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.

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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.

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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.


Guest author Jenny Sazama has created and led programs as an Environmental Educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves for almost two decades. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In her role as a National Association for Interpretation Certified Interpretive Guide Trainer, Jenny has mentored many volunteers and others interested in the profession. You’ll often find her guiding nature paddle programs on Forest Preserve waterways in a canoe, kayak and even a 34-foot replica voyageur canoe! On her days off, Jenny enjoys taking her dog on long, scenic walks to find wildflowers, romp in the water and be present in the healing power of the natural world. The Great Lakes are a favorite destination.


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

Recent Posts

Planting for pollinators

Guest post by Eileen Davis

It’s a sunny July afternoon at a Lake County Forest Preserve in northern Illinois. The humidity is low and the breeze is just right. I’m poised over a patch of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), furiously clicking away with my camera, hoping to get at least one image that will be clear enough for me to identify the native bumble bee feeding on the flower. If there’s a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I haven’t found it.

A two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus) feeds on wild bergamot. Photo © Eileen Davis.
A two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus) feeds on wild bergamot. Photo © Eileen Davis.

I’ve joined about a dozen other people training to become volunteer bee monitors under the direction of Alma Schrage. Alma is a pollinator ecologist and contractor researcher doing surveys on lands owned by the Forest Preserves and Citizens for Conservation in service of the Barrington Greenway Initiative.

We completed two online training sessions this spring and spent time learning to identify the 11 species of bumble bees found in Illinois. This day’s field session taught us the protocols we need to follow when in the field counting and photographing bumble bees and the flowers they visit.

Volunteer bee monitors at a training session. Photo © Eileen Davis.
Volunteer bee monitors at a training session. Photo © Eileen Davis.

Why are we so interested in counting bumble bees? Because in summer 2020, Forest Preserves staff spotted the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) in a local preserve. Once common across much of the eastern United States, the rusty patched bumble bee (RPBB) population has declined by more than 87% in the last 20 years due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. And they’re not alone. Many other native pollinator populations are declining, as well.

A rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) feeds on wild bergamot in a preserve. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
A rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) feeds on wild bergamot in a preserve. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

The work done by Forest Preserves staff and volunteers to restore habitat in the preserves—such as removing non-native, invasive plants and planting native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses—is critical to supporting not only the RPBB, but all native pollinators.

The 31,000-plus acres managed by the Forest Preserves represent about 10% of land in Lake County. Which is fantastic—and yet, only 10% of the land! So, what about the other 90%? That’s where the rest of us come in. What we plant and how we plant it make a difference. Here are some things you can do at home to help support native pollinators.

Add native plants to your garden. Native plants are those that have been growing here for thousands of years. They’re the plants native wildlife use for food and shelter. They are also adapted to the local climate, so once established, are easier to grow and maintain. Even if you don’t have a garden, there are many native plants that work well in containers on a balcony or patio. Our Online Native Plant Sale, open now through October 31, 2022, is a great source from which to purchase native plants.

Choose a variety of plants to provide blooms throughout the growing season. When planning your garden, be sure to include some early spring and late-summer-through-fall bloomers to provide plenty of nectar and pollen for pollinators active at different times of year. Plant flowers in groups of five individuals or more if possible. These larger groups, or swaths, of blooms grab the attention of pollinators and allow them to feed more efficiently.

Early-season bloomers such as Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) provide critical pollen and nectar for bumble bee queens emerging in spring. Photo © Eileen Davis.
Early-season bloomers such as Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) provide critical pollen and nectar for bumble bee queens emerging in spring. Photo © Eileen Davis.
A swath of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the author's garden. Photo © Eileen Davis.
A swath of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the author’s garden. Photo © Eileen Davis.
Large groups of wildflowers attract the attention of pollinators and allow them to feed more efficiently. Photo © Eileen Davis.
Large groups of wildflowers attract the attention of pollinators and allow them to feed more efficiently. Photo © Eileen Davis.

Eliminate pesticide use. Pesticides kill not only pest insects, but beneficial predator insects, bees and butterflies as well. By adding native plants to your garden, you’ll attract beneficial predator insects and will notice they do a great job of pest control.

Skip the fall garden clean-up and leave your leaves. Many native pollinators overwinter in leaf litter and on native plants as either an egg, larva or adult. Waiting until spring to clean up the yard, and keeping leaves and other plant material in your garden, provides important habitat and improves the health of the soil. In spring, trim flower stalks to 18–24 inches. These hollow stems provide homes for cavity-nesting bees.

A tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) caterpillar—which matures into the five-spotted hawk moth—is covered with the cocoons of a parasitoid wasp. Photo © Eileen Davis.
A tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) caterpillar—which matures into the five-spotted hawk moth—is covered with the cocoons of a parasitoid wasp. Photo © Eileen Davis.
Stems from last summer's wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis) become homes for native bees. Photo © Eileen Davis.
Stems from last summer’s blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis) become homes for native bees. Photo © Eileen Davis.

To learn more about how you can plant for pollinators and garden with native plants, check out our online calendar for upcoming programs. Join our FREE Landscaping for a Changing Climate virtual program on September 14, 7–8 pm, to discover nature-based solutions that lessen the impacts of the changing climate.

In-person and virtual presentations are available for organized groups such as HOAs, garden clubs, libraries and municipalities. Email our educators at AskAnEducator@LCFPD.org to schedule a FREE presentation for your group. And read more native landscaping tips on our website.

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