The walk along the south edge of Lake Parker took us into contact with many of the creatures that I see on other trails and as expected, birds dominated much of the proceedings.

There was a gorgeous Glossy Ibis, lots of different types of Heron and Egrets, some amazing Osprey and a huge assortment of Gallinules and Water Fowls. Overhead, small clusters of Pelicans were on a southward journey for the evening. The lakeside was literally teeming with activity.

There were also a number of good-sized alligators present and one was guarding her nest waiting for hatchlings, just underneath where an Anhinga nest was, nestled comfortably in a tree overhead.

One of the alligators treated us to a life-and-death struggle as he tried in vain to catch a rather large fish that was nearby in the shallows. It was a rare instance where the fish got away. I felt for the alligator going hungry but glad to think that the fish lives for another day.

I hope you enjoy the selection of images at the bottom of this blog.

It was the notion of nest that stayed in my mind and became today’s blog thought. It is something that almost all creatures do to some degree or other; rearing our young in a protected environment until they can move forward on their own and survive whatever life has to throw at them.

In some cases this period is quite brief and in other cases goes on for years.

I guess it depends on a number of factors, not least of which is survival rate. For us humans this period drags on for many years, where typically our young step out into the wild world around eighteen.

But it is the mental aspect of nesting that I wanted to touch on here; where the young are tended to by their parents to where they feel some degree of safety net against making any fatal errors in their new lives.

While some are thrown in at the deep-end at an early stage, others enjoy the protection of parental figures for much of their lives. Some parents strive deliberately to create independence early on in their child, while others molly-coddle and enable their offspring long after they should have cut the umbilical cord.

At the other end of the equation many young people look to fashion their own independence early on and push hard against any continued act of parenting.

It is difficult to know when in fact cutting the cord and leaving the nest is the right step to take.

I felt very fortunate that my own parents seemed to strike the balance quite perfectly and independence came for me at 18 when I headed off to college. But throughout my life, I always found that they welcomed me back to the nest whenever I got in trouble or needed advice or help.

When they died, the nest died too and became just a fond memory of a time when life’s journey didn’t feel so alone. When you had good parents, there is never a good time to find yourself orphaned.

But the bottom line in all of this is that at some stage we as parents need to take our hands of the handle-bars and let the kids find their own way. Similarly as kids, we need to pedal on our own and find a balance that keeps us moving forward in the right direction and not falling off to the side.

Unlike most creatures in the animal kingdom, our lives aren’t precariously poised in a do-or-die struggle where our very existence depends on whether we left the nest at the right moment. But psychologically such an event and its related timing can be hugely damaging to us and can leave us with emotional scars that never heal.

How many of us know people who have stayed nest-bound too long to where they are unable to make a decision of their own and habitually look for guidance well beyond the time they should be standing on their own feet?

The physical nest is a comforting and welcoming place in our lives so I am not talking about that. There is nothing wrong with physically being present in our parents’ lives. In fact, in many ways this can be hugely comforting when you finally reach a point when they are gone.

But it is the psychological nest that we have to be wary of. It can truly stunt our growth as individuals and robs our parents of that phase of life when they are “empty nesters” and deserving of time to reminisce of the good jobs they did in raising us in the first place.

… just a thought.

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Monitoring for the future

Monitoring for the future

Post by Jen Berlinghof

It was a bone-chilling winter’s day at Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa—part of the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois—when a group of five gathered to monitor for the future. Our crew consisted of Restoration Ecologists Ken Klick and Dan Sandacz, Environmental Educator Eileen Davis, Environmental Communications Specialist Brett Peto and myself.

It’s all hands on deck for an ambitious new tree monitoring program with the lofty goal of sampling every woodland, upland forest and flatwoods habitat within the Forest Preserves every 10–15 years. Ken and Dan are spearheading this project.

In the field, the pair are like bookends. Ken has served 25 years at the agency, while Dan is fresh to the Forest Preserves, starting his tenure this past fall. The two have opted to take a collaborative approach, inviting volunteers from our Natural Resources and Education Departments to help with this significant undertaking.

A leisurely stream flows through Wright Woods in Mettawa. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
A leisurely stream flows through Wright Woods in Mettawa. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

Trudging through mud and muck, snow and ice, Dan led us into the woods from the parking lot, carrying a yellow-and-orange piece of equipment called the Bad Elf that reminded me of Gandalf’s staff from The Lord of the Rings. The Bad Elf is used to calibrate GPS coordinates. We carried other gear to help take stock of trees and shrubs, too: measuring tapes, metal posts, iPads, styluses.

Our boots gently kicked up spores from giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) mushrooms as we slipped past a babbling, half-thawed stream. When we arrived at the correct area, we quickly split into two teams and got to work on the day’s sample plots. Each circular plot has a 17.8-meter radius, randomly selected through mapping software. We used the Bad Elf to locate the center of each plot and pounded a metal post into the ground to mark it.

Then we followed two monitoring protocols: tree canopy monitoring and shrub monitoring. For the former, we identified and measured every tree that had a diameter at breast height (DBH) larger than 10 cm within the 17.8-meter radius. We also took notes on each tree’s health. For shrub monitoring, we counted the number and size of species and stems found within a smaller, 5-meter radius. In practice, both protocols involved Ken and Dan carrying a meter tape and walking in a slow circle, measuring plants and calling out stats, which Eileen and I recorded on iPads into our in-house database.

The author installs a metal post to mark the center of a sample plot. Restoration Ecologist Dan Sandacz holds a Bad Elf to calibrate GPS coordinates. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
The author installs a metal post to mark the center of a sample plot. Restoration Ecologist Dan Sandacz holds a Bad Elf to calibrate GPS coordinates. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Dan measures a 17.8-meter radius for a sample plot. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Dan measures a 17.8-meter radius for a sample plot. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
The author records tree and shrub data, and compass coordinates, on an iPad. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
The author records tree and shrub data, and compass coordinates, on an iPad. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

While we recorded data, other bits of knowledge passed back and forth among the group. We discovered together that a tree snag—a standing dead or dying tree that provides wildlife habitat—was a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) formerly home to pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus). We pondered the curly tufts of dried poverty oat grass (Danthonia spicata) that, according to Ken, seems to only grow at the bases of certain trees. We worked through the challenges of identifying tree species without their leaves, focusing on the bark, twigs and buds, and using our knowledge of the habitat. This sharing of wisdom across departments strengthens the Forest Preserves as a whole.

Trees are the old souls of the forest. They don’t respond as quickly to natural resource management practices as animals or herbaceous plants do. This monitoring effort is designed to create a baseline, long-term dataset of the tree canopies in woodland habitats throughout Lake County. With the data collected, we’ll be able to evaluate how our management efforts—such as prescribed burns and removal of European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)—affect woodlands over long periods of time.

We’ll also use this information to describe the tree canopies at different preserves, focusing on forest health, age and canopy structure. The results can help us estimate important metrics of woodland quality and ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration.

Restoration Ecologist Ken Klick measures a tree's diameter at breast height, or DBH. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Restoration Ecologist Ken Klick measures a tree’s diameter at breast height, or DBH. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Environmental Educator Eileen Davis records data. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Environmental Educator Eileen Davis records data. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Ken heads to the next sample plot area. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.
Ken heads to the next sample plot area. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

As we finished up our nine plots for the day, we looked up from our focused view to contemplate the expansive sight of towering oaks (Quercus spp.) and hickories (Carya spp.). We walked under leafy squirrel dreys tucked high in the craggy branches. We passed a papery praying mantis (Mantidae family) egg case attached to a vermilion stem of red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea). And we followed the Bad Elf out of the woods, our arms a little less heavy with equipment, but our database loaded with new information.

It’s satisfying to know these efforts are laying the groundwork toward a goal of the Forest Preserves: understanding Lake County’s tree populations today so we can better protect them for tomorrow. Learn more about our natural resource management strategies.

Enjoy the serenity of this Meditative Minute video. Video © Lake County Forest Preserves.

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Hiding Place

Hiding Place

The second set of images from my recent trail at Circle B involved (unsurprisingly) mostly birds.

The trails there are saturated with birds of all shapes and sizes and particularly at that time of the morning, my feathered friends are by and large busily searching for their breakfast.

The place is awash with the sounds of all their voices and we were repeatedly guided by sounds and activities, each demanding attention from our eyes (and of course, my lens).

While Anhingas and Cormorants searched beneath the surface, Herons and Egrets of all shapes and sizes stealthily gazed into the waters at their feet. Meanwhile Osprey and Hawks soared above us with eagle-eye looking for any movement or shapes below that they would then drop like a stone, to catch.

The poor fish didn’t have a chance. There is no safe harbor for those at the bottom of the food chain in a place like Circle B. Nowhere to hide. Someone will find you.

And if the birds didn’t get you, there was an abundance of alligators patrolling the waters ready to catch any unaware prey. We counted over thirty of them on our one pass of the trail by Lake Hancock.

There was also that one moment that seemed to break the seriousness of the surrounds as a young Raccoon walked straight up to us and passed by mere inches from our feet as he travelled north while we did south.

Anyway, I have put some pics of all this cast of characters at the end of the blog and I hope you enjoy!

The thought that occurred to me that resulted in today’s thought was the very notion of a hiding place and why we often seek one out.

In the animal kingdom that I describe above, hiding is one of the few defenses that is used to evade death at the hands of a predator. When there is no chance to outrun or fight off a predator, hiding is about the only option left.

But in the human world, hiding rarely involved such dramatic circumstances.

Yet many people spend alarmingly large portions of their lives hiding. There are those that hide from truth, others that hide from challenges, and yet others that hide from opportunity.

Truth has by and large become an abstract notion. It was once a simple and factual statement of reality but now thanks to people like Trump, Putin, and the unbalanced media and enablers that panders to them, there are millions that happily consume a narrative that appeals to them rather than one that is based on fact.

Willful blindness has become a trait that their supporters adopt as they counter facts about their heroes with nonsensical defenses. They accept “politically motivated” as a reasonable excuse to dismiss anything negative they hear, regardless of the fact that every despot in history almost has deferred to that phrase to deny their wrongdoings when confronted.

I had some moron tell me how Trump jumped out of his limo and saved a white woman who was being raped by a black man (note the roles of white and black in that story) and he completely believed that this was simply a fact that liberal media wouldn’t report on because they are politically motivated against Trump.

How do you speak to people like that? Where do you even begin?

The inability to grasp truth isn’t the issue as much as the ability to hide from it.

There are also those among us that hide from the challenges that life throws our way. I have seen many of my peers follow the Ostrich approach to difficulties and try to ride out a wave of struggle by simply sticking their head in the sand and hoping to out-wait it.

When life gives us challenges (and in most of our lives, it does) we cannot hide and hope that someone deals with it for us. When we were children we might have got away with that because our parents were there to recognize our inability to deal with the challenges and so they did on our behalf.

But in this adult world, challenges will only get tackled when we meet them in the field of battle and beat them. No, we are not going to beat all of them. We might even lose more than we win. But not-fighting and not dealing with is only a recipe for complete failure.

And then there are those that hide from opportunity. As crazy as that may sound, there are people for whom opportunities only represent the possibility of failure and disappointment. So they don’t take the risk and the opportunity passes them by.

When we hide from an opportunity we do ourselves such a disservice and miss out on the chance to advance our lives in a positive direction. Yes, there is a definite possibility that we will fail. That we will be unable to convert the opportunity into something concrete.

It might be too big for us. It might have arrived at the wrong time. We may not have the skills or the resources to capture it. But the simple truth is that unless we try to, we will never know whether we could have or not.

The most endearing aspect of America is not linked to it being the land of the free or the home of the brave. There are several countries that are more free and more brave. But it is the opportunity that it brings and the mindset that sees opportunity and reacts to it.

Unlike any other country in the world, America’s “can do” attitude became its calling card throughout the twentieth century and it became a beacon of hope for billions across the planet.

Even Fievel’s “There are no cats in America” story shone a beacon to immigrants the world over. It had nothing to do with democracy or freedom. But everything to do with the mind-set.

If we could harness the approach of our forefathers and be willing to take a risk when opportunity comes knocking, then our failure becomes nothing to be afraid of. But rather a step closer to success.

… just a thought!

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It has been a couple of weeks since I was last on a trail. It has been a hectic process of making Inna’s move to the US possible and a stunningly dreadful process it was.

There are lots of wonderful aspects of the USA that I love but their treatment of immigrants and would-be immigrants is not one of them. That a country that once proclaimed “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” has drifted so far from that founding principle is shocking.

I won’t rail on it here in this blog but America should do the decent thing and remove that inscription. It is shockingly misleading.

So, anyway, Inna and I went to Circle B the other morning and it spawned two sets of images, the first of which is here. This set involved the death of a fish (or the successful catch by an Anhinga, depending on which way you want to look at it.)

In reverence to the fish, I decided to give him his own platform rather than have his death get lost in the middle of a complete set of trail images. The thought that his death would become a mere footnote in an otherwise fun shoot, seemed unfair.

And so, this is to you, Freddy.

The shots turned out quite awesome and when the Anhinga broke the water surface with his catch, it happened only about 60 or 70 feet away from where we were standing. So, it was well within reach of my 600 mm zoom lens.

I shot the scene from that first moment where the fish suddenly appeared above the surface wondering what had hit him to where the light had left his eyes and he disappeared down the gullet of his captor.

I have placed some images of the scene at the end of this blog and hope you “enjoy” them.

It was honestly the following day before the thought for this blog took shape in my head. And it revolved around my desire not to lose his final images in the middle of a larger set from the trail.

You see, I don’t believe the death of any creature should merely be a footnote in a bigger story. If that is what it becomes then we have devalued the life of the recently departed and minimized its existence.

All lives are significant. If not to those around the living creature, then surely to the creature himself.

Of course, being human, we prioritize human life higher that other animals and then further prioritize lives based on our own belief system and surrounds.

Faced with a huge number of living creatures, we are right to do so, however we need to be careful not to minimize those whose lives we have not prioritized.

Remember how in 2001 when those of us in the US experienced the 9/11 tragedy where over 3,000 lives were lost? Well, just a couple of months later in Asia, almost 300,000 lives were lost in a catastrophic tsunami.

Yet this second event barely made the news here, so involved with our own tragedy were we.

In fairness, there is only so much news airplay in a given day, so I don’t fault anyone for prioritizing what happened here. But the scope of the human tragedy in Asia was very much minimized within the general view that these were foreigners. Distant peoples living irrelevant lives.

And that is where the shame lies. To each of those poor souls, and very likely those around them, their lives were equally important to anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the twin towers that day.

Each of these had dreams, hopes, loves, that were completely extinguished within moments and none voluntarily decided to end their lives drowning in a sea of misery.

Lady Liberty turned a blind eye to their suffering and instead turned her gaze to focus on the ruins of the buildings behind her in Manhattan.

On a larger scale, we humans have managed to isolate ourselves away from the death of other creatures by our own lofty aggrandisement above all other creatures. We elevate our significance to a level where we too can turn our gaze away and look elsewhere as creatures are slaughtered for fun or profit.

Did you know that the latest numbers (2013) show that over 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans? Compare that to the 57 humans that were killed by sharks in 2022 and you will see the disparity.

This is like when a few ragged Palestinians fire stupid rockets into Israeli territory in protest at their lands being occupied and then the Israeli Defense Forces launch an all-out aerial attack on residential areas killing and maiming hundreds in response.

Our ability to differentiate between one group of humans and another or between humans and other animals, is based purely on our “us” versus “them” notion.

It is a cancer that belies the truth of this world and mocks the reality that actually, we are all “us”.

Poor Freddy’s adventure came to an end suddenly and without provocation. There was no malevolence in Andy Anhinga’s actions and I think Freddy’s final thought on the circle of life was that he was just playing his part.

Andy needed to eat and this was the basis upon which he killed. If he ever opens up his own business killing fish for fun or profit, then I will have a different view.

… just a thought!

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WeDigBio: Save the date April 13 – 16

WeDigBio: Save the date April 13 – 16

The next WeDigBio is a month away! The event will take place on 13-16 April 2023. People from all over the world join together to digitize specimen data and to celebrate biodiversity collections. We hope you join us!

This is a fun and festive weekend at NfN. We’ll have “classifying blitz” here online at Notes from Nature, where we’ll classify as many Subjects as we can during the event. There will be new expeditions, and some of our data providers will host events such as online talks, tours, and discussions (and possibly some in-person events), so you’ll have opportunities to meet them and learn about their work.

Please invite your family, friends, and colleagues to participate too: as you already do, they can support support biodiversity research by digitizing natural history collections data. You’ll be able to follow along by looking for the #WeDigBio hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are a researcher interested in using Notes from Nature in your research please reach out (, we’d love to work with you for this event of one in the future.

— The Notes from Nature Team

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The knee is still fucked so heading to a trail somewhere wasn’t an option for me this morning. Other than some commercial assignments, my camera work has been very muted this past couple of weeks and I was in a desperate need of escape.

In the hope of a colorful twilight, I headed off to Lake Parker at six. Wouldn’t have to walk much and the weather seemed color-friendly. Or so I thought.

Any plans I had of a glorious and peaceful sunrise, unraveled as I made it to the boat pier. The parking lot was almost completely full, with more than 30 pick-up trucks, trailers, and boats. Unaware, I had found myself in the middle of a fishing competition and as I stepped from my car, the heightened levels of conversations among the 60 or 70 competitors drowned out any of the normal waking bird sounds I am normally greeted by.

In recognizing that this was never going to be a photo opportunity for me, Mother Nature decided to throw enough clouds onto the horizon to kill any prospect of a nice twilight.

For a moment, I felt stumped and other than taking some shots to capture some of the busy-ness going on, my options there were quite limited. I waited until all the boats had left but with civil twilight over and no colors happening, there wasn’t really anything more for me to do there.

So, I drove down to the side of the lake opposite the fire-station and captured some of the actual sunrise after it broke the horizon and irradiated the edges of the clouds as it began its journey upwards for the day.

I even captured a couple of shots of a beautiful Great Egret who was originally just standing there watching the antics of the smaller birds in the reeds. But then, he didn’t like my proximity and flew away.

I have put some shots at the end of the blog. Hope you enjoy.

It was on my way home (as it most often is), that my head began to muse over the chaos of the morning and how it had altered my expectations.

Oftentimes, we plan things in life based on our understanding of the situation as it exists. Not what might exist.

And yet, it would be ridiculous to imagine all the complications that life could throw at any of our plans, as doing so would probably mean that we would end up doing nothing.

So beyond planning for things in life, we have to be able to react when the unexpected happens and adjust ourselves in response. It is always easier to just walk away, take our ball, and go home. But that is never the correct response.

We may indeed arrive at that moment at a later point. But, initially we have to meet the unexpected challenge and see what we can do about overcoming it.

Clearly some of the unexpected become showstoppers. For example, when the sky doesn’t fill up with the colors we want for a sunrise, we can’t influence it to do so.

But when faced with other happenings, we owe it to ourselves to try to manage our path beyond them. Though they may appear chaotic and confusing, they can often be dealt with by stepping back, analyzing, and amending our plans to deal with whatever has arisen.

While many of the unexpected issues could not possibly have been planned for, others could perhaps have been better anticipated and therefore worked into our plans to deal with them in the first place.

And if we didn’t anticipate something that perhaps we should have, then we need to ask ourselves why we didn’t plan for that. This becomes part of our self-analysis and ultimately our learning and growth as people living in a chaotic world.

I refer to it as a chaotic world because for most of us, life is indeed mayhem from the moment we get up in the morning to the time we rest back down on the pillow. Very few of us will experience relentlessly predictable days.

Unless we are living in a friary or convent, most of us experience plans unraveling on a persistent level.

As Robert Burns famously wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” So, whenever we make our plans, we must also anticipate as many possible happenings as we can and determine what impact they might have.

In modern times, we have adapted that approach to ” Hope for the best and prepare for the worst”.

Our plans, our approach, our expectations, all need to evolve when we find mayhem in our path.

In fact, even the word “mayhem” evolved as its use widened from its original intent. Did you know that the word originated as a legal term to a crime of maiming or disfiguring another person, back in the 15th century? Yet nowadays, the word is used to describe any kind of chaos or disorder.

Whoever coined the word initially could never have planned for its widespread acceptance into the spoken vernacular. Such a chaotic application of the word ultimately led to its wider meaning, while at the same time retaining its specifically negative connotation.

How could its creator ever have planned for such a thing?

… just a thought.

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