Winter Trails & Naturalist Tales participants enjoyed wintery day of education

Online Staff Report

University of Illinois Extension hosted more than 50 people at its Third Annual Winter Trails & Naturalist Tales event Saturday, Feb. 9. Participants enjoyed two naturalist presentations and a guided photography and nature hike through Atwood Park in south Rockford.

Dr. Joyce Hofmann of the Illinois Natural History Survey started off the morning with a presentation about the life history, biology and remarkable aspects of Illinois’ bat species.

Dr. Hofmann addressed some common misunderstandings about bat behavior as well as the various threats faced by these flying mammals, including white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that was brought over from Europe,” said Hofmann. “The syndrome has caused mortality rates of up to 90 percent in certain American bat populations … and Illinois is on the front lines against this fungus as it spreads westward.”

After Dr. Hofmann’s presentation, U of I Extension Master Naturalists led the day’s participants on a guided winter ecology and photography hike through Atwood Park. The naturalists taught participants about winter tree ID, identified tracks, animals and birds sighted throughout the park, and gave detailed instruction about camera use, winter photography, using props in nature and taking scenic photos.

Dr. Holly Jones, a conservation biology professor at Northern Illinois University, was the afternoon keynote speaker and shared research results from various habitat restoration projects around the world.

Dr. Jones has worked extensively in the New Zealand archipelago, researching island ecosystem response to different methods of invasive species removal, and has also studied the ability of natural ecosystems to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially in coastal communities.

There was a dramatic reduction in property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in areas where man-made and natural dune ecosystems are found,” Jones said. “We’re currently working to identify highly populated coastal areas that are threatened by rising sea levels to help us prioritize coastal ecosystem protection and restoration projects around the world.”

Winter Trails & Naturalist Tales is an annual event organized by U of I Extension. For more about this event, the Illinois Master Naturalist Program and the numerous other educational programs offered by University of Illinois Extension, visit or call (815) 986-4357.

Posted Feb. 20, 2013

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