Wildflowers- Spring Into Summer

This spring Severson Dells partnered with the Natural Land Institute to offer a 10 week Wildflower Walk series, as we have done for many years. As a new transplant to the area, this was a great way to learn about the wonderful ecological gems we have in northern Illinois and begin to scratch the surface on all of the plants, animals and unique habitats that I get to learn. 

Thank you to all of the volunteers that helped make these walks possible and to all of those that attended. We hope you get out and continue to explore more of the hidden (or not so hidden) gems of northern Illinois and beyond. 

Spring is Moving in Quickly

Every year it seems that spring starts off slowly, and then with a little rain and a few warm days Whoosh!  it explodes and starts galloping very quickly toward summer.  After a week of sunny warm days, and then some rain, the trees went from swelling buds to hand-size leaves!

And just yesterday we had our first hummingbird and tiger swallowtail.

Things are starting to hop here - come on out and welcome the season with a explore along our trails.


I spy with my little my eye...

Warbler ATTACK!!!!

Watching the yellow rump warblers flock through the forest keeps your neck sore and your eyes strained. Spring is in full force here at Severson Dells. If you want to wonder the trails please keep your eyes open to both sky and Earth because there is a wealth of blooms and birds to see.

Stop in and check out the updated bird list on display in the museum room before you hoof it out for hepatica, or dance your way to the dutchmans, and last one- sashay towards the spring beauty!

Hope to see you on the trails!

The New Kid on the Block

Good Morning!  This is Ellen, the new educator at Severson Dells, and I just wanted to take a moment to say hello and introduce myself a little.

I am very excited to join SDNC and look forward to learning not only about SDNC, but also about this part of the country...and getting to know all of you.

I know new staff are an unknown quantity, so let me tell you a bit about myself, where I come from, and what my interests are.

I grew up in a small town central New York, so when I say I am from NY, please don't think I'm from NYC (which most people tend to do).  I am a rural girl at heart.  My family spent time in the woods hiking and picnicking; we spent summer evenings paddling on the lake and summer days learning to fish there; we had an organic vegetable garden (when "organic" was a new concept and not the trend it is today).  In my spare time, I was often outside, turning cartwheels in the lawn, climbing the aspen out back, or even exploring the pasture down the hill.

I attended SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where I received my BS in Resource Management and Environmental & Forest Biology.  Seven years later I returned to get my MS in Environmental & Forest Biology, concentrating in Environmental Interpretation.  My master's work dealt with the relocation of house bat colonies.

I have worked as a naturalist or environmental educator in one form or another most of my career.  I started off at a great nature center right out of college, which is where I discovered that being a naturalist was exactly what I wanted to do.  From there I worked in NJ, NY and VT before landing my dream job in the Adirondack Mountains of northern NY.  I was there for over ten years when the economy tanked and our facility was closed, all staff laid off.  It was a hard time, but I landed on my feet in south central Michigan, working at a small non-profit environmental education center.  After six years, I found myself laid off once more due to financial difficulties.  Which I how I come to find myself in Illinois!

Over the years I have worked with birds of prey and zoo animals, led paddling, camping and ski trips, told stories around campfires, bushwacked swamps and bogs, taught hundreds of school children (thousands?), harvested hay, created exhibits, and have written more blogs and articles than I can remember.  I have been a quilter, a tracker, a photographer (I love macro, often stalking insects and wildflowers), an animal trainer, and a gardener (I used to grow all the veg I ate every year).  I have played with the SCA (those folks who recreate the middle ages), I have been an archer, and I have studied the medicinal uses of plants.  These days my focus is more toward reconnecting people of all ages with the outdoors, often going back to basics and using primitive skills or building fairy houses as the catch.  I have also developed a passion for habitat restoration, and I love fire.  Did I mention that I also make drums?

As you can see, I am a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.  I dabble because I find it all so very interesting, and just as I really get into something, SQIURREL!  There is always something new to learn and explore.

So, stop by and say hello!  I look forward to meeting you all and sharing ideas.

Bluebirds and Pterodactyls

I start my day in the sunshine letting the dance of nature take me into her rhythm. I am not a great dancer, but that is not the point, I enjoy the movement and feelings of harmony around me. The song is smooth and romantic, warm and bubbly, and I see the bluebird who is my D.J. sitting above me on a branch. The sunlight is illuminating his blue feathers and red breast, he is a powerful mixer of sound. I am standing under him just enjoying the romance of this transcendental moment- I close my eyes and breathe in the scent of early spring...

PTERODACTYL attack!!! Just like that the thrush is quiet and fleeing for his life. All of nature is suddenly rattled and shook to her core by the threesome that has appeared on the scene. Pileated Woodpeckers swoop in with the grandeur of a victorious military occupation. My dance of cool slow jazz suddenly turned into a punk-rock mosh pit full of chisel faced teenagers! I flee the scene to avoid getting a wood-chip in the eye and have to stop to let my heart slow.

Nature's song is so incredible because it is inconsistent and the tempo is ever changing. I hope you dance when the time is right and rock-out when the conductor changes the beat.

Spring is coming fast so make sure you stretch and we will see you on the dance floor!


Tracks upon Tracks

Walking down the familiar trail I found myself following my past. My footprints from the day before were still visible in the light, crunchy, snow under the hickory and oak trees. The light was soft both from the grey overcast as well as still mostly slumbering sun, but I could see smaller footprints within my own boot-prints.

As I made new tracks behind me and continued my morning journey I was transfixed by the visitor who had walked in my steps. Is this another gnome walking through the forest? The snow is not so deep that my footprints provided any easier mode of travel than just walking, so it must have been by choice that these little paws followed me.

I bent down and took a closer look at my stalker. I felt relieved that paws were visible and not small wooden shoe prints so I was able to release the fear of a gnome hunting party. Small and rounded, with a push of snow here and there where a nose could have been sniffing my relic scent, I am pretty confident my night time watcher was a little red fox.

I wonder who she thinks she was following? Or, does she know me and watches me everyday walk the same trail and curiosity drew her out of hiding to find and learn more? How incredible to think that we are the subject of another's curiosity and that as a species we must always remember how important all interactions are- not just first impressions.

Follow me fox. I promise I will lead us to adventure! 

Puddle Fire

Every Tuesday there is a dedicated group of volunteers who show up at Severson Dells Forest Preserve to attack the dreaded honeysuckle that has choked the life from our woods. I cannot even begin to express my emotional attachment to this group of men and women, who have become like family to me. I am so amazed at the work we have accomplished over the years and perhaps through time will share more about the little victories along the way in liberating the Hall creek corridor.

This quick note is to reflect on this previous Tuesday and what with persistence, people can accomplish when they work together. If you recall it has been warm, raining, or freezing rain for the better part of the last week and the very last thing I thought we would be able to do this past Tuesday is start a brush pile on fire. We marched into the woods on our work trail, skirted next to the open water that had pooled above the ice in any low spot. As we approached the creek, large pools of standing water and still melting runoff cascaded to the lowlands, we stood above the flooded creek upon our bridge. Swollen and brown the creek raged with springtime fury, “no way do we get a fire going today” someone yelled above the roar.

We made our way to the first pile and examined the drenched branches while standing in ankle deep water- we passed on this pile and moved up the hill. Somewhat drier, but slippery up on the slope the crew was determined that this pile would burn. I stood in awe as I watched the crew shake the snow from the top branches, and like ants set to work as a single entity to make this waterlogged pile of sticks flammable. Hands and bodies were everywhere, all moving in different directions, but all focused on the end goal. Handful after handful of small broken sticks and branches were added to a small kindling pile of old receipts, a magazine, and the flames grew bigger.

An hour passed by and the dripping from melting snow and ice was no longer a threat to the working fire. Constant, tireless work to grow a small flame to a working fire had paid off. I stood in the puddle and watched the fire burn. There are so many lessons I learn from being a part of the Tuesday crew, and this day was like any other- persistence of a common goal is accomplishable if your team is all on the same page even if it seems impossible. 

The full moon

I stood in my backyard near the two rail white-oak fence I built at dusk.  I watched the January full moon emerge from its hiding on the eastern horizon aglow with reflected starlight.  Snow clouds pushing in from the west had yet to blanket the entire sky and left a horizontal line of clarity to observe the rising moon.  Silver with a pink hue mixed with blue, the moon seemed to sense my watching and made haste to shroud itself in the cloud cover.  Once fully free of the horizons hold the moon hovered between earth and cloud, I could feel the movement, I was in a trance.  Like a great jewel being lifted around an elegant woman’s neck, slow and sensually the whole scene was erotically miraculous.  The touch of the moon as it appeared to rise into the clouds could not have been gentler, easy.  The reflection of my sun was being amplified to my eye with each shrinking inch the moon was drawn in by the clouds.  When only a sliver remained, like a portal into another realm, I found it hard to blink, I couldn’t take my eyes off the shimmering crescent.  I suddenly felt worried and anxious somewhat overwhelmed and amazed.  When it vanished into the clouds, would I?  I was connected.  When the final pinpoint of light disappeared I returned to my reality and could feel the cold against my cheek.  Walking back to the house, with the path enlightened by the world’s nightlight, I knew I had been under the spell as so many have before and will be again by the exotic enchantress of the full moon.

Deer days of winter...

The dog days of summer are nothing like the deer days of winter. Every morning we feed the birds and every morning white tailed deer tip the feeder to the side and pour bird seed into their mouths. This morning there were nine deer stomping around the feeder and each one of them took a turn slobbering all over the feeder. Corn fed during the fall, bird seed fed during the winter, then grass fed in the spring it is no wonder why these deer look like horses! There are many times that a big doe will be under the window of the attic and it is just so tempting to leap onto her back. Like a gnome king I would ride into the woods and explore the world around me.

From the back of my four legged beast I am accepted into the landscape as an equal and the wildlife allows me the opportunity to truly experience their world. A mink crawls up from Hall creek, she is black and her mate is white- this explains the small black and white babies I saw from the trail last spring. Two wood ducks paddle in the pool before a riffle and bluebirds land in the cottonwood above their heads. All is calm. What a peaceful, beautiful world we live among.

If you come walk the trails stay quiet and observant and you may just stumble into the magic that keeps the hills of Severson Dells alive with generations of wonder.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Snow lays heavy here at Severson Dells and the tranquility that can be found while walking the trails can not be more needed. If you are in need of an escape from the bustle of Holiday joy, or need to walk off the 2 pounds of Christmas ham stuck in your gizzard come out for a hike! 

This morning while walking into the center I was greeted by the deep rumble of a Great Horned owl calling out to a hopeful mate. Did you know that the owls are setting up territory already, and that they will be on the nest within a month? Babies mean spring right! If you are a mother mouse that must make last minute runs for food because you didn't plan correctly, or ate more than you should have-Look out! Night vision, extraordinary hearing, flying in complete silence, ninja accuracy with talons, owls are super heroes. I wonder if they ever pretend? 

Happy Holidays from the staff of Severson Dells!