The 27 photos below, by Somme's "Photographer Laureate" and co-steward Lisa Culp,
are highlights of another special year. Winter is a good time to study and think and plan.
As you yourself think, consider having your own year of nature in favorite places,
perhaps doing something special, in 2014.
In winter, Somme's blue-spotted salamanders are tunneled deep in the soil,
hibernating, waiting. As soon as spring melts the ice on our ponds, these slimy
little sweethearts will be heading to the ponds to breed.
| The blackburnian warbler, in our winter, it is catching tree-top insects in Peru;|
during the second week of May it will be at Somme;
all summer it will be bringing up babies in Canada.
Congregations of spring peepers make so much noise as they sing for mates
in Somme Woods ponds that they drown out the sounds of highways and airplanes.
In the summer they'll climb around trees, looking for insects to eat, not so different
from the blackburnian warbler. Note the suction-cup-like toe pads.
Eastern bluebird hunts from a bur oak branch sprouting its first leaves of spring.
When these forest preserves were mostly dense buckthorn, no bluebirds nested here. Now multiple pairs nest annually in Somme Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, and Somme Woods.
That furry blob with incredible legs is a flower fly,
busy pollinating one of spring's first wildflowers, toothwort.
Could you recognize a rare Lincoln's sparrow? With a little practice, you could.
Its upper breast is a warm buffy color. The streaks through the buff are thin and dark.
Here it sits in a hawthorn. You could identify that too, by its very long, thin, short thorns.
It surprises some people that vultures nest in Somme Woods. They hide the nests inside hollow fallen logs. Their big babies have no black and no red - just a clean elegant gray. Very handsome.
Scarlet tanagers have also returned to nest in Somme Woods for the first time in many years.
They like the open oak woodlands that are the restoration goal of steward Linda Masters
and all the steward volunteers.
Another elegant and handsome creature, the eastern wood pewee.
What's this plant doing in the animal edition? Something about that bug on the top open flower?
No, it's here to celebrate a potential. A rare butterfly, the silvery blue, is nearly gone from Illinois. Its caterpillars need this plant, the veiny pea. And after not being found for decades, this pea appeared in four places in Somme Prairie Grove this year. It gives us hope that the silvery blue may return too.
Not the silvery blue, but a similar little cutie, the summer azure.
Another plant to introduce a co-adapted animal.
Insects don't see red. Plants evolved with pollination by hummingbirds are red. Somme now has most of its original red flowers. Scarlet painted cup was finally re-introduced by seed in 2013. We'll keep our eyes open for it, possibly blooming in 2015. If so, the humming birds will pounce.
In fact it was only in 2013 - for the first time since we've been stewards - that there were enough humming birds for Lisa to be able to photograph two at a time. Not on sugar-water plastic feeders. But in thriving nature. Here their red beauty is cardinal flower.
The ruby throat of our hummer looks black in most lights.
But if you catch it just right, it's one of the most brilliant colors in nature.
Females and young have plain throats.
This juvenile male is just starting to get his first red feathers.
I wonder if his voice is changing too.
One of Somme's many species of bumble bees drinking deeply of the nectar of great blue lobelia.
But what kind of bee is this? The great conservation mentor Dr. Robert F. Betz always hoped that people would emerge to study specialties. We have people at Somme monitoring rare plants, birds, butterflies, frogs, and dragonflies. Who'll study the bees?
Betz also hoped people would study the flies. This one mimics a bee.
There are so many amazing-looking species. Few study them. Discoveries are waiting.
This photo shows paper wasps in the little shed where we keep our tools. My head passed within inches each time we retrieved or stored rakes, loppers, saws, whatever. Most species of bees and wasps won't bother you at all if you respect them. Which is a good idea.
The orchard oriole is another rare bird that's returned to Somme's restored areas.
Here both male and female look at Lisa with bugs in their mouths. That means
they have babies near by. The parents seem friendly, but they're really worried
that you're a predator of baby orioles, just as they're predators of bugs.
Speaking of babies, Lisa found these curious young raccoons.
Their mom would scold them if she found them being foolish like this.
Tiger swallowtail on gayfeather.
Its caterpillars eat tree leaves; birds will eat most of them; but a few will become this.
Picture-wing fly. This is the one that creates the "bullet galls" on goldenrod stems.
This chipmunk is eating his food and letting scraps fall on the oak branch. She doesn't clean up.
Isn't it great that there's no "mess." It's all food on the plate.
Some other little tiny animal will eat the scraps.
In his spare time, this chipmunk is caching food for winter.
Soon she'll be semi-hibernating - once in a while eating some stored nut.
We stewards spend the winter cutting brush, taking vacations, planning for next spring,
and reaching out to possible new friends and colleagues.
Captions of this blog are by Stephen Packard. Your comments are invited.