Outdoor Report

Read the Outdoor Report for the latest fishing conditions, wildlife sightings and nature news.

Outdoor Report Dec. 19

Get out and enjoy the season in DuPage County’s forest preserves during these last weeks of 2014.

Take a tour though the holiday traditions of the past at Kline Creek Farm during “Christmas Memories” house tours on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays through Mondays now through Jan. 5 (except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, when the farm will be closed). Visitors will a take look back at typical holiday preparations of the 1890s and will see the house decked in festive greens, savor the aroma of seasonal treats, and see the table set for company. Tours are free and are suitable for all ages. Registration is not required. For information, call 630-876-5900.

Mark your calendars for one of the District’s end-of-the-year outdoor traditions, the night hike at Herrick Lake on Dec. 30 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Participants will explore the trails with a naturalist and look and listen for the wildlife that are active after dark. This annual event is a great way to get in touch with the natural world on the eve of New Year’s Eve. Participants must be ages 8 and up for this free program. Registration is not required. For information on the night hike, call 630-206-9581.

Take a look ahead for other programs such as archery clinics, art instruction classes, winter outdoor activities and more on the January events page.

If you want to escape the holiday hustle and bustle with a peaceful walk outdoors? DuPage forest preserves are open every day of the year. Get some ideas for new locations to explore and get trail maps on the hiking page. From half-mile strolls to 5-mile treks, there’s a route for you. If you’re passing by open water, take a pause and look in the surrounding trees. We’ve had several bald eagle sightings this fall and winter, including the most recent this week at Blackwell. If you're passing through a large prairie, watch for northern harriers. Staff members saw a male-female pair hunting the open areas at Springbrook Prairie this week.

This week’s snapshot is of a coyote at Waterfall Glen, watching visitors from a distance. Coyote sightings often increase this time of year because juvenile coyotes are dispersing from their family groups and seeking out individual territories. These inexperienced youngsters often have to travel far and wide to find an area not already claimed. Learn more about what young coyotes go through in “Teenage Wildlife” on page 6 of the Winter 2014 issue of The Conservationist. Thanks to Mike Daly for sharing his photo.

Image © Mike Daly

Outdoor Report Dec. 12

Beavers cut trees to use as building materials and also to eat the soft tissue below the bark.

Animal sightings reported this week include a coyote near the entrance to West DuPage Woods and a beaver active along the north shore of Silver Lake at Blackwell.

Birds reported include two northern cardinals near the off-leash dog area at Springbrook Prairie and an eastern bluebird at West DuPage Woods. These two species are some of the easiest to spot in the winter landscape since the males retain their bright plumage through winter. Discover other species to watch for in our online feature Top 10 Birds of Winter for birding tips for beginners and photos and descriptions of 10 species to see in the preserves.

Birders from the beginner level to those with many species on their life lists are invited to join upcoming Christmas Bird Count volunteer outings. During these annual events, volunteers travel a designated route and take a census of birds they encounter. The first Christmas Bird Count was held in 1900 as an alternative to a bird hunt, and today thousands of people in the United State and Canada help record bird populations through the count. There are two upcoming dates for events at several DuPage forest preserves. Click here to learn more and find registration information.

Weather forecasts say that we’re in for a few days of relatively mild winter weather, which should be good for bird-watchers and other trail users. Even on what seems like a warm day, be sure to protect yourself from hypothermia and frostbite by dressing in warm layers and staying dry. Wear an outer layer that blocks wind and moisture and an insulating inner layer that traps heat and wicks away perspiration. Wool, silk and synthetic fleece retain body heat better than cotton and are good choices for winter clothing. Waterproof boots, thick socks, a hat, and gloves or mittens help to keep extremities warm. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech and loss of motor skills. Signs of frostbite, which most frequently harms extremities like fingers, toes, ears and noses, include numbness, a white or grayish-yellow skin color, or an unusual or waxy feeling to the skin. Seek medical attention to treat either of these conditions.

This week’s snapshot is of a beaver. This time of year visitors may see evidence of their activity in the form of chewed trees and lodge and den building. Over the years they’ve been known to spend winters at Hidden Lake on the east shore of Round Meadow Lake, at Danada in the eastern side of Rice Lake, at Blackwell at Silver Lake and along the creek at Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Beavers are not hibernators and must have food for winter, which they gather into caches near their lodges. When snow covers the pile it can provide insulation and help maintain open water so the beavers can access the area.

Beavers have thick fur that keeps them insulated when in water.

Outdoor Report Dec. 5

Lichens may grow on tree trunks, rocks and even artificial surfaces.

With the arrival of December, it’s time to think about holiday events and gatherings. Two of the District’s most popular are taking place this weekend.

On Saturday, head to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for the “Talons and Claus” open house between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Visitors will get a chance to see Santa and purchase photos for $10, meet some of the center’s resident wildlife, make crafts and more. Admission is free and activities are ongoing.
On Saturday and Sunday, visit Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago for “Christmas on the Farm” between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Participants will join in caroling, sip hot cider, and can take their picture in an old-fashioned sleigh. The event is free and activities are ongoing.
For more information on these and other activities, visit the holiday event guide.

Wildlife sightings tend to slow down a bit this time of year. Many mammals become less active and may retreat to shelter from the elements. White-tailed deer have mostly gone through their breeding time, known as rut, and will not be moving around as much. They are easy to see this time of year, though, in the open forests. Blackwell, McDowell Grove and West DuPage Woods have all had recent sightings. Deer do stay active all winter and must continue to find food and water, though during times of intense cold and snow they may bed down in a sheltered area while the worst of conditions pass.

When watching for wildlife in the preserves, winter is a good time for bird-watching. In woodland areas we’ve had recent sightings of familiar winter sights such as northern cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, cedar waxwings and pine siskins. There have been birds of prey noted, too. Red-tailed hawks are our area’s most common hawk, and this time of year they can easily be seen on the tops of trees and even utility and light poles perching and watching for their next meal. Great horned owls are more often heard than seen, and this time of year they’re calling for mates and to establish territory. Listen for their hoots around dusk. Other raptor reports include rough-legged hawks and northern harriers at Springbrook Prairie.

This week’s snapshot is of the velvet apron moss, Anomodon rostratus. Mosses and lichens are often easier to spot in winter when other foliage has died back, making winter a good time for our plant ecologist to search for them. A lichen is not a single organism but rather a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium. They can grow on tree trunks, rocks and even artificial structures and absorb water from their surroundings. Mosses typically grow in clumps or mats. They do not have roots and must absorb water and nutrients through rootlike appendages. Both mosses and lichens can help judge environmental conditions because they are sensitive to the presence of pollution. Approximately 200 species of lichens and 225 species of mosses have been identified in the forest preserves.

Mosses tend to prefer damp environments.

Outdoor Report Nov. 28

Cooper's hawk

It’s been pretty quiet for animal sightings this week, but staff in the field report that Cooper’s hawks have been active. These agile raptors are common in backyards, too. A naturalist at Mayslake also noted a flock of sandhill cranes high in the sky over the preserve.

Many District lakes have some ice cover, but it’s generally very thin after the rain and fluctuating temperatures of the week. Read the Nov. 21 Outdoor Report below for some tips on ice safety.

For this holiday edition of the Outdoor Report, read on for three ways to get your daily dose of nature during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Head to Kline Creek Farm, the District’s 1890s living-history farm in West Chicago, for “Holiday Sweets” demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. to see colorful hard candy made from scratch. The blacksmith will also be at work on Saturday between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Visitors are also invited to tour the historic farmhouse and visit the animals throughout the farmstead. For information, call Kline Creek Farm at 630-876-5900.

Get some outdoor inspiration at Mayslake Peabody Estate by viewing an exhibit of works by members of the Mayslake Nature Study and Photography club. Admission is free and the exhibit is available Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mayslake will also offer its regular tours of the historic mansion on Saturday at 9:30, 10, 11 and 11:30 a.m. for $5 per person. For information, call Mayslake at 630-206-9566.

And finally, keep your eyes open for wild turkeys. The photograph below is a group of female wild turkeys making their way through West Chicago Prairie. They are also known to visit Churchill Woods, Herrick Lake, Springbrook Prairie and St. James Farm. Wild turkeys eat acorns, nuts, seeds, berries, grubs and insects. They walk more often than they fly, and can run quite swiftly. They may roost in trees for protection from predators. Groups of turkeys usually consist of females or of a male and his harem. Males compete for females with displays of their fanned tails and “gobble gobble” calls. In DuPage County, many of today’s wild turkeys may be descendants of those raised on area farms. Read more about wild turkeys here. Find maps for these locations and others on the hiking page.

Wild turkeys
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