On the heels of the release of his highly anticipated second edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Sibley will speak and sign books from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., April 9 at Ryerson Woods. The book talk will take place in the Welcome Center, 21950 Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods, IL. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.
Sibley, preeminent birder, author and illustrator, will talk about his work to expand and update his bird guide published in 2000. The second edition, just released, offers new paintings, new and rare species and copious updated information sure to astound bird lovers of all levels. The second edition also includes nearly 7,000 paintings, and all illustrations reproduced 15 to 20 percent larger for better detail.
Sibley will talk about his research out in the field and in museums to gather information he said has made his second edition more accurate and more useful to birders. The cover features the Magnolia Warbler, a bird Sibley recalls seeing first when his father, ornithologist Fred Sibley, banded it near the Point Reyes Bird Observatory in California. It’s one of many birds that will be migrating through the Chicago and suburban area in May.
Sibley’s book has been called “the finest guide to North American birds.” He is a contributing editor to BirdWatching Magazine and author and illustrator of many other books about birds. He last visited Ryerson Woods as keynote speaker of the 2003 Smith Nature Symposium. He spoke to a sold-out crowd.
Although it seems that we may never escape this winter’s grasp, spring is near. This transition into a warmer season is driven by a lengthening day and more direct sunlight. Every year, spring brings about a plethora of changes to our local environment. We think of ephemeral flowers and migrating songbirds, but what happens to the environment during the early stages of the transition? The impending thaw is something we can look forward to, but it also brings many necessary changes to Ryerson Woods.
When the first thaw occurs, the ground is usually still frozen on the surface, which creates an impermeable surface. The water needs somewhere to go, so it acts as it would during a heavy rain. Water is affected by gravity, and it will go to the lowest point possible. In many areas, including our own corner of Lake County, this is in a river or stream.
The Des Plaines River breaks out of its banks and causes flooding, which varies from year to year depending on many factors. These include snow totals, the speed of the melt, and any additional precipitation that occurs during a thaw. Flooding is considered a nuisance for many reasons. It affects homeowners along the river and can close streets. However, the annual spring flood plays an essential part in developing and sustaining a healthy ecosystem. Each year, the flood alters the river landscape, rearranging downed trees and other debris. This constant change keeps habitat available for many species. This extra material can accumulate in the river, making necessary habitat for native fish and invertebrate species. It can also pile up along the river, creating protection for other native fauna. Debris carried by floods can alter the entire hydrology of a river or stream.
Floodwaters often creep into the riparian areas alongside the river, which adds many benefits to a habitat. When the water is out of its banks, it often slows down due to increased vegetation and a less channeled path. When the water slows, it deposits the suspended sediments. These are often very nutrient-rich. Once the water recedes, the sediment is left along the banks and regenerates the nutrient levels along the river. This leads to an increase in productivity for both plants and animals that are found within a riparian zone.
Finally, flooding benefits the diversification of plants along a river. The floods transport seeds down river. This increases diversity within a plant community, but it also perpetuates the success of many species. The river can carry seeds or pollen to new areas where they have not been previously. This aids in the genetic diversification of a plant species, which ultimately strengthens that plants ability to survive.
Once the thaw begins, it also creates another important habitat for many species in Lake County. When water cannot travel to a stream or river, it pools in low-lying areas. These temporary vernal pools are an extremely important wetland for many plant and animal species. Because they are often void of predators, these ponds attract many species of amphibian. Frogs and salamanders live close to vernal ponds year round, but during the spring thaw, they flock to the area for mating purposes. They attract mating partners in the water, mate, and lay eggs. Because these areas are void of constant aquatic predation, they are perfect for perpetuating a species. Chorus frogs, spring peepers, and wood frogs all use these vernal ponds for mating. The blue-spotted salamander frequents vernal ponds of Lake County in order to mate and lay eggs. These habitats are necessary for some of the county’s most endangered species, particularly the tiger salamander. For just a few weeks out of the year, these pools become extremely busy areas in the forest.
The spring thaw is a wonderful thing for all the inhabitants of Lake County. Although it can cause some temporary issues for people, the thaw is essential in the perpetuation of many species of plants and animals. Now all we can do is wait and enjoy the thaw when it comes. It is just the first step in a very exciting transitional time for the local environment.
This blog post was written by Luke Buckardt, who assists Brushwood Center with social media. Luke graduated from Northland College in 2012 with a degree in biology. He grew up in Riverwoods and has roamed Ryerson Woods since he was young, knowing the preserve intimately.
Like every school kid who grew up in Cincinnati, I learned the story of “Martha” at an early age. Martha was the last know passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). She died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. The zoo’s memorial to Martha is a “must see” on school field trips. Housed in a converted Victorian-era aviary, the memorial commemorates Martha’s passing and the extinction of her entire species.
The passenger pigeon was a wonder of its time. Great flocks passed over the cities, towns, and farms of eastern North America “darkening the skies for days.” Millions roosted in forest, tree limbs crashing from the weight of so many birds. Nesting grounds reportedly covered hundreds of square miles of territory.
In the mid-1800s these wild pigeons were seen as an unlimited resource. Hunters captured them by the thousands, packed them in barrels, and sent them to markets across the United States and Canada by train. The birds proved to be nutritious and delicious—but not as unlimited as first imagined. By 1914, abundance yielded to extinction.
Today, few people know about Martha and the demise of her kind. Mention “passenger pigeon” at a dinner party, and people will likely confuse this once prolific bird with “carrier pigeon” or “messenger pigeon.” It’s amazing to think that a bird that once numbered in the billions—and was a ubiquitous part of America’s culinary culture—has been so completely forgotten.
Then again, how can you miss something that you never knew?
This notion is part of the impetus behind the new exhibition “Facing Extinction” at Brushwood Center (opening on Sunday, March 9 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm). The show aims to raise awareness of the world’s endangered species before they slip into oblivion. Using the cautionary tale of the passenger pigeon as a starting point, “Facing Extinction” presents 12 artists whose work addresses the environmental, cultural, and moral issues surrounding human-caused extinctions.
Featured works include photos from Joel Sartore’s “Photo Ark” project. Joel traveled to different zoos around the country taking portraits of endangered animals, some of whom can no longer be found in the wild.
Closer to home, photographer Carol Freeman documents the local endangered flora and fauna of Illinois. Currently, she has photographed 140 of the nearly 500 species that are in danger of disappearing from our region.
The artists of the Endangered Species Print Project—founded by Jenny Kendler and Molly Schafer—seek to raise awareness of the world’s dwindling biodiversity. An international cadre of artists have created prints of disappearing species, including the Javan rhinoceros, the Sumatran tiger, and the Philippine crocodile. Proceeds from sales are donated to conservation efforts.
The works of Diana Sudyka and Kristina Knowski are more poetic. Diana’s lyrical watercolors acknowledge the relationships between humans and other species. As a book illustrator, text often features prominently in her paintings. Kristina often works from museum specimens to create poignant images of already-extinct birds, including passenger pigeons, the New Zealand huia, and the Wake Island Rail.
Other works in the show are more conceptual, especially those by Annette Barbier and Jenny Kendler (from her solo practice). Annette’s Lost features a large nest containing broken eggs marked with the names of extinct birds. The work suggests the destruction of species at human hands. Composed of vintage bird figurines, Jenny’s Camouflage series strives to bring awareness to still-living species that need our protection.
The subtext that runs through the entire show is that there is still hope and opportunity; that we, as humans, can act to save species from extinction, not just for the sake of bolstering the world’s biodiversity, but for ensuring our own survival. I hope that you will be able to attend “Facing Extinction” and support the work of these artists who blend creativity with activism.
—Franck Mercurio, Curator
Franck Mercurio is an independent arts consultant, curator, and writer based in Chicago. Before starting his own consultancy business, Franck served for eight years as an exhibition developer for the Field Museum. He has curated other exhibitions at Ryerson Woods for Brushwood Center including, Genius Loci: Listening to Nature’s Muse (July–August 2013) and Art of Green (July–August 2011). Learn more about Franck’s work at: www.mercurio-exhibits.com.