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Behind FPD 365

waterfowl taking off from Salt Creek in winter
"Morning flight from Salt Creek." Photo by Kris DaPra

One woman’s bid to take a forest preserve photo every day in 2014.

Readers of the Forest Way may have noticed the colorful images of nature gracing the sidebar of this e-newsletter since last January. Ranging from bird close-ups to landscapes, they are the fruits of FPD 365, one woman’s bid to take a photo of the Forest Preserves of Cook County every day in 2014.

When she began posting her photos to Twitter and Flickr, the photographer’s identity was a mystery to Forest Preserves communications staff. We saw her posts and asked if she’d be willing to share her images. Before long, we discovered that the photographer was actually part of the Forest Preserves family, the wife of John McCabe, our director of Resource Management.

Kris DaPra lives with John and their two sons in Elk Grove Village, not far from Busse Woods (also known as Ned Brown Preserve). Kris, who has a background in ecology, worked for the Forest Preserves herself during the 1990s and continues to contribute as a habitat restoration volunteer with The Friends of Busse Woods and as a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener.

As Kris neared the final days of the project, we asked her about all the places FPD 365 took her in 2014.

Can you describe FPD 365? Why did you undertake it?

The project was a spur-of-the-moment decision last December. It was the start of a long winter, and I just needed something to do. I think I was outside taking pictures and I thought, “I’m going to challenge myself.” My goal was to take one picture a day in the Cook County Forest Preserves and see where that took me.

I’m just an amateur photographer. I wanted to learn more about my camera and photography in general. There’s no better way of doing that than getting out and doing it.

salt creek in winter
“Morning Reflection.” Photo by Kris DaPra.

What did you learn going out every day? Did you see anything you wouldn’t have seen otherwise?

I’ve been involved with the Forest Preserves for 20 years, but after this project I saw things differently.

I really improved my bird ID. I love taking birds’ pictures, yet identifying them has been very frustrating for me. My kids are involved with Illinois Young Birders, so I’d started learning identification from there.

I really loved doing the dragonflies. It was fun to see all those species. I also volunteer with the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network. I took pictures while doing my routes at Busse, and it really improved my ID skills.

Coreopsis in bloom
“Coreopsis in bloom.” Photo by Kris DaPra.

Did you face any issues or challenges? It must have put some pressure on you to take a decent photo every day.

Yeah, it did—and the fact that there were a few people looking at it. When I started, this was just for myself. I had the Twitter account just to make myself accountable for it.

There were some technical issues. One day, something happened with my camera and everything came back pink. I had to send the camera into the manufacturer and shot with a point-and-shoot or phone for 10 or 11 days.

Mosquitoes were a challenge, the weather was a challenge. I snowshoed from January to March, just about every day. It was cold, there were many feet of snow, but I had the best time, I really did. I rarely saw anyone, it was just quiet. I loved it. I never would have done that had I not undertaken this project. I grew up backpacking, and I grew up winter camping, so I had a lot of gear and knew how to keep warm. But it was still pretty darn cold.

It was also a challenge to successfully photograph what I was seeing. I’d think “Boy, this is beautiful,” but how do you capture it? Sometimes I couldn’t. I would go home some days thinking I’d taken ten gorgeous pictures and I’d look at them and say “these are horrible.”

Tulip tree leaf
“Tulip tree.” Photo by Kris DaPra.

Did you manage to take a photo every day?

As of December 19, so far, so good. I was out of town for eight days, but I had my husband cover for me. So I did miss eight, but the project still went on.

Striped hairstreak butterfly on butterfly weed. Photo by Kris DaPra.
“So many butterflies, so little time. Today’s beauty is this lovely Hairstreak.” Photo by Kris DaPra.

Do you have a favorite photo or photos? Why?

I do. Day 34 was taken at a point where Salt Creek runs through Busse. As forest preserve vistas go, it was a kind of ugly area, but if you look at that picture, it was magical. Everything had been iced over, the sky was bright blue. There was this mist over Salt Creek. Never in a million years would I have thought that place would look like that. I stood in awe in the cold for about 20 minutes, forgetting to take a picture.

Day 176, the banded hairstreak. I was really excited to get that butterfly.

The hummingbird on Day 254. It’s not a great picture, but it cracks me up and I love it. Hummingbirds go into a torpor to survive cold weather, and it was sitting there looking so grumpy and miserable.

Day 338 was taken at the Poplar Creek restoration site just after a prescribed burn. I love that picture. It’s not perfect—the clouds, etcetera—but I just loved how you can see the skeleton of the prairie. It looked so remarkable. I go out to that site a lot because it’s awesome.

They all had something that warmed my heart. I can still go back and look at them and they just make me happy.

sandhill cranes standing in the grass at Deer Grove
“Keeping an eye on Junior. Sandhill Cranes at Deer Grove.” Photo by Kris DaPra.

Do you have a favorite forest preserve?

When I started working for the Forest Preserves, I worked in the Palos area. That whole area with its moraine community is so interesting. The woodlands are awesome; the glacial remains; Sagawau, the only canyon—the whole Palos area is fabulous and unique.

I didn’t get to as many different preserves as I would have liked for this project. Northwest Cook County  was very well represented. But I hate driving because of the gas and pollution. I grew up in a crazy green household even before it was trendy.

Blue aster
“Blue aster on a gray day.” Photo by Kris DaPra.

How did you get into photography?

That’s easy: my dad. I can’t remember my father ever being without a camera.

My 13-year-old wanted an SLR for his birthday. We did pictures together over summer break. He took 10,000 frog pictures—that was his thing. I have no doubt that he’s going to be better than me.

What’s next?

At this point—I’ll be honest with you—I am really looking forward to being done. It’s hard to be creative 365 days in a row. I think in the future I would probably do a project like this again, but next year I need a break!

What would you say to people about the forest preserves after doing this work?

I don’t think people use them like they should. This is an amazing resource that incredible people thought of 100 years ago. There’s no place like this in the country—we’re just so fortunate to have it. Who has a bald eagle in Chicago, in their backyard? We do!