Rob Kanter holding a small garter snake

Photo by Rob Kanter

May 23, 2019 - Environmental Almanac

A love of life—even snakes [from the archive]

Thanks to a friend who’s more observant than me, I recently discovered a new species of reptile in my own backyard, a plains garter snake. Maybe I should clarify by saying I mean the plains garter snake was “new” to me, not new to science or the wider world.


Rob Kanter

April 26, 2019 - Environmental Almanac

Why not bike?

Does the warm weather have you thinking about riding your bicycle to get from here to there? If so, let me offer some words of encouragement. 


April 19, 2019 - Environmental Almanac

What to do for Earth Day?

Last April, my editor at the Champaign News-Gazette asked me to track down some local friends for suggestions about how to mark Earth Day. Of course, if I’d been thinking would have recorded those for radio at the same time. Failing that, however, I’ll do the next best thing and read them today.

Jeff Yockey, who is a board member with the local nonprofit group, Champaign County Bikes, had this suggestion: Of all the technology that is good for the environment, good for us humans, available to us this Earth Day, and is fun to boot . . . I recommend the bicycle! This is the first Earth Day that we have the Kickapoo Rail Trail to ride on! "Who’s ready to start a new Earth Day tradition with a couple of bikes and friends or family out on the trail this weekend?"  

Sarah Livesay, who is director of the conservation land trust Grand Prairie Friends, suggested that people take a road trip to one of the unique natural spaces within an hour’s drive of C-U. The Warbler Ridge Conservation Area offers deeply sloped ravines, trails, unique bird migrants and early wildflowers. And remember, she said, to donate to the local conservation organization of your choice so that these resources will still be here for future generations to enjoy.

Karen Carney, who is a board member of the Common Ground Food Co-Op in Urbana, and to whom I happen to be married, had food on her mind. She suggested celebrating Earth Day with a meal of local and sustainably produced foods. You can find all kinds of great-tasting produce, coffee, dairy, meat, bakery and deli items at Common Ground Food Co-Op, and you can feel good knowing that you are supporting farmers and producers who are committed to building a more sustainable food system.

Brody Dunn, Vice President of the Champaign County Audubon Society (and Sunday Morning Bird Walk leader) was, of course, thinking birds.This earth day, get out early and appreciate the morning chorus. After the familiar Robin calls that come at dawn’s first light, a rich cast of birds begin singing—and if you’re able, prepare yourself beforehand by learning some mnemonic devices. I promise once you learn some bird calls you’ll never feel too far from nature. You’ll hear birds on your bike to work, on your way home from church, when you volunteer at the park, and while you’re composing a letter to your senator.

Reverend Cindy Shepherd, who is Central Illinois Outreach Director for Faith in Place, encouraged people to mark Earth Day with some outdoor spiritual exercise: for a minute, she suggested bring to mind those who walked here before you; second, see it through the eyes of a child born years from now; finally say "thank you" for living in this present moment. If people do that, we'll see our space as sacred and see protecting it as a blessing. If people do that, caring for Earth and shaping its future becomes a privilege.    

Of course, beyond these individual activities, the spirit of Earth Day, and Earth Week, really, involves connecting with other people. There’s no better place for that in central Illinois than the University of Illinois campus, and there’s no better resource for information about Earth Week events than the calendar maintained by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment: https://sustainability.illinois.edu/earth-month-2019-schedule/


Two boys in rubber boots holding nets stand in a woodland pool .

Rob Kanter

April 11, 2019 - Environmental Almanac

Spring in My Step

Spring at last, and suddenly there’s so much to do the challenge is to choose among activities! 

Bicycling is far easier and more enjoyable than it was a month ago, despite the occasional breeze out of the north. If you’ve been getting from here to there in a car, maybe it’s time to put some air in your tires and see what you’ve been missing. 

Over the past week I’ve been watching the emergence of bluebells, trillium and other native woodland plants, both in my yard at home and in the oases where they’ve been established on the U of I campus. But it sure would be nice to get out to Allerton Park or Busey Woods to see them in a more natural setting. In all of these places the delicate, bright green flowers on spicebush provide and extra pop of color. And the spectacle of redbud trees in bloom will follow before you know it.

At the same time, I’d also like to get out and roll logs to look for salamanders, and to see and hear some of the frogs that are now congregating in local wetlands to breed. Thanks to friends on social media, I know the spring peepers, western chorus frogs, and others are celebrating the change in season. 

Birding has really picked up, too. A month ago it seems I was hearing only cardinals and Carolina wrens when I was out running in the morning, but now the chorus include eastern towhees, white-throated sparrows, phoebes and more. 

On top of that, the oddities that come along with spring migration are out there now, too. One friend has been posting pictures of a common loon that stopped over at a local detention pond, and on a recent evening as I walked my dogs in central Champaign, I saw an osprey perch on top of a neighbor’s television antenna. How weird is that?

Along these lines, maybe a Sunday morning walk with the Champaign County Audubon Society at Busey Woods is in order.

In addition to everyday opportunities, this Saturday, April 13, is the occasion for two participatory events that might be of interest to you.

Boneyard Creek Community Day will run from 9:00 a.m. until noon, followed immediately by a free lunch for volunteers. Walk up registration is available at Scott Park in Champaign at the time of the event, which is billed as a way to celebrate and protect our lakes and streams by engaging volunteers to pitch in and clean. As organizers put it, “Litter looks bad and leads to more litter. It clogs storm drains causing local flooding and ends up in receiving streams harming aquatic life. This event helps remind us all to be responsible citizens and put trash in its place.”

Saturday night from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. the Champaign County Forest Preserve District invites you to “Discover the Night Sky” at the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. You may or may not remember it, but late last year, the preserve became the first location in Illinois accredited as an International Dark Sky Park. You’re invited there to learn about the night sky and light pollution, participate in hands-on activities, speak with astronomy experts, and peer through telescopes for yourself.


Alex Wild Photography (with permission)

February 21, 2019 - Environmental Almanac

Termites are much more than just pests

Wondering if termites are more than just pests that destroy the foundation of your home? Stop by the Insect Fear Film Festival on February 23 to learn more about these amazing creatures! 


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