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Naturalist News 2021

crows roosting in tree tops at dusk with moon rising in background

Crows come home to roost

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...
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grackle bird perching on bird feed cage

Wild songbird illness still undiagnosed

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:  If an...
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brilliant red fall color of Eastern Wahoo shrub

Nature's Technicolor Dreamcoat: The science of fall color

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. The vivid...
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Many Monarchs roosting in an oak tree

The hunt for orange September, searching for monarch roosts

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...
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Yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia by James Braselton,

Fall is spider season as orb-weavers spin bigger webs

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...
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animal scat on a gravel surface

Scat Chat: What animal droppings can tell us

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...
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Prescribed fire sign with smoke in the air

Prescribed fire as a management tool

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...
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adult gypsy moth on hand

A personal run-in with the invasive gypsy moth

My family and I recently traveled out of state to drop my oldest daughter off at a summer college program. We were taking this opportunity to do some camping and exploring of the public lands in the upper Midwest. As we traveled down a forest-lined highway en route to our planned national forest...
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Opossum walking on plants and rocks

Ode to the Opossum

Vacuous dark eyes, scaly rat tail, 50 pointy teeth, and oh, that hiss! What is not to love about the opossum? North America’s only native marsupial gets little respect and often scares homeowners who stumble upon this nocturnal visitor snacking below the birdfeeder, rummaging through unsealed...
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The spiral in a pincone.

Spirals in Nature

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...
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American Robin male bird

The robins have returned, but did they ever leave?

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...
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Cottontail rabbit babies in nest.

Wildlife Babies

Spring is the season of new beginnings. Wildlife baby season in Illinois starts as early as February when great horned owls lay their eggs and frogs begin to call. Coyote pups are born in March and soon a flurry of animals continue courting, mating, and preparing for what will be the next...
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