Community Blog

Updated Singing Insects Of The Chicago Region For 2017

The Chicago region for this project includes 22 counties from southeastern Wisconsin around to Berrien County, Michigan. Singing insects are defined here as the cicadas, crickets, katydids, and members of two grasshopper subfamilies with sound displays that people can hear (though the songs of some are so high pitched that only young people can hear them unaided). There are around 100 species, though some I haven’t found outside historical records. I update the guide each year, and this year’s version is just over 100 pages.

The most important changes in the 2017 guide:

  • Added species pages for Cuban ground cricket, prairie meadow katydid, short-winged toothpick grasshopper, and clipped-wing grasshopper.
  • Removal of the page for the delicate meadow katydid (previous observation proved to be a variant of the dusky-faced meadow katydid; I am concerned that both delicate meadow katydids and slender coneheads may be extinct in the region).
  • Change of identification: the species previously labeled northwestern red-winged grasshopper proved to be a color variant of the autumn yellow-winged grasshopper.
  • Addition of 145 county records for all species combined, with the filling out of 9 species’ maps.
  • Added finds of persisting populations for 3 rare species.
  • Continued northward range expansion for the jumping bush cricket.

The guide is available for free as a highly compressed PDF document. (See Online References—Insects  for the 2017 guide.) There are maps showing current and historical county records, graphical devices indicating seasonal and time-of-day information, and descriptions of the insects and their songs. Information is presented as well on conservation concerns and ongoing range expansions. To get on the mailing list for future updates, send your request to me at wildlifer@aol.com.

Those who wish to follow the in-season progress of this research, or with more general interests in natural history, can check out my blog, https://natureinquiries.wordpress.com/ .

—Carl Strang, Wild Things presenter

CPS Students Restore Dan Ryan Woods

While many Chicagoans stayed indoors on Saturday, December 10, a group of CPS students bundled up in warm layers and rolled up their sleeves to restore a natural habitat. Iyanna Hayden, a participating student from Whitney Young High School said, “This is important to me because there are a lot of things that aren’t the way they should be as far as how we treat our environment. I’m here to make a difference.”

Covan Cox, Senior at Simeon Career Academy – 12/10/2016, © Maryam Salem
Covan Cox, Senior at Simeon Career Academy. – 12/10/2016, © Maryam Salem

Students were part of a Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) Senior Service Day at Dan Ryan Woods. CIMBY is a service learning program of the Chicago Public School’s Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement which helps students reconnect with nature and learn about the local environment. Students engage in outdoor science learning activities and stewardship to benefit the Calumet region. “CIMBY’s program offers interactive activities that allow our students to learn in a unique outdoor setting about their natural environment,” explains Lauren Woods, CPS Service Learning Coordinator.

Students worked alongside Benjamin Cox and Larry Unruh, Forest Preserve District site stewards, to remove invasive plants including buckthorn and honeysuckle. Introduced from overseas and able to grow in low quality soil, these invasive plants don’t give native plants and trees an opportunity to grow, negatively impacting the health of the local ecosystem. After two hours of stewardship work, the students were guided on a nature hike with Field Museum staff. Students learned about a variety of native plant and animal species and the importance of preserving species like the White Oak tree, a keystone species of Illinois.

CPS students on a nature hike at Dan Ryan Woods during Senior Service Day. – 12/10/2016, © Maryam Salem
CPS students on a nature hike at Dan Ryan Woods during Senior Service Day. – 12/10/2016, © Maryam Salem

The conservation efforts undertaken by CIMBY promote native trees and wildflowers to grow in places like Dan Ryan Woods, one of the very few preserves left in the city of Chicago. “Cook County has 69,000 acres of forest preserve, but only about 3,000 of them are in the city of Chicago—and this is one of them,” explained Benjamin Cox.

Dan Ryan Woods is home to dense forests, old oak woodlands and colorful ephemeral wildflowers. Much of the stunning natural preserve sits on an elevation, once an island of the ancient Lake Chicago over 10,000 years ago. Volunteer groups have been working to restore this beautiful landscape for over 10 years. As they work on projects like these, we hope the preserves will continue to see an increase in bird species and native animal habitats. For more information about volunteering with the Forest Preserves of Cook County please visit:  http://fpdcc.com/volunteer/.

Maryam Salem, Stewardship Coordinator for Calumet Is My Back Yard

Editor’s note. Learn a lot more about Calumet, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and getting students outdoors at Wild Things 2017.

Stephen Constantelos

Multimedia Education For Local Conservationists

© The Morton Arboretum
The Woodland Stewardship Program in action. © The Morton Arboretum

As a professional ecologist and educator, I often think about the resurgence of nature in our local landscapes. Spending time in nature with the many mentors who have inspired and encouraged my involvement has always been the best learning experience in the world. Many patient hours have been spent in the field, developing detailed observation skills over many seasons. I’ve gained an invaluable education from knowledgeable ecologists such as June Keibler, Brad Semel, Bill Kleiman, and Stephen Packard who each have years of innovative field experience in ecological restoration. They have learned by trial and error to develop effective techniques for vegetation management that benefit wildlife habitat and promote whole ecosystem recovery, which is the lofty goal of ecological restoration. Other mentors in botany have taught me the local flora through many hours in the field comparing habitat and species composition in the various plant communities.

Brad Semel, heritage biologist for IDNR, leading a Restoration & Wildlife class. © The Morton Arboretum

Other ways to learn might be a college degree, an internship, or simply volunteering in the nearby nature preserve… I have done all of the above and am still learning, that’s what makes science great fun! By applying science to restoration practices we can improve the adaptive management principles which are being developed in the region. These field applications are crucial to the steward looking for insights into the how’s, what’s, and when’s—and also the dos and don’ts of ecological restoration.

The Invasive Species I course introduces the worst invasive species of the Chicago region. © The Morton Arboretum

Why not blend as many of these ways of learning into one multimedia package to help reach local conservationists? The Morton Arboretum is doing just this by creating several newly developed classes that combine online, learn-at-your-own-pace digital modules and also the indispensable expert-in-the-field instructors who can identify plants and wildlife and lead discovery hikes combined with traditional classroom activities. This dynamic style of teaching allows widespread audiences to access interactive course materials from home computers or mobile devices.

Continue reading Multimedia Education For Local Conservationists

Save the Date for Wild Things!

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Save the date for the next Wild Things Conference!

Saturday, February 18, 2017 at University of Illinois Chicago Forum.

Join us for the seventh biennial Wild Things Conference, bringing together volunteers, advocates, citizen scientists, researchers, and nature enthusiasts from across the Chicago region. We look forward to welcoming you to our new conference space at the UIC Forum for an inspiring day of presentations, workshops, and networking opportunities designed for the conservation community.

Wondering about the latest efforts to save the rusty-patched bumblebee? Curious to hear about the Kankakee mallow’s triumphant comeback on Langham Island? The Wild Things 2017 Conference is the place to be for the latest updates on these and other regional conservation issues.

Important upcoming dates:

  • August 27 – Call for presentations on our website
  • November 15 – Registration opens

Can’t wait for the conference? We encourage you to explore our new website and follow our Facebook page.

Bison and People — A Remarkable Journey

Wild Things 2015 Keynote

Nachusa Grasslands in Ogle County, Illinois is a sample of how extraordinary leadership by both volunteers and staff, restored a quality habitat unprecedented in ambition, scope, and diversity. Preserve Manager Bill Kleiman recalls, “When Nachusa first started out, the prairie remnants were dingy, brush filled, bisected by fences and fence row trees. Some of the prairies were so heavily grazed they looked like lawns with thorn bushes for cattle shade.” In 1986 the Nature Conservancy acquired 400 acres of small prairie remnants scattered among cornfields. In 2014, 25 years and 3,000 acres later, it is home to 700 native plant species, 180 species of birds — and now wild bison:

Wild Things 2015 Keynote: 0.01 Pat Hayes, introduction; 6:45 cook county board president Toni Preckwinkle, welcome; 16:45 Bill Kleiman, keynote speaker

Both volunteers and professionals remain crucial to this important and unpredictable drama.

Fall Migration Is Coming Fast

Downtown bird monitors are often treated to beautiful morning skies as they start their rounds. – 8/15/2016, © Stephen Constantelos
Downtown bird monitors are often treated to beautiful morning skies as they start their rounds. – 8/15/2016, © Stephen Constantelos

I previously posted about how I came to join the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM) and mission they pursue—rescuing birds in trouble throughout the year. It’s a rare day the hotline (773-988-1867) doesn’t get a call about a Chicagoland bird—only one day in 2015 came and went without a call for help.

Training Sessions

And now fall is coming. Birds and their fledglings are preparing to take wing en masse, to head south to the comforts such climes offer. Now is a great time to join the CBCM as a downtown monitor, rescuer in the city or suburbs, advocate for bird-safe building practices, or transporter of rescued birds to one of CBCM’s wildlife rehabilitation center partners.  Take a look at the training session schedule and sign up today. One session and you’ll be winging your way to a multifaceted, humane experience.

Stephen Constantelos

Summertime: Our Wild Things Website

Among the milkweeds and walnuts, Veterans Park, Naperville – 6/3/16, © Stephen Constantelos
Morning sky over burgeoning milkweeds and walnut trees, Veterans Park, Naperville – 6/3/16, © Stephen Constantelos

Summer is just about here, so why not spend a little of your cooling-off time with Wild Things? I encourage you to explore this website, created by and for our community. You can “Find Your Spot” for volunteering as well as learn about upcoming training classes. Wander down the growing list of resources, including local artists, advocate organizations, and books. And you can re-live the glories of past Wild Things and even download past conference materials. We hope to see a lot of traffic back and forth between here and the Wild Things Facebook page.

What’s more, you can contribute to this website, enhancing the above sections or this blog. So, if you have any tales of local volunteering, ecological success stories or restoration techniques, philosophic ruminations on what Wild Things is all about, or natural history notes from our part of IL, WI, or IN, please contact us. By the way, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog, if you’re up for an occasional email about a new post.

As we prepare for next year’s conference, I’m especially keen to hear from previous presenters or those who may be presenting for the first time. What’s new with your research? It only takes a few paragraphs and an image or two to get something posted.

—Stephen Constantelos, Wild Things Blog Editor

Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago – 5/31/16, © Stephen Constantelos
Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago – 5/31/16, © Stephen Constantelos

Hazelnut and Plum: Shrub Restoration at Orland Grassland

Shrub Day volunteer group shot, Orland Grassland – 5/6/2016 © Pat Hayes
Shrub Propagation Day volunteer group shot, Orland Grassland – 5/6/2016 © Pat Hayes

It’s the first time this has been done and a lot of eyes are watching.

A unique collaborative effort by Victor J. Andrew High School (VJA) AP Environmental Science students, Illinois Master Naturalists (ILMNs), Orland Grassland Volunteers (OGVs), and the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) launched a pilot project to set up a shrub nursery at Orland Grassland from shrubs propagated on site.

With expansive prairie views, hilly, open Orland Grassland is a 960-acre wild destination for nature lovers. The area was once farmland, but since 2002 has been undergoing loving restoration as a grassland complex with prairie, wetlands, open ponds, oak savannas, shrublands, and woodlands.

The shrub project began when Laura Kirby, an AP Environmental Science teacher at VJA, contacted Pat Hayes, Orland Grassland Site Steward, asking if there was a project her students could do. Almost at the same time, Annette Pletcher, OGV and ILMN, came to Pat and asked if there was a project the ILMNs could do at Orland Grassland. Hmmm. Shrub propagation?

Enter Brigit Anne Holt, the Extension Program Coordinator, Master Naturalist, University of Illinois Extension. The question was posed: “Is it possible to take cuttings of our native American plum and hazelnut shrubs, and possibly others when timely, so that the VJA students can plant them?”  The answer: “Yes, what a great project.”

After much preparation and help from many parties, “Propagation Day” was May 5, 2016.

Continue reading Hazelnut and Plum: Shrub Restoration at Orland Grassland

Moraine Valley CC Partnership Pilot

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MVCC Bird Monitoring – 3/30/2016, © Pat Hayes

A series of field study classes, honors program social media support, and year round, non-wage intern positions in several disciplines resulted when Pat Hayes, site steward from Orland Grassland, reached out to Dr. Sylvia Jenkins, President of Moraine Valley Community College and member of the Conservation and Policy Committee of the Next Century Conservation Plan Commission. The question raised was, “Is there a college partnership opportunity at Orland Grassland for students to participate in broad restoration activity for their learning enrichment and Orland Grassland’s restoration benefit?”  After a series of meetings with school staff and other key stakeholders, the answer was a resounding, enthusiastic, “Yes!”

The Moraine Valley Community College Partnership Pilot was born.

All agreed to go slow with hopes of expansion over time. Better to go slow, acquire successes upon which to build, and identify that which can be improved. As a result, a multi-faceted plan emerged…

Continue reading Moraine Valley CC Partnership Pilot

A Symposium/Benefit for Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Fall at Ryerson Woods, © Brushwood Center
Fall at Ryerson Woods, Riverside, IL © Brushwood Center

Lake County Forest Preserves’ Ryerson Woods is home to Brushwood Center, an environmental education and arts center, “a center for discourse about nature and culture.” Brushwood features an ongoing variety of programs bringing nature lovers together to paint, watch birds, practice yoga, or simply enjoy a concert against a backdrop of wood, field, and farm.

On May 14th, Brushwood Center will host the Smith Nature Symposium, a benefit dinner with a keynote by Clemson University’s Dr. J. Drew Lanham, a self-described “a man of color in love with the natural world.” Dr. Lanham is a nationally-respected voice on the deep connection between ethnicity, land, and conservation and he will be addressing the link between minority communities and critical bird habitat. Click here to register for the benefit dinner.

Sketching outside Brushwood Center, © Brushwood Center
Sketching outside Brushwood Center, © Brushwood Center

Ryerson Woods is an amazing place with its pre-settlement flora and fauna, a place, thankfully, where we can enjoy the beauties of spring unencumbered by garlic mustard…

Continue reading A Symposium/Benefit for Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Featured by The Smithsonian

Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow lady's slipper) complex, © Kathleen M. Garness
Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow lady’s slipper) complex, © Kathleen Marie Garness

Wild Things’ own Kathleen Garness was the first featured scientific illustrator on The Smithsonian’s Environmental Research Center’s new website, Go Orchids! The page displays a collection of her drawings and finished paintings of a variety of beautiful orchids, many from the Chicago area. Note that each image features a little leaf “Go” link in the bottom corner taking you to more information about the orchid depicted.

View them and learn more about Kathleen and her work on the Smithsonian’s site and here on the Wild Things Community local artists profiles page. And check out the entire Go Orchids site from its homepage.

Congratulations, Kathleen!