The sun had been up for four hours by the time I arrived at the Quiver Lake cabin, but vestiges of an early July morning held on: a blue-tint calm, quiet waters perfectly mirroring the morning sky, the feeling and smell of the night’s humidity, and a fragile peace awaiting the day’s first intrusion. I placed my chair under a tall cottonwood tree and relaxed in the shade of the Illinois River valley bluffs. In a few moments, as an immature bald eagle flew over the lake, harassed by an irritated tree swallow, a Carolina wren sounded off behind me; and a prothonotary warbler, warbling vireo, and house wren sang from the flooded bottomland forests across the lake. I listened closely for singing Baltimore orioles, but heard not one; like other years, the orioles are less vocal by early July. It was a subtle sign, not hearing a bird song, but one that clearly identified the season progressing toward autumn.
The gradually falling lake level, happening over several weeks, showed that the protracted spring flood of the Illinois River and its backwaters was in its final stages, moving toward the usual low-water period of summer and early fall. Though some bottomlands were still under shallow water, if the river continued to fall, following the normal pattern, Quiver Lake would eventually be too shallow for boats, and large expanses would show exposed lake bottom (mud flats), attractive to migrating shorebirds.
Along the lakeshore, vegetation was recovering from weeks of being inundated by flood waters. Wild grape vines made up for lost time, beginning to cover the large piles of woody debris (large logs, branches of all sizes stripped of bark, and natural mulch created from wood being sorted and re-sorted during wave action) left behind from the floods. While it was still fairly cool, I decided to clear a pathway to the shore leading to my favorite observation post beneath a small silver maple tree and between two swamp privet thickets; there was a lot of wood to move, so I grabbed only enough for a narrow passageway to the water. Being at the shoreline reminded me that on June 27th there was a massive emergence of mayflies, with thousands of individuals covering the shoreline vegetation, flying about in the gentle lake breezes, and writhing on the ground in great numbers, just before dying; such activity must have been occurring all along Quiver Lake’s shoreline. But during this recent visit, only six days later, not a single live mayfly did I find, and the many dead bodies in the shoreline debris of twigs, wood chips, and leaves were barely discernable. In the shallows—which slowly flowed southward toward the lower end of Quiver Lake, where the lake imperceptibly merges with the Illinois River—I noticed thousands of small fish, each no more than about an inch long, the results of a highly successful spawning season during the spring flood. These fish would be drawn outward from shore with a falling lake level.
The exertion of untangling branches and moving wood eventually sapped my energy. And the sun’s heat had clearly won its daily battle with night’s coolness. So I returned to my shaded chair to rest. I always bring several books to read when I plan to spend a few hours or a day at the Quiver Lake cabin, but not at the expense of also spending time simply observing my surroundings, trying not to miss important events that last only seconds. Even while reading I often looked up to glance back and forth; so at one of those moments, just after a john boat zoomed past, I caught sight of an osprey flying from downriver toward Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, only two-thirds of a mile north from where I sat. There is an active osprey nest at the refuge, so this bird was likely one of the pair. Later a Caspian tern flew past, making its distinctive call; not an Illinois breeder, the presence of this bird along the Illinois River valley signifies the post-breeding season for this species, another sign of the season in transition.
And so the morning developed: a cucumber breakfast sandwich, reading a few pages, a calling pileated woodpecker, quarrelling red-headed woodpeckers, more reading, a distant American white pelican over Chautauqua Refuge, a calling yellow-billed cuckoo from the tree above; and I suddenly noticed that the bright sun at its zenith, which glared off the water and sky, had greatly diminished my shade. This signaled the time had come to move on with the day, and maybe accomplish something. So I gathered up my chair and other gear, and climbed the river bluff back to the cabin, nestled in the shade of many surrounding trees. The morning was satisfying; and although the summer was young, as a person who prefers cooler weather, it felt good to see signs of the season already transitioning toward fall.
Quiver Lake bird list, July 3, 2017
American white pelican
Bald eagle (immature)