A Path Well Traveled

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For many years now, it has been a regular routine of mine to walk the many trails on our property on a daily basis. It doesn't matter what the time of year. In the depths of winter and height of summer, these trails reveal nature's wonders to me at all times.

We established walking trails about 12 years ago when we first acquired the property. At first, they were short trails because most of the land was still being grazed by cattle and we did not want to disturb their areas. There was only one way to cross the creek at that time and it was over a large culvert that the cattle had to use too. Because of that, we made very few excursions along the creek. Several years later when the cattle were gone we finally had the chance to explore this land we call our home.

When we created new trails we also wanted a way to get over the creek in different areas. My husband built a substantial footbridge on the eastern end of Henderson Creek so we could cross over and connect to other trails on the east side. This bridge has become a central crossing point not only for us but for all the creatures who travel these paths as well. By building these routes we have enabled the wildlife to travel easily across this property and connect to other natural areas nearby. The local wildlife biologist had encouraged us to do this and called it a "wildlife corridor".

We are continuing to add additional plantings to an easement along our hay fields so that wildlife have cover and food for their journeys.

I never dreamed that these paths would become so busy! Now that there is about a foot of snow on the ground, the tracks of many creatures can be seen along all the trails. Obvious proof that many creatures have active lives in the winter.

In order to understand what animals use these trails regularly, I placed a game camera with night vision on the footbridge to capture activity. It has been in that position on the bridge for a couple of years now and has filmed footage of many creatures common to Illinois.

Recently when viewing images on the camera from the last month I made notes on what the most frequent bridge user was. Topping that list was the coyote. Seen almost every night for the past month. This is their territory and hunting grounds so that is no surprise. The magnificent animal pictured above was captured on the camera a few nights ago.

It is important to me to understand my role as habitat manager for this property. I feel the trails have added value not only to my life as the observer but also to the many kinds of wildlife who travel these paths with me.

Rose Moore- Master Naturalist – February 2019