Outdoor Report

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

Outdoor Report Feb. 27

This week brought us some new snow to freshen up our winter landscape. And it’s just in time for visitors to enjoy some tubing down the 800-foot run on Mount Hoy at Blackwell during the final weekend of the season. Staff members anticipate that snow conditions will allow for the hill to be open on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rental is $5 per tube (cash only), and visitors are invited to make as many trips up and down the hill as they like. No new rentals are made after 3:30 p.m. To check that the hill is open, call the Outdoor Report’s phone line at 630-871-6422 and listen to the winter sports current conditions report.

Fresh snow also means it’s a good time to hit the trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Trails and Blackwell and Waterfall Glen were groomed on Thursday, and Danada, Herrick Lake, Fullersburg Woods, Greene Valley and Meacham Grove were groomed on Friday. Check the recorded message for updates on any other grooming work our rangers take on over the weekend.
 
For a special trail trek, join “St. James Farm After Dark” on Friday, March 6 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Participants will take self-guided strolls past historic buildings of St. James Farm lit from the outside and then warm up with hot cocoa and cider. The program is open to all ages and is $5 per person. Participants can bring their own skis or snowshoes, and the District will also rent a limited number of snowshoes for $5 per person. For information or to make a reservation, call Visitor Service weekdays at 630-933-7248.

Observations from the field include anglers at Silver Lake at Blackwell reeling in some 8-inch crappie using a jig. At Harrier Lake at Pratt’s Wayne Woods, a 12-inch bass was caught on a jig. Participants in an introductory ice-fishing clinic last weekend at Harrier Lake also caught bluegill and perch.  

Recent bird sightings from Blackwell include several red-tailed hawks along the preserve’s roadways and a pied-billed grebe at Springbrook Creek.

Watch for skunk cabbage to emerge in the coming weeks. This unusual plant produces its own heat and can even grow through snow. The heat produced may help spread the plant’s namesake insect-attracting scent, and it might also provide a warm place to welcome for the carrion flies that are the plant’s pollinators. Skunk cabbage grows primarily in fens, making the White Pine and Red Oak trails at West DuPage Woods ideal places to look for the plant. Read more about this unusual late-winter bloomer here.

Image © Elizabeth Hane

Outdoor Report Feb. 20

This red-tailed hawk spent time near the visitor center at Fullersburg Woods this week, and even sat still long enough for staff members to snap a few photos through the window.

 

Winter has kept its grip on us this week. It’s easy to remember to bundle up outdoors during extreme cold, but it’s important to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia when relatively warmer weather arrives, too. Hypothermia can develop even with air temperatures above freezing, especially if you are chilled by wet clothing or sweat. Dressing in warm layers and staying dry offer the best protection. An outer layer that blocks wind and moisture, an insulating inner layer that retains heat and a base layer that wicks away perspiration is the ideal combination.

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 waxy feeling to the skin. Medical attention is necessary to treat these conditions properly.
 
If this talk of warmer weather has you shaking your head in disbelief, keep this fact in mind: the first day of spring is March 20. That’s a mere 28 days from now, just four short weeks. So in that spirit, here are a few animal activities to watch for that are sure signs that spring will arrive.

Tiger salamanders, the Illinois State Amphibian, are active earliest in the year among our area’s common salamanders. From February through April, females will head to ponds and wet areas to lay eggs. Take a look at this short video shot at Pratt’s Wayne Woods of a salamander crossing snowy ground to reach open water.

The American woodcock 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. Listen for them at Pratt’s Wayne Woods, Waterfall Glen and Herrick Lake.

Skunks come out of their winter dens to search for mates in early spring. So if you see a black-and-white fluffy tail on the move, you know that love and warm weather will be in the air soon.

This week’s snapshot is of a print left behind in the snow by a bird of prey. Though we can’t tell for certain which species, red-tailed hawks are very active in winter and have keen eyesight that can spot even small movements in snow. Owls have also been known to leave similar evidence behind. In light of the fresh snowfall predicted, this weekend will be a good time to head outdoors and look for tracks and other signs of animal activity. Read about some other natural history mysteries in “CSI DuPage: The Dead of Winter” in the Winter 2012 issue of The Conservationist, the District’s free quarterly publication.

Outdoor Report Feb. 13

Animal activity has been fairly quiet this week. However, the birds were singing boldly in the bright sunshine at Fullersburg Woods one day. Male dark-eyed juncos and northern cardinals were being quite vocal, an indication that they’re getting ready for breeding season.

Naturalists also report the return of the male yellow-bellied sapsucker that had been seen earlier in the winter around the preserve. This species usually spends its winters further south but has been seen a number of times at Fullersburg this year. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers breed in summer in northern Wisconsin and Canada.

Common merganser sightings have continued on areas of open water, which these days would generally only be the flowing waters of rivers. Watch for them along Salt Creek near Fullersburg Woods and at the Des Plaines River near Waterfall Glen.

And though winter may be a quiet time outdoors in many ways, winter is a busy season for habitat restoration work. One type of activity is spreading seed to enhance populations of native plants. While that might seem counterintuitive to the instincts of many gardeners, this technique, called “frost seeding,” is actually necessary for some species. Between December and March, either by hand or machine, crews spread seeds across hundreds of acres of soil. When the weather warms, the seeds mix with melting snow. After repeated freezing and thawing, they eventually mix with the soil, which has the moisture they need to sprout in the spring. Most native species cannot germinate without this freeze-thaw cycle, which is called “cold-moist stratification.” Read more about the process in the article “Sowing Seeds in the Snow” is the Winter 2015 issue of The Conservationist, the District’s free quarterly publication.

Winter is also a great time for invasive brush removal because crews can access areas without damaging other plants that are dormant. This work helps ground-loving plants populations get an increased share of sunlight and establishes better habitat for native wildlife including birds and butterflies. Brush removal may take place in small projects carried out by in-house crews, such as the efforts at Danada Forest Preserve along Naperville Road, or larger, multiyear habitat overhauls such as the project underway at Dunham Forest Preserve. Individuals can also help with the efforts during volunteer restoration workdays. To see a list of upcoming opportunities, visit the calendar of events and sort by “Volunteer Restoration Workday.”

This week’s snapshot is a view of the trout lily flower at Oldfield Oaks Forest Preserve. This springtime bloom is evidence of the success of habitat restoration at the preserve, which removed invasive brush and allowed a number of spring wildflowers to once again carpet the forest floor.

The trout lily gets its name from the markings on the plant's leaves.  

Outdoor Report Feb. 6

Staff members used grooming equipment like this to create improved conditions for cross-country skiing at several locations this week.  

The outdoors news for this week is the big snowfall. Staff members spent most of Monday clearing parking lots, walkways and other access points. And after that, they headed out to groom the trails for cross country skiing, including those at Blackwell, Waterfall Glen, Greene Valley, Fullersburg Woods, Danada, Herrick Lake, Meacham Grove and Springbrook Prairie.

Visitors can hear the latest conditions for cross-country skiing and the tubing hill at Mount Hoy at Blackwell in recorded messages on the Outdoor Report phone line at 630-871-6422. 

Head over to the Wonders of Winter event on Saturday, Feb. 7 at Mayslake Peabody Estate for a chance to try out seasonal activities like ice fishing and snowshoeing, hop on a horse-drawn hayride and enjoy fun crafts. The open house is free and is suitable for all ages. Activities take place outdoors and inside Mayslake Hall.

The District played a part in two animal stories this week that illustrate why humans should take care to let wild animals be wild and only intervene when necessary to save them. A visitor to York Woods recently encountered a young buck wearing a pet collar. She was able to free the deer and likely saved its life. Read more about this story here.

At Willowbrook Wildlife Center, our animal care staff is treating an injured harlequin duck. Concerned bird-watchers were able to rescue the bird from near the Fox River and bring it to Willowbrook. It had been tangled in fishing line and is battling several other ailments. Read more about the bird’s story on Willowbrook’s Facebook page

This week’s snapshot is a great-horned owl on a nest. These birds are already likely to be in mating pairs and may even be incubating eggs. Chicks hatch early in the year, which may give them better access to food sources and an improved change to survive their first winter. Read more about our area's most common owl and their activities this time of year here. 

Great-horned owls often make use of abandoned nests built by other birds. 
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