Ridge Trim “Mohawk”

by Carl Strang

As I tell the story of Mayslake Forest Preserve, from time to time I have to insert a focus on the outstanding effort by the volunteer restoration team. Led by stewards Conrad Fialkowski and Jacqui Gleason, this group is largely responsible for the high quality plant communities on the preserve, their maintenance and their enlargement. One of this year’s foci has been the south end of the savanna ridge, above the east end of May’s Lake. Long covered by an understory of dense buckthorn, in recent years the ridge gradually has been exposed through the patient techniques Conrad has tested over the years. The end is drawing near.

The many brush piles and the cleared ground attest to the volume of intense physical labor put in by these dedicated people in recent months.

Only a topknot stand of buckthorn remains at the peak of the ridge’s south end.

The remaining buckthorn in the background stands above soil as bare as in the cleared foreground. The cleared area will be seeded with bottlebrush grass, beginning to establish the native vegetation that will claim the space beneath the oaks.

Clearing is only part of the work, as the team gathers tens of pounds of seed from the preserve’s native plants, which they then spread in the opened areas. This effort cannot be praised enough.


by Carl Strang

One has to be a decent field botanist to do restoration work. This thought took me back to Mayslake Forest Preserve’s little stream yesterday. I had photographed an intriguing legume, following up a comment by Mayslake’s restoration volunteers that indigo bush was growing there. As it turned out, I put 2 and 2 together and got 3. The legume I photographed proved (thanks again to Scott Namestnik of the Handlens and Binoculars blog) to be wild senna, as I reported a couple days ago. I have not known Jacqui Gleason and Conrad Fialkowski to be wrong about a plant, so I needed to return and be sure. My eye was drawn to this spindly shrub.

Superficially it resembled a young willow beside the stream.

Close up, though, it had some strange fruits attached to its tip.

I recognized these as indigo bush fruits from my review of photos on the Internet.

And so indeed there are both the wild senna and the indigo bush growing beside the stream: two legumes new to my experience, not just one after all. And now there can be no confusing the two. One is a shrub, the other has herbaceous stems. Not only are the fruits different in shape, they are different in size as well. Senna pods are about 4 inches long. Indigo bush pods are half an inch long at most. So now I have two flowers to look forward to, one bright yellow and one purple.

Some New Plants

by Carl Strang

The changing seasons have been likened to a kaleidoscope. The perspective they offer on a particular landscape alters with each little turn of the calendar. During the past couple of weeks the opened landscape and changed colors of mid-winter drew my attention to some plants I hadn’t previously noticed in my 3 years at Mayslake. First I found my eye drawn to the persisting leaves of a group of small oaks along the east border of the preserve, just outside the off-leash dog area fence.

The trees appear to have been planted. There is no sign of a parent nearby.

The leaves were different from those of any oak species in the nearby savanna.

They are in the white oak group, lacking bristles, but have wavy edges rather than lobes.

A close look at the undersides of the leaves confirms the species identity.

The fuzzy surface points to swamp white oak.

This is an intermittently wet area, so swamp white oak was a good choice of tree to plant there. The other new plant I noticed as I cut across the savanna ridge one day.

These are the distinctively curled leaves of poverty oat grass.

This grass lives on poor dry soils, and may not even bloom except in rainy years. The patch in the savanna isn’t very big, but this is one species which stands to gain from the recent brush removal work of Conrad Fialkowski, Jacqui Gleason and our other restoration volunteers.

Bottlebrush Seedlings

by Carl Strang

In a previous post I mentioned how Mayslake Forest Preserve’s chief restoration steward Conrad Fialkowski has developed the technique of spreading bottlebrush grass seed in areas from which invasive brush has been removed. Last fall I showed seeds spread by Conrad, co-steward Jacqui Gleason and their volunteer colleagues. Today I want to show what those seeds have become at this point in the spring.

Large areas of woodlands at Mayslake now are carpeted with these seedlings, which will make it difficult for weedy invasive herbs to become established.

Conrad has found, though, that this grass readily gives way to other native plants, and promotes its use by restoration workers in northeastern Illinois.

Chorus Frog Population Jump

by Carl Strang

Our most abundant frog, locally, is the western chorus frog. They are small, and well camouflaged, so we know them mainly from their loud singing in the early spring. Their song is reminiscent of the sound of a thumbnail run slowly over a comb’s teeth, and often they gather in numbers so large that counting them is tricky. Even when concentrated in the small ponds they prefer for breeding, they are difficult to see.

Chorus frogs are sensitive to motion and vibration, and quick to shut up. Holding still, with only the head protruding from the water and often sheltered by overhanging vegetation, they are a challenge to spot.

Last year, my first at Mayslake Forest Preserve, chorus frogs gathered in only one location, the stream corridor marsh. My highest count of singing males was 12. This year I was pleasantly surprised to find many more. Conservative counting has given me a minimum of 22 male frogs at the stream corridor marsh. Furthermore, 3-5 have been singing in each of two other locations. The closest of these is at least 1000 chorus-frog-hops in a straight line from the stream corridor marsh, the other at least twice that far.

A little digging produced the fact that chorus frogs can reach sexual maturity within one year. This allows them to make a rapid response to favorable environmental conditions. While it is true that last spring was relatively wet, keeping the stream corridor marsh well filled for the entire season, some of the credit for this goes to Mayslake’s volunteer restoration stewards, Conrad Fialkowski and Jacqui Gleason. They have been clearing brush and girdling trees around the marsh for several years.

This removal of woody plants eliminates most of the water-sucking transpiration that otherwise would dry out the marsh. The result has been improved conditions for marsh and wet-prairie plants in that part of the preserve and, I believe, a jump in the western chorus frog population.

On Monday there were further ecological ramifications. A group of 6 hooded mergansers and a pied-billed grebe spent much of the day on the stream corridor marsh. They were actively diving for food, and coming up with tiny items too small for me to identify. These could have been insect larvae, as there have been diverse and abundant dragonflies at that marsh in summer. The birds’ food also may have included some recently hatched chorus frog tadpoles.

Incidently, the stream corridor marsh attracted the attention of nature enthusiast Ed Teune, who posted a nice video of the marsh and a singing chorus frog (close up, with audio) on U-Tube.

Mayslake Brush Pile Burn

by Carl Strang

The 2009 restoration work at Mayslake Forest Preserve concluded with a DuPage County Forest Preserve District crew burning the brush piles built in the woodlands through the work of restoration volunteers led by Conrad Fialkowski and Jacqui Gleason.

Having witnessed the progress made by these dedicated people in the year I have been at Mayslake, I understand better why Mayslake’s restoration is of such high quality.

Mayslake Savanna Autumn

by Carl Strang

I have enjoyed watching Autumn’s transition in the savannas at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Early in the season I found an aster growing, and blooming, in an unlikely spot: a crevice a few feet off the ground between forks of a bur oak.

Here it is close up.

Squirrels continued to take advantage of the oaks’ mast year. Here is the synchronized eating team.

Colors peaked, then faded. The sumacs provided a final burst.

Meanwhile, assisted by other volunteers, stewards Conrad Fialkowski and Jacqui Gleason continued removing buckthorn bushes from the edges of the savanna. They augmented the brush piles by piling on leaves.

 They had raked the leaves to clear space for spreading bottlebrush grass seeds.

That grass is their workhorse for initially reclaiming restored ground in open woodlands.

Jacqui, and Mayslake Restoration

by Carl Strang

When Jacqui Pearl got married, she had a decision to make. You see, the love of her life’s last name was Gleason. Older readers, at least, will see that this could be problematic. She chose to go with Jacqui Gleason. The things we do for love.

Jacqui 1b

A few years ago, Jacqui joined the Mayslake Forest Preserve garden volunteer team. Quickly she realized that this did not provide enough work to satisfy her, and at the same time she became aware of the impressive restoration progress being made out beyond the mansion grounds by Conrad Fialkowski. I can think of no better word to describe Jacqui and Conrad than dynamos. They are out there at least a couple times a week, often more, in all kinds of weather, through the entire year. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they are there individually, always they work hard, clearing brush, collecting seeds, planting seeds, assessing results.

Incidentally, another side to Jacqui is that she works with Chicago’s Lyric opera, dressing the women performers, a job which sometimes entails frantic quick costume changes in the middle of a scene (she mentions the pride that she and her colleagues have in effecting a complete makeover in 60 seconds or less).

Mayslake’s prairie, savanna and wetland areas are coming along nicely thanks to the dedication of Conrad and Jacqui. In the past year they have expanded the cleared area around the edges of the north savanna, fought off brush invasions in prairie and wetlands, collected and broadcast loads of seeds, and documented several newly appeared flowers in the savanna and prairie. Last winter they were assisted by District staff through a significant clearing of brush in the north savanna. The result of all this dedication is that Mayslake has one of the best restoration projects going in the entire Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

Meet Conrad

by Carl Strang

From the start of this blog, I have sung the praises of the restoration work that has been ongoing for many years at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The time is well past due for recognizing the person primarily responsible for that success: Conrad Fialkowski.

Conrad b

Recently I had the opportunity to watch Conrad in action. Mayslake was one of the hosts for a camp called Outdoor Explorers. The week-long, cooperative program brought children from four communities out to four forest preserves on a rotating basis. The children were selected for their limited opportunity to experience the outdoors (one boy asked me if there were any bears to worry about). One of their activities at Mayslake was to remove buckthorn and honeysuckle brush from a woodland, first step in its restoration. Conrad was masterful in his direction of this activity. The kids enjoyed wielding loppers and bow saws, and thanks to Conrad this was done safely and effectively. Conrad was especially effective in his recognition and support of the individual talents in each child. Here he poses with one of the groups of kids and their park district counselors in front of the mountain of brush they had cut.

Conrad & group 1b

But this is only the first step in the process. Much work remains for Conrad and co-steward Jacqui Gleason (who we’ll meet later; she joined Conrad in this effort three years ago). Those two volunteers put in many hours of difficult labor per week year round. They will need to keep the brush stumps from resprouting, and plant seeds to hold the ground gained through the kids’ effort. One of Conrad’s many secrets is the effectiveness of bottlebrush grass in preventing erosion and resisting the invasion of undesirable plants in the early stages of woodland restoration at Mayslake.

Bottlebrush grass b

I have been getting a lot of compliments about the flower photos in this blog. You can thank Conrad and Jacqui for those plants’ having the opportunity to grow at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

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