Streams of unconsciousness from the outdoors world:

- The globe is warmer: Whether or not you subscribe to global warming theories, you have to admit this has been a crazy warm winter.

It's so warm nature is confused.

The maple tree in my yard is budding. I have crocus in bloom, daffodils ready to pop open and a planter at the end of my driveway full of blooming pansies.

This is just screwed up. The pansies should have frozen and died sometime in later November or early December. The crocus should bloom when pitchers and catchers report for spring training - in about two weeks.

And, I associate blooming daffodils with the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament - in about a month.

What's more, I took a ride to Mermet Lake Sunday afternoon. There were people standing around the bank fishing in shirt sleeves.

It's bizarre.

- Speaking of Mermet: My wife and I took a drive to Mermet in search of bald eagles and got a pleasant surprise ... we spotted a river otter.

We were watching ducks swim in the flooded timber when my wife noticed another critter in the water. She put the binoculars on the critter and noted it might be a beaver.

I fumbled around the floor, looking for the second set of binoculars, and saw another animal scurry up the bank. The long slender, unmistakable form of an otter ambled up the levee and sat at the edge of the road for a couple of minutes.

I was present at Carlyle Lake a decade or so ago when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources released a bunch of otters. I've seen road kill otters, but this was the first time I've seen one in the wild.

It made my day.

- Underappreciated: The sun had dropped to treetop level late Sunday afternoon while we were walking one of the levees north of Mermet Lake.

During the course of the walk we had flushed several groups of mallards from the remaining pools. As we neared the end of the lake we could hear the chatter of more mallards. A moment later the final rays of the sun caught the head of a drake flush, sending a green beacon through the underbrush.

The effect was stunningly beautiful. A short time later, a cardinal perched high above the trail was illuminated brilliantly by the sun's rays.

It's amazing how two of our most common birds are two of the most spectacular. I'm afraid most of us take them for granted.

- Parting shot: As if eagles, otters and mallards weren't enough, one of the final sights we saw Sunday was a hooded merganser drake perched on a log surrounded by duckweed and flooded cypress. That alone would have been reason enough to make the drive to Mermet.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, or call 618-351-5088.


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