A parade of colors

Guest post by Nan Buckardt

Watching kids play in a pool, waiting for burgers to come off the grill, sitting on a curb enjoying a parade—these are all images that I conjure when daydreaming about summer.

Luckily, I don’t have to wait to watch a parade; I can see a parade every day this summer by taking a walk in our Lake County Forest Preserves.

Not the type of parade with floats and brass bands, but nature’s parade of colors, textures and blooms. My favorite preserves to see this parade are those that have splendid expanses of prairie.

Summer in the prairie starts with green. Not with one hue of green but myriad greens—more hues than I can count. Early in the season the green is fresh and shows more yellow. Then, as photosynthesis does its magic, the green intensifies and hides all hint of yellow. During your next walk, take a moment to really look at the surroundings and focus on the vast number of greens.

The violet-blue of spiderwort blossoms, with their bright yellow stamens, are often the first showy colors in the prairie parade, followed by the white blossoms of the wild indigo with its blue-tinted leaves.

Next in the parade comes lavender. Large patches of preserves seem to be painted purple by bergamot and Echinacea carpeting the area.

Midsummer is announced by the stunning orange of butterfly weed and the subtle pink of common milkweed. Close inspection of either of these blossoms reveals clusters of tiny individual flowers that remind me of women dressed for a ball with long flowing skirts.

Purple spikes of feathery blazing star blossoms not only add a vertical feature to the scene but also act as terrific landing pads for butterflies and bees.

Remember to explore the textures of the prairie as well. Spiderwort has long, slender smooth stems. The leaves of prairie dock are rough like sand paper and are easy to notice among the vegetation. The flowers of rattlesnake master look like miniature pieces of sculpture that add their own texture to the landscape.

The end of the parade is signaled by the yellows of late summer. Gray-headed coneflower and multiple species of goldenrods add sunshine to prairie, even on overcast days. Prairie dock and compass plant punctuate the late summer prairie by sending their yellow flowers high over our heads.

Happily, the finale of the prairie parade doesn’t happen until October. As the seasons change, the bright yellow will fade away but the parade isn’t over yet—grasses will show rich browns, reds, and tans.

The best way to appreciate nature’s parade is visit your favorite preserve regularly.

Recommended hikes: Forest preserves with a showy prairie parade include Rollins Savanna, Berkeley Prairie, Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway (walking north of Sedge Meadow), and Waukegan Savanna Forest Preserves.

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.

20160902_092721

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.

20160414_100031

Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Mile by Mile

Post by Jen BerlinghofIMG_4343Over the next few months, Allison and I will be highlighting one of the jewels of the Lake County Forest Preserves: the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway. We invite you to come along with us on this 31-mile journey, as we trek over miles and through seasons, exploring the natural niches and history around every bend in the river. We plan to hike the entire length of the trail in anticipation of its long-awaited completion. Preservation of this greenway has been a key priority since our agency’s founding in 1958. After 54 years in the making, construction has begun on the final section of this regional trail and is expected to conclude this fall. The Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway spans nearly the entire length of Lake County, Illinois for 31 miles as it winds through 12 forest preserves. It is a great trail for hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding and snowmobiling (within a designated section). Continue reading

Poison ivy primer

Post by Jen Berlinghof

With Halloween fast approaching, much attention is given to animals that are considered “scary.” Foreboding ravens, ominous bats, super-sized spiders and snakes are everywhere. Thankfully, many people know the benefits of these critters. However, it seems there is one thing found in nature, surprisingly flora not fauna, that remains misunderstood and maligned: poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The chemical urushiol in the sap of poison ivy can cause an allergic reaction in many people that results in an itchy rash. However, wildlife is not sensitive to the plant in the same way. In fact, poison ivy is an important native plant in Illinois with a host of benefits for our natural areas—from food and shelter for birds, mammals, and insects to erosion control on shorelines.

IMG_4835

Continue reading

Acorn abodes

Post by Jen B

My family went on a bike ride last weekend at Ray Lake Forest Preserve. All afternoon, rain sputtered on and off as the clouds played tag with the sun. After climbing up a steep hill, the sky darkened again and we sought refuge under a canopy of large oak trees. One of my sons yelped,”Ouch! That raindrop hurt!” We quickly realized it wasn’t a raindrop, but a storm of acorns jiggled loose by the wind, plopping down on us. The trail became littered with acorns, and the kids began grabbing them. Upon inspection, the boys noticed tiny round holes in many of the acorns—evidence that these nuts were homes to acorn weevils (Curculio spp).

Continue reading

Final songs of summer

Post by Jen B

As summer winds down, a telltale hum that signals the changing seasons begins to ramp up in the fields and forests. These trills and chirps are the mating calls of tree crickets (Oecanthinae)—a group of fascinating insects that are often heard but seldom known or seen. Their small size and mint green color helps camouflage them amidst the verdant grasses, shrubs and trees of late summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Continue reading