Sunday, February 21, 2010

Otter Observations

I've lived here on the family farm all my life. When I was young boy, there were no deer, coyotes, beaver, or wild turkeys. Now, another species has been living here on the farm; otters. This season's long term snow cover has revealed otter foot prints along the Salt Fork River.
Jim Smith

<--Otter tracks

Entrance to the den -->

<--Otter slide where one has slid into the water.

Otters enjoy eating the fish in the river, but they don't much like the heads. You can see the sucker head left at the top of the slide.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mirror Image

On the day we kayaked the Salt Fork, the water was so calm that we were able to catch the reflection of the tree silhouettes. Silver maple, cottonwood, black walnut, sycamore, shagbark hickory, red and burr oak, each with its unique branching pattern, are some of the common trees we see along the river.

Winter Kayaking

Yesterday our family decided to celebrate the winter sunshine by taking a short float on the Salt Fork River. The rain washed away the ice a few weeks ago so the channel is open now and the water is fairly clear. We put in upstream of 2500E (near Homer Lake Forest Preserve) at 3:00pm and paddled easily about 2.5 hours before taking out at the Champaign/Vermilion county line. There were no obstructions in the channel so it is an easy and enjoyable float right now. The air temp was ~30 degrees in the sun but no report on the water temp (I am making a note
to tie a cheap thermometer onto my kayak for future trips!).

We had a wonderful afternoon on the water enjoying the snow on the trees, the ice formations above the water, and the quietness of the day. This time of year there are no lawn mowers or tractors running, no bugs, no leaves on the trees, and the air is crisp and clear. This last snowstorm left icy snow stuck to the NE side of the trees and on the ground creating beautiful black and white patterns along the banks and bluffs.

We surprised a few flocks of Canada geese resting on the gravel bars and stirred up a handful of red-tailed hawks, too. We saw two great-horned owls, one near 2500E and the other downstream of the Route 49 bridge, and we occasionally heard black-capped chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, and cardinals in the corridor. And there was one chubby raccoon at our take out spot at the Champaign/Vermilion county line but he scurried off into the woods.

A few words on winter paddling~ If you want to give this a try remember to dress warmly in layers as you will be sitting, not hiking. Wearing water-proof pants, jacket, and gloves is helpful if your paddle drips into your lap because if you get wet you will get cold quickly (and we suggest leaving the splashing for those hot summer days!). Take along an extra set of clothes in a water-proof bag just in case you do get wet, and let someone at home know you are out on the water. If you should tip the boat it is a good idea to know there is someone available to pick you up at the next bridge. Wearing sunglasses is another good idea as it can be very bright when the sun is reflecting off the water AND the snow.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so we leave you with these images of our trip. If you are able, we encourage you to consider a float during the remaining days winter, and if you are not able to get into a kayak or canoe we hope these images will bring some joy to your day!