Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Friday, June 22, 2007

Road Trip!

On Tuesday and Wednesday, my department did our second annual retreat and campout. It's a combination departmental bonding experience/learning opportunity/collecting trip. We collect both live animals for display in the museum and specimens for our collections. This year's trip was to the Kankakee River about an hour and a half south of Chicago.

We started out at Mazon Creek, a famous fossil collecting site. The fossils there are interesting, because a lot of soft-bodied creatures were preserved. Unfortunately we fared poorly at this site. Most of the things that we collected were specimens and unopened concretions that others had previously discarded in the parking lot. We did collect a few nice beetles and some freshwater mussels nearby, but on the whole not much. It's not very scenic, either, so nobody did much photography.

The Biology Department. L-R: Vincent, Stephanie, Sarah, Steve, moi, John, Celeste and Jamie

Things began looking up at lunch. We have developed a habit of finding rather funky lunch spots. This outing's was the Polka Dot Drive-In, full of 1950s nostalgia and located on old Route 66. We got our kicks over burgers and malts and did the obligatory group photo.

The mighty Kankakee
Photo: Vincent

After lunch, we hit the river. The south bank of the Kankakee River is dotted with designated hunting areas. The group split up according to interest. Some of us birded, others ran a seine net for fish, others gathered and photographed freshwater mussels, and still others collected insects. The fishing was especially productive, and we gathered a number of minnow and darter species to display in our live animal tank that depicts a healthy Illinois waterway.

Would this sunfish like to come live at the Museum?
Photo: Vincent

The mussel and insect hunting also went well. I found a couple of beautiful eyed-elator click beetles, and our malacologist found about a dozen species of mussel. Several were threatened species, which we photographed and returned to the river.

Stephanie, me, and Celeste check out the mussels

Black Sandshell. An Illinois threatened species
Photos: Vincent

Dinner was a glorious barbecued excess. We camped among the cicadas. Fortunately, they quieted down as the sun set. As the cicadas were tuning down, we set up a black light for nocturnal moths and beetles. For the most part the black lighting was pretty uninspired, until a B-52 bomber plowed into the sheet. Our visitor was actually a rather amazing insect called a dobsonfly. The beautiful wing patterns and formidable jaws show up very well in Steve's picture. Unfortunatly, there's nothing to provide a sense of scale. The fully extened wingspan of this individual was between 6 and 7 inches.

A periodic cicada. Part of the musical background for our campsite.
Photo: Vincent

Female dobsonfly. The males' jaws are even bigger.
Photo: Steve

Morning brought a hearty outdoor breakfast (we hadn't eaten enough the previous night), and more fish, mussels and insects. We caught a number of ebony jewelwing damselflies for release into the butterfly exhibit. One of our hikes brought us through a flowery area where we found four different species of longhorn beetles feeding on the blossoms. The trip as a whole also brought me the realization of how fortunate I am to have such a committed and talented staff working for me.

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At 06:29, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing how bloggers can instantly bring back memories from the past for me. First, we used to east at cafe 50's for breakfast in Los Angeles when we used to live there. It sounds as though the restaurant you guys ate at for lunch is much like cafe 50's. This post also took me back to 2000-2002 and my time spent at Woods Bay State Natural Area. What did it? the sunfish, of which I caught many in minnow traps, and the dobsonfly which were caught on several campouts/trapping sessions with a local entomology club. Sounds like a great time Doug.

At 08:09, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

Nice post.

I grew up in the south 'burbs so I spent quite a bit of time along the Mighty Kank.

I have good memories of fishing with my dad in a creek right next to a diner on old RT.66 (now it's IL 53) in Wilmington. I think it still has one of those giant dudes out by the road. When I was a kid he was made up like a space man!

Anyway, it was a great place to fish as a seven year old. Plenty of bluegill to be had, within walking distance of a burger joint!

We used to hunt fossils by Coal City, too.

At 12:56, Blogger robin andrea said...

Nice outing with plenty of very cool stuff to keep you occupied. I'm a big fan of fossil-hunting. We found a great site during a minus tide in California once. But by the following year's storms all the fossils were covered with sand.

At 09:00, Blogger Doug Taron said...

RCW and Dave- What is it about fishing? It seems to evoke very strong memories in so many people.

Robin- The fossil hinting was fun, though we need to learn how to do it better. Perhaps the fossil bed you visited will again become uncovered.

At 16:37, Blogger rodger said...

The Dobson fly looks like something I'd rather not run across. Especially with a 6 inch wingspan. Yikes!

The rest of the trip sounds like a good time though. The shot across the river makes me want to relax with a good book and tall lemonade.

At 17:34, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

I think maybe because it was there that I really felt like I was getting the hang of fishing? Maybe it was the burgers? lol...

At 22:46, Blogger R.Powers said...

Sounds like a fun trip.
We must have dobsonflies, because I can find helgrammites under every other rock in the Waccasassa river, but I've never seen a live adult.


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