Painted Lady butterflies migrating through NYC

The smaller, drabber cousin of the Monarch is headed north in huge numbers this year.

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Tell the feds you want a Chicagoland NWR

Tell the FWS that Chicago and Milwaukee would like Hackmatack, a new wildlife refuge they could drive to. You might see whooping cranes, river otter, cougars, blandings turtles and all kinds of birds there. They take comments until April 27 and are set to decide this fall.

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Chicago so excited about bald eagle nest it cancels nearby shooting range plans

IL eagle flies on blue sky

Bald eagles chose the post-industrial wasteland of Chicago’s way South Side to build their first nest in the city in 130 years. The Chicago PD cancelled plans for a huge outdoor firing range nearby that environmentalists hated anyway.

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How to find the snowy owl near you

Snowy owl stands on Wisconsin brush,

The white, Harry Potter owls are having a boom year, sighted in Boston, Chicago, Philly, Denver and Long Island. Look on eBird to see where.

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Chicagoland Wildlife Refuge Could Be Chance to See Cougar, Trumpeter Swan, Cranes

This week the Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’d study a plan to start a wildlife refuge between Milwaukee and Chicago. What would the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge mean for wildlife watchers?A chance to see cranes, trumpeter swan, otter, badger, coyote, deer–and possibly cougar, whooping cranes, a funny kind of squirrel and some threatened bats and turtles.

The Friends of the Hackmatack NWR  who have already been working for years to get this gonig, in part inspired by the fact that when Audubon Magazine boasted that “a wildlife refuge is located within an hour’s drive of every major metropolitan area” Chicago proved them wrong. It’s the biggest city without one. This refuge takes note of the need for wildlife watching near where people live; it’s designed to be within two hours of Chicago and Milwaukee. Judging by the excited email I got from my friend David Hall and others, I’d say it would be pretty popular.

Hackatack–named after the larch tree–would try to sew together the patchworkd of 88 parks and preserves already there so that wildlife can have some breathing room. The wildlife service wouldn’t force anyone out, but they would offer to buy property within the refuge boundaries.

I did some research on what animals we might expect to see if we visited the refuge:

Cougar:  The Cougar Network has two confirmed sightings in the refuge area since 2008, one with physical evidence, the other verified by a qualified pro.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan: Maybe!

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Pelicans Visit Chicagoland for Spring Break

Unison by jpmatth

White Pelicans are just about hitting their peak numbers in Chicagoland. Practically nobody saw these big white birds a decade ago. Now you can see them every spring. Now you can drive 50 minutes from downtown Chicago and found up to 250 of these huge, exotic white birds in a tiny lake in a bland exurb housing development. 

The Daily Herald highlighted Nelson Lake in the Dick Young Forest Preserve, where they’ve been appearing for eight years. Kane County Audubon now says now they’ve left Nelson Lake–which was originally created by a beaver dam–and moved to nearby Carson Slough. On April 3 birders saw 133 white pelicans in this small manmade lake in a housing development right off the Sugar Grove exit from I-88.

Prairie State Outdoors says the 30-pound birds have somehow changed their migration habit so that they are increasingly showing up in Illinois, especially near the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. (Batavia is about 20 miles from the Illinois.) The white pelicans (also called Rough-billed Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)) travel between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada but they only stop in northeast Illinois in the spring and only in this one area.

Kane County Audubon’s Jon Duerr, who used to run the forest preserve, told WTTW says birds travel around 300 miles between breaks. They stop for a couple weeks to feed. They don’t dive like brown pelicans; they work together to herd fish. The  This year they arrived March 19

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Q & A With Endangered Species Artists

Lots of environmental causes give gifts when you make a donation. But how many eco totes do you really need? A couple of clever Chicago artists, Jenny Kendler, and Molly Schafer, have devised a new way to help the environment: the Endangered Species Print Project. They create a limited edition art print of a criticially endangered species. You buy it for $50. They give all the money to an organization that protects the species you’ll see on your wall.  The organizations they’re helping are so tiny (like the populations they serve) that they don’t have the slick fund-raising apparatus that supplies thank you gifts. So Kendler and Schafer effectively stepped in and offered the groups both publicity and donations–plus charming portraits of their animals. Here’s how they describe it:

The Endangered Species Print Project offers limited-edition art prints of critically endangered species. The number of prints available corresponds with the remaining animal or plant populations. For example, only 45 Amur Leopards remain in the wild, so for this edition, only 45 prints will ever be made. A different organization, whose mission is to the ensure the survival of the species depicted, is chosen for each print. 100% of the sales of ESPP prints are donated to these conservation organizations. You can check out the ESPP site at, and don’t forget to peep our blog, which is full of amazing endangered species facts and news. ESPP is an art project and labor of love is run by myself,

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Hawk Hit By Plane Recovering From Burns

We’re heard plenty about birds hitting planes since the USAIR crash into the Hudson last year. But what about birds hit by planes? An Illinois red-tailed hawk somehow got hit by a crashing private plane (or its fireball), caught fire and survived. Or at least that’s the going theory of the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which took in the singed bird.

Tragically two men in their 30s died in the crash in Sugar Grove. But four people, including two kids, in a very close house survived.

Then rescuers found the bird with all its feathers burned off. They figure it’s a red-tailed hawk–by far the most common hawk–and a female, the bigger of the species. But that’s just a guess, the center’s blog say:

Burned beyond positive species identification, Phoenix was recovered by Kane County Animal Control and was promptly transferred to Flint Creek Wildlife for emergency care. Since that time four nights ago, she has been receiving around-the-clock care for her injuries.

“When I saw the bird, I was shocked,” said Dawn Keller, the center’s executive director.  “This was nothing like I’ve ever seen. It had to have been engulfed.” She only has down left and has burnt feet, throat and eyelids. Still the center will work to release her if she is able. Otherwise “Phoenix” will become an education bird.

Keller had to explain to the local media that Phoenix was not guilty of causing the crash. “The crash happened after dark, which means she

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Only 9 Eagles Show for Chicago’s Closest Eagle Watch

eagle tree

Only about nine eagles were on hand for the 3,000 visitors who showed up for the closest eagle watch to Chicago, Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock. Last year, 50 were there for the weekend and 115 spotted on the peak February day.

“I think most people got to see at least one eagle in the wild, which is better than seeing one on TV,” said Kevin Eubank, the head ranger at the dam where you do most eagle viewing. Plus, they had a live bird of prey demonstration, so people got to see one up close, too. Edna Daugherty, who was driving the trolley for Starved Rock Lodge, said that eagles were out off and on all day.

The northern states have had slim eagle viewing this year. In 2009 the mid-winter Illinois eagle survey showed lousy results. First the cold weather seemed to drive birds further south. Now some rivers aren’t frozen at all, meaning the raptors don’t have to concentrate in one spot. The fish they like are in slim supply this year. And, on top of everything else, it’s foggy. The local paper The News Tribune says presciently that eagle-watching has “never been much of an activity for serious birders.” Maybe that’s why it’s so fun: It’s relatively easy these days because eagle populations have recovered and the birds are big, obvious, and thrilling to watch. Six states have eagle watches this weekend: AL, IL, WA, MO, OK and TN.

If anything, I feel even

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Why Does Fermilab Have Bison? Supposedly Science, But Probably Just for Fun

Maybe Robert R. Wilson, the guy who set up Fermi Lab, thought he’d bring people in with the charismatic megafauna and they’d stay for the high-energy physics. For reasons that are somewhat vague, he got the place a herd of bison, which still roam the 6,800 acre campus. Only a handful of bison herd live in Illinois, so I went to visit them on New Year’s Day.

Just show a driver’s license and you can visit FermiLab, which is like a quirky college campus with lots of big art and unusual buildings. About 15 bison interrupted their lunch when we approached, but got bored with us as soon as they realized we had no food. The huge double-fenced pastures can support about 70 animals (as long as they also get hay), but Fermilab keeps the herd at about 45 by selling off the bison. Mainly the males go to keep the population genetically fit. We were apparently pretty lucky to see them; a guy who was showing them to his daughter explained that they’ve been inside a lot lately. They came empty-handed, too, which disappointed the bison so much that one charged at the fence.

Normally when you think of animals at a big lab, you don’t think of fun, but that’s all the bison are really here for. Founding director Wilson made the place shockingly inviting; with unusual buildings and big art, it looks like a quirky college campus. The official reason is something about connecting to the prairie heritage. Huh? I wish

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