BOWMAN: A week of outdoor oddities
BY DALE BOWMAN For Sun-Times Media August 20, 2013 10:18PM
Updated: September 22, 2013 6:37AM
A wild week in Chicago outdoors began with a snake and a tropical fish Thursday. As a bonus, tack on an eel caught Saturday from the Kankakee River.
A big snake climbing the door of his apartment building on West Huron naturally caught Dan Kobel’s eye Thursday. Just as naturally, he wondered what it was.
‘‘It didn’t seem to be eating, but it did appear to have recently shed its skin,’’ he emailed. ‘‘I haven’t seen a snake since my Little League days, so it was really cool to watch this snake hang around my stoop.’’
My snake guy, Don Ayres, responded with these observations, among others:
‘‘Despite the fact that an urban snake, especially in downtown Chicago, might be a freedom-loving escapee, I’m going to stick with the idea that it’s a local,’’ he emailed. ‘‘In that case, it’s most likely a rat snake, and the resident species is Elaphe obsoleta, the old black rat snake (a k a Pantherophis spiloides, the midland rat snake). This one’s on the brown end of the scale, and the photo gets too much grain to make out details of the head clearly.’’
On the same day came an unnatural example of urban wilds.
Larry Green, the founder of the Humboldt Park Fishing Society, tweeted a photo of an odd fish with his guess that it was a flowerhorn. The beautiful fish was caught and released by Modesto Perez from the Humboldt Park lagoon.
My guy for aquarium-fish questions, Jason Duracka at Animal Island Pet Shop in Midlothian, instantly identified it as a flowerhorn.
‘‘It’s a $200 fish,’’ Duracka said of the hybrid. ‘‘It is really mean, which is probably why they got rid of them. It was probably killing all their fish.’’
This goes back to a problem, especially with all the people in urban areas (and some of them strange). What do aquarium owners do with fish that have grown too large or, as in the case of flowerhorns, are too mean?
‘‘It is a really beautiful fish,’’ Duracka said. ‘‘Most shops would take it back.’’
Don’t illegally release non-native fish into local waters. It happens far too often. There are too many reports of pacus, piranhas and flowerhorns in our waters. This spring, big redtail catfish were caught from Indiana (Mike Durfee, Portage Lakefront Park) and Wisconsin.
Of course, most tropical fish don’t survive our winters. But we have enough warm-water discharges that I worry that will change someday and that a non-native will survive, then grow into a freak.
Then we have the fish that come from far away. On Saturday, Pawel Grygo of Palos Hills caught a 34-inch eel from the Kankakee River. He was fishing overnight on the river with shrimp. The eel was smoked.
In 2012, during fish collection for the annual Kankakee River Valley Fishing Derby, three eels were seen. That led to an explanation from veteran streams biologist Bob Rung on the life of eels and how they come from the ocean to the rivers, then go back again.
An eel as big as Grygo’s was most likely an adult making its way back to the ocean — well, the Gulf of Mexico.
Urban wilds are all over the map.
Any day I expect to see one of my favorite late-summer sights: common nighthawks looping overhead during a night game at Sox Park or Wrigley Field.
Football coaches speak with the veracity of tournament bass fishermen.