Mar 6
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Going WILD in Illinois with Shamim Graff – Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens

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
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Going WILD in Illinois with Allison Sacerdote-Velat – Reintroduction Biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo

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
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Going WILD in Illinois with Susan Kloempken Graunke – ARKive Global Ambassador

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!

Feb 27
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Going WILD in Illinois: A Blog Mini-Series Celebrating Nature in the Land of Lincoln

Have we got a treat for you times two! First, have you seen the incredible new Illinois feature page just launched on the ARKive website?

ARKive's Illinois feature page

From the stony outcrops at the Garden of the Gods to the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, the state of Illinois is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the Great Lakes basin. Through the generosity of ARKive supporters in the great state of Illinois, we are delighted to launch the ARKive Illinois feature page; the GO-TO source for Illinois wildlife media and natural history information. You can spend hours exploring 50 well-known and well-loved species of Illinois as well as 100+ lesser-known but just as important species that deserve recognition!

ARKive's northern raccoon photo

So, what’s the best way to celebrate this new feature and all of the wonderful wildlife, woodlands, and wayward walks in Illinois?  By gathering an incredible collection of scientists, conservationists and nature diehards that can’t wait to tell their favorite WILD stories in the Land of Lincoln as part of our Going WILD in Illinois mini-blog series!

Il parter logos

For the next two weeks, we’ll be publishing guest blogs from our friends at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and more who are anxious to share stories about Illinois endangered species recovery, explorations of incredible natural areas found only in the state, and brilliant Chicago students who are leading the charge as the conservationists of tomorrow.

ARKive barred owl photo

Of course, there will be loads of awe-inspiring imagery from fantastic ARKive contributors to quench your thirst for wildlife media – it’s what we do!

So, come back to the ARKive blog often to read the next chapter in the series. Follow the Going WILD in Illinois blog tag or look for the series on social media by searching #GoingWILDinIL.

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Jan 31
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Spotlight on: Stefano Unterthiner, Wildlife & Conservation Photographer, answers YOUR questions!

A typical work day for many of us includes 8 hours toiling away in front of a computer screen seated in a cushioned chair shuffling through emails, reports and meeting notes. However, a typical work day for wildlife and conservation photographer Stefano Unterthiner couldn’t be more different.

Wandering albatross pair being photographed by Stefano Unterthiner

ngm_jan_2014_cvr 2

Capturing images of spectacular wildlife across the globe in all weather conditions imaginable is a typical day-in-the-life for Stefano and most recently, Stefano was lugging his camera equipment across various Indonesian islands in 90⁰F steamy heat following the footsteps of the closest thing we have on Earth to real dragons … the Komodo dragon.  Photographing this strong, lethal but vulnerable species was the challenge for Stefano while on assignment for National Geographic capturing amazing photographs for Once Upon a Dragon, an article in this month’s issue of the magazine focusing on the history and future of these prehistoric-looking reptiles.

Komodo dragon image ©Stefano Unterthiner/National Geographic

Saliva dangling, a dragon shows off its wide strut on Rinca at low tide. The lizard’s spit is venomous, but prey usually die from being torn apart—or, if they are bitten but manage to escape, from infection of their wounds. ©Stefano Unterthiner/National Geographic

In a rare opportunity to get a behind-the-lens glimpse of life as a wildlife & conservation photographer, we worked with National Geographic to interview Stefano about his experience in the field for the article. Before the interview, we invited you, our amazing followers, to ask your questions about wildlife & conservation photography, the behind-the-scenes stories about Stefano’s work for the article, and his thoughts on the power of wildlife photography in raising awareness of threatened species. We think you’re going to love his answers!

“I was pretty happy when I got the shot.” 

Mike asked, “Can you tell us a story behind one or more of your images in the article?” 

Stefano shared that one of the pictures he particularly liked didn’t actually appear in the magazine but it’s an image of a Komodo dragon lying in the middle of vegetation just before dusk (it’s the twelfth picture on the page). It was very difficult to actually find the dragons, even with the help of the ranger, but also to figure out the right lighting and angles since it was so close to dusk. He said, “from a technical point of view, it was probably the most challenging photograph I ever took since I needed to find the dragon in the right position while it was nearly dark and then also position the light correctly. My wife was actually holding the light over the dragon for me. But after it was done, I was pretty happy when I got the shot”.

“I feel in danger all of the time.” 

Dave asked, “Was there ever a time when you felt like you were in danger?”

Stefano shared that actually,”I feel in danger all the time. You have to otherwise you take too much risk”. He went on to say that this assignment was probably one of the most difficult jobs in his life. “You can never forget that the animal is so deadly. In the very beginning, I started working with the animals just learning about them. I started taking photographs with the polecam (a camera attached to a long handle) but you can’t really control the composition, focus, light, etc., so I started working with the hand camera always with a ranger behind me.” He recalled one occasion when he was photographing a dragon from a tree to get a different perspective. The ranger told him when it was OK for him to jump down. “I didn’t realize that when I jumped down, the dragon could feel the vibration on the ground exactly where I jumped. Luckily, I moved a millimeter away from where I landed and the dragon just missed me with its mouth. It was my fault because I wasn’t as aware of the animal as I should have been .”

Komodo Dragon photo

A female dragon tastes the air on Rinca Island, part of Komodo National Park. Each tine of the forked tongue picks up molecules from prey or carrion to carry to a sensory organ in the mouth. A high concentration guides the way. ©Stefano Unterthiner/National Geographic

“The local people aren’t actually a threat to the species. They have respect for the dragons.”

Mattia asked, “How do you think your recent work could help to change the perception of Komodo dragons through local people and policy makers? Do you believe your images could be a useful tool against harmful behavior to this species (invasive tourism, poaching, etc.)?”

Stefano answered that, “for the Komodo dragon, the local people aren’t actually a threat to the species. They have a respect for the dragons.” In the Once Upon a Dragon article, it was shared that islanders historically would leave some of the spoils from their successful deer hunts out for their reptilian neighbors. Stefano stressed that, “the opportunity to help the species is with the policymakers who can make decisions like creating new habitat space for the dragons on other islands, especially where there are larger deer populations [the dragon's preferred prey]. I hope policymakers will see my images and encourage more support for the dragons.”

“I just follow what I love.”

Lisa asked, “What first inspired you on the wildlife & conservation photographer path?”

Stefano answered this question simply and poetically by stating it wasn’t a single event or even a particular person that inspired him on the wildlife & conservation photographer path. He said, “Nature is my inspiration.” The natural world gives him all the motivation to follow his path and what seems to keep him on the path is his desire to help conserve it. He simply stated, “I just follow what I love”, fantastic advice for just about any situation in life!

Stefano follows his love for nature to all corners of the world including Sulawesi where he captured this award-winning portrait of a crested-black macaque

“There is no magic solution; it’s a lot of hard work.”

Ceres asked, “What do you think is one of the greatest difficulties for someone trying to get into the field of wildlife and conservation photography?”

Stefano shared that in his opinion, the best thing a person with aspirations to become a wildlife & conservation photographer can do is to, “be yourself, take photos from your own perspective, and pick species that are interesting to you. There is no magic solution; it’s a lot of hard work. There are lots of photographers out there and the key is to do something new to help you stand out from the pack.”

“The hardest shots are the ones I never got.”

Kristin asked, “What’s the hardest shot you ever took? What made it so hard to get?”

Stefano shared, “Honestly, the hardest shots are the ones I never got.” He went on to describe that there are often times images in his head and he tries in vain to capture them in nature but sometimes, it just never works out. “But one picture I am thinking of in my head is when I was on my first assignment for National Geographic to photograph king penguins. It was the last day of shooting and I wanted to capture an image of the penguins and orca in the same shot together. I had hiked 4 miles to the coast and while there, it started pouring down rain. The whales were swimming in the surf and then the king penguins entered the ocean.  It was lot of time and work to get to the place where I took the shot but for a few minutes when I finally got [the shot], it was perfect.” You can see the penguin and orca image on his website; it’s the 15th image on the page.

“If you want to really make a change, you need partners. ARKive and National Geographic are those partners.”

I asked Stefano if he had any parting thoughts on his komodo dragon assignment or wildlife & conservation photography in general.

“My idea of conservation photography is that everybody wants to think they are going to help change the world but there’s more to it. I’m lucky to work with organizations like ARKive and National Geographic because, if  I’m doing my job as a conservation photographer, I need to partner with others to spread the word further. Conservation photography isn’t just about the photograph. It is being able to work with people and organizations with the same aim as yourself. I believe this is very important especially for the young people starting out in wildlife & conservation photography. If you want to really make a change, you need partners. ARKive and National Geographic are those partners.”

What an incredible note to end the interview! Now that you’ve heard his stories, take a moment to read the wonderful article, Once Upon a Dragon, in National Geographic magazine on news stands now.

Stefano Unterthiner is an avid supporter and contributor to ARKive and we’re very fortunate to be able to share his stunning imagery with students, teachers, conservationists and more around the world. Have a look at our Stefano Unterthiner MyARKive Scrapbook to browse all of his stunning images on ARKive.

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

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