Last Monday, January 10, 2022, I drove around a country road in the way home from work looking for interesting subjects to document. I stopped the truck on the blacktop; and, while scanning the sky, observed a small flock flying from the southeast towards the northwest.


At that moment I wasn't entirely sure of the species. The birds were large like geese, but there was no honking. They flew with straight necks, so I suspected the birds may be sandhill cranes, as I photographed a sandhill crane family in the vicinity (which later moved on the their fall migration) several months before.


Over the past week I honestly forgot about this short interaction, but was elated and blessed to realize that I had photographed a family group of endangered trumpeter swans. Trumpeter swans are the largest native bird species in North America, and not long ago were nearly extinct. There are no records of Trumpeter presently nesting on Central Illinois, but most certainly did prior to the drainage of nearly all the original marshland in Illinois.


I am fortunate to pass by such marshes daily while residing in the Illinois River Valley. The two adults and their five offspring were most certainly not settling down here, but most likely were venturing north during the return leg of their annual migration. In all likelihood they were traveling back to the place of their birth, most likely to Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Ontario.


It was by sheer happenstance that I stopped the truck last Monday, peered across a fallow field, and saw these temporary visitors traveling through. Had I not photographed them with a long, telephoto lens, I never would have known about this special gift. I am curious how frequently other gifts pass by overhead without us knowing, passing through for a moment, and returning to their ancient homelands.


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Most days I drive to Peoria for work, but carefully view wildlife on the way to and from teaching at the hospital in Peoria. Had I been born a hundred years before, I would have lived a very different life. I like to think that I would had had a passion for nature then as now; however, unlike a Renaissance of rebirth in many ways such as we see today, I would have witnessed the decimation of nature in the Illinois River Valley in the early 1900's.


The most significant harms to the river's ecosystem resulted from (1.)the reversal of the Chicago River's flow. The Chicago River naturally emptied into Lake Michigan, but construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal caused the river to reverse its flow, and empty into the Illinois River across downstate Illinois; and with it, came Chicago's sewage and wastewater. Drainage of the Illinois River's marshes so the fertile soils could be farmed is the second major change that impacted the Illinois River's ecosystem. Third, the construction of levees tobseparate the main channel from its backwater marshes effectively eliminated the ability of most fish to reproduce. Finally, the construction of dams the artificial rise of the water levels to increase navigation channels for barges and boats finalized the four-prong process that inadvertently destroyed the original ecosystem of thenRiver. If I had a choice, I would much prefer to live now than then, so I could witness the many improvements to the watershed today, instead of its decimation.


This slow-moving river carries the runoff of almost the entire State of Illinois. Historically, if was paradise for the Illini, Kickapoo, Fox and Potawatomi. The Illinois River's surrounding timber provided unlimited forest resources, and not far beyond the forests, you could experience the vastness of the great prairies. Central Illinois was a place where the great forests of the East met Great Plains of the west. Here you could find bison, bobcats, elk, black bear, white tailed deer, and panthers, which are more commonly known as mountain lions. The land beneath our feet would have been in shade by enormous flocks of now-extinct passenger pigeons, which numbered in the billions. And in the waters of the river we could have seen enormous, 10-feet long alligator gar, 300 pound lake sturgeon and blue catfish hunting the substrate. In fact, the Illinois River was once known as the most prolific freshwater body in terms of fish production in the entire world.


Oftentimes I will stop to photograph what I see. For many years I have been passionate about photography, but this past year I finally purchased a 600 mm telephoto lens (a “Christmas present” for my wife) for wildlife photography.


I have always tried to pay attention to the world around me, but sometimes it is difficult due to our fast moving society. I have found that photography has greatly increased how I see and interact with the natural world. Whenever I am in the car I scan the roadsides, trees and fields for wildlife. I am fortunate to live in an area with ponds, swamps, fields, creeks, and forest. Further, my family and I reside along the Illinois River, which is a major migratory route along the Central Flyway. Throughout the year we are able to witness the annual migration of millions of birds and butterflies.


In late December I noticed fewer animals and birds. The deer were likely still hiding after shotgun season, and many birds are still enjoying their warm weather migration. Although our Central Illinois winter has been mild overall, the first week of January brought number of days of ocld weather. Our highs and lows in Lacon on January 2, 2022 were 19 degrees fahrenheit and +1 degree. January 3 brought a high of 24 degrees and a low of -3. January 7 the high was 13 degrees and a low of -6.


The daytime highs from January 8 through12 were 35, 34, 20, 38, and 42; however, we continued to have frigid nighttime lows between 4 and 13 degrees.


Interestingly, after a few warmer days also noticed an increase of wildlife. On January 9, I viewed two pairs of bald eagles, with one pair in Woodford County, and the second pair in Tazewell County. As bald eagles mate for life these two groups were hunting fish from the abundant fish living in the Illinois River backwaters. Unfortunately, up to 60 percent of the Illinois River biota is represented by invasive bighead carp and silver carp, which have spread northward over the last couple of decades.


One pair was located perched in a tall tree along Illinois Route 26 at 40.785719, -89.522134, and the second pair was perched in East Peoria at 40.686659110009394, -89.55144677164529.


During the early morning of January 10, I witnessed approximately 250 migrating Canada geese in the Lacon Marsh. The geese were preening themselves and then taking off and landing in a patch of open water. I also witnessed another pair of bald eagles today.


The morning of January 11 ushered in a sunny, chilly morning at the Lacon Marsh, which still contained the resident flock seen the day before. Several other large flocks of Canada geese were seen this morning in crop fields between Lacon and Peoria. The largest flocks were feeding on crop residue in fields which in years past were swamp instead of drained farm fields. One flock was located in a field owned by my grandparents and great grandparents many years ago at 40.905733404399236, -89.43109446221496. A second large flock was feeding in Partridge Township at 40.866597233569, -89.45038491546856; only a few miles from where I lived as a child.


On January 12 the Lacon Marsh again hosted the large flock of Canada geese, and many early migrating ducks were flying above the river from the south towards the north.


The geese had moved on by January 13, as the Marsh had no sign of the flock, except for refuse left behind on the melting ice where they rested. Hundreds of migrating ducks including mallards were taking off and landing this foggy morning in the swampland of the Marshall County Conservation Area. As I drove north I observed a small herd of whitetail deer feeding to the east.



Date

​High

Low

​January 13

34

29

January 12

42

27

January 11

38

4

January 10

20

5

January 9

34

10

January 8

35

13

January 7

14

-6

January 6

8

-3

January 5

32

9

January 4

34

20

January 3

24

-3

January 2

19

1

January 1

33

19



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For the highest yields in our Zone 5 Central Illinois climate, garlic should be planted in late fall, at least two to three weeks before the ground freezes. In the fall of 2020, we planted Chesnok Red, Pehoski Purple, Rose de Lautrec, Music and Montana Giant garlic varieties, and harvested in May 2021.


ng, like most other ventures (and, especially when growing a new crop), there is always a learning curve.


When planting garlic, you typically buy "seed garlic." One thing I would have done differently is pay a bit more to purchase larger garlic bulbs, as they will, of course turn into larger bulbs at harvest. When buying your seed garlic on a website, you will select the variety, and then will have the option of purchasing larger bulbs or not-as-large bulbs. Our first year of growing garlic I bought the medium-sized bulbs. This year I ordered some of the same varieties again, but in a larger size. The newly received bulbs were MUCH larger that what we planted last year. My reasoning for purchasing the medium-sized garlic was that I would get a larger quantity to plant, since garlic is often sold by weight. However, I definitely will be purchasing larger seed garlic into the future.


We ideally would have planted in November rather than early December; however, were not able to plant then due to wet, muddy soil conditions. Fortunately, the extended forecast called for warm weather into December. I checked the garlic towards the end of the month, and the new planting did show root growth so next spring’s crop should be fine.

There are hundreds of garlic varieties, each with slightly different characteristics. Picking out the different types to plant if part of the fun, and some are particularly pretty, unlike what we are used to buying at the grocery store. Chesnok Red, Pehoski Purple, Rose de Lautrec,

Music, German Extra Hardy and Montana Giant are Porcelain types, which are typically known for large size, hardiness, and rich flavor. Chesnok Red and Pehoski Purple are Purple Stripe varieties. Purple stripe garlic typically produce beautiful plants with purple stripes or splotches on their skins and wrappers. Rose de Lautrec and Spanish Roja are Creole garlics. Creoles originated in Spain, and are known for wonderful taste and long storage. Brown Saxon is a Rocambole variety. Rocambole garlics are usually large with loose skins that can be easily removed. The loose skins make food preparation easier, but it also reduces the garlic's shelf life.


Elephant "garlic" actually is not a garlic at all, but a leek. However, Elephant "garlic" is commonly referred to as a garlic, and is grown and harvested like garlic. Elephant garlic can grow quite large, with a white or yellow skin with four or five large cloves. A whole elephant garlic bulb can grow up to five inches across and weigh a pound.


To plant garlic the cloves of the whole bulb should be separated, and the skins left intact as much as possible. Before planting most growers till the soil so the cloves can be easily pressed into the ground. However, garlic can be planted no-till.


We tilled an area that was in tomatoes last year. We then planted the cloves in narrow rows approximately six inches apart. The cloves should be inserted about two inches deep into loose soil, with a spacing of six to nine inches. Garlic can be planted by machine, but we plant ours by hand because we do not currently grow enough to justify the purchase of a garlic planter. With a little practice, the planting can go pretty quickly. Also, we always separate the cloves inside, and keep the different varieties separated in different containers. This allows us to more quickly put the cloves into the ground without separating the cloves in the field.


We cover our garlic with four to six inches of straw after planting. The straw helps protect the young garlic from cold temperatures; however, many people don’t cover with straw and their garlic does fine. To me, the greatest benefit is that garlic will grow through the straw in the spring, but most weeds don’t. This year we had very few weeds around the garlic, and what did come through were easily pulled. The straw also retains moisture in the soil, so if there is a dry spring the plants will typically do better.


When the temperatures warm in the spring the young garlic will rapidly take off, and is typically ready to harvest in May or June. When a few leaves begin to brown, the garlic is nearing maturity.


As winter comes to a close and spring begins, we will post an update!


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