1. Published

    Walking through the woods, you will notice that not all forests are the same. The plant composition, elevation in the land, geography, and soil composition all make for a variety of forest types. One of my favorites and most unique is the flatwood forest.

    A flatwoods is a level area with a hardpan underneath that keeps water from draining. This unique feature creates distinctive biodiversity opportunities and a forest composition for the most adaptive species.

  2. Published

    When I put my blog choice in for ladybugs versus lady beetles, I thought it was going to be an easy write-up. A piece about our native ladybugs and the seemingly invasive biological control animal I like to call the Terminator Lady Beetles.

    It would be a good guy versus bad guy story. Ladybugs, the good guys, who eat aphids from our flower and vegetable plants versus the bad guy predators who bite and move into our homes in the fall with no intention of paying rent.

  3. Published

    Spring is a mere 90 days away, and every year sightings of the first American Robin (Turdus migratorius) are hailed as the spring weather harbinger, but did you know we have a winter weather welcoming bird, too? It is that funky, fidgety, little member of the sparrow family — the dark eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).

  4. Published

    When I sat down to write this blog, I didn’t have a clear topic in my mind. So, I did what I usually do when I want to think and looked out my office window. Through this window, I can see just the tops of three oak trees which today were covered with crows. I counted more than two dozen with more constantly coming and going. And I knew fall was well and truly upon us.

  5. Published

    Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a showy plant that makes you stop and ask questions about it whenever it is stumbled upon - whether in your garden or along a hike. From its impressive height, sometimes up to 10 feet tall, to its distinctive reddish-purple stems - you stop and ask yourself: “what is it?” To me, this is the least interesting question you could ask. By observing this showy species, you can ask more interesting questions that tell you so much more about this plant’s ecology and history.

  6. Published

    The email came in sometime in May of this year. A colleague in Northern Illinois contacted me with a wild bird concern. A woman had found a dead bird in her yard for a second day in a row and was wondering if something was wrong that she had not heard about. 

    I gave the standard answer: 

  7. Published

    You feel it, don't you? Sunrise coming later, sunset earlier, and the roller rink of acorns underfoot. The change of seasons is well underway. And just as you are pulling out your dark season outdoor gear-those flannel shirts, wool socks, and warm gloves--the trees and shrubs are pulling out their fall wardrobe as well. The vivid reds, rich purples, buttery yellows, and that almost indescribable fiery rosy orange of Illinois' deciduous trees and shrubs are a visual feast.  

  8. Published

    Have you placed mesh material in your garden or around the outside of your home? Mesh, whether made from metal or plastic, or natural fibers, can be incredibly useful because it allows air, water, and plants to penetrate while keeping out larger objects. Some folks use it to keep birds off their berry bushes, others may place a mesh fence around their garden to keep deer out. While driving in a construction zone, you may also observe that blankets of mesh are used for erosion control on steep slopes on roadsides.

  9. Published

    As the summer progressed and the news filled with increased extreme weather events came across our screens, it became even harder to ignore the impacts of climate change on our lives. Especially when those impacts hit hard at home from increased vector diseases to the flooding in Northeastern Illinois.

  10. Published

    It was early on a hot September morning that I turned into Goose Lake Prairie. I had arrived too early for a program and thought I would spend a few minutes in the picnic area listening to those sweet early morning sounds of nature. And then there it was — an unfamiliar, subtle sound — a strange flutter, repeating...almost like a heartbeat. 

  11. Published

    There's a social media meme that says, “There is no better karate instructor than a spider web in the face.”

    I don’t know about the karate skills, but nothing makes you swat, rub and dance quite like walking into a web. Just imagine how an insect feels. Growing up in the woods, I have walked through my fair share of webs and while I too, practice my karate skills when I do, I have grown to appreciate these fascinating creatures and their webs.

  12. Published

    We call anything an animal leaves behind a sign. It could be a broken branch, a footprint, a scrape on the ground or tree, a nest or other home, their own fur, or even animal parts from their last meal.

    Of all the signs scattered for our inquiry as to what or why, the scat is my favorite and a most appreciated indicator as to who has been there. You need not have anything but a firm stick from the ground to investigate it fully.

  13. Published

    As we transition to fall here in Illinois, you may see smoke in the air or see the grasslands or forests burning.  These could be signs of a prescribed fire being conducted intentionally to manage our natural ecosystems.  The use of prescribed fire is increasing throughout Illinois.  To understand why fire is being used as a management tool, let’s take a look at the role fire has played in the development of ecosystems in Illinois

  14. Published
    A view from our campground looking up.

    My family and I recently t

  15. Published

    Vacuous dark eyes, scaly rat tail, 50 pointy teeth, and oh, that hiss! What is not to love about the opossum?

  16. Published

    Many nature lovers take photos while they are out in the field. But not all of them come away with quality photographs. Why do some individuals always seem to get the best shots? And what are they doing that you might not be? Read more to discover five ways to bring new life to your photographs.

  17. Published

    Of all the natural shapes, spirals are considered one of the most common in nature. We find spirals from giant galaxies down to the smallest gastropod shells. 

    Spirals shape who we are in our DNA double helix and appear in weather patterns as in hurricanes. One spiral giving us incredible potential and the other able to take it all away.

  18. Published

    Spring has sprung! What nature-lover doesn't like to engage in a friendly little competition with their friends and family each year over who sees the first robin?

    Bird lovers often keep detailed notes year to year comparing when the first robin was seen and hypothesize why they were early or late. I remember one cold, snowy New Year's Day in the concrete and limestone of downtown Joliet, I was shocked to see crabapple trees loaded with robins munching away on the frosty fruits. 

    Naturalists have a mental checklist running year-round:

  19. Published

    I am sure that most of us are familiar with the concept of invasive species - non-native organisms that are introduced into a new environment and take advantage of the lack of natural checks and balances to run amok and impact our native species and natural ecosystems.  My first introduction to invasive species was when I was a kid, growing up in the southern United States, seeing the invasive vine kudzu swallow entire trees.

  20. Published

    Feral swine are also known as feral hogs, wild boar, wild pigs, or razorbacks and are defined by IL Admin Code Part 700 as populations or individual swine that are unrestrained and have adapted to living in a wild or free-forming environment.