GO VCCD Outdoor School

Melissa Siegmund, left, and Dawn Shoviak, both from St. Joseph, search for invertebrates under fallen logs during the Vermilion County Conservation District’s Outdoor School for Adults the week of Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, at Forest Glen Preserve east of Westville.

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Outdoor School for grown-ups

For decades, children from schools all over East Central Illinois have been exploring the outdoors through the Vermilion County Conservation District’s weeklong Outdoor School, but this past week, grown-ups got the chance.

The group spent four days — mostly at Kennekuk County Park and Forest Glen Preserve — turning over logs looking for invertebrates, catching, holding and banding birds, hiking through the woods and prairie preserves, combing the evening skies for bats and wrapping up with a campfire Thursday night.

“It was really neat,” said Dawn Shoviak of St. Joseph, who’s an avid hiker and kayaker along with her husband but doesn’t have a deep knowledge to identify various species of plants, trees and animals here in central Illinois — their home for the last four years. She said she learned a lot from the instructors, but also from some fellow students who were Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists.

“It was a great class and a great group of participants,” said Shoviak, who thought it seemed like a good opportunity to see what’s in “our own backyard” when her neighbor, Melissa Siegmund of St. Joseph, asked her to go.

A favorite part for her — day two with Todd Jones, a University of Illinois graduate research assistant in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, who has been conducting bird research at Kennekuk County Park in Vermilion County for the past three years.

He shared a 30-minute presentation of his work but also demonstrated how he spends a great part of his summers catching birds in the park, gathering measurements and other information and banding them before releasing them — all so he can continue to track them.

The species the Outdoor School group caught on Tuesday included magnolia warblers, American red start, oven bird, red eyed vireo, tufted titmouse, black and white warbler and Carolina chickadees. Jones, who’s working on his doctorate, said he enjoyed sharing his research and a quick demonstration of his methods with the class.

“I think it’s a really neat program,” said Jones, who got hooked on ornithology as an undergraduate research volunteer when he held a cardinal for the first time.

“He was really interesting and getting to see the birds up close was a really cool experience,” Shoviak said.

She hopes they do the school again and expand it to reach more people.

“These are really some great parks we have in the area, but I think they just don’t get utilized a whole lot … a treasure they have that’s really close by,” said Shoviak, adding that on the guided hikes she learned about things that she normally would have looked past out on a hike.

“There’s a surprising amount of diversity in this area,” she said.

Bobcat permits available

Hunters and trappers may apply for an Illinois bobcat hunting and trapping permit online through Sept. 30. Applicants must submit a $5 non-refundable fee. Only 1,000 permits will be allocated in a lottery with permits mailed to successful applicants. Those who receive a permit this season will not be able to get a permit next year to allow unsuccessful applicants a better chance to get a permit. The season starts Nov. 10 and continues through Feb. 15 except for firearm deer season when bobcat hunting is closed. The area open to bobcat hunting and trapping for this season will be the boundary from the 2016-2017 season (see the map on Page 44 of the Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, which can be found on the IDNR website at dnr.illinois.gov).

Bobcat research projects in central and southern Illinois are ongoing. IDNR is asking that permit holders submit the lower jaw from harvested bobcats for this research. More details will be included with the permits. IDNR officials said they appreciate the cooperation from hunters and trappers in their efforts to learn more about bobcat populations in Illinois. To apply for a bobcat permit, go to the DNR Direct license and permit system at il.wildlifelicense.com/start.php.

Deer archery permits

Resident combination and antlerless-only archery deer permits as well as non-resident archery deer permits are still available over-the-counter from license and permit vendors throughout the state. You can find local vendors on the IDNR website. The Illinois archery deer season begins Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 19, except during the firearm deer season dates.