Saturday, December 12, 2009

December workday visitors

During our December workday, the regular Skokie Lagoons volunteers welcomed a group of high school students from the TEENS program at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The combined crew cut a lot of invasive buckthorn trees and burned a brushpile.

Another noteworthy visitor was a small creature, probably a meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), seen scurrying about several times during the workday. Mr. Vole was busy enough collecting food that many people were able to get close enough to get a good look at him. Please excuse the crummy cell phone picture below.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Two Eagle Scout projects

Yesterday, two Eagle Scout candidates conducted their leadership projects at the Skokie Lagoons. William P. and his team planted native plants (rattlesnake master, black-eyed Susan, nodding wild onion, mountain mint, and some oak trees) in an area near the Tower Road bike trail parking lot (not the boat launch lot) that had been previously cleared of buckthorn. Alex R. and his team built a shed at the old Willow Road maintenance yard for storage of volunteer tools and equipment.

Both these tasks took considerable planning and fundraising efforts by the individual scouts. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ecology update

This morning, the volunteer site stewards met with a Forest Preserve ecologist to discuss the management plan. It was a productive meeting, with the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) at left serving as honorary chairman.

We're at a point where enough buckthorn has been cut to allow serious efforts toward establishment of native plants. The question now is whether the existing seed bank is sufficient to provide viable plants without supplemental seeding or planting.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The vultures are circling

The vultures are circling! Specifically, a trio of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) was soaring above Lagoon #3 this afternoon. None of the regular volunteers had ever seen such an assembly at the Lagoons before. Hopefully this is not an omen for the ongoing restoration efforts.

Today we said goodbye to Jerry, who has been the volunteer site steward for over thirteen years. He's living his dream and moving to Alaska. I'm a little intimidated over trying to fill the shoes of someone who can recognize a blue flag iris from fifty yards. Good luck, Jerry!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Welcome to the Skokie Lagoons Volunteers Blog!

This blog will chronicle the efforts of habitat restoration volunteers at the Skokie Lagoons, a property of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

When the glaciers receded, they left a marshy valley between two moraines. The Potawatomi knew the area as the Chewab Skokie, the great wet prairie, and it was described as teeming with wildlife. When Euro-American settlers arrived, they began to systematically drain the marsh to exploit its fertile soil for agriculture, effectively destroying it.

Faced with a ruined marsh that troubled neighbors with spring floods and fall peat fires, the Forest Preserve District decided to turn the site into a series of lagoons for flood control, recreation, and scenic beauty. The lagoons were dug by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) - almost entirely by hand - between 1933 and 1942.

In light of its history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Skokie Lagoons are what ecologists politely call a "highly disturbed" area. The peat is gone, and much of the soil on the site is clay dug from what is now the lagoon bottom. In much of the land area of the preserve, oak woodlands took hold, only to be overrun by invasive plants such as European buckthorn and garlic mustard. The two remnant prairie areas that avoided disturbance by both the CCC and the construction of the Edens Expressway face incursions of Canada thistle and takeover by woody plants.

However, all is not lost. The Lagoons provide a quiet retreat in the middle of a densely populated area and are enjoyed by hundreds of bicyclists, paddlers, and fishermen each week. The preserve provides excellent bird habitat. Volunteers from the Chicago Audubon Society and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Volunteers have been working for almost twenty years to remove invasive plants and plant native species. The work is particularly rewarding when we see native plants sprouting where once there was only an impenetrable thicket of buckthorn. Come out for a workday and see what it's all about!