CYPRESS -- Outdoor opportunities abound at the Cache River wetlands near Cypress in Johnson County, where a visitor can explore nature whether on foot, in a kayak or by car.
It's the perfect place to learn more about the flora and fauna of southern Illinois, and maybe spot a rare bird.
Known officially as the Cache River State Natural Area, the nearly 15,000-acre site stretches through portions of Johnson, Pulaski and Massac counties. According to information available at the Henry N. Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center, the area is a floodplain that once included the Ohio River. Glacial flooding at some point eons ago caused the Ohio to change course, leaving behind what now is the Cache River.
The low-lying swampy area is teeming with wildlife often not seen in other parts of Illinois, and rare birds are not unusual in the region.
This summer, a few anhingas, a species of water bird that is more common in the lower portions of southern states, as well as Mexico and South America, have been spending time at the wetlands.
Besides hiking and bicycling trails, along with plenty of areas to explore by kayak or canoe, the Barkhausen Center, just south of the village of Cypress along Illinois 37, offers a busy schedule of programs offering educational information to people with all sorts of outdoor interest.
On Saturday, Southern Illinois University Ph.D. candidate John O'Connell gave a well-attended presentation on waterfowl identification. This Saturday, Barkhausen Center conservation education representative Kimberly Rohling will offer a "Summer in the Swamp" hike through the area. The hike will give participants a chance to learn and identify plants, birds, butterflies and other wildlife active in Buttonland Swamp, according to Natural Resource Coordinator Molie Oliver.
The guided hike will begin at the Lower Cache River Access parking lot, with an optional 20-minute guided hike to the state champion bald cypress tree -- the largest in Illinois -- nearby. Those attending are reminded to bring a pair of binoculars, or preregister to borrow binoculars.
For more information or to register, call the Wetlands Center at (618) 657-2064.