Eastern Grey Squirrel with snow on nose

As part of nature ourselves, humans feel a connection with the natural world-a feeling I don’t have to explain to any of you. This connection has caused us to seek out nature or integrate more natural elements into our landscapes. Prior to the Landscape Parks Movement in the 1870’s, our urban landscapes held little to no trees, and parks were few and far between.

When I chose the shrublands habitat to cover for this blog post, I thought a great way to start would be to interview my Master Naturalists who are extremely active and well-versed in local restoration work. They know the natural areas of Will County like the back of their hand. So, I was surprised when they said, what shrubland?

Master Naturalist, Rhonda Brady on school bus full of kids

A big white school bus decorated with colorful flowers and butterflies pulls into the parking lot. Ms. Mariposa has arrived! The doors of the mobile classroom opens and out comes the “Butterfly Lady”. Smiling and energetic, Rhonda Brady alights from the driver’s seat and nimbly comes down the stairs, drawing children and adults alike.

Beaver chew

The Beaver Moon was at its fullest this morning at 3:30 a.m. CDT. My unreasonable alarm, set for 3:15 a.m. to view it, was for nothing more than a drink of water. Here in northern Illinois it was overcast and only my faith in the moon’s existence was clear. However, as I peered half asleep at the glowing cloudy sky, I realized that this same shrouded moon had been viewed by my ancestors, my friends, and everyone who has ever been awake in the darkness.

Crawfish frog adult

Imagine you are five years old and playing in the tall grass, feeling the spongy wet soil beneath your feet, when suddenly the quiet is interrupted by shockingly loud, deep guttural calls all around you.   You are startled beyond your wits and leap out of the grass in a rush back to the house thinking some huge predator must be close at your heels.  That was my daughter’s introduction to crawfish frogs

Sandhill Crane in a wetland

Growing up in central Illinois, I was familiar with swaths of Canada Geese migrating across the sky and their characteristic HONK!, but after moving to Northeastern Illinois, I have discovered the joy of a slightly more charismatic bird that captures the hearts of naturalists and nature enthusiasts alike with their Gurrooo-gurroo-gurroo calls and large migrating flocks.

Tree Identification

September blue is not a paint color option at the home improvement store, though it should be.

September blue is the distinct color of the sky in that imperceptible month between the last heated days of August and the ever so popular start of fall in October. In land management and conservation work, it is the breath between constant labor-intensive work, with all volunteers on deck, and winter when work is at the mercy of the weather. 

Upper branches of white oak tree

The mighty white oak tree, Quercus alba, has long been the subject of folklore and legend. Sometimes called the “King of Trees,” the oak is often associated with titans in the pagan pantheon, Zeus and Thor to name just two.

In Illinois, we recognize its importance and have named the white oak our state tree. We celebrate the month of October as Oak Awareness Month or Oaktober fest.

Hill Prairie overlooking river

Illinois is the prairie state, but don’t think all prairies are the same.  While deep-soil, tallgrass prairie dominated much of the landscape, other prairie types found niches too.

Kids walking on log over shallow creek in local park

Will County Master Naturalist Amy Gibson points to deep, heart-shaped tracks in the soft mud of a leaf-covered ravine in Pilcher Park. She asks the fourth graders clustered around her, "what do we have here?"

Two boys zig-zag through the group and eagerly shout, "don’t you remember, you taught us. These are deer tracks, and it looks like they are heading this way. Come on!" 

Header image of Local OPAL creator Julie Robinson in a Kayak with the Local OPAL Logo

Illinois Master Naturalists want to experience as much of the natural world as possible and share that passion with their fellow citizens. Peoria County Master Naturalist, Julie Robinson, took this mission to heart when observing students spending less and less time outdoors and more time in front of a screen. Throughout her life as a teacher and a community member, people would always come to her to for a place to go for nature and outdoor exploration, and after becoming a Master Naturalist is 2018, she became inspired to make this wealth of information public.

Our first Master Naturalist profile is a man with a heart for conservation, Joe Richardson

Joe doesn’t claim to be anything more than a retired man who loves nature. That stated, on average he volunteers 289.5 hours annually with our conservation partners at The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands. Joe read an article about the return of the bison to Nachusa in 2015.

Did you ever splash in mud puddles as a kid? How about climb a tree or catch lightning bugs in a jar? If so, you just might be a naturalist.

Illinois Master Naturalists are individuals who continue to explore, wonder, and enjoy nature in all of her glory, warts and all. Truth be told, they are individuals who never stopped learning about the world around them and seeing the wonder that is everywhere. They volunteer to help others connect with the more-than human world and build strong, resilient communities based on high-quality scientific information.