Outdoor Report

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

Outdoor Report March 27

Great horned owl chicks are hatching.

Get the fishing poles ready, spring trout season nears. Young anglers have a special opportunity to experience the fun. During “Tout Fishing for Kids” on Saturday, March 28 from 8a.m. to noon, Grove Lake will be opened up just for kids 15 and younger to enjoy with their families. Adults may not fish on their own. The event is free and reservations are not required.

The season opens on Saturday, April 4 at 6 a.m. for anglers of all ages, who can join the fun at three lakes within DuPage County: Silver Lake at Blackwell, Pickerel Lake at Pratt’s Wayne Woods and Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove. Remember, these three lakes are closed now through opening day. Anglers ages 16 and older must have valid Illinois fishing licenses with inland trout stamps in their possession. The creel limit is five trout per day with no length restriction.

In other fishing notes, inconsistent weather has made early season largemouth bass difficult but not impossible to find. Late afternoons tend to be best after the sun has had a chance to warm the water up a bit, and anglers have had success when they move around but focus on areas with green weeds. Some northern pike have been caught at Songbird Slough, with live minnows suspended under a bobber being the most effective. At Round Meadow Lake at Hidden Lake, crappie have been caught using a soft plastic jig fished under a slip bobber.

Though this week has still felt like winter on occasion, spring migrant birds continue to increase in numbers. American robins have been quite active throughout the county. Red-winged blackbirds have been calling to establish their territories. Listen for them near wetland areas. Sandhill cranes have been heard overhead at Mallard Lake and West DuPage Woods.
 
Waterfowl sighted recently include a pied-billed grebe at West DuPage Woods near the shelter off Gary’s Mill Road. At Fullersburg Woods, blue-winged teals, common mergansers, hooded mergansers and wood ducks have been seen cruising in Salt Creek. Naturalists report that common goldeneyes are courting for mates, too.

This week’s snapshot is of an American woodcock. This bird carries out complicated courtship calls and flight displays each spring. At dawn, dusk and even during moonlit nights, males make a complex swirling flight accompanied by a chirping song. The females lay eggs in shallow nests on the ground, and are among the earliest nesters of the spring breeding season. Woodcocks use their long beaks to pull earthworms and other invertebrates from the soil. They’ve been seen at Winfield Mounds, Herrick Lake and Pratt’s Wayne Woods. The species is also known by many colorful common names, including timberdoodle, bogsucker, night partridge and brush snipe. Thanks to Brenda Peterson for sharing the photo.

Image © Brenda Peterson

Outdoor Report March 20

This male common merganser was cruising along Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods.
Image © Eric Schwister

Happy spring to all of our forest preserve visitors and supporters!

The spring prescription burn season started this week in DuPage forest preserves. Unlike a wildfire, a prescription burn is a deliberately set, controlled, natural-resource-management tool that our crews have used for over 25 years. These fires not only remove invasive, exotic plants but also break down organic materials, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. Prescription fires generally take place in spring and fall, when plants are dry enough to burn well. Burns aren’t scheduled in advance, because crews must take in to consideration safety factors such as wind conditions. See a burn in action in our Video Gallery.

Anglers, get ready for spring rainbow trout season, which opens on Saturday, April 4 at 6 a.m. Three locations will be stocked for the season: Silver Lake at Blackwell, Pickerel Lake at Pratt’s Wayne Woods and Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove. These three lakes are closed now through opening day.

Young anglers have a special opportunity to experience the fun. During “Tout Fishing for Kids” on Saturday, March 28 from 8a.m. to noon, Grove Lake will be opened up just for kids 15 and younger to enjoy with their families. Adults may not fish on their own. The event is free and reservations are not required.

In recent wildlife sightings, a visitor at Fullersburg Woods reported seeing a male common merganser and a female hooded merganser in Salt Creek. He also spotted a turtle sunning itself on a log. Thanks to Eric for the observations and the photo.

A ranger made several interesting observations while paddling down the West Branch of the DuPage River through Blackwell. He saw a mink along the bank and two different coyotes crossing the water.  One walked across through a shallow spot and the second had to swim a bit when it encountered deeper water.

Another creature had taken notice of one of the coyotes, too. The ranger repots that it was quite a sight to see a sandhill crane on the ground near the river squawking at the coyote to encourage it to move along. Sandhill cranes are generally seen in the skies in our area, though they do make occasional stops on solid ground. They often migrate in large groups and their calls can be heard from long distances.

Another large bird that was seen in the air this week is a great blue heron flying towards the rookery at Danada. This unruly collection of nests in trees can easily be seen from the preserve’s regional trail near the boundary with Herrick Lake. Great blue herons make large stick nests that may be lined with moss, reeds or other soft materials. Large colonies can contain hundreds of individuals. Visitor Mark Barthelt was able to capture the photo below from a distance without approaching the birds. This is especially critical during breeding season, when wildlife are particularly sensitive to disturbances. Visitors should always view wildlife from a distance so that the animals remain undisturbed in their natural habitat.

 

Image © Mark Barthelt
Great blue herons are easy to see from a distance in early spring before leaves grow on the trees.

Outdoor Report March 13

Skunk cabbage growing through the snow this week at West DuPage Woods.

 

This week’s big news is the warm weather and all of the spring changes it will bring.
 
We hear that anglers are catching bluegill and crappie using ice jigs with wax worms at Catfish and Horsetail ponds at Pratt’s Wayne Woods. Largemouth bass and northern pike have been reeled in occasionally at several lakes, with tip-ups being the most successful.

Hard-water fishing season is probably winding to a close shortly. Some of our field staff members report that ice is rapidly melting away from the shorelines, especially on smaller lakes, making it difficult to safely access. Ice activities are done at the visitors own risk. Some signs of unsafe ice include cracks, ridges or faults in the ice and areas of open water. If you do head out to a lake, it’s best to go with a buddy and inform someone of your plans.

Anglers should also take note that rainbow trout season opens on Saturday, April 4 at 6 a.m. Three locations will be stocked for the season: Silver Lake at Blackwell, Pickerel Lake at Pratt’s Wayne Woods and Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove. These three locations will be closed March 15 through opening day.

If you’re out on the trails, be aware that there are still some patches of snow and ice, especially in wooded areas that don’t get intense sunlight. And be prepared for possible muddy or uneven surfaces. Our crews generally repair trails in late spring and early summer after the rainy season has subsided.

We’ve been talking a lot recently about signs of spring to start watching for. This week we can report they’re starting to happen. An ecologist spotted a skunk cabbage growing through the snow at West DuPage Woods. And we’ve seen a skunk or two out and about. These mammals become active looking for mates once warm weather hits.

And lots of birds have become active, too. At Blackwell, rangers saw mergansers, mute swans and a bald eagle. Red-winged blackbirds have been heard calling at Danada, Mayslake and other locations. And sandhill cranes have been heard at several locations, including Mayslake and Danada. This time of year they are migrating northward. They often fly quite high up in the air in large v-shaped formations. When they want to gain altitude and run across an updraft of air, they may fly in loose circular patterns known as kettles. Look up when you hear a loud, rattling bugle “kar-r-r-o-o-o” and you may see a flock on the move.

This is one of the resident sandhill cranes at Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Their specially built enclosure is in the "back 40" nature area.  

Outdoor Report March 7

A sure sign of spring is American robins feeding on earthworms. 

March has arrived, which means it’s time for anglers to think about springtime fishing. Rainbow trout season opens on Saturday, April 4 at 6 a.m. Three locations will be stocked for the season: Silver Lake at Blackwell, Pickerel Lake at Pratt’s Wayne Woods and Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove. These three locations will be closed March 15 through opening day.

Young anglers have a special opportunity to experience the fun. During “Tout Fishing for Kids” on Saturday, March 28 from 8a.m. to noon, Grove Lake will be opened up just for kids 15 and younger. Adults may not fish on their own. The even it free and reservations are not required. 

Whether heading out for trout or searching for the best bass or bluegill, anglers should also remember that 2014 fishing licenses are expiring soon, and 2015 licenses are required beginning on April 1. Anyone fishing for trout must also have an inland trout stamp. The District is now offering fishing and other state licenses from its headquarters office on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call Visitor Services at 630-933-7248 for more information. 

Rangers report that they’ve seen a few coyotes moving through the preserves these days. Large groups of deer have also been seen, particularly near Blackwell and Greene Valley. A great horned owl was heard at St. James Farm, and an immature bald eagle made a few visits to Blackwell. On Friday around noon, it stopped by White Pine Pond for a bit. 

If weather predictions hold true, we’re in for some warmer days in the coming weeks, which means more opportunities to look for signs that spring is on its way. 

As flowing waters warm, many species of waterfowl will be visible on our area’s rivers. Look for red-breasted and hooded mergansers, common goldeneyes, pied-billed grebes, American coots and buffleheads, particularly along the Des Plaines River near Waterfall Glen. 

Many other species pass through on their spring migrations, and some arrive to stay for the season. The bold call of the red-winged blackbird is an important harbinger for many folks. Males of this species actively defend their territories from interlopers. Listen for them near wetland areas. American robins are also some of the first to be active. They are a common sight in manicured yards and natural areas, where they feed on earthworm, insects and fruits.  

Spring is also a time for amphibians to become active. Spring peepers and wood frogs are likely to be heard only around high-quality natural areas. Chorus frogs are even easier to hear. They have been known to gather in wet areas even near busy roadways, and their trilling calls can carry nearly a mile. The photo below is of chorus frog. Their tiny size, only about 1 to 1.5 inches, makes them difficult to spot outdoors. 

Western chorus frogs may hard to see but they are easy to hear when spring has arrived. 
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