Post by Jen Berlinghof
This winter’s lack of snow has made enjoying the winter woods a little more difficult for me. So, when a scant few inches of snow fell last week I made my way to Old School Forest Preserve at dusk to explore one of the Lake County Forest Preserves solar-lit trails.
Inky black branches of old oaks played in contrast to the white-washed sky before the blush of an orange sherbet sunset took over. The woods were still and quiet as I searched for any signs of crepuscular creatures that capitalize on the twilight.
I stumbled upon what looked like a tempting den for an opossum (much better than under my tarp-covered kayak in storage along the side of my house, where we have seen opossum tracks regularly). While there were no tracks leading up to this tree yet, these marsupials begin their breeding season in February and will no doubt be searching for a safe place to have their babies soon.
Only a few hardy folks remained after the sun sank down and the solar lights slowly brightened. But, we knew we weren’t alone when the muffled baritone of a great horned owl called “Whoo’s awake? Me too!“
Great horned owls are most active at dawn and dusk (what’s that funny word again?). They are one of the first bird species to nest each year in Lake County, Illinois. Mated pairs are monogamous and defend their territories with vigorous hooting, especially in the winter before laying eggs. This is why it was no surprise when I heard multiple calls volleying back and forth through the forest. We captured the amazing story of one great horned owl family from incubation through fledge on our Nature Cam.
The night hike ended with a well camouflaged white-tailed deer, slipping effortlessly past the trail while the low hum of rush hour traffic murmured in the distance. Consider taking a break from that traffic one evening, and hit the trail instead to hear the hoots of owls and not the horns of cars. The Lake County Forest Preserves illuminated trails and adjacent parking lots at Old School Forest Preserve and Lakewood Forest Preserve will stay open after sunset until 9 pm, daily through Sunday, March 13, 2016.