Have you ever looked back and reflected on your life? That is exactly what we did at Kankakee Sands last summer. We assembled a dedicated group of researchers to accumulate data on the many aspects of restoration and conservation, from the ground to the sky. With the knowledge of how successful our restorations have been since we began 15 years ago, we will be able to better plan our restoration efforts for the future and for the good of the conservation of the plants and animals on which all life depends.
While the data are still being collected, there are some encouraging results so far.
During the vegetation monitoring of Kankakee Sands, we discovered an exciting find: tubercled orchid and green twayblade orchids growing at Kankakee Sands! The orchids found in our prairie restorations are not the showy species highly desired for trade or sale. Instead, they are the equally special but small, non-showy plants of the wet prairies.
These orchids were not planted in our prairie restoration. They likely found their way back by gusts of wind which can carry the lightweight, dust-like seeds. It’s amazing to think that in less than ten years we have turned a cornfield into a wetland that is home to these delicate orchids and hundreds of other plant species.
Tubercled orchid (Plantanthera flava herbiola) and green twayblade orchid (Liparis loeseliia) are both stimulated to grow by prescribed fire. With the successful burn season we had this spring, we are hopeful for an excellent orchid population again this year.
The small mammal survey crew found a surprise while performing their research. Attracted by the corn used in the small mammal traps, ornate box turtles were found at Kankakee Sands. Importantly, these were young ornate box turtles, our first indication that these turtles are reproducing in the area.
Particularly exciting was the emergence of regal fritillaries this year. This state-endangered butterfly is known to exist in only one site in Indiana – Beaver Lake Nature Preserve, adjacent to the Efroymson Restoration. One of the goals of the restoration was to provide habitat for these butterflies and expand their population. The regal fritillaries emerged the third week of June this year, and every time Kankakee Sands staff saw one, they marked a dot on a big map on the office wall. Within a week, the map was covered with dots! Hundreds of butterflies were seen over almost the entire restoration, a very dramatic representation of the restoration’s success. Our counts determined that it was by far, the most common species on the restoration in early July!