Spring 2023 Sightings and Happenings

As we navigate the transition from winter to spring, when the weather pivots from highs to lows and back again, progress at Aull Nature Preserve (ANP) is forging ahead.

Post by Brett Peto and Grace Reilly, board of directors, members

In 2022, Janice and Gary successfully applied for a grant provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chi-Cal Rivers Fund and administered locally by the Lake County Forest Preserves. This funding supported the hiring of Native Restoration Services, Inc., a Lake Bluff-based ecological contractor, to remove European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and other invasive shrubs and trees this past winter. Crews cut down the pesky invasives throughout ANP and burned the brush piles on-site.

Buckthorn removal is a critical restoration step for many natural areas in Chicagoland. This large shrub or small tree grows up to 25 feet tall in dense thickets, often choking the understory of woodlands. It produces leaves earlier in spring and keeps them later in fall than native plants, depriving them of sunlight. This deprivation leads to bare soil conditions and erosion beneath buckthorn hedges. Buckthorn even practices a sort of chemical warfare, producing a compound called emodin in every part of the plant. Emodin inhibits the growth of surrounding plants and causes mutations in developing amphibian embryos. And the list of negative effects goes on.

Among the biggest benefits of buckthorn eradication is letting the sunshine in, which nourishes the remaining native plants in an area and their seeds in the soil. You never quite know what might pop up after a patch of buckthorn is removed! So far, we have spotted prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum) and are eagerly watching for more species to appear.

A healthier native plant community also supports the well-being of native wildlife, which have become more active as the weather gradually warms. Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), American robins (Turdus migratorius) and a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) flocked together in February. The area saw significant rainfall in March and about 80% of the property was submerged—great news for ANP’s western chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata). Their calls, which sound like someone running their thumb along the teeth of a comb, were heard in late March.

Two common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) were spotted mating that same month. In April, three painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) sunned themselves on a log. A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) and a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) soared overhead.

And the restoration work continues. At the end of April, Gary and Janice planted an oak and eight climbing wild rose (Rosa setigera) plants in the Preserve. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a low-growing invasive plant, is being hand-pulled this spring. Plans are also in the works to address populations of common reed–more often known by its scientific name, Phragmites australis–later this year.

Janice had an opportunity to share all of ANP’s fantastic progress and plans at a Green Drinks Libertyville event on March 14 at Cafe Pomigliano in Green Oaks. About 75 folks attended Janice’s talk, titled “Aull In: Defending a Wetland,” highlighting the purchase, creation and restoration of the Preserve so far.

It’s always encouraging and energizing to be in the company of others who are passionate about the environment and sustainability. Momentum toward a healthier future at ANP and other natural areas in the region continues to build. We can all do our part to think globally, act locally.

Awaken Spring!

In my most recent visit to the Aull Nature Preserve, I was excited to see life awakening in this wetland haven. With the buckthorn thicket gone, sunlight is finally reaching the ground and early spring wildflowers decorate the forest floor. I have high hopes that the seed bank has remained intact and that this summer we will see a thriving understory.

I sat for a while on a downed log by a stream of water that leads into the heart of the wetland. I was excited by the thriving aquatic life I saw, such as snails, crayfish, and a variety of macroinvertebrates. I hope to return soon with a dip net to see what species are present, as these tiny creatures can be bioindicators on water quality!

— Grace Reilly

Interested in supporting the important work of ANP? Make a gift today! Your generous donation will help restore and protect this vital wetland for generations to come.

Published by Grace Reilly

Nature-based educator with a passion for ecosystem restoration Forest Preserves of Cook County–Trailside Museum CEP Aide U of I Extension Master Naturalist

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