It is late fall and a frosty morning as I take my first walk of the day. The heavy frost reveals the drama of the night before. Many creatures ventured out in the brilliant light of the "super moon". Their tracks crisscross the path and disappear in the tall grass. I come across a fresh kill. Not much left of the critter but by the looks of the fuzzy little tail I can tell it was one of the cottontails. No obvious tracks near it but on the footbridge over the creek are small canine tracks. Could have been a coyote.
I did hear their yips and howls last night. I cross the footbridge and hear a splash. Caught a glimpse of fur going under the water but not enough of it to identify what it is. Muskrats have been numerous on the creek this year. Or it could be the ill-tempered mink who usually gives a hearty growl when disturbed.
This past summer, while crossing this same bridge, I was startled to see three river otters in the water. There were two larger individuals and a smaller one. They were not particularly disturbed by my presence and went about fishing and diving. They even gave me their classic- float on the back and swim backwards- maneuver just like I had seen on those TV nature shows. This was the first time in my life I had ever seen wild river otters and in my own backyard! I feel honored that they chose this part of the creek to visit. Perhaps they liked the fact that the fish have been plentiful up on this end. I have seen them now on two different occasions.
Experiences like these have been the norm for me since dedicating my property to wildlife habitat restoration. When my husband and I first purchased this tract along north Henderson Creek, heavy grazing and over cutting of timber had reduced cover and food sources for wildlife. Cattle grazing had disrupted the water quality of the creek. Over the past 6 years we have gradually brought it back to health. Joining Illinois Acres for Wildlife, we have worked utilizing a plan they had developed with us for restoration. I am amazed at the results we have obtained in just a few years. There is truth in the saying – if you build it they will come! It is kind of an oasis in the middle of farm fields and dwindling timber tracts.
We will continue to develop and restore this habitat for the future of the wildlife and plant community in the area. It could also be an educational resource for those who, like us, have small tracts, and want to do the same for the environment.
Rose Moore – Master Naturalist Intern
November 2016 in Knox County, Illinois