May 2015 - Dixon Park District

May 2015
The main purpose of a park is to preserve,
restore, develop, and make accessible
natural scenery. A park is not primarily a
place for play, but rather to feed one’s soul.
—O.C. Simonds
How to Plant Milkweed,
and Help a Monarch!
Choose your site.
needs LOTS of sunshine!
Wait until the soil temperature is
above 55 degrees (late May).
Spade or rake up an area - it
does not need to be perfectly
level or groomed.
Large areas help to draw in the
monarchs and supply plenty of
leaves for caterpillars and flower
nectar for butterflies. Chat with
your neighbor to plant contiguous areas of milkweeds.
One tablespoon of seed will generously plant an area about 4
feet by 4 feet.
Dixon Park District
804 Palmyra Street
Dixon, Illinois 61021
Debra Carey,
Executive Director
Plant seed no more than 1/4 inch
deep into the soil.
Lightly pat soil over seed.
Water as needed.
Keep new plants free of weeds.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs
exclusively on Milkweed plants, making them the sole
food source for their
larvae. Once found
in abundance in
nearly every farm
field, ditch, and disturbed site, Common Milkweed numbers have been in dramatic decline in
recent years, due in part to suburban
development and the increased efficiency of herbicides used in conjunc~continued on the following page
Ruth Edwards Nature Center
in Lowell Park
2114 Lowell Park Road
Dixon, Illinois 61021
Greg Hunter,
Natural Resources Director
tion with herbicide-tolerant, genetically modified row crops. It spreads
readily by seed and underground rhizomes, and its taproot can withstand
drought. Common
Milkweed is one of
the easiest and
fastest to establish
of the Milkweeds
and planting more,
even in small urban pockets, can
provide personal
satisfaction while helping Monarchs.
The large flower can vary in the
color range from nearly white to deep
pink-purple. The fragrance is very
delicate and pleasing and numerous
native pollinators will benefit during
its long bloom time.
Free seed available at
the Ruth Edwards Nature Center
in Lowell Park
and at the Dixon Park District office.
Native Seed source:
Prairie Moon Nursery,
Winona, Minnesota
“I will be the gladdest thing under the
sun. I will touch a hundred flowers
and not pick one!”
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
May at
Ruth Edwards Nature Center
Platter Prints
Using recycled Styrofoam trays, participants will punch various leaf designs into the surface from which a
print will be made.
Date…………………Saturday, May 2
Time………………………1 - 3:30 pm
Ages……………....2nd grade and up
Maximum…………....…8 participants
Younger students will require adult
Make Tracks
After a short session in which everyone will learn to identify a variety of
mammal footprints, participants will
make their own reference charts using rubber ink stamps.
Date…………….…..Saturday, May 9
Time…………..…..……...1 - 3:30 pm
Ages……………....2nd grade and up
Maximum………….......8 participants
Let It “Bug” You!
Come learn about the world of insects, and make your own bug
Date…...…………..Saturday, May 16
Time………….……...…….....1 - 4 pm
Ages……………......1st grade and up
Maximum……………....8 participants
Younger students will require adult
Mushroom Pie
About 20 years ago, Aunt Hazel
and my friend Cassandra ventured
with me on a prairie chicken counting
trip to Wisconsin. While the boomboom-boom of the male prairie chickens was amazing, a side visit to the
Civil War-era home of Dr. Frances
and Dr. Frederick Hamerstrom remains as a cherished memory.
Both well-respected wildlife biologists and students of the great Aldo
Leopold, the Hamerstrom home was
certainly usable, animal-friendly, and
offered no airs. A great horned owl
lived in a corner of the living room. A
zinc bathtub hung on an outside wall.
Antique silk wall hangings from Dr.
Frances' side of the family (she was
a Boston debutante) decorated most
of the interior. The Hamerstroms
were a true delight, and I view the
brief time spent in their presence as
an honor.
She wrote numerous books;
please take time this summer to enjoy one or two. She also wrote cookbooks, and the following recipe is her
own words from the Wild Food
Mushroom Pie
Pie making is an art. It takes more
than art lessons to make an artist,
and it takes more than recipes to
make a pie-maker. The going rate
for my pies is fifty-five dollars apiece,
and further more, I am eager to
share my secrets. The crust is of the
essence, and the same skill is needed for fruit pies, mushroom pies, or
any pies.
3/4 cup lard
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Lard varies, flour varies, temperature
varies. It's just beyond me to circumvent these variations by dependence
upon recipes and measuring cups!
Try to learn from a good pie-maker,
rather than from a book. Using a
large, dull knife, cut the lard into
lightly salted flour. Work quickly until
there is no loose flour, but stop before the dough becomes eventextured. Add barely enough water
to hold the dough together. Lightly
pat a wad of dough about the size of
a small grapefruit into a ball and put
in on a lightly floured wooden table.
Roll from the center toward the edges. If your crust persists in cracking
apart at the edges, start humming a
little tune. Your pie will not be pretty;
it will probably be patched, and it is
sure to be praised. If, on the other
hand, the edges remain smooth,
there is little cause for rejoicing...such crusts are manageable.
They taste like cardboard and even
polite guests tend to leave rather a
lot of crust on their plates.
(If Dr. Hamerstrom's crust instructions strike fear into your heart, you
can always purchase a pie crust from
the refrigerated section of your grocery store!)
Once the bottom crust is safely inserted into a glass pie plate, prepare
the mushroom filling:
2 pounds of morel mushrooms, well
cleaned of all sand and grit, and well
dried of water
1 pint heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 beef bouillon cubes
1 cup sour cream
Slice and sauté mushrooms in butter,
goose or duck fat. Add whipping
cream, bouillon cubes, and lemon
juice. Carefully add just enough flour
to slightly thicken. Add sour cream
last, and remove from heat. You
may add up to one cup sour cream
as needed. This will make enough
filling for two pies - one is never
Her recipe ends at this point. We
would suggest adding a top crust
and baking in a 325° oven until the
crust is fully-baked and brown. Cool
for 1 hour before cutting. Enjoy thoroughly!
Dixon Park District
Prescribed Burning
In August 2014 Smokey Bear
turned 70 years old. His message,
“Only you can prevent forest fires,”
has been very effective in teaching
us to be careful with fires in our nation’s forests. As a result, many believe that any fire is bad and damages the wild areas we treasure. While
Smokey Bear’s message is relevant
today - always being careful with our
campfires and other human-started
fires - fire is actually a very important
part of many ecosystems.
Prescribed fire at first appears destructive, but is in reality very beneficial in
the long run.
In our area, natural resource
management agencies, both governmental and private, have specially
trained prescribed burn teams to perform planned and controlled burns
on grassland and forested lands.
Prescribed burns help release nutrients to the soil, control invasive
species, reduce competition of invader plant species, encouraging germination of fire dependent plant species to provide more diverse and
healthy grasslands and forests.
The Dixon Park District’s prescribed burn crew has been involved
in several prescribed burns this
spring along with its area natural resource management partners including the Illinois Department of Natural
Resources, Nachusa Grasslands
(The Nature Conservancy), Amboy
Marsh (Illinois Audubon Society), and
most importantly all the volunteers.
These groups train together to maintain credentials required, share
equipment, and combine teams in order to execute the burns safely and
This spring, Dixon Park District fire
crew has been involved in 15 controlled burns totaling 471 acres.
From the Drey of Nick Nutcakes
Hi, Folks:
It's May, the month to gorge
on flower petals, sweet, sappy
tree buds, asparagus from someone else's garden.....ahhh.
With two new mouths to feed,
Mrs. Nutcakes and I actively forage for the better part of each
day. And most definitely differ-
ent from the snow-covered landscape of January, filling our tummies is an easier job during clement weather.
Just what do we eat? Well, it
depends on the season. In the
dead of winter, our diet consisted
of cached acorns, hickory nuts, and
walnuts, along with seeds from the
many coniferous trees in the Pinetum at Lowell Park. The spillage
from the bird feeders at the Ruth
Edwards Nature Center affords us
easy pickings for sunflower seeds.
Springtime brings a smorgasbord, and I will admit to indulging
in a few, or as many as I can
snatch, bird eggs. I guiltily admit
to even eating a couple of baby
birds. We do need protein, especially Mrs. Nutcakes, as she is
nursing her babies.
Continuing on the protein menu,
June bugs are delightfully crunchy.
Earthworms sometimes can be a
bit slimy. Other smaller insects
are swallowed in one gulp. The
problem with insects is that eating
a butterfly gives us a bad name,
when in reality, the normal balance
of Nature would provide sufficient
butterflies for us to occasionally
enjoy a colorful snack. But in to-
day's world, the butterfly population is crashing due to chemical
use and genetically-modified
Fungi, lichen, twigs, leaves, and
juicy plant stems are all part of
our omnivorous diet. Grains such
as corn, soybeans, wheat,
and rye are
with all the
chemical sprays, including those
scary neonicitinoids, we avoid most
crops. Tulip and crocus bulbs can
disappear before your eyes when
we are in the vicinity. Bulbs of native plants are the very best mmmm.....the tiny tubers of Spring
Beauties are delicious!
And boy, finding a big, fat morel mushroom is a prize to fight
over! And we do fight-- I've witnessed (and yes, been involved in)
a few knock-down drag-out tussles
over this delectable item.
Until next month,
Nick Nutcakes
National Wildflower Week
May 4 - 10, 2015
Across the nation, wildflowers
growing in woodlands, wetlands, forests, beside highways, in gardens,
and elsewhere are valued for their
natural beauty. And as Lady Bird
Johnson once said, they “give us a
sense of
where we
are in this
great land
of ours.”
What better way to
these beautiful features of our landscapes than helping preserve and
protect them?
Why do wildflowers matter? Wildflowers and native plants help conserve water, reduce mowing costs,
provide habitat for birds, butterflies,
and other wildlife, and they protect
the soil from erosion. In addition, native plants can require fewer resources to maintain than plants that
aren't native to a region.
But many wildflowers nationally
are in danger from habitat loss, invasive species, and other factors.
Wildflowers are an integral part of
our ecosystem, especially at Lowell
Park and in the oak savanna area at
the park office. These wildflowers
have been in place since the last glacial period and are considered to be
our native herbaceous layer. They
deserve to survive and thrive because this is their home; humans are
the invaders and displacers. Garlic
mustard is a real threat to flowers at
Lowell Park and in the savanna.
This insidious European plant smells
like garlic and can be eaten as salad
green. But it displaces all native
vegetation, and soon we have a sea
of garlic mustard and no wildflowers.
Help us remove garlic mustard by
volunteering to pull this nasty weed.
It does not have thorns, is not poisonous, and is pretty easy to pull.
Call the Nature Center or the Park
office and schedule an hour to help
us "save the wildflowers!”
U.S. to halt expanded use of
some insecticides amid honey
bee decline
(Reuters) - 3 April 2015 ...
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was unlikely to approve new or expanded
uses of certain pesticides while it
evaluates the risks they may pose.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are routinely used in agriculture and applied to plants and trees in gardens
and parks. Their widespread use
has come under scrutiny in recent
years after a drop in the number of
honey bees and other pollinating insects.
The decline is attributed to factors including pesticide and herbi-
cide use, habitat loss, and disease,
according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. USFWS halted the use
of products that include neonicotinoids on federal lands. The EPA is
conducting an assessment of the
six types of neonicotinoids. In the
interim, the agency said in a statement that its move stemmed from
the agency's "ongoing effort to protect pollinators."
Please be aware that just about
every flower, bedding plant, and
even vegetable plant you buy has
been treated with neonicotinoids,
and the result is insects, including
butterflies, that feed on the plant's
nectar, pollen, leaves, or stem will
ingest neonicotinoids, and the result
is neurological damage and/or
death. In our area, the Palmyra
Greenhouse does carry flowers and
plants that have not been treated
with neonicotinoids.
Farmers’ Market
Fresh fruits and veggies, herbs,
eggs, farm-raised meat, and baked
goods - and sometimes crafts and
flowers are available.
Haymarket Square Park was created in 1842 specifically as a place
for farmers to market their wares.
Let’s keep history rolling!
May 2, the Market will resume on
Wednesday and Saturday mornings,
7 am - Noon.
Mustela frenata
A long-tailed weasel popped into
my view last week. A few days earlier, a volunteer at Amboy Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary witnessed a mink entering an irregularly-shaped hollow in
an oak tree. A game camera was
placed so as to catch any action.
What appeared on the video was
Mustela frenata, long-tailed weasel.
This large species of Mustela
sports a lovely black tipped tail which
can be almost
half the length
Adult weasels
range from 11
to 15 inches in
They are found in a variety of habitats, but are neither common nor
abundant. They take advantage of
existing burrows - they are not diggers! A hollow in a tree would be
something worthy of investigation to
a long-tailed weasel.
In 1858, Robert Kennicott wrote:
“It is said not to burrow readily, but
usually to take possession of the burrow of another animal, or to choose
its retreat in some natural crevice
among rocks, or in the slight excavations formed by itself under
trees....have known it to live in hollow
logs in summer.”
This mammal is nocturnal but far
more diurnal than many other Illinois
carnivores. If you spend quality time
in the woods, you may be rewarded
by the sight of this curious creature.
If surprised, the weasel may pause
to get a better look at you! Longtailed weasels are superb hunters
and climbers and often take off after
fox and grey squirrels, leaping
branch to branch.
“A hungry long-tail, once on the
trail of rabbit, is an intent, relentless
pursuer. A healthy rabbit, however,
will give the weasel a good run and
may cleverly confuse its own trail by
hopping back and forth over a small
area. Again, the rabbit may freeze
motionless and be nearly lost to sight
in a tangle of brush so that the weasel may pass it by momentarily. The
rabbit may make a confusing maze
of tracks before dashing off....but
once the gap is narrowed between
predator and prey, the weasel makes
a quick dash.....and the rabbit ceases to struggle.
Hoffmeister and Mohr (1957)
Rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels,
chipmunks, grasshoppers, snakes,
and in our area, six-lined racerunners-- weasels are carnivores and
rarely pass up any prey. They have
been known to scavenge on road-kill
but rarely because they are good
Kennicott’s 1858 notes
continue: “...the weasel destroys
great numbers of meadow mice. A
gentleman from Wisconsin related to
me that, while following a plough, in
spring, he noticed a weasel with a
mouse in its mouth, running past
him. It entered a hollow log. Upon
cutting open this log, five young
weasels were found, and the remains of a large number of mice.
Pleased to learn that his supposed
enemy was in fact a friend, the
farmer spared the young ones.
Like most of our native wildlife,
weasels rarely make a negative
impact upon humans. Not to say
that once having stumbled upon a
bounty of domestic chickens, the
weasel will not take advantage of
an easy food source, but mice are
indeed the weasel's first choice in
Right now in May litters of baby
weasels born in April are growing
by leaps and bounds. While an
adult weasel eats about 20% of its
weight daily in food, a youngster
consumes up to 25% or more of its
weight each day. Hairless at birth,
they don't open their eyes until the
37th day. Weaning occurs about
this time, and at about 2 months of
age baby weasels begin to capture
prey. Although weasels have an
extremely high metabolism, they
have been known to live up to
eight years in captivity.
lifespan in the wild is much shorter. Predators of weasels include
great horned owls, coyotes, domestic cats and dogs, and, of
course, vehicles!
“Butterflies are self-propelled flowers.”
~Robert A. Heinlein
Disease Affecting Minks & Muskrats
This month's Illinois Issues magazine carried an informative article on
the transmission of a cat-borne parasite
that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease
commonly spread through cat feces.
The parasite must reproduce in cats but
is found in other mammals and in humans. A healthy human immune system usually can ward off the onset of
serious symptoms, but anyone with a
weakened immune system is at risk.
University of Illinois scientists confirmed the Toxoplasma gondii parasite
in 20 of 26 minks and 18 of 30 muskrats tested in Champaign County. A
high prevalence in minks was suspected because they eat mice which may
already be infected. The muskrat incidence was more difficult to explain
since muskrats are herbivores.
shrinking number of natural wetlands/
natural habitats for muskrats, and the
presence of tile drainage systems
which channel agricultural runoff into
streams and wetlands, means that a
higher likelihood of the disease could
be present in agricultural ditches where
muskrats are now living. Muskrats can
pick up the disease passively - probably through grooming or drinking water.
It is also likely they're picking it up by
consuming aquatic vegetation with attached oocysts (a cyst containing a parasite zygote). Researchers suspect
that because of the lack of wetlands in
the area (and throughout Illinois) ani-
mals are exposed through agricultural
The Illinois Department of Natural
Resources webpage gives us some
history on wetland loss in our state as
Unfortunately, the actual
damage to the historic wetland resource is greater. Only 917,765 acres
(approximately three-fourths) of existing wetlands can be considered natural wetlands.
The other 336,126
acres (one-fourth) of the wetlands
have been modified or created by
dikes, impoundments, or excavation
activities. These figures reveal Illinois has lost over 90 percent of its
original pre-settlement wetlands.
This figure is even higher for Lee
County; in pre-settlement, two large
Swamp and
Inlet Swamp
- were present.
drained for
agriculture use with the exception of
tiny remnants in protected areas.
Northern Illinois, once home to a
vast amount of the state's wetland
acreage, now only contains the remaining 22 percent (approximately
283,500 acres) (Suloway and Hubbell
Wetlands are incubators of life.
During May, a high number of creatures listed on the Endangered and
Threatened Species List, and many
creatures listed on the Species In
Greatest Need of Conservation List,
require wetlands as a part of their
breeding cycle.
Blanding's turtle, 4-toed salamanders-- these are just two of hundreds
of listed species that depend upon
high quality wetland habitat. Water is
magic, and when it is artificially removed from wildlife habitat, all species
decline in quality, number, and diversity.
I'm often reminded about what the
late, great outdoorsman John Husar
said in a Trib article many years ago.
He knew the difference between a
wetland and an artificially-created,
bermed puddle of low-quality water.
By John Husar | October 20, 1994 I
Chicago Tribune
“Preach all you wish about precious wetlands. But you'll never know
the spirit of those babies until you slog
toward a duck blind in the blackness
before dawn, hoping you won't be lost
or drowned. To many duck hunters,
wetlands are flooded grain fields that
have been pumped full of water.
That's what we are reduced to, with
most real wetlands drained, farmed, or
developed away. The phony ones are
easy to navigate-- just stay on the
berm or levee surrounding the field…”