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.

Behind the bandit mask

Post by Brett Peto

You know them as raccoons (Procyon lotor). Though maybe trash pandas is more your style, a phrase that’s taken off since it first appeared on Reddit in 2014. (I can’t help but note the Rocket City Trash Pandas, a Minor League Baseball team, plays ball in Madison, Alabama). Or you could even know them as washing-bears, an old Germanic nickname bestowed on the species “because they have a habit of rinsing and softening their food in water before they eat it.” This moniker actually has a connection to the legendary naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, who created the Latin-based binomial nomenclature system and originally labeled the raccoon as Ursus lotor (“washer bear”). Whatever you call them, raccoons are commonly found in the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.

It’s easy to spot one, of course, by its bandit mask: the patches of black fur bending below each of its eyes. This mask is nothing short of iconic, but it’s likely an icon with a purpose: “one hypothesis for the dark fur is that it may help reduce glare and enhance the nocturnal animal’s night vision.” There’s more to know, though, about these medium-sized mammals beyond face value—or just one feature of their faces.

A raccoon (Procyon lotor) peeks out of its tree den. Photo © John D. Kavc.
A raccoon (Procyon lotor) peeks out of its tree den. Photo © John D. Kavc.
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The joy of a feather found

Guest post by Nan Buckardt

I found a feather today and it stopped me in my tracks. There it was, tucked into the dewy grass—a single, beautiful feather just lying next to my sidewalk.

It’s not uncommon to come across feathers in my work at the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois. My naturalist brain immediately started to assess the discovery, analyzing it on a few key points.

The feather the author found just outside her front door. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
The feather the author found just outside her front door. 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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Time to make a moment

This gallery contains 18 photos.

Post by Brett Peto

Time can never be stopped, sped up, or slowed down. It started long before now and will continue far after. But with photographs, we can pause time, pin it in front of us, and study reality. It’s like kneeling at a riverbank and scooping a handful of water. The current stops in your palm, but just a foot beneath it carries on. Photos take time to make a moment.

With nearly 31,000 acres to explore, many moments are possible in the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois. An eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) landing with one foot, wings at sharp angles. A cluster of milkweed seeds hanging on to their pod by threads of floss. Sunflowers and sunbeams, two shades of honey mixing in the air. I’ve collected these special moments and more in a gallery below.

All photos featured were taken by the truly skillful photographers in our group Flickr pool. Each of these images, these presses of the pause button and scoops out of the river, were captured in 2018. Our sincere thanks go to every photographer who shares their time and talent documenting the flora, fauna, and natural areas of Lake County.

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Goldenrod galls

September in Lake County, Illinois is a month of big sky punctuated by tips of tall prairie plants in an array of autumnal colors. Before the trees really get going with their own colorful show, sparks of bright yellow from the many varieties of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) dominate the open spaces. Most of the summer these plants go unnoticed, adding merely another green hue to the lush surroundings, but September is their time to shine. What may also go unnoticed, even now as goldenrod demands our attention, is the hidden world inside each plant in the form of a gall.

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