Mar 12

Our friends at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve were anxious to share their Illinois wildlife story as part of ARKive’s Going WILD in Illinois guest blog mini-series and, of course, we were happy to oblige! Read on to see how the Preserve is creating citizen science opportunities to make a real difference in northern Illinois.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a 77-acre Illinois Nature Preserve, located in Highland Park on what was once the historic Fort Sheridan military base. The Preserve offers a beautiful network of walking and biking paths and an innovative, art-based interpretive plan that tells the unique story of this unusual landscape. The site is owned and operated by Openlands, a regional conservation organization.

Visitors to the Preserve often first notice the sweeping views presented by the bluffs. But it is the site’s rare natural communities – three ravines and a mile of bluff and lakeshore – that make the Preserve such a special place to protect. Lakefront ravines are only found on a short stretch of Illinois’ coastline and today, and most are in poor ecological health.

Butterfly at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Butterfly at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Recognizing the importance of the site’s rare ecosystems, Openlands has been carefully restoring the Preserve’s natural communities by removing invasive plants, replanting oak woodland and savanna, and repairing storm water damage. While restoration is an ongoing process, the reestablishment of viable natural communities is well underway. Today, the Preserve is a stopover for thousands of migratory songbirds and waterfowl and is home to seven plant species on the state endangered and threatened list.

ARKive's common merganser photo

Common merganser, a type of waterfowl that may visit the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve on occasion

In 2010, Openlands began partnering with the Plants of Concern (POC) program at the Chicago Botanic Garden to collect data on birds, plants, spiders, and other aspects of the Preserve’s ecology. Our volunteer “citizen scientists” work with POC and Openlands staff in the field to conduct biological monitoring. This includes searching for new populations, mapping, and recording data. As a result of monitoring, Openlands can track critical trends in population size, area, and condition, allowing us to adapt our management accordingly. Our monitoring program is now entering year five, and we are excited to start this spring!

Citizen science efforts at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Citizen science efforts at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Are you interested in becoming a citizen scientist for the Preserve? Learn how to get involved at www.plantsofconcern.org.

Aimee Collins, Site Manager, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Thanks so much for sharing your opportunities for Illinois citizens to take an active part in protecting and restoring the WILD of Illinois! If you haven’t already, be sure to take a stroll through the brand new Illinois feature page on ARKive. 

Mar 8

Attention all you butterfly lovers out there! The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, Illinois, is dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of Midwestern environmental issues and has made incredible strides in the conservation and restoration of the stunning swamp metalmark. Read this next installment in the Going WILD in Illinois mini blog series to learn just how threatened this butterfly is and how the Museum is working to protect it!

The Swamp Metalmark: An At-Risk Species

The swamp metalmark (Calephelis muticum) is a small yellow and rust colored butterfly from the central United States.  It formerly ranged from Michigan and Ohio south to Kentucky and west to Arkansas, Wisconsin and Iowa.  Populations have recently been discovered in Alabama and northeastern Oklahoma.  It inhabits alkaline wetlands called fens, where its host plant, swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum), grows.

Swamp metalmark photo

Swamp metalmark –  Credit: The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

As a result of destruction of many fen wetlands, swamp metalmarks are now critically imperiled through most of their range.  With the exception of Missouri, the species has received a sub-national heritage ranking of S1 or S2 (critically imperiled or imperiled) in all states where it occurs.  There are more populations in Missouri, however even there it is classified as vulnerable.

The swamp metalmark typically inhabits just a few hundred yards over the course of its lifetime.

Conservation efforts through most of the species’ range consist of monitoring and habitat protection.  Some active restoration efforts are taking place in the upper Midwest.  For example, biologists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago recently released lab-reared adults onto a fen in northeastern Illinois in an attempt to return the species to that part of its range.  The release site was the known home of a population of swamp metalmarks that disappeared sometime between 1940 and 1980.  Since the early 1980s, extensive ecological restoration work has removed invasive species and restored hydrology to the site, paving the way for the return of the butterfly.

Doug Taron in the field releasing swamp metalmark butterflies raised at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and VP of Research and Conservation, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum 

I think we can all agree that the valuable work of The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in support of the swamp metalmark can not be understated! To keep up with the conservation efforts and general goings-on at the museum, have a look at their blog and to explore more Illinois species, dive into our new Illinois feature page. Thanks for sharing a wonderful conservation story with us, Doug!

Mar 6

Sometimes, an honest and heartfelt story of how one person connected to a quiet space in nature can be a welcome reminder to embark on our own explorations now and then. The following story from Shamim Graff, a volunteer and frequent visitor to Lake Katharine, shares why these 85 acres have meant the world to her as part of our Going WILD in Illinois series. 

My Woods

Tucked away between highways and a sanitary canal lies the 85 acres that make up Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens in south suburban Chicago. When I first started getting to know the area, I had no idea that such a place could exist out of view of the busy city streets. I had grown up never more than a mile from open land, so the idea of a large natural area in the city was very foreign. My first visit to Lake Katherine found me strolling along the south side of the lake with my finance and his parents. I couldn’t have known the kind of connection I would soon form with Lake Katherine.

The American bullfrog, white-tailed deer, and eastern cottontail can occasionally be spotted at the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens

As I began graduate school, I visited again, this time to talk with staff about some projects I was interested in doing if they were agreeable to them. I found myself spending more time at Lake Katherine, usually doing project work and not leaving much time for exploration. But I enjoyed coming and it was always a treat to be able to watch sunsets over the lake before heading home.

Lake Katherine Sunset

Lake Katherine sunset

Needing more time to connect with nature, I again started taking an occasional walk around the lake or a short hike down some of the other trails. One spring afternoon, I found myself alone on the east trails, a little-visited area of the park.

LK - Eastern Trail LK - Upper Eastern Trail

As I walked through the woods, I at once felt deeply connected to them in that place in that moment. These were my woods and they were inviting me in.

Shamin Graff, Volunteer, Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens

I think we’d all like to be invited for a walk in those woods with you, Shamim! Thanks so much for sharing such a touching and personal story of a time you connected with the WILD in Illinois. See if you find yourself invited into the IL natural world while exploring our new Illinois feature page!

Mar 4

ARKive is proud to have partnered with the Lincoln Park Zoo on a number of incredible projects over the years. From organizing opportunities for zoo staff to meet influential wildlife media leaders, to co-hosting an after school program challenging students to create digital scavenger hunts across the zoo using iPhones and ARKive imagery, we’re always looking for fun and unique ways to support conservation together. Allison Sacerdote-Velat is a Reintroduction Biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo working with a small but oh-so-special Illinois species. Here’s her story!

Meadow jumping mouse eating grass seed

“We aim to conserve this species in our region”

At Lincoln Park Zoo, I work on the conservation and recovery of local wildlife. In partnership with Lake County Forest Preserve District, we began a recovery project for one of three subspecies of meadow jumping mouse that occur in Illinois, starting our project in 2012. Meadow jumping mice are important seed dispersers that help maintain diverse native plant communities. Because they are nocturnal, they are a major prey item for barn owls and other predators. Their populations have declined from habitat loss and fragmentation. By re-establishing populations following habitat restoration, we aim to conserve this species in our region, documenting the number of sites that still had meadow jumping mouse populations, and bringing 8 pairs of mice to Lincoln Park Zoo to establish a breeding program that provides young for supplementation and reintroduction in restored prairies and savannas.

People may be surprised by the appearance of meadow jumping mice. They are smaller than the house mice or white-footed mice that may be familiar to Illinois residents. With large kangaroo-like hind feet, and tails that are twice the length of their bodies, they can jump a meter at a time through their habitat. They sleep under natural cover objects like logs during the day. If you happen to uncover them, they quickly take off and cover large distances, bounding through the vegetation.

Meadow jumping mouse habitat

“I tried to be a good sport about being hazed by mice”

Radio-tracking our zoo-reared mice was a highlight of our work this year, as it permitted me to follow them while they explored their new home. Some mice quickly established nests in tall grasses while others kept me hiking through prairies and wetlands for weeks. One mouse led me through a thistle patch regularly, but I tried to be a good sport about being hazed by mice for their conservation.

mouse with radio collar

Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Reintroduction Biologist, Lincoln Park Zoo

Thank you, Allison, for your fantastic and vital work with meadow jumping mice! Check back again soon for the next blog in our Going Wild in Illinois guest blog mini-series and keep exploring our new Illinois feature page on ARKive!

Feb 28

We’re especially excited to share the following guest blog from one of ARKive’s Global Ambassadors, Susan Kloempken Graunke. Susan has helped to lead the charge for ARKive in the US and, more specifically, in Illinois. With her support and leadership, our campaign to “Fill the ARK” in Illinois has been and continues to be incredibly successful! Read on to see why ‘The Prairie State’ will always hold a special place in her heart.

As a global ambassador to ARKive, I was asked if I wanted to write about why I value my experience in conservation in Illinois.  ARKive is launching its Illinois feature page.  From fundraising efforts last year, we were able to feature 100 incredible Illinois species profiles on the website!

“Every year we planted over 200 trees that we dug by hand”

My love for conservation was imbedded in me at an early age.  My father, Dr. Robert C. Kloempken, was a physician by profession.  His avocation, however, was conservation.  In 1968, my dad purchased land in McHenry County, Illinois, USA.  Every year we planted over 200 trees that we dug by hand on the property.  My dad also planted seeds, native wildflowers and grasses. Dad knew the Latin name of every tree, flower, bush or grass on the property.  This he studied during the sermons on Sundays.

Dr. Robert C. Kloempken and his students, working on the Prairie (1982)

 “Fire is an extremely beneficial tool in the sustainability and management of the prairie”

We also started three of the first true American prairies on that land. We would walk the railroad tracks, cemeteries, and other out of the way and secret places to collect seeds and grow those plants, flowers, grasses in our basement which we then planted.  Every year we burned the prairies.  Fire is an extremely beneficial tool in the sustainability and management of the prairie.  It rejuvenates the prairie and also hampers the growth of invasive species.  This was an all out family affair that everyone had to attend.

Prairie burn (1978)

Illinois is nicknamed the “Prairie State” because the region once had many treeless plains that were covered with tall grass.   I live in the “Prairie State,” and this is why I value conservation in Illinois!

Susan Kloempken Graunke, ARKive Global Ambassador

What a lovely story and first-hand account of conservation action in Illinois. Thanks for being the definition of an ambassador for ARKive, Susan!

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