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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It was a pristine day with that misty feeling of early fall. Along for the adventure was Paul, an avid canoeist and Forest Preserve volunteer. We hauled our vessels carefully over crayfish burrows that lined the banks and into the river at the Route 60 Canoe Launch. We paddled north and glided under a bridge, which hides the intricate architecture of cliff swallow nests underneath from the unknowing drivers passing overhead.

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Beyond the bridge, the river’s banks were decorated in the red confetti of cardinal flowers. These desirable native wildflowers prefer sunny spots where their roots stay a little wet. With bright red color and a late summer blooming period, cardinal flowers provide nectar that ruby-throated hummingbirds need to fuel their migratory flights south at this time of the year.

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As if on cue, the next hue of the rainbow was seen on the opposite bank, signaling that autumn is already underway. The vivid tangerine of this sulphur shelf fungus was easy to spot against the rich brown of the fallen oak trees that it is working hard to decompose.

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Every time we dipped our paddles into the delicate duckweed floating on the water’s surface, dozens of American rubyspot damselflies fluttered up to land on the ends of spindly snags. Female damselflies submerged themselves entirely in water to lay eggs, descending down a stem & remaining underwater for minutes on end.

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Painted turtles sat silently on logs along the entire route north toward our turnabout at Oak Spring Road Canoe Launch. The sounds of snowy tree crickets and dogday cicadas seemed to make the still air pulse. The steady hum of these end-of-summer insects was broken by the “sploosh” of turtles when they had soaked up enough of the sun’s heat and dove into the cool water. Or, perhaps, we had unknowingly paddled too close…

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Paddling this stretch of river we were caught up in a game of chase with a variety of birds—from small, but noisy, belted kingfishers and green herons to quiet, but hulking, egrets and great blue herons. An immature double-crested cormorant playfully dived near our boats both times that we passed it. While that experience was surprising, perhaps the most unexpected sighting was a great horned owl that quickly sneaked and sulked across the river followed in close pursuit by a mob of crows.

As we paddled south to end our adventure, we heard the faint, deep hoot of that owl and the raucous caws of the crows echoing along the Des Plaines River corridor. To enjoy these sights and sounds of the river, you can launch a canoe or kayak at one of the many Forest Preserve launches.

Help celebrate this amazing gem by using it—all of it. Bike it. Boat it. Walk it or run it. Bring along family, friends, and your dogs, too. Or, you can make a donation to help us keep it clean and safe. This fall, come join us for the Des Plaines River Trail Challenge!

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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

Virtual wildflower walk

Post by Jen Berlinghof

April is the month when every day seems to bring a new bird flying into the woodland, a new amphibian calling from the pond, a new mammal poking along the river, a new insect hatching in the prairie, and, most of all, a new plant unfurling from the forest floor.

April through the end of May provides ideal conditions to enjoy spring wildflowers. These plants are also called “ephemerals,” which means “lasting for a very short time.” Spring ephemerals take advantage of abundant light in the woodland before leaves emerge in the canopy above. Ephemerals complete their entire life cycle before shade covers the forest floor.

If you haven’t visited your favorite Lake County Forest Preserve lately, come along with me on this virtual wildflower walk to see what’s blooming now and what’s to come.

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Bluebirds are back!

Post by Jen Berlinghof

Last week while I was out checking our sap collection buckets at Ryerson Conservation Area, everything in the woods seemed a bleak brown and gray. It didn’t look much like spring was on our doorstep, but it sure sounded like it with the “plink plink” of sap dripping into aluminum buckets on the sugar maple trees and the slow “peep peep” of cold, little spring peeper frogs. Then, a male eastern bluebird landed on the branch above my head. He was a vivid blue exclamation point that seemed to shout, “Spring has arrived!”

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