Five Signs That Spring Has Sprung
By Jayne Bohner, Communications & Marketing
It’s finally here. Sure, you still may need to grab a sweater on your way out the door, but it’s officially spring. For as long as it took to get here it’ll be gone before we know it, so if you want to catch those great forest preserve finds that only come around once a year, it’s time to head outdoors.
You can’t get more “spring” than a vernal pool. After all, it’s in the name. (“Vernal” comes from the Latin for “relating to spring.”)
Vernal pools are depressions in the land that hold rain and melted snow spring through summer. Some last longer than that, but many dry before fall arrives. Because they don’t hold water year-round, they don’t contain fish, which is a big plus if you’re an amphibian. (Fish love amphibian eggs.) DuPage County’s vernal pools host quiet lizard-like creatures like newts and salamanders and fill with the loud calls of chorus frogs, green frogs, leopard frogs and toads.
The best places to see — and hear — vernal pools in the preserves without leaving the trail are at Blackwell in Warrenville and Waterfall Glen in Darien. At Blackwell a vernal pool lies along the east side of the West Branch Regional Trail north of Mack Road just before the intersection with the Catbird Trail. At Waterfall Glen special vernal pools called “kettles” — pockets formed 10,000 years ago by the Wisconsin Glacier — lie on the east side of the Main Trail just north of mile marker 3. An elevated section of the trail provides an impressive overview of the surrounding namesake Kettle Woods.
Kettle Woods, Waterfall Glen, Darien
Great blue herons are some of the county’s largest birds. On average they’re about 4.5 feet tall with 6-foot wingspans. You can usually spot one standing still as a statue along Salt Creek or the West Branch DuPage River, waiting patiently for a shot at a passing fish or frog. For a look at the more industrious side of these birds you need to make a spring visit to Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton.
Until mid-May when the trees fully leaf out, a walk along the Danada-Herrick Lake Regional Trail west of the headquarters parking lot takes you near the largest DuPage County forest preserve rookery. Rookeries are stands of trees where herons congregate to build their nests. In any given year the one at Danada has over 100 such nests with well over 200 birds. Bring binoculars and you can see pairs making repairs and getting ready for this year’s broods. By the beginning of May, you can stand on the trail and watch adults come in for landings to feed their hungry, crying chicks begging for food.
While the trees are still budding, lots of sunlight is able to reach and warm the soil in the county’s woodlands, and delicate spring wildflowers make their appearance. It’s a short show, though. Once the treetop canopy fills in, the plants die back until next year (which is why ecologists call them spring “ephemerals,” from the Greek ephemeros for “short-lived.”) At Danada Forest Preserve, Parson’s Grove offers abundant displays of spring beauties, toothwort, trout lilies, bloodroot, wild geranium, red trillium, violets, Jacob’s ladder and Virginia waterleaf. You can stroll through the grove on the preserve’s 0.9-mile Nature Trail south of the main barn. At the 48-acre state-designated Meacham Grove Nature Preserve on the west side of Meacham Grove Forest Preserve in Bloomingdale, the ground is blanketed with large snowy flowers of white trillium, which has the apt scientific name Trillium grandiflorum.
Birding is a year-round activity in the preserves, but in spring, things get turned up a notch. Birds returning to DuPage County for the breeding season are joined by species passing through on their way further north. In fact in previous Illinois spring bird counts, which take place each year at the beginning of May, expert birders have recorded over 160 different species in one day.
You don’t have to know your yellow-rumped warbler from your blue-headed vireo to sit and enjoy this event. Benches along the trails at many forest preserves offer ideal places to sit and take in the all of the chatter, elaborate songs and shows of breeding plumage.
If you’re interested in learning a bit more, the District offers “Birding DuPage,” several guided bird walks this season for birders 12 and older, and “Fullersbird Friday,” a series of naturalist-led walks for birders ages 18 and up. Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn is also hosting a morning-long “International Migratory Bird Day Celebration” May 14 for all ages.
Take Mom Fishing
Sure you can fish in the forest preserves just about any day, but you can only do so in celebration of Mother’s Day once a year. As with all of the fishing programs, District rangers provide the gear and a lot of great instruction, and if you’re only fishing during the program, you don’t need a license. At “Fishing With Mom” May 8 at Hidden Lake Forest Preserve in Downers Grove, you and your mom will learn how to tell a bass from a bluegill, which baits are best and what you need to know about fishing in DuPage.