It’s not too often that I get to walk on a sand dune in the middle of Illinois farm country. But, this is exactly what my wife and I did a couple Saturdays ago during a beautiful and warm spring day at Amboy Marsh Nature Preserve.
Amboy Marsh is a 302-acre property owned by the Illinois Audubon Society and a dedicated state nature preserve, which means it’s really special. Compliments from the last glacier about 14,000 years ago, this property is located at the corner of Rt. 52 and Morman Road, just south of the little town of Amboy in Lee County (north-central Illinois). It’s part of the Green River watershed.
Walking up the drive from the small parking lot, it was so special to hear the chorus frogs in the nearby wetland. It was the first we had heard them this year and they sounded beautiful- a sure sign of spring. As you walk past the two small outbuildings, you’ll start to go up a wooded hillside and you’ll have no idea you are walking on a big pile of sand. At the top of the hill the canopy opens and you are literally walking on bare sand, like a beach. This ecosystem is dry, and full of prairie plants and black oak scrub savannah. It is a huge sand dune with trails meandering throughout the woods, sedge meadows and prairie. On top of the dune are wetlands with pond lilies and hordes of wildlife.
Check out this hognose snake we found along the trail on a previous trip last summer. Hognose snakes like sandy soil so this was the perfect habitat. Hognose snakes are notorious for “playing possum” when threatened. Many years ago I was teaching a class on reptiles and had a few ambassador snakes from a friend. A hognose tricked me into thinking it was dead. I told my friend I killed his snake and felt horrible. He reached into the carrying bag and pulled out a perfectly healthy hognose and asked me, “don’t you know the difference between a live snake and a dead snake?”
There are a few places in northern Illinois where we have wind-blown sand deposits from the glaciers that really make our area special. In addition to Amboy Marsh, nearby Green River State Fish and Wildlife Area also has a dune complex. Southern Will County, and Kankakee and Union counties have an extensive system of sand deposits known as the Kankakee Sands area. Braidwood Dunes Forest Preserve in southern Will County is a good local example. There we found prickly pear cactus and little skinks (lizards) running around. These are unique ecosystems and should be explored to see and learn something different about our local natural history.
As spring continues to unfold, I hope you will take advantage of what I think is the best season of the year. The wildflowers are blooming, the birds are returning and the warm sun feels good on your face. With the craziness of this past year and the uncertainty ahead, Nature and its seasons are still something we can count on. Enjoy!
Written by Brook McDonald, President/CEO