Friends of Nachusa Grasslands PrairiE-Update
Blog Posts – Mid-May to Early August 2020
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This spring and summer, Friends of Nachusa Grasslands bloggers have shared a variety of restoration experiences and insights. The Nachusa Grasslands Blog had posts written by five authors: Elizabeth Bach, John Vanek, Connor Ross, Jessica Fliginger, and Chandler Dolan, Our blog coordinator is Dee Hudson, with the assistance of Erin Rowland and Heather Herakovich, and our editor is James Higby.
Find out about what's happening at Nachusa. See excerpts from each blog post or click the titles to read the complete articles.

Coding for Conservation

As the staff scientist at Nachusa, one of my primary duties is to analyze and share data.  My primary tool for this work is a free program called “R.” In R, I can manipulate data, produce graphs, run statistical tests, and even produce a final report. Analyzing these data helps everyone at Nachusa refine restoration practices, inspires new ideas, and deepens our knowledge of the habitats and the organisms that live there.

At Nachusa we are lucky to have several scientific researchers working at the site, who collect, analyze, and share data with us. We also have some data, collected over the years by The Nature Conservancy staff and collaborators, which haven’t been analyzed and shared. A key goal for Nachusa is to analyze these legacy datasets and share them.

By Elizabeth Bach
Ecosystem Restoration Scientist
May 2020

Snakes and Prairie Restoration

While we know a lot about snakes and how cool they are, we still have a lot to learn, particularly when it comes to ecological restoration. Unlike birds and insects, snakes don’t have wings. Snakes are also terrible at crossing roads (probably because they don’t have legs).

So, the big question is if you build it, will they come? That is, if you go through the hard work of restoring an old ag field back to tallgrass prairie, will snakes recolonize the site? Dr. Richard King and I tried to tackle this question in a recent publication creatively titled “Responses of Grassland Snakes to Tallgrass Prairie Restoration.” In short, yes, but it’s complicated!

By John Vanek, PhD
Associate Wildlife Biologist®
June 2020

Bumble Bees: A Familiar Face

Thankfully, Nachusa gives refuge to three threatened species of bumble bees, including the critically endangered rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis).

In the seven weeks I have been surveying, I have detected two rusty-patched bumble bee workers at Nachusa. To know this species is still present and not extinct is a great discovery alone. But understanding the way it uses the mosaic and where it chooses to nest is still up for question, and is difficult to answer with such sparse sightings. Our first sighting occurred very early in the field season. In fact, it was the fourth day of surveying!

Seeing a single rusty-patched worker busily foraging on beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) was a great way to start the season. Our second was about a month later on July 17th. Upon my arrival to a hill to do some quick exploration, the very first bee I spotted was the rare but distinct bumble bee methodically feeding on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). I held back tears of joy as I quickly netted the bee for proper identification.

By Chandler Dolan
Bumble Bee Technician
August 2020

Head-starting Hatchlings: A Collaborative Effort to Protect Endangered Blanding's Turtles

In 2019, managers at Nachusa Grasslands and Richardson Wildlife Foundation initiated a joint head-starting program for endangered Blanding’s turtles in cooperation with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (FPDDC) and the Lake County Forest Preserve District (LCFPD). As a result, more than 70 one year-old Blanding’s turtles were released into native prairie habitat at Nachusa Grasslands and Richardson Wildlife Foundation. At each site, 37 head-starts were released, 20 with transmitters and 17 without.

By equipping turtles with custom-built transmitters, scientists at NIU will be able to track and monitor their movements, growth, and survival — key information for a conservation-reliant species. Data collected will inform managers on critical areas for the turtles, in addition to what predators are present and the impacts they have on hatchling survival.

By Jessica Fliginger
Blanding's Turtle Field Technician
July 2020
2020 Restoration Technicians
It should go without saying that 2020 has been a pretty, let’s say, interesting and hectic year so far. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start date for the 2020 crew to the beginning of June and also disrupted the scheduled prescribed burns earlier in the year.

A diminished burn season, with one of the wettest Mays on record, means that our native vegetation has grown thicker and that the invasives have started to strike with a vengeance.

The 2020 crew thus faces some unique challenges, especially as we are a smaller bunch this year, but we have already covered lots of ground and are ambitiously weeding and seeding.

By Connor Ross
Nachusa Restoration Technician
July 2020

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