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.

Favorite photos from 2014

Post by Allison Frederick

The end of another year is drawing near. To celebrate the biological diversity protected within the Lake County Forest Preserves in northeastern Illinois, I’ve put together a collection of some favorite images from 2014. We have such an amazing support system of photographers who donate their time and images to communicate our cause. Their passion for wildlife and the outdoor spaces our organization preserves is evident in each image they share. I hope you enjoy them half as much as I enjoyed choosing this set! Each photograph was taken right here in Lake County, Illinois.

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The slideshow will run on its own, but you can speed it up by clicking on the arrows. To see more amazing images from the forest preserves, or to share photos of your own adventures, join our group Flickr pool.

Thanks for following our blog. Knowing there are others who enjoy the beauty and complexity of our native landscapes is very satisfying. Have a great holiday season!

Glimpses from the car window, bootprints on the trail

Like most of you reading this, my life is busy. Even though I work outdoors in the forest preserves, not all of my nature experiences occur there. Many days I have to take the glimpses of nature where I can get them. On my drive home from work last week, glancing at the “not-so-glamorous” retention pond next to the tollway, I spotted my first hooded merganser of the year. I knew the gang was back, although some of them not for long. This “gang” I’m referring to is the group of migratory waterfowl that show up here in the early spring during migration en route to their final destinations further north. With names like horned grebe, American wigeon, northern shoveler, and gadwall (just a few of the species seen in the past few days at Independence Grove Forest Preserve, here is the complete list), who wouldn’t want to meet this cast of characters?

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to take a peek at some fascinating birds close to home. Continue reading