A Fish Tale

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As a child, I was very fortunate to have grown up near a creek. The small stream known as Springbrook Creek that flowed by my house and through rural DuPage County was a child's paradise! Little did I know then that it would prepare me for becoming a naturalist and that I would be living alongside another creek later in my life.

The headwaters of Henderson Creek intersect my property as it flows on it's way to the Mississippi River. Starting about 2 miles south-east of me it bubbles up out of the ground and begins it's 65-mile course to the big river. Along the way, it picks up other branches of the Henderson as well as Cedar Creek on its journey westward and becomes a wide and deep tributary at the Mississippi near Oquawka. It is part of a significant watershed of these western Illinois counties.

Since living alongside this little stream, I have had a front-row seat to the ecosystem that exists along its waters. One of the more fascinating discoveries has been seeing the aquatic life that inhabits it.In the first years after moving here, we had cattle on the property. I never knew cows were aquatic until I saw that these gals spent most of their days in the water! Needless to say, they were very disruptive to the natural habitat. It didn't take long however for the ecosystem to recover once they were gone. It was then that the waters revealed their wonders to me and of particular interest was the discovery of fish.My neighbors claimed they had never seen fish here but they had hunted crayfish and had seen huge snapping turtles. I too have been witness to these giants when they would come up the hill toward the house to lay their eggs. Gradually I began to see small fish in the water as well. Their numbers would fluctuate with water levels but in the past 4 years, the population exploded. With that came more wildlife than I had ever seen before. Great Blue Herons, river otters, mink, and kingfishers have all been visitors to the feast. When my two young nephews would come and visit me they delighted in fishing here too. These fish were just the right size for them and they were amused by throwing bait in and watching the fish boil up out of the water, I have to admit I enjoyed it too! The exact identification of the species here has yet to be determined but most appear to be members of the minnow family. In my research, I have discovered that some small freshwater species are migratory and move into these tributaries when conditions are right.

This past winter was a tough one for these little fish. Water levels were low going into winter and snow covered the ice for many weeks. I saw the result when it thawed. The big schools of fish were gone.

This is part of the natural pattern of life and death in nature.Henderson Creek has been a vital part of my education as a naturalist. I will continue to watch, observe and work towards maintaining the natural habitat for all the creatures that live alongside and in its waters.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist April Journal Entry 2018

Today's post was written by Rose Moore. Rose is a Certified Master Naturalist serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. She enjoys exploring the natural world around her and recording the experiences in art and writing.