Blog

Did You Know? Woodcocks Dance in Cook County Preserves

Just after dusk in late March and early April, in prairie openings along the edge of the woods, there’s a fat, long-billed bird that’s in the mood for love.

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Meet Our Skunk

Skunks are wild animals and an important part of our local ecosystem. They're best appreciated from a distance, but there is one good place to see this species up close: River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook. Watch our video, then come meet one of the forest preserves’ resident ambassadors in person!

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Youth Raise $775 for Thatcher Woods

With any luck, Thatcher Woods in River Forest will soon support more spring wildflowers, oak saplings, butterflies, salamanders and woodpeckers thanks to Maeve Mascarenhas of Forest Park and Carl Faust of River Forest, both 11. The philanthropist pair wrote a check for $775 to the Forest Preserve Foundation for the purchase of equipment to be used for habitat restoration work at Thatcher, one of their favorite preserves.   The pair raised the money over the holiday season, selling 129 five-packs of handmade cards featuring their own nature photography to family, friends and community members. That’s a lot of cards! The Forest Preserves thanks Maeve and Carl for supporting the critical restoration of local native ecosystems.

Great Egret Recorded at Cape Canaveral

In March, a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist captured a great egret at the Cape Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida within sight of the former space shuttle launch pad. The graceful egret, with a curved neck, long black legs and striking white plumage, bore a band that connected it directly back to the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

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Twelve Fascinating Facts from the Natural & Cultural Resources Master Plan

The Forest Preserves’ new Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan is the first formalized document to offer a strategy for prioritizing habitat restoration and archaeological preservation efforts across the preserves. The plan identifies which lands should be addressed first as we work toward the critical goal of restoring 30,000 acres over the next 25 years.

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A New Plan for Restoration

by Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle   Visionary leaders a century ago realized how important it was to set aside natural, open space to be enjoyed by everyone. Though our county has grown into one of the densest urban areas in the country, we are never more than a short trip away from nature. We are benefactors of what has grown into 69,000 acres of land containing some of the most diverse plant and wildlife species in North America.

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Sign up for the Nature Express This Spring

Take a free shuttle to some of our most popular events. As part of the ongoing effort to connect more people to their preserves, the Forest Preserves are once again offering the free “Nature Express” shuttle service to some of this spring’s most popular events in the preserves. Space on the bus is free, but must be reserved in advance.

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Crabtree’s Birdhouse Contest Now Open

Welcome to Crabtree Nature Center’s second annual birdhouse building contest!   The purpose of this contest is to highlight the need for nesting sites for birds and showcase your creativity. Houses will be built by registered participants, displayed throughout the summer and voted on by visitors.  Prizes will be awarded in September. View the contest flyer here.

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Centennial History Series: Who Put the “Forest” in the Forest Preserves?

by Natalie Bump Vena   At the turn of the twentieth century, civic and political leaders dreamed of establishing a system of open land to serve as a natural retreat for Chicagoans. To begin realizing that vision, Chicago’s City Council hired architect Dwight Perkins to compile a report for an enlarged park system in 1903. Perkins in turn asked Landscape Architect Jens Jensen to recommend land to include in what they called an “outer belt park.” They published their report in 1904.   During archival research, I became interested in how and why Jensen and Perkins’ inclusive vision for an outer belt park composed of wetlands, prairies and forests became, by 1916, a Forest Preserve District with the stated purpose of acquiring and protecting natural forests, seemingly exclusively. That evolution was even more puzzling to me because Perkins and Jensen both had strong ties to Chicago’s Prairie School of Architecture made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. While Jensen described all of Cook County’s landscapes in the 1904 report, he made clear the prairie’s ubiquity, writing: “The predominating character of the landscape around Chicago is that of prairie” (83).

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Child Educators Get a NatureStart

Forest Preserves staff benefit from Brookfield Zoo's child development expertise   This February, Forest Preserves of Cook County naturalists and recreation staff spent much of their day on the floor playing with sticks.   As part of the NatureStart early childhood educational training program, Forest Preserves staff were asked to inhabit the world of a child and remember what it was like to explore natural objects in a playful way. The training is a unique collaboration between the Forest Preserves, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo and two major Chicago-area early childhood education organizations, El Valor Children and Youth Service and Mary Crane Center. It brings staff from these groups together at three two-day sessions over 16 months, one at the zoo, one at an early childhood learning center and one in the forest preserves.

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A “Big Year” at Labagh Woods

Birders raise funds for bird-friendly native shrubs   With spring just around the corner, many nature lovers turn their thoughts to birding and spring migration. Some are already engaged in what’s known as a “Big Year,” a binge-like personal attempt to see as many birds as possible in one year.   Since this past January, the Chicago Ornithological Society has been hosting a collective “Team LaBagh Big Year” at LaBagh Woods, a birding hotspot on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Through the end of 2015, birders are seeking pledges to raise funds for planting native shrubs in the understory, where a recent habitat restoration effort is removing large swaths of invasive brush. The native shrubs are being purchased to provide food and cover for migratory birds such as tanagers, warblers and vireos.

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Did You Know? Those First Frogs You Hear are Chorus Frogs & Spring Peepers

As soon as the ponds and wetlands thaw— as early as mid-March—forest preserves across Cook County will be filled with a rejoicing noise. That’s when our first frogs thaw from their winter torpor and begin calling loudly to attract a mate.   The two types of frog you’re most likely to hear first in the spring are the western chorus frog, Pseudacris triseriata, and the spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer. They’re most vocal from mid-March through mid-April, though the chorus frog often calls later in the year as well.

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Try This: Phenology

Since the dawn of time, people have been keeping track of natural phenomena. They looked for signs of when to plant crops, when large food animals would migrate and when trees would bear fruit.   This was some of the earliest phenology, or the study of the timing of biological phenomena in nature (not to be confused with phrenology, the discredited 18th- and 19th-century practice of studying the shape of people’s heads).   Today, people practice phenology in both casual and serious ways. Those eager for the arrival of spring, may keep an eye out for the first robin or singing cardinal. Naturalists record the first blooms of spring wildflowers and the first migrating waterfowl to land on open water.

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Finding Nature in Early Childhood

by Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle   I have many fond memories of hiking through the woods and paddling on lakes with my family as a young child growing up in Minnesota. Research shows that positive experiences such as these are essential to creating a love of nature later in life, and a dedication to protecting and sharing it with others.   The Forest Preserves of Cook County provide a place for children and families to explore nature, where they can feel welcome and safe. We’ve long been a leader in environmental education through our innovative nature centers.

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New Skier Learns Lessons the Hard Way at Sagawau

  We sent one of our staff members out to the groomed trails of Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont to try cross-county skiing for the first time… it wasn’t pretty, but it was fun!

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Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County