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    Illinois has some of the most beautiful areas to hike across the state. State parks alone have over 270 trails that total more than 700 miles. Each area of the state offers many different landscapes to enjoy. You may encounter rugged bluffs with waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois, wooded ridges at Fox Ridge State Park in central Illinois, and huge bluffs of sandstone at Giant City State Park in southern Illinois. I’ve never been disappointed during the many hikes I’ve taken throughout the state.

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    From turkey hands made by schoolchildren to presidential pardons at the White House, November is turkey time. And while we may think we know a lot about these birds, here are a few things that might be new to you.

    Fast Turkey Facts

    Wild turkeys, (Meleagris gallopavo) are one of only two domesticated birds that are native to the Americas. The Muscovy Duck is the other. In fact, turkeys have been around for a long time. Turkey fossils found in the Southern U.S. and Mexico have been dated back to 5 million years ago.

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    When people get excited about supporting wildlife on their property, they are usually referring to charismatic wildlife. The ones that bring us joy or whimsy or that serve a function such as pollination. Or even the ones that encroach on our lives the least.

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    The Illinois Master Naturalist program recently welcomed Duane Friend as its new coordinator earlier this year. Duane Friend has been with Extension for more than 30 years and is excited to share some new updates to the program that will expand training opportunities, reach youth, and give volunteers continued education opportunities.

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    Anyone who comes into contact with birds should be aware that avian influenza cases are on the rise in Illinois and around the Midwest.

    What is avian flu?

    Avian influenza is a highly contagious virus that spreads naturally among wild birds, sometimes without causing illness. However, avian influenza can infect domestic poultry with devastating effects. Some so-called highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza may cause severe disease and high mortality in domestic birds like chickens and turkeys.

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    In the spring, a remarkable migratory bird returns to the waters of the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex which includes the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge. American white pelicans stop at the refuge to rest and refuel on the way to their summer breeding grounds in the north. While they’re here, they entertain birders and outdoor enthusiasts alike with their graceful flight, immense size, and impressive fishing skills.  

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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).

  10. 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.

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    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.

  12. 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: 

  13. 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 flannel shirts, wool socks, and warm gloves the trees and shrubs are also pulling out their fall wardrobe.

  14. 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.

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    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.

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    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. 

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    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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

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    A view from our campground looking up.

    My family and I recently t