Flicking through the Flickr pool

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Post by Brett Peto

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a long year. In a pandemic, separated from routines, sometimes days go slow but months go fast, and vice versa. There are fewer anchors around which to pin our schedules like so many pieces of laundry on a clothesline. Some people have started baking homemade bread, assembling model kits, binging movies and podcasts, devouring piles of books, or playing long-distance board games over Zoom. Our strategies may vary, but I think it’s helpful to have as many coping mechanisms as we can gather this year.

One adopted or continued by many folks is spending more time outdoors. Whether in yards, neighborhoods, parks, or the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois, people are discovering or rediscovering the value of nature, even as the thermometer dips. Fresh air; sunshine; wide horizons; the sounds of wind in trees and water over rocks; birds and squirrels and foxes living their private lives; the calm curiosity to find out where a trail goes and the confidence that it’s designed to go somewhere.

"Ice Ice Baby." Photo © Michelle Wendling.
“Ice Ice Baby.” Photo © Michelle Wendling.

We’ve seen gobsmacking levels of visitation since March. Daily average visits have consistently been 40% higher than previous records. Early spring numbers looked more like those of midsummer weekends. And our stats are chiefly based on preserves where car counters are installed in the parking lots. So, they don’t capture anyone who arrives at a preserve without a car, often the case along regional routes such as the Des Plaines River Trail and the Millennium Trail.

Which is fantastic. I’m thrilled that tens or even hundreds of thousands have found solace, stress relief, and, yes, fun in their preserves. (Fun is still possible in 2020, I swear.)

I’m also thrilled that talented photographers have continued to capture and upload photos to our group Flickr pool despite the pandemic. Lake County’s flora, fauna, and natural areas are always good fodder for gorgeous shots. I find it reassuring that people are still practicing their skills and, oddly enough, that other species don’t know what human society has experienced these past several months.

"Long-eared owl (Asio otus)." Photo © Phil Hauck.
“Long-eared owl (Asio otus).” Photo © Phil Hauck.

The long-eared owl (Asio otus) photographed in a snowy woodland by Phil Hauck isn’t aware of the latest case numbers. The trees reflected on the surface of the Des Plaines River in Bob London’s enchanting fall photo let their leaves turn just like any other autumn, regardless of whether people walking by them wore masks they didn’t need last fall.

In turns, it’s validating, therapeutic, and necessary to talk with others about everything that’s happened in 2020. But I’d argue it’s also therapeutic to remind ourselves that for every negative headline, there’s a bird on a branch, singing songs vetted by evolution. For every holiday that doesn’t take the same shape it did before, there’s a trail through open space protected for public use in perpetuity. For the overwhelming rush of events, there’s a kaleidoscopic pattern on the surface of an icy pond, or a sycamore’s enchantingly spotty bark, or the promise that seasons change and a new one will come.

None of this is to say that nature outweighs the grief and loss you may have gone through recently. It doesn’t, or it doesn’t always. But I think it helps. Maybe it eases one percent of the year’s effects, or 20 percent, or 50 percent. No matter. I welcome help.

I also welcome pretty photos of the preserves. Enjoy this selection of my 10 favorite images from our wonderful Flickr photographers this year. (You’ve already seen two of them further up in the post.) And, hey—if you’re inclined afterwards to upload some shots from your camera or phone, you can do so here. I’d really appreciate it.

"Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)." Photo © Paco Luengo.
“Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus).” Photo © Paco Luengo.
"Turk's-cap lily." Photo © Paco Luengo.
“Turk’s-cap lily.” Photo © Paco Luengo.
"Pearl crescent butterflies mating." Photo © Sean Anderson.
“Pearl crescent butterflies mating.” Photo © Sean Anderson.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Rollins Savanna, Lake County Forest Preserve District, near Grayslake, IL -20 June 2020
"Peaceful morning." Photo © Michelle Wendling.
“Peaceful morning.” Photo © Michelle Wendling.
"August creek, early fallen leaf." Photo © Sean Anderson.
“August creek, early fallen leaf.” Photo © Sean Anderson.
"Early fall water reflections." Photo © Bob London.
“Early fall water reflections.” Photo © Bob London.
"Ryerson oaks." Photo © Bob London.
“Ryerson oaks.” Photo © Bob London.

As always, thank you to our dear readers, without whom this blog would not exist. We hope our posts this year have provided education, entertainment, and encouragement to keep going. To get outside as much as you can, to learn a bit about the flora and fauna you encounter there, and to take comfort in the rhythms of the natural world. They are out there, steady and true.

So are the magnificent photographers who contribute to our group Flickr pool. Their talents at, well, preserving the preserves in visual form are second to none. I hope every veteran and budding shutterbug who turns their lens on the Lake County Forest Preserves finds something worthwhile to capture. In fact, I know they will; there are nearly 31,000 acres of possibilities.

We’ll be back next month—next year—with our regularly scheduled programming. Until then, visit a preserve, take a virtual program with our educators, or browse a bunch of digital resources we’ve gathered all in one place. Stay safe and happy new year.

Here comes the Sun (Lake)

Post by Brett Peto

The sky to the west was robin’s egg blue, a clearing in the day’s dose of clouds. They had just sneezed a handful of snow, already melting. I drove with the radio off. I didn’t know whether to wear my regular hiking boots or a pair of Wellington boots I’d packed at the last moment. The trail could be soggy, or maybe not. I was on my way to Sun Lake in Lake Villa, part of the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.

For this month, I decided to revisit the idea behind my February 2019 post, when I explored a new-to-me preserve and wrote up my observations as a virtual tour. Readers seemed to enjoy it, and I enjoyed circling another name on the map I keep at my desk. So, here I was, about a year later, ready to chronicle another tour. Find a comfy chair and a warm mug. Here’s a snapshot of Sun Lake as I saw it.

The view looking south from the parking lot at Sun Lake. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
The view looking south from the parking lot at Sun Lake. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Always look at the trail map before you go. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Always look at the trail map before you go. I walked the trail loop clockwise. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
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Monogamous minks? Not quite.

Post by Brett Peto. All mink images and footage by John D. Kavc.

Yes, it’s almost that time of year. American mink (Neovison vison) mating season. I know, I’ve been waiting for it, too. February is celebrated for human romance: fancy dinner dates, shiny gifts, and long walks on the Des Plaines River Trail. But it’s useful to step out of our human-focused perspective once in a while. And thanks to our comprehensive Wildlife Monitoring Program, we know minks live in the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois. So, let’s examine why humans aren’t the only species that looks forward to February 14.

A mink (Neovison vison) peeks over a fallen tree. Photo © John D. Kavc.
A mink (Neovison vison) peeks over a fallen tree. Photo © John D. Kavc.
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Finding the right angle

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Post by Brett Peto

I keep thinking about angles. Not the kind you measure with a protractor, but those you measure with your mind. The angle of a story, a conversation, or a project. Photography, of course, uses physical angles—where’s the camera pointed? is the sun directly overhead or is it the sweet time of golden hour?—but the best photos make you want to see even more. They make you want to break open the frame and soak in every bit of the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.

Since it’s nearly the end of 2019, I thought I’d turn 180 degrees and peruse the photos uploaded to our group Flickr pool since January 1. Suffice to say: we’re spoiled. Spoiled with the beauty of Lake County’s flora, fauna, and natural areas, and the talent of the photographers who capture it for everyone to see. Trees and shrubs in their bright fall wardrobes on either side of a trail draining into a vanishing point. A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) with both wings up like a paper airplane as it dashes to take off. A whirlpool of stars spun around a rich blue sky over a tranquil wetland.

I’ve gathered these moments plus seven more below, but that’s only a small taste. I encourage you to browse the rest of the visual buffet as we make the turn out of the 2010s into the 2020s. And, hey! You might become inclined to upload that shot living on your phone, camera, or computer.

"Night Moves." Photo © reddog1975.
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Give thanks for turkey vultures

Post by Jen Berlinghof

Come late November, most of us have turkeys on the brain. But a different type of turkey is taking to the skies at this time of year on its annual migration south: the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). You can spot them in the sky or on the ground in the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.

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Go take a hike

Post by Nan Buckardt

Everyone has one! At least, anyone who regularly hikes in the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois has one: a favorite trail. It might be the trail near your home or the one that reminds you of a secret only-I-know-about-this spot growing up. Maybe it holds a special memory. Whatever the reason, something about it always sparks joy in your heart.

I’ve been thinking about trails a lot this fall as I’ve hiked those selected for this year’s Hike Lake County (HLC) program. HLC has encouraged folks for 20-plus years to explore seven of 12 designated trails between mid-August and November 30. More than 200 miles of trails thread through dozens of preserves countywide, so the diversity of choices isn’t necessarily a big surprise, but it is a big benefit to residents and visitors.

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Turtle Champions

Post by Allison Frederick

109 adopted turtles!

bltu-20161104-004Our inaugural campaign to enhance conservation efforts and further protect an endangered species was a huge success. Donations poured in from Lake County and beyond (as far away as California!) to adopt baby Blanding’s turtles, allowing us to continue our head-starting program and field work next summer. Continue reading

Wood frogs found!

Discovery is often about being in the right place at the right time. This is exactly what happened recently when a wildlife biologist for the Lake County Forest Preserves was in the right woodland on the right spring day. While monitoring wildlife, a biologist heard sounds from the elusive wood frog (Rana sylvatica). The duck-like breeding calls made by male wood frogs had not been heard in Lake County, Illinois since the late 1980s. This discovery is the first sign of victory following extensive habitat restoration and recent species reintroduction efforts.

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Crane chronicles

I am part of a volunteer group for the Annual Midwest Crane Count, monitoring the wetlands and fields in Lake County, Illinois each year for sandhill cranes. In the pre-dawn hours, our eyes scan for any hint of movement. Our ears listen for a bugling sound. Our mission: Determine the abundance and distribution of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) in the Upper-Midwest United States.

The arrival of these large elegant birds in Lake County is a harbinger of spring. More migrate through this region every year, and an increasing number are deciding to nest here as well. We know this thanks to the early-rising volunteers who help with the Annual Midwest Crane Count held each spring. This year, some of the first sandhill cranes returning to Lake County, Illinois were spotted in mid-March at Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve. Continue reading

Surviving in the subnivean

This winter has been harsh in Lake County, Illinois, causing many of us to wish we could migrate to South America like some birds do, or hibernate in a cozy underground den like the groundhog.  Alas, most of us just stick it out in the cold. It may offer consolation to know we are not the only animals active during these record-breaking cold, snowy days. It turns out there is a whole ecosystem teeming with life right under the snow.

Recently, scientists having been taking a closer look at life in the subnivean, which literally translates to “a place under the snow.” The space between the snow and the ground acts as a seasonal refuge for invertebrates, birds, and small mammals. Snow affords these small critters with remarkable insulation, and temperatures around 32 F regardless of the temperature above the snow. Biologist Bernd Heinrich explains the science underlying these insulating properties in the book Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival. “As long as both ice and water exist side by side, they constitute a thermostat keeping temperatures constant.” When water converts to ice crystals, heat releases. When ice turns into water, the process uses up heat.

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