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Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of ...

05 March 2015

Illinois Beach State Park & Shiloh Pond

Illinois Beach State Park and Shiloh Pond title img

The temps were generally bitter and cold last week, but I was undeterred! There was plenty adventure to be had. I made the short trip to the beach and checked out what wintry sights the landscape had to offer.

Illinois Beach State Park is a 4,160-acre park stretching across six and a half miles along the shore of Lake Michigan, with over 650 species of plants recorded in just the dunes. There are also marshes, mesic prairies, wet prairies, marshes, and a black oak forest.

I saw a flock of seagulls and three birds chillin' on the lake. I believe they were Common Loons (Gavia immer) due to the red eyes, black head/bill/neck/back, and white underside/neckbands/spots, but most of all, the eerie sounds. The sounds of the Common Loon are "one of the wildest and most striking of all the wilderness sounds, a strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing", as described by John Muir. I have to admit I was both intrigued and creeped out by these birds. I thought it might be a tad bit early to see these, but there had been sightings of loons (red-throated especially) in this general area. They were all too far away for any detailed pictures!

loons and ice on the Lake Michigan shoreline

I should have been more careful, but I couldn't resist hopping off the sand and onto the ice chunks to get a better view of the area. I sliced my palm open on some ice when I slipped, but despite that the whole experience was exhilarating.

Initially, I felt no pain and my wound hadn't bled much, but my hand started throbbing after I, the stubborn nature-lover, decided I needed to capture more of the beautiful scenery. My phone shut off a few times thanks to the low temps and I figured I needed some first aid, so I called it a day and headed back to the car. On the way there, an unusually green plant caught my eye, as it stood out among drab brown colours. It took me a moment to register what I was seeing.

Yucca flaccida

Yucca flaccida (syn. Y. smalliana, Y. filamentosa)! I was amazed, as I had no idea something like this was anywhere near the area. Apparently, this particular species is winter-hardy in Illinois, and has been naturalised in the state. There is only one other Yucca sp. that could be cultivated here: Y. glauca. The rest of the Yucca spp. are very unlikely to survive the cold.

I was so enthralled with my discovery that I completely forgot about my wound. I was plant-nerding it up, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the cute, curly filaments.


Two days later Steve, Ari, and I bundled up and went to Shiloh Pond, better known as the Duck Pond.

There was one spot with a fountain spout where most of the ducks were gathered, and the rest were huddled together near the sidewalk. The remainder of the pond was still frozen.

In warmer months this pond will also have Common Geese (Anser anser domesticus), Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), and sometimes even swans (Cygnus spp.), and possibly more.  For now there are ducks and Canada geese (Branta canadensis). I am learning to pay better attention to nature, so we shall see what this pond has in store!

There are a lot of little dabbling ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) but my favourite three are the bigger ducks (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus). I believe the white one is a Pekin duck, the black and white one is a Black Swedish duck, and the cream/tan one is an Orpington/Buff duck. They are all the same species, but different breeds.

I named the Black Swedish duck Gilbert. He (?) pecked at my pants and shoes a lot and posed for some pictures. I don't want Gilbert turning into a diva, though, so I tried to give the other ducks attention too.

 Since the Pekin duck is always tagging along with Gilbert, I have named her Gilberta. I think a tail feather curl indicates a drake, but I didn't check thoroughly. If I find out otherwise I'll change their names. I thought I saw curly feathers on Gilbert's rump but I'm not 100% sure.

I named the Orpington duck Ming Ming after the duckling on Wonder Pets. This one is my favourite of all three. Ming Ming likes to sit nearby but doesn't like to get too close most of the time, though she makes an exception once in a while, especially if she thinks I have some grub.

I think all of the ducks and geese are adorable, but I can't differentiate between most of them since they pretty much all look the same. There's so many of them! Ari was overwhelmed with all the ducks waddling towards her and she screeched as she ran in the other direction. The geese (and the gulls if she has bread) are the only birds that she really needs to worry about.

Soon, Steve and I are going to check out a local feed (and garden!) store to see if there's anything we could buy for a decent price, in bulk, to feed our feathered friends at the pond when we visit.


I am excited to explore Illinois Beach State Park as the weather warms up. The native plants will be such a sight to see, especially orchids, if I can find them. I'm not getting high hopes for that, but it would be neat. I also heard there are plenty aquatic plants, and there apparently is Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa) too! I really like travelling, but I cannot imagine that these lands I call home will ever grow boring to me. Any direction I go, there is plenty to see and experience in nature alone. If I'm feeling particularly daring, I could even go to southern IL and discover a whole new world! I am grateful to live in Chicagoland. There is so much diversity practically on my doorstep!

I'll be submitting another post soon regarding The Orchid Show at Chicago Botanic Garden. I hope everyone is staying warm. If spring hasn't arrived to your area as far as weather goes, hang in there! It will be here as soon as we know it.