2015 Photo Contest Winner “People in the Preserves”- An early spring day, Galloping Hill Prairie in the Spring Creek forest preserve near Barrington, Jim Root
2015 Photo Contest Winner “People in the Preserves”- An early spring day, Galloping Hill Prairie in the Spring Creek forest preserve near Barrington, Jim Root

Archive for the ‘Plants and Animals’ Category

Owl Whitewash

Posted: November 17th, 2017

by Eileen Sutter, Volunteer Steward at Watersmeet Forest Preserve

One sign of the presence of owls in our woods is whitewash, splatters of thick chalky paste on the ground and on tree branches found around owl roosting spots. Owls typically have night time and day time roosting spots; the night time spot is likely to be near good hunting grounds in the territory, while the day time spot is chosen for its seclusion and cover from predators and pesky crows. Owl white wash is produced by the kidneys, and is the equivalent of urine in mammals. Mammals excrete waste as urea dissolved in urine, but owls excrete urea as uric acid, which has a low solubility in water, so it forms a thick white paste. Owls also produce owl pellets, the accumulation of indigestable material like hair and bones from the food they eat. These pellets are stored in the owl’s gizzard and regurgiated once or twice a day, often under their day time and night time roosts. Regurgitation clears the digestive tract and releases the pressure of the gizzard on the esophagus, allowing the owl to eat again. The presence of owl pellets can guide you to the owl’s roosting spot. It’s a piece of great luck to see an owl in the woods, because of their camouflage, but carefully checking the area where you find signs of an owl like whitewash or pellets can increase your odds of a sighting.

Owl Whitewash

Photo by Eileen Sutter

Hike it Baby – A Spooky Saturday on the Des Plaines River Trail

Posted: October 6th, 2017

11 am – 1 pm

Join us for our first Halloween-Hike it Baby-costume hike. Grab a comfortable costume and your hiking boots, and let’s explore. We will let the kids set the pace, and aim to hike out for 30-45 minutes, take a picnic break at the Fullerton Woods Family Picnic Area, and return to Sunset Grove Meadow.

We will meet in the parking lot of Sunset Bridge Meadow off of IL-64 North Avenue.

Des Plaines River Trail, Leyden Township
River Grove, IL 60171United States 
+ Google Map

Potential Baby or Child Hazard:

The trail can be busy with cyclists and runners so we will need to be on the look out for other users. The trail follows the Des Plaines River and is unpaved, crushed limestone. Late October can be chilly and/or wet. Be sure to dress for success. This event will go on rain or shine.

Gear Suggestion:

Please bring water and a picnic lunch (lunch optional…water not).

This event is free, but please register to help us plan for the day.

Questions? Contact Zach Taylor at Zach@fotfp.org.

The endurance of the midland brown snake

Posted: April 3rd, 2017

By Joey Cavataio, Amateur Herpetologist

It’s 1925. Somewhere in the vast-but-ever-shrinking prairie located northwest of downtown Chicago, a brand new batch of bungalows stands out against the tall grass and endless horizon to the west. A few years earlier, the beginnings of a subdivision were born, when rough roads and paved sidewalks were installed in anticipation of a new way of life for many – rural living in what was technically Chicago by that point. The development of all of the homes, roads, and sewers necessitated the destruction of prairie. Virtually all living things died; plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and most mammals quickly vanished in short order in favor of human sprawl.

One species that endured the invasion of humans was Storeria dekayi, or the midland brown snake. This tiny, innocuous serpent, long as a nightcrawler and about as secretive, decided that it was going to use its adaptive nature to its advantage. Naturally a creature of open woodland, the edges of woodlands, savanna, and prairie, it handled the park-like environment well enough to persist. Craving slugs and worms, it never faced a shortage of its prey among the lawns and gardens it frequented. And giving birth to live babies, independent from birth, was a huge plus – eggs are sensitive to weather extremes, predators, and all sorts of human activities. It seemed destined to cling to its former haunts despite profound disturbance.

In my backyard, I have found these snakes a number of times over the last few years. I assumed there was a hibernaculum – a protected space where the snakes congregate during the winter months. I searched around my house and garage but never reached a conclusion. Today, I think I found the entrance to a hibernaculum, a small crevice which leads to the house’s foundation. Just outside the crevice was a young adult male brown snake, torpid, but slowly warming itself as it lay coiled underneath a flower planter I placed there two years ago with hope that I might someday discover just what I had discovered today.

I’ve searched high and low for reptiles and amphibians in every corner of this country and even abroad, and have found and studied rare and striking (no pun intended) taxa that may seem to deserve more mention than some small, plain looking snake. But I’m afflicted with this passion for a snake that ekes out a living in the streets of Chicago, contends with mesopredators such as skunks, and somehow survives living in and on surfaces contaminated with road salt and chemicals, all the while trying very hard to avoid detection. I have a ton of respect for these animals. And call me crazy, but I think I’m darn lucky to share my house with them, if even only during the winter. 

Untitled-1Untitled-3 Untitled-2





Joey Cavataio found a midland brown snake warming itself underneath a flower planter at his home on the Northwest side of Chicago. Near the planter, Joey discovered what he believes to be a hibernaculum, a small crevice leading to the house’s foundation.

Pitch in to help Dan Ryan Woods

Posted: February 21st, 2017

Spending a few hours regularly to volunteer at the Dan Ryan Woods is a great idea, too. Not every community has such a natural jewel.

Powderhorn recipient of support for major restoration project

Posted: January 24th, 2017

By Douglas Chien, Powderhorn Site Steward

Contained within Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve is a very special and rare place, a place with an exciting ecological restoration project happening soon. A project that myself and a team of volunteers have worked towards for the past 10-years.

Powderhorn Prairie Nature Preserve is the only Illinois Nature Preserve within the City of Chicago and is a rare dune and swale ecosystem; low sand dunes separated by wetlands. Dune and swale once covered much of the southern end of Lake Michigan before European settlement and subsequent industrialization. At Powderhorn, you can experience a landscape utilized by Native Americans but then seen as wasteland by later residents. Today, one can stand on a dune and be in a high quality sand prairie then walk 20’ and be knee deep in a high quality wetland.

Along the first sand dune, past soil disturbance, the absence of ecological stewardship, and especially the lack of prescribed fire, allowed eastern cottonwood trees (Populus deltoides) to get established and grow to maturity. With a canopy of large cottonwood trees, the once rich layer of grasses, sedges, and flowers died out. Fortunately the remaining six sand ridges remained healthy and continue to provide homes for a variety of insects, butterflies, and other animals.

Thanks to support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program about 300 large cottonwood trees will be cut down. With proper structure restored, the area will be seeded with flowers, grasses and sedges collected on site. Over the next several years we expect to see a healthy mix of native plants and corresponding wildlife return. We’ll also be vigilant about stopping invasive plants from gaining command of the area.

This is a highly visible project as the area being cleared is along Brainard Ave. A well traveled route between Indiana and the Hegewisch neighborhood. The Forest Preserves of Cook County have been a valuable partner in this project, providing technical support and additional funding.

Volunteer stewardship days are the 3rd Saturday of the month from 9 am till Noon. Drop me a line if you’ve any questions or would like to come out and help. Special thanks to my fellow Site Steward Alice and our regular crew: Matt, Jay, Oliver, Tom, and Nik.


Somme Winter Solstice Bonfire & Celebration

Posted: December 1st, 2016

This annual tradition in the woods will include a GIANT bonfire and a bagpiper!

Please bring snacks to share.

Festivities start at 2pm at Somme Woods East and is completely FREE!

See map.

Contact Josh Coles at josh@fotfp.org for more information.

One Of City’s Wildest Places Becoming Wilder With Planting of 1,000th Shrub

Posted: October 28th, 2016

Keeping one of Chicago’s wildest places truly wild is a year-round effort conducted by dozens of volunteers.

Encounter Spears Woods

Posted: October 6th, 2016

Palos Restoration group explores what lies beyond the trail.

Friends of the Forest Preserves grow, naturally

Posted: June 16th, 2016

Friends of the Forest Preserves number more than 3,000 committed volunteers and members, but more are always welcome to join.

Changing Perspectives on Camping

Posted: May 16th, 2016

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about camping? Take a second to really think. Did you think about a nice pristine lake? Or did you think about a set of mountains that light bounces right off of into the meadows? If you’re like Dyrell Williams, Friends of the Forest Preserves Palos division Advanced Crew member, when you hear camping you think of raccoons, possums, and other late night raiders. Though now, Dyrell would be the first to tell you how exciting and impactful camping can be. All thanks to the initiative of The Chicago Park District Front Country Leadership Training. Dyrell attended a two day field training that taught him how to safely lead hikes in the wilderness; set up a tent properly; prepare, cook, and safely store food; as well as operate in the safest way possible while away from civilization. The experience changed Dyrell’s perspective of camping as a whole to a brighter and maybe more desirable journey that he can take.

Dyrell Williams, Calumet Conservation Corps crew member, Friends of the Forest Preserves    Displaying IMG_0920.JPGDisplaying IMG_0920.JPGCamping

By Dyrell Williams, Palos Division Advanced Crew Member