Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On the Banks of the Boneyard

In the summer I live in an apartment that has large windows facing the Boneyard Creek, a small creek best known for flowing through the University of Illinois campus. Unfortunately, that is usually all it's known for. Once part of a series of wetlands, most of the Boneyard is now a concrete-lined channel.

When I first saw it I was on the engineering campus, admiring the bridges and verandas and expecting them to look over a scenic blue river. One peek over the side of the bridge quashed that illusion. At its most scenic, the boneyard is flush with algae, at its least it is nearly dry and framed by trash. I take some comfort knowing that it was once worse, almost resembling an open sewer in the 1970s.

Last year my particular window-view stretch was simply concrete graced by the occasional brave duck. This year things look somewhat better. The concrete now hosts a thriving population of algae. Large amounts of algae is frowned upon in most cases, as it can choke out other species, but here it only replaced the gray concrete.

Now I have a regular duck population. I have observed what I am assuming is the same one female with her ducklings over the past two months. At first she had a large brood, but now only three remain. The Boneyard does not have many predators I know of. The only aquatic possibility I can think of as a predator would be the rare muskrat I am lucky enough to glance occasionally. Other local animals that might also indulge in baby duck snacks include raccoons and crows.

The other main hazard would probably be drowning. During downpours the water level rises several feet very rapidly. The duck in the photo was unhappily observing this after struggling towards the bank.

I have never seen fish in the Boneyard, but there are signs of them in some of the deeper portions. Sometimes I see ripples flowing out of where a waterbug once stood. The waterbugs also seem to be the preferred food of swallows at dusk.

I'm always amazed what can survive in landscapes altered by humans. When I rowed it was in the smelly brackish Skokie Canal. Even there I would see hundreds and hundreds of fish and birds. Perhaps a limited population, but amazing considering how poorly that body of water had been treated.

Urban waterways have potential as both ecosystems and human recreation. Unfortunately mostly I see them treated as drains.