Des Plaines River Trail—Route 22 to Lake-Cook Road

Post by Jen Berlinghof

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It was a new year and a new trail, as we completed the last leg of our Des Plaines River Trail journey to hike the entire length of Lake County, Illinois. We began this hike just south of Route 22, which led us south through the recently completed trail section and beyond to the southern border of the county. We left our tracks upon the trail, just as the animals do along this greenway. Along the way, we found fresh signs in the snow that mice, squirrels, small birds, raccoon, deer, fox and even some intrepid fat-tire cyclists had all traversed the trail before us, taking advantage of a balmy 40-degree day in January.

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Less than a mile into the hike we came across some curious tufts of black and white fur scattered along the trail’s edge, but there were no signs of tracks or a struggle. We had a healthy debate about which animal the fur came from, and then we came across more clues in the snow nearby.

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What appeared to be internal organs of our mystery animal were scattered in a small area, yet, again with no tracks or other clues in the snow. After about a minute of looking down, as if a collective light bulb went off, we all looked up simultaneously to ponder the large craggy branches of a cottonwood tree overhead. This would be an ideal perch for a great horned owl, which is the perfect predator for a skunk due to its limited sense of smell. Our suspicions were confirmed when the telltale perfume of skunk wafted past on the next breeze.

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We hiked on and soon found ourselves along the newest section of the trail that was completed in late fall. This new segment created the final link an uninterrupted Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway that now stretches the entire length of Lake County, Illinois—approximately 31 miles. We peeked through a veil of winter branches and saw that across the river was Edward L. Ryerson Woods Welcome Center—a familiar sight to most of us in the hiking group, although from an entirely new perspective.

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We witnessed a flotilla of mallard ducks muttering about every bend in the river. While very common, the sheer number of the drakes’ iridescent emerald heads and the flashes of deep sapphire flanking the hens’ wings made the scene special.

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A great blue heron flew silently past and landed within the branches, breaking up the mallard party for a moment. The “S” curve of a heron’s neck is made possible by specially shaped vertebrae, allowing for an aerodynamic flight profile and for quick strikes at prey from a distance.

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The icy stillness of the river seems to be broken only by the whistling, two-toned mating calls of black-capped chickadees, ensuring that before we know it these ice shelves and tree silhouettes will melt away and more vibrant sounds and colors of spring will return.

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As the trail wound away from the river, we came across a minefield of unearthed black walnuts that had been gnawed on by squirrels. Scientists have determined that gray squirrels are able to relocate the nuts they’ve buried by smell and visual landmarks, although they seem to be successful at these recovery efforts only about 25% of the time, leaving plenty of seeds to potentially sprout or be stolen by other squirrels.

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Close to the end of the trail we saw the blur of a sharp-shinned hawk fly over an adjacent field and noticed a beaver’s futile efforts to gnaw down an already dead ash tree close to the river. Ahead we saw the last mile marker of the trail.

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Our hike along the entire Des Plaines River Trail took us from June to January, from summer to winter, and from the Wisconsin border to the county line at Lake-Cook Road. Thanks for taking this journey with us. Now, it’s your turn to get out on the trail!

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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for our Lake County Nature blog. Highlights include 11,000+ views and visits from over 100 countries!

Thanks for reading! See you in 2016!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A year in photos—2015

Gallery

This gallery contains 27 photos.

Post by Allison Frederick As the year draws to a close, it is a great time to celebrate the biological diversity protected within the Lake County Forest Preserves in northeastern Illinois. I have compiled some amazing photographs that were captured right here … Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Route 60 to Route 22

Post by Jen Berlinghof

As the hours of daylight drastically shorten in November, the miles of our hike along the entire Des Plaines River Trail quickly stack up. The trek south along this stretch of the trail from Route 60 to Route 22 was summed up in the stillness of bare branches that were silhouetted against the sky and reflected back from mirrors of water in the surrounding floodplain forest. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Independence Grove to Route 60 Canoe Launch

Post by Jen BerlinghofIMG_8215

As our hike continued south along the Des Plaines River Trail, we began to see, feel and hear the palpable signs of the seasons shifting from summer to autumn. We were not the only ones heading south along this greenway. Small flocks of Swainson’s thrushes and yellow-rumped warblers created a ruckus of fluttering feathers in search of sustenance. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Kilbourne Road to Independence Grove

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Our adventure to traverse the entire length of the Des Plaines River Trail continued with our trek from Kilbourne Road to Independence Grove Forest Preserve under the shining sun and heavy air of late summer. The air was heavy not only with humidity, but with the calls of cicadas, tree crickets, and katydids melding into a three-part harmony that signaled the end of summer. The air was also pregnant with the perfume of flowering plants. It was clear that this hike belonged to the bugs and blooms. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Wadsworth Road to Kilbourne Road

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We continued our hiking journey along the Des Plaines River Trail this month, starting where we left off last time: Sedge Meadow Forest Preserve in Wadsworth, Illinois. We were lucky to have a sunny, clear day for this “heart of the summer” hike. Surprisingly, we weren’t burdened with heavy humidity, which is typical this time of the year. This section of the trail was busy with cyclists, more so than the far northern section. Everyone we passed held up a hand for a friendly greeting. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Mile by Mile

Post by Jen BerlinghofIMG_4343Over the next few months, Allison and I will be highlighting one of the jewels of the Lake County Forest Preserves: the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway. We invite you to come along with us on this 31-mile journey, as we trek over miles and through seasons, exploring the natural niches and history around every bend in the river. We plan to hike the entire length of the trail in anticipation of its long-awaited completion. Preservation of this greenway has been a key priority since our agency’s founding in 1958. After 54 years in the making, construction has begun on the final section of this regional trail and is expected to conclude this fall. The Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway spans nearly the entire length of Lake County, Illinois for 31 miles as it winds through 12 forest preserves. It is a great trail for hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding and snowmobiling (within a designated section). Continue reading

April Fools’ bird

Post by Jen Berlinghof

It was a windy, but bright, April 1 this year. I was on a trail at Ryerson Woods with a group of volunteers. Most of our heads were focused downward, inspecting the minutiae of a bloodroot bloom. Then, someone shouted, “EAGLES!” I truly thought the next thing shouted would be “APRIL FOOLS’!” but when we snapped our heads skyward, we saw two ivory-headed eagles swooping back and forth above the trees. No joke!

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Slippery spring saga

Post by Jen Berlinghof

It was late March, fourteen years ago, when I took my first hike at Ryerson Woods. The air felt heavy with thawing snow. The sun warmed my back for the first time in many months. Standing at the edge of a small, glistening pool of water in this oak flatwood forest, I saw my first blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale). About the length of a crayon, this inky black amphibian is adorned with tiny, blue confetti-like spots on a dewy body. Blue-spotted salamanders hide in abandoned mammal burrows or under logs most of their life. Each spring, warming temperatures and increased precipitation lure these creatures out of their covert caverns for a slow and steady march to their breeding ponds.

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