About

Thank you for reading. This blog is an active effort to keep readers informed of current natural events and to offer helpful suggestions for exploring local nature niches in Lake County, Illinois. For many people, “Nature” starts with a capital “N.”

When asked to think of meaningful experiences in the outdoors, many minds automatically turn toward the grand vistas of huge National Parks or long road trips to faraway destinations. But what might be most beneficial for our health and environment is finding nature niches closer to home. Connect daily, not once a year. Explore the trails, and find your niche in the Lake County Forest Preserves.


About the author  Jen Berlinghof is a graduate of Loyola University and The National Outdoor Leadership School, as well as a Certified Interpretive Guide through The National Association of Interpretation. Her work as an outdoor guide and naturalist has taken her from the canyon lands of Utah to the shores of Lake Superior. Since 2003, she has been discovering nature near her hometown and working as an Environmental Educator for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.

Jen birding yellowstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Behind the scenes  Assisting with editing and photography is Allison Frederick. She is Assistant Public Affairs Manager for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She is an active citizen scientist, surveying calling frogs and Odonate populations in Lake County, Illinois. Her background in Forestry and Natural Resources from Purdue University and passion for land stewardship is a great fit for the public relations team at a conservation agency. She believes that we can join forces to take major action against climate change and other environmental challenges. From restoration workdays in local preserves to exploring natural areas with her family, she works daily to inspire positive changes in the world around us.

profile-pic

 

 

 

 

 

 


Behind the scenes  Brett Peto has served as Environmental Communications Specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois since 2017. A graduate of Elmhurst College in 2015, Peto edits copy, selects and retouches photos, and ponders the Latin roots of species names in his spare time. Ever since his first science column in the college newspaper, Peto has found fun in the broad accessibility and deep understanding of complex subjects that effective science writing requires.

NAI-PETO-Headshot-v2


Guest author Andrew Rutter joined the Natural Resources Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves as a Wildlife Biologist in 2016. But he was already a familiar face, as he had worked as a Southern Illinois University wildlife field technician in various forest preserves. Andrew has a Bachelor’s Degree from Emporia State University and recently received his Master’s Degree from SIU with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Lab studying river otter ecology.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Guest author Alyssa Firkus joined the Education Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves as an Education Manager in October 2018. Alyssa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Humboldt State University and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education from Western Washington University. Her work in environmental education has taken her around the world, from Australia to Alaska. She now enjoys going on local adventures with her family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Guest author Nan Buckardt, a long-time Lake County Forest Preserves employee, has seen many changes to the preserves during her career. As Director of Education, she puts her B.S. in Zoology and M.S. in Education to good use. The Education Department team helps tell Lake County’s natural and human history story. Nan spends much of her free time in nature with her family, especially enjoying birdwatching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Guest author Pati Vitt joined the Natural Resources Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves in late 2018. She holds a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Connecticut, an M.S. in Botany & Plant Pathology from the University of Maine, and a B.A. from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Having grown up botanically in Maine, she considers plants that are found in boreal forests as old friends, and is happy when she finds them and other new friends in Lake County. Prior to joining the Forest Preserves, Pati worked for nearly 20 years as a Conservation Scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Guest author Ken Klick has worked as a Restoration Ecologist at the Lake County Forest Preserves for 25 years. He finds joy and solace in looking at birds. His career has involved restoring and managing native plants and animals for more than 40 years.


Guest author Eileen Davis, Environmental Educator, has variously served the Lake County Forest Preserves as an intern, volunteer and staff member since 1997. She earned her B.S. in Zoology and Environmental Biology from Eastern Illinois University, and an M.S. in Environmental Education and Interpretation from University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. Eileen teaches people of all ages about Lake County’s diverse ecosystems, and the plants and animals that call them home. In her free time, she enjoys tending her home garden and traveling in search of new nature adventures.


Guest author April Vaos has been an Environmental Educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves since 2004. She holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and focuses on scout, school and boating programs. Since childhood, April has lived in many places—from the rural areas of Minnesota to the city—and loves finding nature all around her, from the prairies of Illinois to a patch of grass on the road.


You may contact us at jberlinghof@LCFPD.org, afrederick@LCFPD.org and bpeto@LCFPD.org.

Recent Posts

Enjoy the hooting season

Post by Jen Berlinghof

In February, sensational sunrises and sunsets break up the stark days and cold, dark nights of a waning winter. Dawn and dusk not only bring the thrill of color to a monochrome landscape, but also the best chance of hearing and seeing nocturnal raptors. As the mercury drops, owl courtship heats up. While many other birds head south for winter, owls pair up and hunker down. At night, the soundtrack of our resident species’ hoots and hollers fills the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois, offering us a glimpse into an otherwise hidden world.

Winter is a time of snow, beautiful sunsets—and mating season for local owls. Photo © John D. Kavc.
Winter is a time of snow, beautiful sunrises and sunsets—and mating season for local owls. Photo © John D. Kavc.

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the largest of our resident owls, and also the earliest bird to kick off courtship and nesting in Lake County. Because owlets have a steep learning curve, spending months learning the specialty skills of nighttime flying and hunting, parent owls need to get a head start on breeding. Hooting duets echo through otherwise silent snowy evenings beginning in December, as pair bonding starts for these monogamous birds.

Owls don’t build their own nests, but rather search out a “fixer upper”—an abandoned crow or red-tailed hawk nest will do. So will a tree snag. Hearing the booming sounds of a great horned owl, and then seeing it swoop past on silent wings, has been a hallmark of many evening events at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods for me over the years. Great horned owls will start to quiet down toward the end of February as egg laying begins. (Check out the archives of our Nature Cam for an in-depth look at great horned owlets fledging.)

An adult great horned owl peeks over the top of its snow-dusted nest. Photo © Phil Hauck.
An adult great horned owl peeks over the top of its snow-dusted nest. Photo © Phil Hauck.
Two great horned owlets peer out of a cavity in a tree snag. Photo © Phil Hauck.
Two great horned owlets peer out of a cavity in a tree snag. Photo © Phil Hauck.

Just as the hooting subsides from the great horned owls, the brown-eyed barred owls (Strix varia) begin to chime in. While it’s possible to hear both owl species on the same evening, barred owls might pipe down if great horned owls are calling vigorously, given that the larger great horned is a known predator for the smaller barred. The great horned owl’s call is said to ask us, “Who’s awake? Me too!” while the barred owl calls, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

Barred owls are partial to floodplain forests and can often be seen feeding during the day. I once watched in amazement as a barred owl slurped down a snake like a spaghetti noodle while I was taking my own lunch break at Lakewood in Wauconda. Barred owls gravitate toward natural cavities in large trees for nesting. Their young can climb these trees in an effort to test out flying and to strengthen their wings. It’s quite a sight to see fluffy owlets grasping the bark with their sharp bills and clinging on with dagger-like talons, all the while flapping their wings as they shimmy up a tree.

An adult barred owl in spring. Photo © John D. Kavc.
An adult barred owl in spring. Photo © John D. Kavc.
An over-the-shoulder (or over-the-wing?) glance from a barred owl fledgling. Photo © Tim Elliott.
An over-the-shoulder (or over-the-wing?) glance from a barred owl fledgling. Photo © Tim Elliott.

Last but not least is the smallest of our local owls, the American robin-sized eastern screech owl (Megascops asio). Males return to a previous year’s breeding site first to reclaim their territory by roosting in the tree cavity and calling from nearby branches, typically after the first of the year. Screech owl calls are vastly different from the baritone hoots of our larger species. They’re composed of horse-like whinnies and soft trills.

The female joins the male in late February or early March. They celebrate their reunion with mutual preening, bowing, clicking of bills and trilling in duet. Found in many areas, screech owls can nest anywhere they find a tree with an old woodpecker hole or nest box. Nestling screech owls fight fiercely among themselves for food, and sometimes even kill their smallest sibling. This behavior is not uncommon among raptors in general.

Any time I spy a hole in a tree, I always peek with my binoculars to see if I get lucky and see a sweet screech face nestled inside. In 20 years of working for the Forest Preserves, I only hit this jackpot once at Greenbelt in North Chicago. I continue to look, hoping for another encounter.

Two eastern screech owls perch on a branch. This species has gray and rufous (reddish-brown) morphs, or color phases. About a third of individuals are rufous. Stock photo.
Two eastern screech owls perch on a branch. This species has gray and rufous (reddish-brown) morphs, or color phases. About a third of individuals are rufous. Stock photo.

Owling takes real effort. It takes bundling up and heading outside into the blue-black chill of winter nights when you might rather be cuddled up inside near a fire. But the reward comes in the quiet glow of a winter sunset, where the silence of the moonrise is cracked by the chorus of howling owls. Enjoy this winter wonder in your own yard. Better yet, head out to the solar-lit trails at Old School in Mettawa and at Lakewood, open until 9 pm nightly through March 13. And if you’re looking for birdwatching opportunities this spring, mark your calendars for our FREE Birdwatching Hot Spots programs on March 19, April 23 and May 21. Locations vary each month. No registration required.

  1. Winter reveals hidden homes Leave a reply
  2. How animals survive the winter 2 Replies
  3. A foray into fall fungi 3 Replies
  4. Bringing back the buzz 8 Replies
  5. A thousand-mile journey on two-inch wings Leave a reply
  6. What’s wrong with this picture? 5 Replies
  7. Become a community scientist Leave a reply
  8. A native garden to call your own Leave a reply
  9. The cunning of cowbirds Leave a reply