On the way to the park we all chose a few animals we thought lived in the forest. We saw everything we named except an owl. There were so many birds we didn’t know what we were seeing (or hearing). The deer are friendly and graze close to the edge of the path and up near the road. They do not run away when humans pass by. We even had our dog with us on a hike and they were not intimidated by her either. Ducks swam nearby in the Illinois River. Bunnies ate grass at the campground. The kids found caterpillars, spiders, snakes and all sorts of fun creatures.
Below is an excerpt from some literature received at the Visitor’s Center about which animals and plants to look out for:
The area’s lush vegetation supports an abundant wildlife and bird population, including woodchucks, moles, vireos and catbirds. Wood ducks that nest in hollow trees occasionally can be seen paddling along the river’s edge. Evidence of beavers and muskrats can be seen as you walk along the River Trail.
Black oak, red cedar and white oak, as well as white pine and white cedar, grow on the drier, sandy bluff tops. Yellowbellied sapsuckers drill parallel rows of small holes on cedar trees and return to feed on sap and small insects. Serviceberry and northern honeysuckle--shrubs that prefer a well-drained area--attract scarlet tangers and cedar waxwings.
Farther away from the bluffs, red oaks and hickories predominate in deeper soils. Typical plants characteristic of the forest floor include the American witch hazel, black huckleberry and bracken fern. Nuthatches and chickadees feed on nuts, seeds and insects found in the bark of trees. Raccoons and flying squirrels spend many hours searching for and gathering berries and nuts.
At the forest edge, bright blue indigo buntings flit through the wild crab apple and plum trees that skirt the former glacial till prairie, while cottontail rabbits scamper through the bluestem and Indian grasses. In the sandy prairie soil, prickly pear cactus grows alongside lead plant, compass plant and rattlesnake master. White-tailed deer come to munch on the sumac, and red-tailed hawks soar overhead in search of voles and field mice.
Throughout spring and summer, wildflowers are as plentiful and varied as they are beautiful. Included in the floral array are colorful lichens and mosses, marsh marigolds, wild iris, trillium and Dutchman’s breeches, plus purple-flowered spiderworts, nodding or orange columbine and the magenta blooms of shooting star.