Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

About Neighborhood Nature January 6, 2009

Neighborhood Nature is our family’s nature blog. It’s about the nature my children and I find near our home — the animals, plants, fungi, and rocks we encounter in our neighborhood in south Oak Park, Illinois. And it’s also about the passionate, almost obsessive interests that my kids have developed in birds, bugs, fossils, and other natural things as they’ve grown.

So, Neighborhood Nature is also a parenting blog. It’s about the choices we’ve made in parenting our passionately interested kids. Other parents may find value in some of our choices, but there are others they will probably want to avoid.

Gail, Eric, Ethan, and Aaron

Our family: Gail, Eric, Ethan, and Aaron

Going further, we should turn that around and admit that Neighborhood Nature is about being the child of a parent who is passionately interested in the natural world. At any point in time Ethan and Aaron tend to be specialists, interested in only turtles or mostly fossils or just birds for months or years at a time. But I remain a generalist, interested in all aspects of nature, all at once. They have to deal with that, as I have to deal with their special interests. I take them birding, but sometimes they have to wait while I look closely at the trees. Sometimes I get frustrated when my kids don’t share my interests — but now I can share them with you!

We hope this blog will become an inspiration (and sometimes a warning) for other families who want to explore the nature in their neighborhoods — especially families who share our passionate interests in these sorts of things.


Youalso  can find me on Twitter as @NearbyNature, where I post frequent, really short reports on the nature seen in our neighborhood (and elsewhere). These Nature Updates are also listed in the upper right corner of this blog. Here’s the direct link to my Twitter stream:


All photos and text on this blog by Eric D. Gyllenhaal, unless otherwise noted.

The contents of this blog copyright 2009 by Eric D. Gyllenhaal.

Please contact the author < > for permission to publish elsewhere.

NYTimes editorial Sept 23 1941 about an editorial my Dad wrote, Sept 23 1941


21 Responses to “About Neighborhood Nature”

  1. Denise Hicks Says:

    Thank you for sharing this, its wonderful for parents and grandparents!

  2. Dana Dunham Says:

    I love your blog! I live in Chicago too, and it’s been wonderful reading about your experiences with local nature.

    I thought the following article may be of interest to you:

    It’s good to see someone trying to enlist everyday “average” people – and especially families and children – in this kind of effort. As the author notes, not only will their participation help with Project Squirrel, but it will also make people more aware and appreciative of the ecosystems them live in.

    I look forward to continued reading. Best wishes!

  3. Teresa Says:

    I came across your blog via a google trying to find an example of some frogs, or maybe their toads, I found while walking our dogs in our pasture. The frogs are in a shaded area that was mowed about a month ago. The area is not just grass, but a combination of leafy weeds and tall grasses. The frogs/toads are tiny, with none being larger than a nickle. They are varied in color ranging from dark green to gray to beige.

    We live in Tippecanoe County in Indiana close to West Lafayette. I would be interested to know if anyone else has seen frogs like this, either in our area or elsewhere. I would really like to know what type of frog they are, and they do look more like a frog than a toad as their skin is smooth not rough.

    Keep blogging! I’ll check back again now that I know you’re here!

  4. Great blog! If you have a chance, I’d love for you to check out my site: I recently launched it as the online wildlife video series and social network for nature lovers. We have members from places as diverse as Brooklyn, Barcelona and Botswana, all sharing photos, videos, and stories about their experiences in nature. The centerpiece of the site is the video series which aims to be entertaining, educational, and conservation-minded.

    Glad I found your blog, and I’d love to hear what you think of NatureBreak!

  5. Juliet Says:

    Hello Eric

    Just to say I think your blog is great. I found it after visiting your page on the C&NN Connect site, where I really appreciated your contribution about whether outdoor learning benefits all children.

    Many thanks and best wishes

    PS On Facebook there’s a networked blogs facility which makes it easy for folk to follow you blog and a way of promoting it a little more. You should! Your blog is well worth promoting and I’ll certainly be adding this to my own blog roll on “I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!”

  6. Chris Palmer Says:

    Hi! My name is Chris Palmer, and I’m a film producer and professor at American University in Washington DC. I stumbled upon your site and thought I would let you know about my new book, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom, which will be published by Sierra Club Books in May.

    Wildlife and nature films are a hugely popular entertainment genre, and as cinematic technology continues to bring breathtaking images to the screen, an ever-expanding audience craves this indirect relationship with nature.

    In my book, I take a critical look at the pervasive and troubling trends toward sensationalism, extreme risk-taking, and even abuse employed by wildlife filmmakers in their work. To learn more, please visit my book sites: (
    -Facebook (
    -American University website (

    Together, we can foster a new breed of wildlife filmmakers. Thank you!

    Best wishes,
    Chris Palmer
    Phone: 202-885-3408

  7. Robin Arbetman Says:

    Hi Eric and family,
    I encountered a coyote in the middle of the golf course at Columbus Park this morning, first time I have seen one there. Amazingly my dog did not react at all and the coyote did not seem to interested in us either! Still, I turned and walked away…quickly…since we had suddenly found ourselves standing around 25 feet from this pretty animal. It just watched us leave. It was so quiet, I did not see any other animals at all, was wondering where all the squirrels were hiding!

    • Hi, Robin!

      I’m glad the coyote is still around. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen it, and the Canada Geese have not been spending much time in the Park this winter. I guess the coyote is finding enough squirrels, rabbits, possums, and Mourning Doves to keep it happy.

      I have been within 20 yards of it once when it ran past me on the other side of the fence. 25 feet sounds like a really good view of it. I’m much more afraid of unleashed dogs in the Park than I am of the coyote.


  8. Robin Arbetman Says:

    I saw the coyote again over the weekend. A really beautiful animal. Very calm looking. He (or she) saw me looking and it looked like he pranced around a little bit to display his beauty! It seemed to disappear into the southern dried nature preserve island in the golf course. This time I was on the soccer field and could not get closer because of the fence. My dog was on leash, but she did not react to the coyote at all, and usually she is highly reactive to other canine creatures.
    I tried to photograph with my phone but it was too far away. I read that coyotes are monogamous and stay with the same partner and parent together. Does that mean there is a partner coyote around the park somewhere? Could they have created a home amongst the dried flowers in the golf course? I am so curious now, going to the park several times a week and having met this neighbor I did not know about before last week has really intrigued me. I have seen coyotes in Oak Park a few times, but they definitely look prettier with a little nature around them.

    • You’re so lucky! When we first started birding at Columbus (almost 4 years ago) some golfers told us that the coyotes had a den on the east side of the park, implying that they raised young there. I never found that den, and I’ve never seen more than one coyote at a time in the Park. A few weeks ago I found a possible den hole in the woods just west of the main parking lot, but since the snow I haven’t seen any tracks leading to/from it.

      Once it gets a little warmer I plan to visit the Park in the evening or before sunrise to listen for owls. I guess I’ll listen for coyote howls, too!


      • Robin Arbetman Says:

        I definitely saw lots of animal tracks at the east end of the golf course, they looked like my dog’s paw tracks, but there were no human foot tracks alongside the animal tracks. They were leading into the islands of Illinois preservation on the golf course, mostly on the south side of the park. Because all of the preservation is dried up for the winter I think it is easy for a coyote to blend in with the brown brush.

        Both times I saw the coyote it was slightly southwest of the main parking lot, looked just like the picture of the coyote on the golf course on your website. It looked like it was running between the woods west of the parking lot and the preservation area south of those woods. Maybe that you did find their den!

        I read about a coyote project in Chicago where they collar some coyotes to track where they go and after looking at that website I am surprised we don’t see more of these animals around here.

  9. Melissa Geis Says:

    what great pictures! What camera and lens do you use? I am sharing this blog with my teachers. Thanks. Melissa

  10. Sheryl Says:

    Eric, This is so wonderful and fun and quirky. I LOVE It and I am like you, I want to look at the trees, turtles, et. al not just birds!
    All the best

  11. Donna Iverson Says:

    I love your tweets on nature. Grew up in Michigan and way to connect to the Midwest, especially the nature aspect of it. Nice to get nature news in the middle of all the political stuff that rolls by the twitter feed. Makes me look out my apartment window in Burlington, Vermont and try to identify those birds sitting in the tree nearby. Last winter, I had a red-tailed hawk and was beside myself with appreciation of his/her visit. thanks again. Donna

  12. Lara Says:

    I wanted to share that I have seen a peregrine falcon now three times in Oak Park! I have no idea if the bird is male or female and I do not know if it is the same bird. I did send a photo to the Field Museums and they agreed it was a peregrine and suggested that the City peregrines may be expanding their territory to Oak Park. I spotted the bird twice by Ascensions (south Oak Park) and once at Lake and Lathrop (River Forest).

    – Lara

    • Cool!
      I see Peregrines once every a year or two here in south Oak Park. And I saw one fly east over the lagoon at Columbus Park about two weeks ago. It would be nice to have them spend more time in our neighborhood, since even with several successful Cooper’s Hawk nestings in south Oak Park this summer, we still have lots of Pigeons.

  13. Alma Says:

    There is a peregrine flying over north oak park in an area south of north ave, east of ridgeland and north of greenfield. It appears to land but I can’t see where. Has anyone else seen this? I think there must be a nest

    • Hi, Alma,
      Henry Griffin reported a peregrine from that area back in April, and I saw one about a mile north of there in Riis Park in early May. They’ve also been seen in Westside Chicago parks earlier this year. I wonder if there’s a nest somewhere in the area (maybe on an old industrial building on the Westside)?

  14. Lara Says:

    Excellent! I haven’t seen the falcon this year, but last year I saw a peregrine falcon several times in Oak Park – twice outside of Ascension and once at Lathrop and Lake.

  15. Hello from Scottie Ash Seed, Oak Park Illinois Community Treestorian that writes details about trees on their stumps. Citizen Dendrologist, Openland’s volunteer Treekeeper, and founding member of America’s Midwestern Prairie School Ecology Movement. An early native conservation movement germinated by Jens Jensen, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Oak Park’s very own Scottish Nurseryman John Blare who planted Lloyd Wright studios famous 150 year old Ginkgo tree. For me to discover your families site, euphorically excites the written pages of present day human history! You all now know how it feels to walk in the accomplished footsteps of Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Jens Jensen, Aldo Leopold, Alexander Humboldt, Thomas Jefferson, FL Olmsted and especially local naturalist Robert Kennicott. As our regions most knowledgeable individuals intensely involved with today’s Emerald Ash Borer event, I was wondering if you had noticed any effects on our local ecosystem, after Oak Park just lost 5000 native Ash trees within a biblical in scope four years? While your family was making observations and documentations producing priceless datasets. As another Cicada nut, I have theorized that detrimental effects of EAB will substantially lower local nymph populations. Especially 17 year periodicals root suckling on countless Ash trees suddenly succumbing to EAB. Having lived through several 17 year celebrations, my first in 1973. I know that a primary hardwood tree cicadas utilize, is all five of our local Ash species. And since our area had thousands of maturing Heritage & Legacy class Ash trees from ages of 135 to 250, there had been most likely great numbers of cicadas using old trees half block long root systems. Lastly, while performing root flare excavations around bases of trees, to rescue them from mulch/soil mounds. I often encounter the ghostly Cicada nymphs underneath. Unfortunately everything living within a mound usually freezes or cooked in summer, since mound is above grade level. So am making big effort for landscapers to stop mounding, before 17 year ones come out and their young burrows into mounds of trees that will inevitably die because of mounding! Here is link to my EAB blog, enjoy!

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