Turtle Champions

Post by Allison Frederick

109 adopted turtles!

bltu-20161104-004Our inaugural campaign to enhance conservation efforts and further protect an endangered species was a huge success. Donations poured in from Lake County and beyond (as far away as California!) to adopt baby Blanding’s turtles, allowing us to continue our head-starting program and field work next summer.

In July 2016 the adopted turtles began to hatch. After a few months of care in our conservation facility (fondly referred to by staff as the “turtle building”), it was time to measure growth rates and mark each carapace (top shell). We mark each turtle with a unique code that allows our wildlife biologists to identify individuals in the facility, and later as we collect data after their release into the wild.

Here is an illustration of our marking system:

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Therefore, this fella would be 28:

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Once marked, we took photos of each hatchling’s carapace and plastron (bottom shell). Each plastron has a unique pattern, like a fingerprint. Though, the pattern becomes more clear as the turtle reaches its first birthday. We will take plastron photos again before the turtles are released. These visuals help us confirm the identity of a turtle that is found again during monitoring efforts.

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Taking photos of a young turtle’s top and bottom shell is easier said than done.

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Come back, Zadie!

These hatchlings will be held in captivity for a few more months—beyond the point of extreme predation by other animals, such as raccoons and skunks. Next spring, we will release the turtles into their natural habitat.

A head-starting program is labor-intensive, but well worth the effort. Since 2004, 855 individual turtles have been tracked, marked and documented in two sites within a larger coastal area of Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois. That number includes 538 turtles that were released as part of our head-starting program. The population is growing, and we’re seeing more juvenile turtles than in the past.

Ultimately we want a more hands-off approach. We’re eager for the day when our data show far more wild-born turtles than those that we provided with a head-start.

In the meantime, anyone excited to become a Turtle Champion can support the Lake County Forest Preserves and The Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves Adopt-a-Turtle program. Any donation will help a baby Blanding’s turtle thrive.

And, a HUGE thank you to all those who have already become Turtle Champions. We are eager to meet you during the upcoming behind-the-scenes tour!

Halloween Hikes—30 years and counting…

Post by Jen “Blanding’s Turtle” Berlinghof

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This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Lake County Forest Preserves’ popular Halloween Hikes at Ryerson Conservation Area. This event is a witch’s potion of sorts: a dash of theater, a drop of night hike, a splash of environmental education, and a heap of old-fashioned family fun. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail Challenge

Post by Jen Berlinghof

The trail is complete! The final section of the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway was completed in late 2015. This fulfills a vision 54 years in the making—an unbroken greenway along the Des Plaines River. The contiguous 31.4-mile trail spans the entire length of Lake County, Illinois. To celebrate this amazing gem, we at the Lake County Forest Preserves are challenging you to travel the entire length as part of our Des Plaines River Trail Challenge. Last year, Allison and I hiked the entire trail and chronicled it here on the blog. This month, we’re taking you on the water with us to highlight the lifeblood of this vision—the river itself.

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Hordes of hummingbirds

Post by Jen Berlinghof

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For me, most days on the job consist of time in my “office” outdoors—a woodland, prairie or wetland in the Lake County Forest Preserves—with my “clients”—students, teachers, and families interested in learning more about local nature. On those rare days spent plunking away at a computer indoors, the photo above is my view. Recently, this view is bustling with activity, as hordes of ruby-throated hummingbirds buzz around the feeders, bulking up for a long flight south.

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Dwindling lights

Post by Jen Berlinghof

At a recent Firefly Campfire at Ryerson Conservation Area, kids and adults alike were flitting around, as fast as the fireflies they were trying to catch. For many of the children, this was their first time experiencing the age-old summer tradition of capturing living light. While the woods that night sparkled like the fourth of July, many of the adults lamented that their yards didn’t have many fireflies—certainly not like the numbers they remembered chasing as children. Turns out they may be on to something.

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Widespread anecdotal evidence of these dwindling evening displays have prompted scientists to take a look at possible reasons. One big culprit to the demise of these bioluminescent beetles seems to be the one thing that makes them so special: light. Continue reading

Saving the Blanding’s Turtle

Post by Allison Frederick

It was [dare we say] a perfect June day. Mostly sunny. Air temperature hovering around 75 degrees with a gentle breeze blowing off Lake Michigan, a mere 600 meters from where we stood. Sandhill cranes were bugling nearby in the marsh. Yellow warblers sang from the reeds, as we approached with 99 juvenile Blanding’s turtles. The young turtles were still quite small at 8 centimeters long and a mere 80 grams, but ready nonetheless for release into their natural habitat.

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Habitat Heroes

Post by Jen Berlinghof

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A group of third-graders from May Whitney Elementary School in Lake Zurich has come to the rescue at Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve. Instead of learning their science standards solely in the classroom, Mrs. Hosteland’s class is addressing an authentic environmental issue through investigation, research and collaborative reports that offer solutions to address the issue of invasive species. These hardworking 8- and 9-year-olds then presented their reports to the District 95 School Board and Lake County Forest Preserve officials. Continue reading