Quote of the week: ‘Rain gardens are now in the palette of options people look at when they landscape their yard.’

— Mike Sands, senior associate, Liberty Prairie Foundation

For a story on rain gardens, click here.


Photo of ironweed, which can be used in a rain garden, by Sheryl DeVore.



Quote of the week:I’m sure this is unprecedented that piping plovers are nesting on a Superfund site

  • pipingploverhenneghanBrad Semel in an article I wrote entitled, “Rare birds nesting at hazardous cleanup site in Waukegan”

Two more federally endangered birds have returned to Lake County, but the future of their nesting site remains undecided.

Last year, a pair of piping plovers nested at Illinois Beach State Park along Lake Michigan in Zion. And despite the fact that a peregrine falcon snatched the adult male before the chicks were born, all four young shorebirds survived — and one was even found wintering in Georgia.

This year, two of those chicks, now adults, returned to nest on the formerly asbestos-ridden Johns Manville property in Waukegan, the site of a federal Superfund project to clean up hazardous materials. The nesting site is about a half-mile from where they were born.

For the rest of the story,  click here.

Photo of piping plover at Johns Manville in Waukegan by John Henneghan

May 2 — Grunting rails and sea of woodland white


Happy second day of May — I chose to walk through Wright Woods today in Vernon Hills — Of course I was hoping for an influx of migrant birds — but it was fairly quiet — save for a few cool experiences I’ll reveal later on. But the most breathtaking moment, one I just cannot capture in film was the sea of white — the great white trillium carpeting the forest floor. If you have not been to Wright Woods in early May to see the trillium — get yourself there now. They don’t last long. They are in full bloom now and soon they will start to turn pink and wither.

Singing in the woodlands today were yellow-rumped and palm warblers, a northern waterthrush and two dueling yellow warblers —  I heard them singing from a shrub row off the path and hiked in to watch two males flying to and fro and shouting out their songs.   Yellow warblers sing sweet, sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet, but they also sing a song similar to that of a chestnut-sided warbler — they were doing both today — so of course I had to get off the path to confirm 😉 My reward for getting off the path — two big deer ticks. I know ticks are nature, too, but still — I think it’s going to be a bad tick year.

Another little off the beaten path revealed a pair of wood ducks and a beaver — who realized I was there and swam out of sight, flapping his flat tail behind him.

So now for the grunting rails — while walking along some wetland/cattail areas at Half Day Woods, connected to Wright Woods, I heard a loud grunting noise — followed by another nearby.  I peered in between the cattails to see one rail  dashing after another. They continued their gruntings for a bit — I tired to join in, but they knew I was an imposter.

Here’s a link to the crazy sounds of Virginia rails.

This was really a cool and lucky find — they just decided to get “mad” at each other while I was walking by.

You just never know what you’ll find when you’re out in the wild — and to add joy to the day I met some lovely bird monitors and had a lovey chat with Jackie Dann about life, nature and birds.

Happy May 2.

Winter birding in my front yard

Brown creepers find hidden insect larvae and eggs in trees during winter.

Brown creepers find hidden insect larvae and eggs in trees during winter.



The snow has fallen — and the birds are hungry. Those of us who feed them can enjoy the view after the recent storm when birds were hunkered down waiting for a break in the weather to feed.

It always seems this time of year that I see up to six or more cardinals, males and females, hopping on the white snow or perched at a feeder snatching sunflowers. Also visiting the feeder were black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, American goldfinches, along with the nonnative house sparrows and European starlings, and a red-bellied woodpecker, who’s usually seen on the peanut feeder. Plus we’ve had a white-throated sparrow hanging around all winter, and he’s been getting sunflower seeds too. That chalky white throat puts the color of snow to shame.

Yesterday, a brown creeper was searching for hidden insect larvae and eggs in our Norway spruce next to the feeders.

Winter can be harsh at times — but the birds in my front yard bring cheer.

What are you seeing in your snowy yard this winter?




Rare species — should we save them?



It’s a complicated story — but in essence, the greater sage grouse may likely become extinct on the heels of Congress approving a budget through next September. Click here to read the story. It, of course, involves the oil industry.

Here’s my question: How do I explain to naysayers why we need to save endangered and rare species, wild lands, pieces of wilderness from so-called progress? Looking at the photo of a greater grouse above, what emotions does it invoke Some may look at it and say, it’s a bird — no big deal if we lose it.

But for me, it is a deep abiding feeling I have that humans need every piece of wild land and animal and plant sustained for our personal health and happiness, and also, as a selfless way of saving the earth for others to enjoy. I cannot offer statistics or examples to prove this feeling — but I do believe it exists in each and every one of us if we dig down deep and find out.  That’s what I think when I look at this photo. What are your thoughts on this? Would love to hear them.



Now that Thanksgiving is over, a word (or two) about the “wild turkey”



So, friends that turkey on your table or someone else’s yesterday was likely NOT a wild turkey. Wild turkeys have been bred as domestics for many years to produce a table turkey with bigger breasts and smaller “other parts”  — and those turkeys are unable to fly or run fast — likely they’ve never even been given the chance.

The wild turkeys out there — are not “stupid” as they have been called. In fact, they can fly and run and hide in trees. Due to loss of habitat and over hunting, they were nearly extinct from many parts of our country until a reintroduction program returned populations to the wild. In wooded grasslands they fly beneath the canopy top and land to perch — they also can fly close to the ground for a fourth of a mile or more.

So now, the next part of the story begins — some people are claiming wild turkeys are a nuisance. And so, like the Canada geese, whose numbers fell, then rose again due to reintroduction programs, the turkey will probably soon be maligned in the wild and humans will be crying to lower the populations.

Both these creatures — the Canada goose and the wild turkey — were helped to survive because hunters like them. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hunting fan for sure, but if you need to hunt to get a meal to your family, I totally understand. I just hope we can learn that we inadvertently mess with nature and when we try to correct our mistakes by “messing” again, we’d better get it right.

My goal this year or maybe next is to add wild turkey to my Lake County, Illinois list. a long time ago, I saw a mother turkey with her young walking behind her in pairs, at Mississippi Palisades State Park — what a wonderful sight.

It’s baby bird time!

A two- mile walk around the Fort  Sheridan Forest Preserve on July 25 turned out to be a revelry in young birds.

Eastern Kingbird Trio

First, my husband and I (and it was our wedding anniversary), watched a male and female Bobolink tending to their young. We didn’t actually see the young, but saw what confirmed their were newborn Bobolinks around. The male stayed close to the female as she flew in and out of the grasses and then landed on a perch, her mouth clutching a dangling chartreuse katydid. She didn’t eat the katydid.  She flitted around, listened to her mate’s encouraging chips, then darted in the grasslands, emerging a few moments later sans the bug. That was a confirmation they had young about — either still in their nest or meandering around the grasslands still begging for food.

After enjoying that scene, we continued our hike and heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee singing — an adult male! Steve then got his binoculars on a pewee in an oak tree. This pewee had a shorter-than-normal tail with an indentation in the middle. The last feathers to grow in a young bird are its tail feathers — this was a young, still not fully grown. Soon, its parent, with a longer, squared-off tail flew to its side. Another confirmation of young.

We continued our walk and then heard the chip note of an Eastern Kingbird. I looked to a leafless tree with my binoculars and saw a kingbird, with a shaved tail and knew it was young. You’ll see a photo above of three young Eastern Kingbirds all with the white line at the end of their tail, which adults have, but with shorter tails. We eventually saw four kingbirds on the tree – two adults and two young — An adult would fly out into the air to catch an insect, and we assumed it was trying to teach its young how to catch flies! It’s time for the young to be on their own, and yet some birds are still on their nests — for example, the young American Robins in our front yard Norway spruce. This was the second nesting for this adult robin and she’s still feeding th em at the nest.

Enjoy this special time of year and look for the young with their funny tails and down stil atop their heads.