Outdoor Report

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

Outdoor Report July 25

Purple prairie clover

Rains we’ve had this season have contributed to a wealth of flowers in bloom now in our prairie habitats. Newly blooming are Culver’s root, which has tiny white blooms on stems that resemble a candelabra, and purple prairie clover, which has bright purple flowers that resemble large clover flowers on a bushy plants up to 3 feet tall. Also look for black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, false sunflower, rattlesnake master, wild bergamot, purple coneflower, white wild indigo and butterfly weed.

Naturalists report that monarch butterflies are emerging from their chrysalises. Tiger swallowtails and viceroys are also brightly colored species active in summer. Now is the perfect time to look for these insects feeding on prairie plants. Good places for prairie habitats are Springbrook Prairie, West Chicago Prairie, Danada, Blackwell, Greene Valley and Waterfall Glen. The butterfly garden at Willowbrook Wildlife Center has many native prairie plants that attract pollinators, too, and staff members report that it is particularly beautiful now. Sunny days with minimal wind offer ideal conditions for butterfly watching.

Staff members at Willowbrook also note that animal breeding season is still underway. Red-eyed vireos and American robins have recently had fledglings leaving their nests. One pair of northern cardinals even built a nest inside an enclosure housing a resident eagle. Water-loving birds are easy to see in summer, so watch for great blue herons, green herons and egrets near marshes and ponds. If you head to a prairie for butterflies and flowers, watch for red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows, too.

Anglers have had a tough time with rain and changing weather conditions, but there have been some successes. At Mallard Lake, an angler caught a 22-inch northern pike on a green spinner bait. At Silver Lake at Blackwell, largemouth bass at around 12 inches have been biting on night crawlers while bluegill at around 6 inches have gone for wax worms. 

This week’s snapshot is a double crested cormorant. These birds dive and swim through the water to feed on fish. Their feathers are less water resistant than many other bird species that spend time in the water, and so they can often be seen spreading out their wings to dry in the sunshine. Double-crested cormorants are common and widely distributed. They can be found near lakes, rivers and along ocean coastlines throughout North America. A ranger reported a sighting at Blackwell near McKee Marsh this week, and they are known to gather at East Branch.

Image © Ana Sprague
Double-crested cormorants often perch on dead trees to dry their feathers in the sun.

Outdoor Report July 18

Inconsistent weather patterns continue to confuse anglers. Fishing is good for a while, and then a cold front moves through and the action slows. Look for things to improve, though, as the weather stabilizes.

Largemouth bass have been hitting on top-water baits early and late in the day at many lakes and ponds, most notably at Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove Forest Preserve and Rush Lake at East Branch Forest Preserve. At Grove Lake, in several areas the weeds are not at the surface, so conventional top-water baits are working well. At many lakes, bluegill have not been aggressive but have been caught on small artificial baits, although small live-bait offerings have worked the best.

Black-crowned night herons have been doing some fishing of their own along Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve near and downstream of the dam. And at Mayslake Forest Preserve, Caspian terns have been spotted over Trinity Lake in search of small sunfish and bluegills.

At wetlands and ponds countywide, dragonflies and damselflies have also been active. Willowbrook, Meacham Grove and Waterfall Glen forest preserves have particularly great viewing opportunities for ebony jewel wing damselflies, widow skimmers, 12-spotted skimmers, red-mantled saddlebags and eastern amberwings.

This week’s snapshot is of a fishing Caspian tern. This large, stocky cousin of the gull has a stout orange bill, grayish feathers, a white belly and a moderately forked tail. During the breeding season, adults have black caps. With an average length of 21 inches and a wingspan of 51, it’s the largest species of tern in the world. Caspian terns do not nest in DuPage, but they’re often spotted over lakes looking for prey in spring, early summer and fall. 

Image © P.W. Hauck 2013
Caspian tern

Outdoor Report July 11

A mourning cloak butterfly.

There are just three more Twilight Tuesdays — July 15, 22 and 29 — at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center, when hours are extended to 9 p.m. Visitors are invited to drop in to explore the center’s interactive exhibits and to walks the forest preserve’s trails to look and listen for the animals that begin to stir when the sun starts to set. Twilight Tuesdays are free. All ages are welcome, though those under 16 must be with an adult. For information, call Fullersburg Woods at 630-850-8110.

New prairie plants have come into bloom. Butterfly weed, wild bergamot, false sunflower, yellow coneflower and black-eyed Susan are showing their colors along with pale purple coneflower, common spiderwort and white wild indigo. The large leaves of prairie dock and compass plant are easy to see now; watch for their yellow flowers later in the season. Look for the bold orange of Turk’s cap lilies, also called Michigan lilies, in some prairies and savannas. In woodlands, tall bellflower is beginning to bloom.

Butterflies are visiting their favorite plants. Both giant and black swallowtails have been seen on butterfly weed at Fullersburg Woods. A naturalist also spotted an Abbot’s sphinx moth caterpillar on the move there. Mourning cloaks are still abundant in their preferred woodland habitat. A District ecologist reports that populations of four wetland species of skipper butterflies have been active this week. The dion, black dash, broad-winged and mulberry wing were all seen at one particularly high-quality area. The dion and the black dash are the more common species, and visitors may see them from a trail.

Reports from the natural resources team also note that the rare Hine’s emerald dragonfly is active. This species has specialized habitat requirements, and the shrinking areas of suitable space have led to its placement on the federal endangered species list. The District is working with a research team that is studying the insect to help increase its population.

This week’s snapshot is a wild bergamot flower being visited by a bee. The plant attracts many other pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbird moths.

Wild bergamot flowers photographed at Danada Forest Preserve.

Outdoor Report July 3

Special containers at busy fishing spots keep line contained so that it doesn't harm wildlife.

Happy Fourth of July to all! The holiday weekend is a popular time for gatherings in the preserves, and picnickers are welcome to lay a blanket on the ground or sit at one of the many picnic tables throughout the preserves. If you bring a grill, remember that to prevent fires you must place coals in the special hot-coal containers at popular areas. And, dispose of all trash and recyclables to keep litter from harming wildlife and the environment.

Anglers, look for special containers to dispose of used monofilament line at many of the more popular lakes. Monofilament line that becomes loose in the environment can be deadly for animals. These receptacles keep line from being carried by the wind and keep sharp hooks contained until staff members send the materials for recycling. To safely dispose of line in a standard trash can, cut it into pieces 6 inches or shorter so that it won’t tangle around wildlife.

One angler made a notable catch at Mallard Lake this week, a longnose gar estimated at nearly 50 inches in length. Anglers have been reeling in the bass at Silver Lake at Blackwell using rubber worms and crank baits. Sand Pond at Blackwell has been a good place for panfish these days, with live baits such as wax worms and night crawlers showing success.

Sightings continue of butterflies and dragonflies. Eastern commas have been seen at several areas, and our insect ecologist notes that mourning cloaks have been easy to see. Look for this species in near woodlands and even some wetlands feeding on willows. Silvery checkerspots are on their first brood, and the rare Baltimore checkerspot has been recorded again this year. A few monarchs have been seen flying and laying eggs, a good indication that its population is trending upwards in the wake of two years of difficult conditions for the species.

Dragonflies on the move include black saddlebag, eastern amberwing, widow skimmer, eastern pondhawk and common green darner. Good places to watch for dragonflies are near ponds and streams at Herrick Lake, St. James Farm, Willowbrook and Waterfall Glen.  

This week’s snapshot is a red stag beetle, a common woodland resident. The species’ common name comes from the resemblance of its antennae to the look of antlers. Though their large jaws may present a fearsome look, the beetles are not bothersome to humans. Adults eat tree sap, and pupae feed on rotting wood. The beetle pictured is a female. Males have even larger jaws that they use to fight other males during breeding season. The beetles can fly and are attracted to light like moths are, so watch for the species around porch and security lights.

Stag beetles may look ferocious, but they aren't agressive to people.
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