April 2014


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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Treasures

Sunrise at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

I have previously written about the unique prairie features at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

Its geologic history, proximity to Lake Michigan, ravines (rare to find in northeastern Illinois), and its importance of being on the Mississippi Flyway are but a few of its treasures.

On this particular morning in late March, I caught the sun just as it cleared the horizon of Lake Michigan. A chilly wind forced me to still bundle up with gloves, a hat, and a scarf.

Micro environments occur within the ravines of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. These micro environments will propagate species not commonly seen on the Illinois prairie.

Birch trees are one such species that take advantage of this preserve's micro environments. This tree species is often found in habitats further north than Illinois.

Within the shelter of the ravines, however, they can thrive in small numbers.

Birch trees are rare on the Illinois prairie.

Quarried from the region's bedrock, large limestone blocks are placed at the base of  bluffs along the Lake Michigan shore.

These stones are known as riprap or armor stones. Their purpose is to reduce erosion of  prairie land into Lake Michigan.

Armor stones along the shore of Lake Michigan help prevent erosion.

These limestone armor rocks were formed from ancient seabeds.

I always enjoy looking for seashells preserved within them.

On this cold morning, they remind me that at one time, Illinois was located in a tropical climate south of the equator. If only it were there now!

Coral and seashells from an ancient seabed are easy to find.

Being reminded of Illinois' undersea past is easy.

I close my eyes and listen to Lake Michigan's waves crash up on the shore.

Though this freshwater lake was carved from the topsoil by glaciers, I imagine it as a tropical sea on today's hike!

A reminder of an ancient tropical sea in Illinois.

I found a crawdad carcass someone placed on an armor stone.

Holding it up close, I could easily identify this animal's characteristic anatomy.

Here are some interesting facts about crawdads:

    *  Illinois has over 20 named species of crawdad.

     * Common names for crawdads include crawfish, crayfish and mudbugs.

     * Crawdads are in the superfamily astacoidea.

     * The study of this freshwater crustacean is known as astacology.

     * Crawdads use gills to breathe under water.

Crawdad, crawfish, crayfish, or mudbug. You make the call.

A flock of Canadian geese fly in formation overhead.

I am reminded that in a few weeks, this forest preserve will contain many species of birds that are migrating north.

The lake's shore is a landmark for migration on the Mississippi Flyway. The grassy and wooded shore provides resting and feeding sights for their journey.

I look forward to this annual outdoor event.

Canadian geese on the Mississippi Flyway will soon be joined by many other bird species at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

Low cloud cover in the east makes today's sunrise over Lake Michigan memorable.

I never tire of these early morning views.

One last look at a Lake Michigan sunrise.

I am glad for the discoveries made on today's hike at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

These prairie treasures are always fun to find and appreciate.

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: Finding A Colona Moth

A Colona haploa moth, seen last June at Reed Turner Woodland. Long Grove, Illinois.

While reviewing my photo files, I came across the photo above. It was taken last June during a hike in Reed Turner Woodland near Long Grove, Illinois.

During that sunny June morning hike, something fluttered in the undergrowth along the trail. The movements caught my attention, and my instant reaction was to take a photo. 

As I moved closer, I observed  this colorful moth. Of course, as I approached, it fluttered away. 

When I reviewed the hike's photos later that day, I was pleased to have captured a decent photo of this moth, known as a Colona moth. Its
scientific name is Haploa colona.

I discovered that very little is written about this moth. Most of the information I could gather about this species was limited to a description of its 
coloration and its habitat

The Colona moth's common habitat is along the coastal eastern states,  as far north as Virginia, and along the Gulf coast and into Texas. The Colona moth has been reported in Kentucky and Indiana, and Illinois. It is unusual to see one in northern Illinois, so I was glad to have made this observation! 

The Colona moth is 
enthusiastically searched for by insect watchers in its usual habitats. Observing a Colona moth in northern Illinois, then, was a real summer treat!

As I await the arrival of the warmer months ahead, this photo takes me back to the lazy days of summer.

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: Field Guide Author and Illustrator David Sibley

The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

Author David Sibley released his newest book The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition on March 11, 2014. Sibley's many publications, including The Sibley Guide to Birds and The Sibley Guide to Trees establish his expertise as an outdoor writer and illustrator.  It is through Sibley's books and articles that the splendor of the outdoors can be fully appreciated.

Sibley used previous field observations, sketches, art work, museum specimens, and the latest information from bird experts to update this field guide’s second edition. At his book signing presentation (see below), he discussed how he began reworking details for the second edition immediately after publishing the first field guide edition in 2001.

David Sibley, is introduced at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, Illinois.

I attended Sibley’s book talk presentation on April 9, 2014 at Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, Illinois. His talk was informative and entertaining to an audience of over one hundred fans. The talk was presented in partnership with Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods and Lake Forest Bookstore.

Sibley described his early years growing up in Connecticut. His desire to study birds began at age seven. Early influences of Sibley were his ornithologist father (Fred Sibley) and famed naturalist and ornithologist, Roger Tory Peterson (who also lived in Connecticut and twenty miles from the Sibley’s).

David Sibley’s interests in birds grew as he began to sketch them from field observations. He came to the conclusion early in his life that creating a field guide “seemed like a viable career path.”

Illustration of an Eastern Screech-Owl. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

His earliest sketches were shown to the audience. Sibley explained how he wants to “record what I am seeing and learning… to show to other people.”

According to Sibley, “each sketch is… like an interview with a bird.” He wants his sketches and art work to make sense of what he observes and to allow people to respond to it.

“Sketching is all about simplifying”, he said. 

Illustration of a Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

Sibley then described how he observes birds and then memorizes the details of their shapes, patterns, and colors. From these memories, he transfers the images from his mind and into a sketch. Using the sketch as a framework, the final art is completed.

For Sibley, sketching is a learning process each and every time. “Ask questions and translate to paper,” he said.


Illustration of an Eastern Bluebird. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

Sibley explained how illustrations of birds are more helpful for identifying bird species as opposed to using photos of birds. Background flora in photos vary due to seasonal and regional changes. Those subtle differences may interfere with making a bird species identification.

He related his “eureka" moment in making bird observations and sketching while working on his first field guide. He noticed that feathers on passerines follow a set arrangement of patterns, streaks, and spots on their plumage. He learned that in spite of the diversity in bird markings, the feather patterns are not random, but show similar features and relationships among those species. Once he figured this out, he noted that sketching birds and getting the details down became much easier.

Illustration of an Eastern Meadowlark. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

He considers a field guide to be “an address book.” Sibley has no favorite bird species, but does gravitate toward birds “with character” such as roadrunners, pileated woodpeckers, ravens, jays, and chickadees. (At the mention of chickadees, the audience laughed in recognition of this species' tendency to endear itself to birders.)

I had obtained a copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition from its publisher, Random House. The book is a handy resource for identifying common and rare birds that may be observed in North America and is a welcome addition to my personal library.

Its format is organized by presenting groups of related bird species on adjacent pages. A single bird species is presented in an up and down column on each page. An illustration of a bird species as it appears in flight is at the top of the page. Birds that perch, swim, or are found on the ground are pictured at the bottom of the page. Color range maps are provided.

The characteristics and markings that vary with flight or non-flight positions are useful to help identify an observed bird as it may appear in the field.

Field guide format. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

Written voice descriptions of typical bird calls, flight calls, and bird songs are also included. Sibley noted at his book talk that he birds by ear “a lot.”

The voice descriptions provided in the book are additional useful aids for beginning and advanced birders. 

Sibley writes in the book’s preface, “I hope that this book will provide an entry for you to further your own exploration of the natural world, and to share in that sense of discovery."

His newest book has certainly met that goal.

This book is highly recommended to outdoor enthusiasts and birders of all levels.

David Sibley, field guide author and illustrator of The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition.

I am glad I had the opportunity to see David Sibley in person and to learn about his newest book. His personal experiences and how they led to a career in creating field guides were enlightening, encouraging, and entertaining.

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: Whatisit? Reed Pond Critters

Hiking the trails this time of year can be challenging.

The weather can change from warm to rainy to sleet quite quickly. Although the snow has melted, trails are muddy and wet. In our region, ground cover has yet to take on a green color, and trees have yet to open their buds and unfurl their leaves.

There is a homogenous look to the the woodlands and prairies. Finding colorful or interesting scenes take more time to observe and capture in photos.

So when I came across a colorful sight and a unique finding on a trail near Reed Pond at Reed Turner Woodland in Long Grove, Illinois, I thought it was time for a little creative photo fun.

The two photos that follow were observed on this hike.

I thought they made interesting and unique woodland "critters".

Take a look. Can you identify what is in each photo?

This "beast" strikes an alien pose. Can you figure out what it really is?

With a little fur, this "kitty" might let you rub its back.
Can you identify the object?

The answers are below...

The first photo is a cropped pond side scene,
rotated 90 degrees.

The second photo is the cropped view of the underside
of the top half of a turtle shell (known as a carapace).

Did you figure these out? If so, let me know at:

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: IRJM Photo Essay: Reverse Trees

IRJM has contributed previous ideas to this blog magazine. She has agreed to edit, choose, or contribute to this feature, known as IRJM Photo Essay.

I was going through my photo library and came across this photo taken on the Des Plaines River Trail near Lincolnshire, Illinois, in early March of 2013.

I then edited the original photo with my
reversal of fortune technique and liked the subsequent results.

What do you think? Let me know at

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: IRJM Photo Essay: A Des Plaines River View

IRJM has contributed previous ideas to this blog magazine. She has agreed to edit, choose, or contribute to this feature, known as IRJM Photo Essay.

Des Plaines River, taken from the trail bridge near Highway 60.

Though I can bundle up and hike the snow covered trails, taking shorter hikes has been more prudent this past winter. The trails were icy and snow on the trail has been pock marked. These factors make footing uncertain, and avoiding falls or twisting an ankle is not always easy. A fall or an injury while out on the trail could be quite dangerous.

I discovered that a ten minute walk from a trailhead and doubling back gets me outside and out on the trail, while minimizing injury in the past winter months. These twenty minute hikes are a compromise for safety, and allow me to still experience the outdoors. 

Several weeks ago, I took a hike along the Des Plaines River Trail just off highway 60 (south of Libertyville, Illinois). A winter scene of the Des Plaines River is shown in the photo above, with an edited twist. 

I took this picture from the trail's bridge (looking south). The image is surreal when viewed upside down!

I have previously
written about reversal of image photos, and always enjoy discovering one.

I hope you, too, enjoy this view!

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail
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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: Evidence of Spring

The hike below was taken on the Second Day of Spring at Reed-Turner Woodland in Long Grove, Illinois.

Indian Creek at Reed-Turner Woodland, Long Grove, Illinois.

Midday. 50 degrees. The Second Day of Spring.

These three ingredients are all I need to get out on the trail. The snow is melting and it is time to check the trail for evidence of Spring.

Indian Creek is full and brown and hurried. Its power is evident as the water washes through the ravine and into the sedge meadow.

The trail is saturated and spongy from melting snow and ice. My boots squish over a layer of brown ooze. The gooey mud squirts away from my boots and splatter my lower legs.

Shaded portions of the trail have lingering snow and ice. This makes my footing uncertain. I step slowly through these areas.

Saturated ground along the trail.

The air smells wet and earthy. I take my time, looking for other evidence of Spring.

And then I find it: a single crocus bloom. It will be joined by others quite soon.

A crocus bloom rises from the woodland floor.

Animal tracks are seen upon the trail. These temporary casts of ice and snow will soon be gone and replaced by similar tracks in the mud.

Deer tracks in the snow.

Spring is a time of mixing and churning. Detritus is scattered on the trail and the woodland floor. Organic matter will be broken down by the outdoor elements, micro organisms, or eaten or used for nesting by animals.

Remaining matter and nutrients will also return to the soil. Nothing will go to waste.

A feather, an oak leaf, and deer scat on and in the snow.

Feathers, dropped in flight, land gently upon the woodland floor and trail.

White feather on the woodland floor.

Animal droppings lace the trails, leaving characteristic signatures on the ground. (Yes, you can Google "scat", select images, and learn to distinguish deer from coyote droppings quite easily!)

I found fur from the underbelly of a deer on a piece of bark. The fibers are course and grey.

Course fur on the trail.

Finding Spring's first flowers is a hunt for woodland treasures, and I am up for the challenge today. 

A patch of buttercups is found.


As the days become warmer and longer, a cascade of flowers and foliage will soon carpet the woodlands and prairie meadows.

I then spy green shoots pushing up from the mud. They look like tiny soldiers all standing in formation on a parade ground.

Like soldiers, these sprouts stand at attention.

As the trail replaces snow and ice with mud, I am quick to realize that hiking will be slow for a little while longer. I don't mind. Slowing down rewards me as I discover minute findings on the trail. These are things I might have otherwise missed.

Snow and ice are replaced by a muddy trail. This is evidence of Spring.

A full, brown creek. Mud. Flowers. Sprouts. 

My hike ends. I have found plenty of evidence of Spring.

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: Moonshine/Earthshine/and Shining Venus

A crescent moon and a "morning star" are seen from my front porch.

My morning commute continues to supply many outdoor treasures! I miss being out on the trail, but I keep finding interesting and fun sights from my front porch step!

I often view the eastern sky before I leave for work. If I discover something that catches my interest I then stop at safe places on the commute to re-observe whatever I had noticed. I do not operate my camera from a moving vehicle.
These predetermined safe places allow me to view and photograph my observations as the lighting conditions change at sunrise.

On January 28th, I had an early morning meeting that required me to leave home one hour before sunrise.

In the eastern sky I saw the crescent moon. I also observed a bright light to the left of the moon. The object was fixed in the sky and was not an airplane. The sky was clear and there were no stars seen at that time.

Figuring that I might capture the moon and the bright light in a photo from my driveway, I took the photo shown above. I tried to get the moon between the tree trunk and the first branch going to the right (artistic license).

The third and second brightest celestial objects are observed.

I could not resist a followup photo of the moon and the other bright object in the sky. Although it is difficult to see in the picture above, I did observe that the entire circle of the moon could seen. The part that was not the bright crescent appeared as a faint gray light, and outlined the remainder of the circular view of the moon. Collectively, any reflected light from the moon is known as moonlight, or moonshine.

However, the gray area outlining the rest of the moon away from the lit up crescent is called earthshine (if this is observed from another planet, it is called planetshine - see below).

This phenomenom occurs when sunlight is reflected from the earth and reaches the dark part of the moon that faces the earth. An observer on earth sees the dark part of the moon faintly illuminated. The reflected light is less bright than the lit up crescent part, hence its grey appearance. That explains why I could see the entire round shape of the moon beyond the brightly lit part of the crescent.

Scientists have used the brightness of earthshine to document changes in cloud cover and track global warming (the more cloud cover, the more light is reflected to the moon and back to earth). Leonardo Da Vinci also took an interest in studying earthshine.

Deep space exploration spacecrafts sent to Saturn have used the reflected rays of the sun from Saturn and onto its moons to study them. This is an example of  planetshine (Saturnshine?).

Discovering that the sun's rays are reflected from earth, onto the moon, and then back to earth for viewing was an interesting finding to observe and capture on my camera. And to think all of this started by looking up in the morning sky!

The morning celestial lights continue.

But what about that other bright object in the sky? Remember, I did not observe any stars out at this time, which was about an hour before sunrise.

The object was fixed in the eastern sky. I knew that it wasn't a star or an airplane. It was very easy to see, and it did not twinkle. 

I had captured a photo of the third brightest object in our sky (the sun and the moon being  #1 and #2).

I was observing the second planet from the sun, also known as the "morning star" in antiquity: the planet Venus!

Venus and the moon are observed from Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve.

Named after the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty, Venus is the only planet named for a female. It has no moons. 

Venus has been seen and described by many ancient cultures.

So there you have it: my morning step took me on a celestial trip to outer space and back! With the moon and Venus looking over my shoulder, what better way to commute before sunrise!

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: An Icy Walk Along Lake Michigan

Sunrise view of Lake Michigan. Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

Sunrise. Eighteen degrees. The frozen shore of Lake Michigan.

These are the ingredients for a winter hike that I was destined to take.

It was time to get out on the trail!

Large chunks of ice along the shore of Lake Michigan.

I thought I might capture a sunrise view of Lake Michigan, so I decided to go for a morning hike at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

Double and triple layered for the cold elements, I followed the sun east until Lake Michigan was before me.

The rock and sand strewn beach was frozen and covered in thick chunks of ice.

Little blue pools of the lake's water were captured within the icy walls along the shore.

A cold morning at Lake Michigan.

Off the shore, large ice chunks appeared as grounded icebergs.

If I used just a little imagination, I could convince myself that I was in a land of frozen tundra and glaciers.

This winter's polar vortex has given our area cold weather that would rival earth's northern regions. At times, it feels like we are living in a Jack London novel!

A "shelfie" on the icy shore of Lake Michigan.

The photo above is not an Illinois Sasquatch.

It is a shadow selfie (a "shelfie") taken along the shore. The ice wall was built from waves piling over and freezing in layers.

The wall was nearly five feet tall.

An icy sunrise at Lake Michigan. Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

The icy shore views of Lake Michigan were worth the effort to get out early and into the cold.

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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Suburban Wildlife Magazine: A Hungry Hawk

An animal encounter video was sent as a reader contribution from Mike and Reed McCool.

 It may be viewed here.

Two hawk behaviors are captured by their video: the scavenging behavior of a red tailed hawk, and taking flight from a standing position.

Both of these actions require the use of stored energy. One is in the form of nutrients to supply fuel (scavenging of dead animal matter). The second is in the form of muscles and wings working in coordination to provide thrust for flight.

This 17 second video was taken near Woodridge, Illinois. He and his son, Reed, were traveling south off Hobson Road onto Brentwood Drive.

Mike told me the scene occurred at 5 pm on a recent Saturday in February.

The bird, an adult red tailed hawk, has faced a long and cold winter season. Red tailed hawks will seek food either as a scavenger (dead meat source), or as a predator (living meat source).

I created still photos of Mike's video. These stills demonstrate the coordination of muscles, wings, and eyesight that are necessary for the hawk to take flight from a standing position.

In the audio portion of the video, the narrator (Mike), makes note of the hawk's reluctance to leave its food source. The hawk would have likely returned to its feast after his car drove by. Conservation of energy, whether stored in nutrients (fuel), or in the action of muscles to power motion, are a constant theme in nature.

Scavenging behavior recycles nutrients within an ecosystem. It costs the scavenging animal less energy than that required for preying upon another living animal. Red tailed hawks are known to exhibit both behaviors.

When Mike's video is viewed in still frames, the power and coordination of a hawk's take off into flight is a wonderful marvel to observe.

As Mike sees a hawk from his car, he captures the scene of a red tailed hawk feeding on a dead raccoon. The raccoon was likely a road kill.

"It is claiming that raccoon", remarks Mike in the narration of the video.

As the car's window is lowered, the sound alerts the hawk to a disturbance in its environment. 

Threatened, the hawk turns its head toward the direction of escape and prepares for take off. The sequence that leads to flight follows:

The right foot is lifted. It will be set down momentarily. This is to provide for better footing for take off from both feet.

The wings are lifted, aerated, and readied for flight. The longitudinal axis of the hawk is in a vertical direction at this time.

Once both feet are secured, the hawk crouches down. The legs are flexed.

Wings are straightened and lifted away from its body. Tail feathers still point in a downward position.

The long axis of the hawk is more horizontal as it lowers its center of gravity.

Its head points forward in the direction of take off.

Feathers on the outer half of the wings are known as primary wing feathers.They are pulled inward and stretched vertically upward in preparation for a standing take off.

The legs are now fully flexed and the animal is crouched low. The stored energy in the legs are similar to that of a spring which is compressed before being let loose. Once released, the spring action of the legs will be used to power the bird upward into the air for flight.

Tail feathers still point down, and the hawk's head looks in the direction it plans to fly.

The hawk then shifts its center of gravity so as to be propelled in a forward and upward direction.

Primary wing feathers are nearly vertical to minimize drag when the upward motion for take off is made.

The tail feathers are lifted and set to the long axis of the hawk. The head is lifted just above the horizontal level of the ground.

Like the release of a compressed spring, the extension of the leg muscles power the hawk upward and forward into the air. The tail is also lifted in an upward direction, an additional aid to carry the hawk's momentum into the air.

The legs and tail are fully extended upward.

At the same time, the wings are also extended upward. They are positioned so as to minimize drag as the hawk is projected upward. They also provide momentum to carry the hawk up into the air. Once positioned, the wings and tail will be ready for a down stroke to power flight.

In order for the bird to fly, its wings and tail must provide thrust for lift in the air. The design of feathers, wings, and tail act as a plane propeller. As they stroke up and down, the hawk takes flight.

Note that as the wings push downward, the tail also moves down. The hawk's tail provides additional thrust that will power the bird upward and forward into the air.

The head looks forward in the direction of flight. A hawk's pointed head reduces wind drag as it flies through the air. The eyes provide constant visual assessment during its escape into the air.

As the hawk begins to fly, the wings and tail are lifted for the next downward stroke.

During flight, the tail feathers are fanned out. This provides stability and balance while in flight. The tail is also used to help the bird fly up or down, similar in action as the aileron on the back of an airplane.

I am grateful for Mike and Reed's observation of this red tailed hawk, and thank him for his video contribution to Suburban Wildlife Magazine.

Breaking down the video of the hawk's take off into flight was a fun exercise in natural history!

Do you have an outdoor photo or video to share? If so, contact me at:

Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.

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