Remembering Margo Milde

Margo Milde, Allegheny River, PA, © Donna Yates
Margo Milde, Allegheny River, PA, © Donna Yates

In Memoriam

Margo Milde

4/10/1956 – 9/26/2015

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

Many botanists and birders in the Chicago region have seen Margo Milde in the field. She was generous in sharing her knowledge of natural areas with others. Margo was particularly gifted in recognizing bird song and sounds, a skill she attributed to the many years of arduous classical piano lessons she was forced to endure as a child. Musical training gave her ability to appreciate the subtle nuances of tone, pitch, timbre, and rhythm, just as important in identifying bird songs as they are in appreciating and performing classical works of music.

In addition to the study of piano, Margo dedicated herself to studying the plant and bird life of the Chicago region, and its interrelated human history as well. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago) in Biology-Environmental Studies in 1993.

In 1994 she had obtained her first professional survey contract for an updated plant inventory of Pistakee Bog Nature Preserve (Ingleside, IL). In an article she authored of her bog adventures for the Friends of Volo Bog, Bog Log in 1995, she wrote that her small stature—being less likely to sink in treacherous areas of the bog, and affording her ease of crawling through thick brush—as well as owning a functional washer and drier at home were essential attributes to her success in bog field surveys. Her work at Pistakee Bog led to numerous other botanical and bird surveys professionally for both various governmental and private agencies until her move to Pennsylvania in 2014.

She was especially proud of her summer-long 2008 breeding bird survey at Chain O’ Lakes State Park (Fox Lake, IL), which she conducted as a work contract for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In this study, she documented 139 species of birds found in that park, including verifying a large number of nesting species, during a summer-long adventure of paddling, wading, slogging, and just plain walking her way through the park.  She did a similar summer-long breeding bird survey at Volo Bog State Natural Area in 2009. While still living in the Chicago area, Margo also volunteered yearly on Spring and Christmas Bird Counts, and contributed her breeding bird data of over 20 years for a local Illinois forest preserve, Glenview (Harms) Woods, to the online database of the Bird Conservation Network.

Margo was considered a local expert on several obscure plant families, including the Cyperaceae (Sedges). In her last years, she worked for Waukegan Harbor Citizens Advisory Group, where she conducted full floristic surveys, compiled rare and endangered plant documentation, and performed restoration monitoring from 2011-2013 under a $1.5M Great Lakes Restoration Initiative restoration grant on several major natural areas in the vicinity of Waukegan, IL. Her surveys helped secure the recent RAMSAR designation of the area’s 15-mile lake plain, recently designated as a “Wetland of International Importance,” one of only 38 in the entire U.S.

She was an active volunteer with Plants of Concern (Chicago Botanic Garden) from the year of its founding in 2001 through 2013. Almost 300 of Margo’s plant specimens, many documenting locally rare species whose existence in the Chicago area was previously unknown, are permanently housed at the Morton Arboretum Herbarium in Lisle, IL. A dog owner since childhood, and an advocate for responsible dog ownership, she also served as Legislative Liaison for five different AKC-affiliated dog clubs until her untimely passing from cancer.

Margo frequently told her friends that she was the luckiest person in the world for being able to find employment doing the work she loved in high quality natural areas that—due to remoteness, difficult terrain, and lack of accessibility—very few people ever get to see.

Kathleen Garness

Editor’s note. We recently also sadly became aware of the passing of Palos Restoration Project volunteer, Roger Keller. You can read a tribute to him here.