Category Archives: Budget

An Owl Prowl and Eagle Update at Lake Monroe

Special feathers enable owls, like this barred owl, to fly silently. Creative Commons CC0

Bloomington, IN–Clouds obscured the stars Friday night as I walked into Fourwinds Resort on Monroe Lake, but not enough to hide a Great Blue Heron flying overhead, its long legs stretched out behind. A good sign that birds were active for the 17th annual Eagles Over Monroe, a winter event where ornithologists, state naturalists, and other birding experts share tips and knowledge about eagles in the area.

The weekend offered hikes and eagle watching drives, close-up encounters with birds of prey, and first-person stories from wildlife biologists who had worked to help build a bald eagle population.

But first, we needed to get signed up for the evening’s owl prowl by lantern light, as well as register for a hike to a former eagle hacking (where they learn to fly) site for Sunday morning.

About twenty of us gathered at 6:30 p.m. to pick up tiny battery-operated lanterns and head out with our guide, Will Schaust of the Eagle Creek Ornithology Center. We pulled up hoods against the wind as we walked over to a stand of trees at the edge of the parking lot. Here Schaust described the types of owls common to Indiana, how they hunt at night, and played used a birding app to demonstrate their calls.

“Sounds like a horse on helium, doesn’t it?” he said, playing the Barred Owl call. We also listed to an Eastern Screech Owl call and a Great Horned Owl, “like the big owl that suddenly swoops into you in a horror movie.”

While alternating between calls, Schaust told us to look in the trees for owls, because they fly silently, the stealth pilots of the birds of prey world. Seeing and hearing little other than the recorded calls, we hiked into the woods as Schaust played the barred owl call again. Suddenly, several owls called at once. Was it a new recording, or did we actually hear owls in the wild? It was the latter, he confirmed, rather like a “bunch of buddies getting together and laughing nervously. Heh, heh, heh.”

Our owl prowl successful, we headed in from the wind and cold and back to the hotel. We were just in time to hear Rex Watters, Monroe Lake’s wildlife biologist, talk about recent sightings of eagles that were part of the reintroduction program.

In 1985, Watters was part of a plan to reintroduce bald eagles to Indiana at Monroe Lake. None had been born in the wild in Indiana since 1897. The goal, he said, was to get 20 nests in the state by 2020. Today, there are more than 200 nests in Indiana, and an average of 12-14 in the Monroe Lake area alone.

Recent sightings include C-14, so named for the band on its leg that was attached at Monroe Lake in 1987, making it 30 years old this year. Though wild eagles can be up to 50 years old, C-14’s age is not unusual. But half of all wild eagles born do not live past the first year and nearly 80% do not make it to five years old. Understandably, the eagle watching community cheered about the discovery of C-14.

Lantern lit for an owl prowl at Monroe Lake

If you’re interested in taking an owl prowl, there is another hike by candlelight at Monroe Lake coming Feb. 7.

Snowshoeing at Chicago’s Northerly Island

Sculpture at Northerly Island in the winter

Sculpture at Northerly Island in the winter

Chicago, IL–It’s a very snowy, cold winter, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay inside. Bundle up and head over to Chicago’s Northerly Island (yep, the former Miegs Field way over there by the Adler Planetarium) and rent snowshoes or cross-country skis for a little tromp along the lake. Rentals are available for $5 for two hours on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the fieldhouse, the former airport terminal. With the snow falling and traffic noise minimal, it’s very peaceful. Afterward, learn more about the park’s trail construction, which is due to be completed this year.

Don’t miss Polar Adventure Days–the next one is Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014–to participate in ice fishing, checking out live animals, and watch dog-sledding demonstrations. Snowshoe rental is free during the event, too.

All those folks who were mad at Mayor Richard M. Daley for bulldozing the old Meigs Field runway in the middle of the night in 2003 need to see how beautiful it is in the winter. Before it hosted Meigs Field, it was part of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago as a lakefront park, and hosted the World’s Century of Progress World’s Fair 1933-34. It’s good it’s come back to its roots.

Snowshoes and skis available for rental.

Snowshoes and skis available for rental.

Chicago, Land of the Free

Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park

Chicago, IL–The Windy City could be called the Land of the Free this summer. Free music, free museum and attractions admissions, free dance shows, free festivals. OK, no free lunch, but with all the other free things happening in Chicago this summer, you can spring for food.

Here are my five top tips for finding and seeing free stuff to see and do in Chicago this summer:

1. Go to The city’s official tourism site offers information on all the top events in the city, plus loads of other information. The insightful neighborhood information was written by former Chicago Tribune travel writer Alan Solomon. Sign up for the city’s Twitter feed at www.Twitter/ExploreChicago, which promotes daily events and deals.

2. Visit the Chicago Cultural Center at the corner of Randolph and Michigan Ave. Get a gander at the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome, plus Chicago artwork and photos on display. The city’s visitor center is here, and you can sign up for a free Chicago Greeter Tour.

3. Take advantage of free admission to the Art Institute of Chicago on first and second Wednesdays of each month, June through December. With the new Modern Wing and old favorites, what’s not to like here? Don’t overlook the miniature rooms in the lower level, or the incredible collection of impressionist paintings.

4. Enjoy free fun at Millennium Park, Lincoln Park, and Garfield Park. Millennium Park, on Michigan Ave. offers free concerts in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, splashing in the Crown Fountain, sniffing flowers of Lurie Garden, family festivals, and other free events all summer long. Lincoln Park beckons with the free admission Lincoln Park Zoo, and Garfield Park Conservatory boasts a beautiful palm room designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, among other treasures.

5. Check out some of the 6,000 objects in one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the U.S. at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Admission is free and the museum features performing as well as visual arts. A great opportunity to see this vibrant Mexican neighborhood, too.

Now go and be free!

Hitchin’ Up the Huskies at Morton Arboretum Sunday!

Dog sledding at Morton Arboretum. Photo by Laurie Borman

Dog sledding at Morton Arboretum. Photo by Laurie Borman


Lisle, IL–Little kids, big kids, and adults who wished they were kids turned out to see the dog sledding demonstrations at the Morton Arboretum today.  (The dogs will also be there tomorrow, Jan. 31,  from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)  Adopt A Husky brought out several Siberian huskies that are available for adoption, and the Adopt A Husky folks let kids of all ages pet the dogs.  They also deomonstrated skijoring (being pulled by a dog while on cross-country skis) and dog sledding.  Since the snow barely covered the ground, the teams moved from sleds early in the day to tri-cycle-like contraptions called rigs for the later demos. 

 The Husky Days event at the Morton Aboretum has been going on for five years, with a Winterfest event before that.  It’s a great way to get people out among the trees and enjoy the winter, according to Gina Tedesco of the Morton Arboretum.

The dogs were remarkably calm, and seemed to enjoy all the attention of the children.  Huskies are very pack oriented and the more people, the more dogs, the happier they are, says  Noel Dagley, the treasurer of Adopt A Husky, and an organizer for the event.  She and her husband Mike got their first husky, Maverick, 13 years ago.  He still races with them.  Noting the quiet behavior, she said, “This all goes out the window once they see the first dog get hooked up.  Then they will erupt.”  And sure enough, when the handlers start hitching up the sleds, the dogs howl on cue.

Visitors also enjoyed a movie, “Iditerod, the Last Great Race”, and a talk by Carol Preble, who came with her Siberian husky, Arrow, that ran in the Iditerod.  The race commemorates a 674-mile relay race from Anchorage to Nome that brought diptheria serum in -50F weather in 1925.  Preble talked about Arrow’s role in the race, and showed a series of photos detailing the race, even the “dog parking lots” where the teams rest at checkpoints.  (The 2010 Iditerod begins March 13.)

If you come out, steel yourself, because you’ll want to adopt your own husky once you see the startling blue-eyed creatures in action.Morton Arboretum 097

Husky. Photo by Laurie Borman

Husky. Photo by Laurie Borman

Harnessed up. Photo by Laurie Borman

Harnessed up. Photo by Laurie Borman

Morton Arboretum 018

Chicago’s Big City Ice Skating Unrivaled

Millenium_Park_Ice_skating_by_the_Bean1[1]Chicago, IL–Ice skating at Millenium Park has to be the coolest, most amazing free thing to do in a big city.  No offense, Rockefeller Center, but you’ve got nothing on us.  Let me innumerate:

1. FREE.  (Versus nearly $20 at Rockefeller Center, and that’s if the ice isn’t already booked by a private party.)

2. Skate rental is $10, but you can bring your own, and you’re not wearing something that was on another person’s sweaty feet a few minutes before. (OK, Rockefeller Center’s rental is $9, so it’s a mite cheaper.)

3. Unobstructed view of Michigan Avenue, a national historic district.  Seriously, you could hail a cab from the rink. (Versus potential glimpses of 5th Ave. and Avenue of the Americas.  And if it’s bad weather, you know you can’t hail a cab anywhere in NYC.)

4. Skating under the shining Bean (a.k.a. Cloudgate).  (Versus gliding under the watchful gaze of the gold Prometheus statue of Rockefeller Center.  Well, that’s almost a tossup.)

5.  Ice skating lessons are free on Saturday mornings and dance parties are free on Friday and Saturday evenings in February. (Versus $30 at Rockefeller Center for lessons.)

6. Our Chicago Blackhawks hockey team is awesome. (So what if it doesn’t have anything to do with the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink?  Just sayin’.)

Enough said.  Get your skates and get to Millenium Park.  Millenium_Park_Ice_Skating crop