitting a little too close for comfort.

Back at home I sat just inside the garage with the big door open. Perfect seat facing north. Before the rain started I had emptied the tumbler.

Two hours later I measured 4.5 inches of water in the tumbler.

It had come down in buckets with an excellent light show. For an encore, the storm dropped half of my neighbors tree on his front lawn. I don’t know if trees don’t make noise when they fall in the forest and no one is around to hear it, but they make one hell of a noise when you’re standing only 100 feet away and you watch it come down.

This storm also broke the water gauge in Montgomery. It’s been stuck at the same spot since Sunday morning so there’s no way of knowing how much the river came up.

The gauge up in Elgin shows the river flowing just shy of 3200 cfs. Down in Montgomery it tends to flow a little faster.

Tuesday after work I thought I would stop to fish. Before putting on my waders I wandered down the steep bluff to the rivers’ edge. Definitely still high, fast and muddy and I decided I wanted no part of it. Less than a week earlier the river was at the lowest point I had seen it since 2005. I had just waded all over this section of the river with no regard to water depths. I had no interest in wading just a few feet out from shore. I knew I could catch a few fish, but I was tired of fishing like that. I could wait. Water has to come down sooner or later.
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The two little creeks near me that I like to fish don’t have USGS gauges on them. They have to be checked visually. Based on the speed at which other waters are coming down, I can make a pretty good guess on how they look. It’s 10:30 PM Tuesday as I finish this. I have a flashlight in the car. The spot where I make my visual check of the creeks is only 8 minutes away. I can be there and back before I finish one of my cheap crap cigars.

I’ve estimated that I can get to one of the creeks after work before 7 PM. That leaves over an hour and a half for fishing. Just enough time to cover about a quarter mile. This is starting to sound like a plan for Wednesday evening, isn’t it.