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!

It is common in Lake County, Illinois to see a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) here and there. Numbers of wintering bald eagles in the Illinois have been on the rise. During winter, migrating eagles hunt for fish in the unfrozen waters of Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines and Fox rivers. As of 2014, Illinois was second only to Alaska in populations of these majestic birds between December and March. During these months, the highest concentrations of bald eagles are found near locks and dams along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, such as those that migrate to Starved Rock State Park each year.

The lower the thermometer dips in areas north of Illinois, the higher your chances become to see eagles in Lake County as they fly further south in search of open water. While these rising numbers are encouraging, Joe Kath, Endangered Species Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says, “When it comes to recovery, it’s based on numbers of breeding pairs.”  It’s only in recent years that bald eagles have begun nesting again in Lake County, which is one big reason why our sighting last month was so special.

Seeing a bald eagle in the wild for the first time can knock the wind out of you. It’s then clear why people rally around this American symbol and the related conservation success story. Habitat loss and pesticide use brought our designated national bird near extinction in the 1960s. By 1978, the bald eagle was listed as endangered in most states. Public conservation efforts included banning the use of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). The pesticide was associated with poisoning fish that the eagles were eating, resulting in thinner eggshells that caused the eggs to break during incubation. The DDT ban, along with widespread habitat protection, allowed bald eagles to flourish rather than flounder. In 2007, bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list, although they are still protected under federal law.

In 2012, a pair of eagles occupied the penthouse “apartment” along the Fox River in Lake County, Illinois. The eagle nest was located amidst an active heron rookery—a crowded conglomeration of 75+ nests filled with noisy neighbors, such as great blue bald eagles at fox river preserve and marinaherons, double-crested cormorants and great egrets. Hovering in a sturdy dead tree high above the water, this was one of only five active eagle nests in the Chicago region at the time (and one of two in Lake County). This same eagle pair has returned to their condo along the Fox River ever since, successfully fledging one or two eaglets each summer.

Lake County has a number of ecological qualities that may attract nesting bald eagles: shelter along open waters, large waterways with plentiful food, and numerous mature trees sturdy enough to hold a gargantuan nest 10 feet in diameter and weighing 1,000 pounds. The Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway protects land along more than 85 percent of the Des Plaines River in Lake County. After 54 years in the making, the last section will be completed soon, creating a 31-mile continuous trail—a happy home for the pair of “April Fools'” bald eagles. Search the sky along the rivers for a glimpse of these awe-inspiring birds, or join us on an upcoming free bird walk that highlights the millions of birds that migrate through our region each spring.

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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Stories in the snow

Post by Jen Berlinghof

As the thermometer dipped to -8 degrees Fahrenheit this week, one thing was clear: the snow and cold are entrenched for a while longer. So are the stories of the animals, as told by the tracks etched in the frozen landscapes that sweep across the Lake County Forest Preserves. We may not see the animals themselves. However, each track, pile of scat, bit of hair clinging to a branch, hole in the snow and chewed acorn is an element of the tale from their winter excursions.

How do we decipher these stories? When trying to identify which animal made a particular track, it is important to look not only at the individual track but the overall pattern. Also, scan the surrounding habitat for clues.

Let’s see if you can figure out what happened in each of these nature vignettes:

mouse tracks

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Saving a globally threatened ecosystem

Post by Allison Frederick

The Chicago Wilderness alliance recently honored the Lake County Forest Preserves in Illinois for achieving the Excellence in Ecological Restoration accreditation.

From vast woodlands to rolling prairies, the Chicago Wilderness Excellence in Ecological Restoration program showcases conservation leadership and site-based restoration by recognizing high-quality natural areas and the organizations that manage them.


Natural areas are assessed by a set of rigorous, science-based standards that recognize best practices in natural resource management. Conservation experts from across the region review the assessments to determine if a site meets one of the accreditation levels: Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze.

The Lake County Forest Preserves recently received a Platinum accreditation, the highest level possible, for Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve. This accreditation recognizes the expertise, creativity and drive of our natural resource staff in forming and leading a coalition of federal, state and regional partners to restore this site.

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2014 in review

It’s been a great year. Thanks to all for reading! The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared our 2014 annual report. See link below for details.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Favorite photos from 2014

Post by Allison Frederick

The end of another year is drawing near. To celebrate the biological diversity protected within the Lake County Forest Preserves in northeastern Illinois, I’ve put together a collection of some favorite images from 2014. We have such an amazing support system of photographers who donate their time and images to communicate our cause. Their passion for wildlife and the outdoor spaces our organization preserves is evident in each image they share. I hope you enjoy them half as much as I enjoyed choosing this set! Each photograph was taken right here in Lake County, Illinois.

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The slideshow will run on its own, but you can speed it up by clicking on the arrows. To see more amazing images from the forest preserves, or to share photos of your own adventures, join our group Flickr pool.

Thanks for following our blog. Knowing there are others who enjoy the beauty and complexity of our native landscapes is very satisfying. Have a great holiday season!

The real Thanksgiving turkey

Post by Jen Berlinghof

There is a lot of turkey talk in my house lately—from handprint turkey crafts to gobbling impersonations and heated discussions of who gets the wishbone this year. Come November, most of us think of turkeys as the centerpiece of a delicious feast. You might be surprised to learn that this symbol of our American heritage is not only found on platters but also resides in Lake County, Illinois woodlands; and their gobbling is growing!

eastern wild turkey

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Poison ivy primer

Post by Jen Berlinghof

With Halloween fast approaching, much attention is given to animals that are considered “scary.” Foreboding ravens, ominous bats, super-sized spiders and snakes are everywhere. Thankfully, many people know the benefits of these critters. However, it seems there is one thing found in nature, surprisingly flora not fauna, that remains misunderstood and maligned: poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The chemical urushiol in the sap of poison ivy can cause an allergic reaction in many people that results in an itchy rash. However, wildlife is not sensitive to the plant in the same way. In fact, poison ivy is an important native plant in Illinois with a host of benefits for our natural areas—from food and shelter for birds, mammals, and insects to erosion control on shorelines.


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Acorn abodes

Post by Jen B

My family went on a bike ride last weekend at Ray Lake Forest Preserve. All afternoon, rain sputtered on and off as the clouds played tag with the sun. After climbing up a steep hill, the sky darkened again and we sought refuge under a canopy of large oak trees. One of my sons yelped,”Ouch! That raindrop hurt!” We quickly realized it wasn’t a raindrop, but a storm of acorns jiggled loose by the wind, plopping down on us. The trail became littered with acorns, and the kids began grabbing them. Upon inspection, the boys noticed tiny round holes in many of the acorns—evidence that these nuts were homes to acorn weevils (Curculio spp).

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Final songs of summer

Post by Jen B

As summer winds down, a telltale hum that signals the changing seasons begins to ramp up in the fields and forests. These trills and chirps are the mating calls of tree crickets (Oecanthinae)—a group of fascinating insects that are often heard but seldom known or seen. Their small size and mint green color helps camouflage them amidst the verdant grasses, shrubs and trees of late summer.


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