To complete my Illinois Master Naturalist internship, I need to log 60 hours of volunteer service at a local park/preserve. Doing some online searches revealed a wide range of options around the Chicagoland area. The most-interesting ones were either already filled for the season, or required a year-long commitment. No way am I staying in Chicago this winter!!!
So that left the most-common option for “drop-in” service – volunteer “workdays.” I found 2 nearby parks offering workdays twice a month, so if I stick with these, I should hopefully have my 60 hours completed by this Fall.
I logged my first workday on Saturday at Poplar Creek Prairie in Hoffman Estates, IL What a great experience! I had not visited this forest preserve since I was a kid (during a huge Scout Jamboree weekend where thousands of scouts pitched tents and trompted all over). Didn’t ever think there was much to see at this park, but this volunteer group began restoring the prairie in 1989 and has now transformed it back to quite a vibrant, natural place!
There were two other “newbies” volunteering with me, so one of the stewards, Steve, took us under his wing and gave us a great oral history of the park and the group’s work there. For the first half of the morning, we went to the more established prairie in the Carl Hansen Woods section to collect porcupine grass seeds into large ziploc bags.
I’ve not had a baggie full of grass since the ‘70’s!!! But seriously, the seed stems really do look and feel like porcupine quills when there bunched together. The moist paper towel keeps the seeds from drying out and curling up.
Halfway through our morning, the stewards gathered us together for a break complete with cookies and cold water (I’m gonna really like this group!). We then split into two teams—the first stayed to replant their collected seeds in other areas of the main prairie, while our team drove down to a newer section of the park, the Schaumburg Road Grasslands, to plant our seeds down there.
It was interesting to observe the differences in plant diversity and insect wildlife between the main prairie (with 20+ years of restoration), and the grasslands site (where restoration efforts have only been underway since 2009). Very rewarding to see what your restoration work might actually look like one day!
On Sunday morning, I headed out to do some photography at my old favorite (Bluff Spring Fen, in Elgin, IL). Remember back in early March when I was out here to photograph one of the last snows of winter? Well, a lot has changed at the Fen since then! Here are a few comparison shots!
the banks of Bluff Spring are now nearly covered!
The hilltop of Burr Oak trees looks a bit different as well!
On this first weekend of Summer, the Fen was alive with waist-high plants, vibrant wildflower displays, singing birds, and interesting insects.
Foxglove Beard Tongue and Daisies were in full bloom--
and the purple coneflowers were simply magnificent!
Got a couple bird photos too--
A really pretty Baltimore Oriole
and the ever-squawking Red-Winged Blackbird!
While plenty of area forest preserves have birds, few have the diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, and insects that Bluff Spring Fen has.
This little lady was enjoying her milkweed plant (monarch butterflies were around, but too fast for me to photograph!):
While the butterflies were a bit too elusive for me to photograph, 3 different kinds of dragonflies sat and posed quite nicely for me!
a Black Saddlebags dragonfly
The cool-looking Calico Pennant
and this female Widow Skimmer who seemed to be saying “you lookin’ at me?”!!!
I’ll start volunteering at the Fen workdays in July. Can’t wait to learn more about this little 100 acres of jam-packed biodiversity!