Stories by patty wetli

Beach or Habitat? Advocates Want Park District to Add Plovers’ Nesting Site to Neighboring Protected Nature Area

Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area on the left, and the proposed section of Montrose Beach that would be incorporated into the protected area. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Chicago’s birding community is already preparing for the return of Monty and Rose, the piping plovers that captured national attention two summers ago when they made the surprising choice to nest on Chicago's lakefront. But will their favored habitat be secure in 2021?

Chicago Notches 5th Warmest Year on Record in 2020

Chicago set a number of weather records in 2020. (Adonis Villanueva / Pixabay)

2020 was a wacky weather year. Chicago was warmer and wetter than normal in 2020, according to a National Weather Service climate summary.

The ‘Wildebeest of the Great Lakes’ Is Just One of the Region’s Unsung Aquatic Wonders

A group of suckers on the move in Door County, Wisconsin. (Courtesy of Shedd Aquarium)

Walking along Lake Michigan or the Chicago River, it’s difficult to imagine an underwater world teeming with life. But it’s there, promises Karen Murchie, a research biologist at the Shedd Aquarium, and we have to protect it.

Bid Adieu to 2020 on an ‘Aw’ Note with Brookfield Zoo’s Montage of Animal Cuteness

Hudson, Brookfield Zoo’s 14-year-old polar bear, frolics in the snow. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

Both Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoos will temporarily close during January and February, but they have plenty of online content in the works to remain connected with the public.

Chicago Park District Suspends In-Person Winter Programs Set to Start in 2021

Chicago Park District in-person programming is suspended, but virtual sessions are still open for registration. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)

Winter programs have been suspended due to mitigations in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but people are still welcome to enjoy park trails and outdoor spaces.

Chicago’s Tumultuous Year: Looking Back on 2020

(CDC / Pixabay / WTTW News illustration by Rebecca Palmore)

From the pandemic to protests to the power of nature, 2020 has been a year for the history books. We take a look back at the year that was — warts and all.

CTA Piloting Free Face Mask Dispensers on 20 Bus Routes

CTA free face mask dispenser. (Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority)

Disposable mask dispensers are being installed on 200 buses serving 20 routes, including the No. 56 Milwaukee, No. 91 Austin and No. 77 Belmont. If successful, the program will expand to all bus routes, as well as to rail stations, the CTA said.

Winter Finally Shows Up, Mix of Snow and Freezing Rain Coming Tuesday

Chicago typically notches an inch of measurable snow by Dec. 7. (David Mark / Pixabay)

Beginning late Tuesday afternoon, a mix of snow that could be heavy at times and freezing rain will descend on the Chicago area, according to the National Weather Service.

Don’t Trash Your Tree. Chicago’s Christmas Tree Recycling Program Starts Jan. 9

Christmas trees. (Lisa Fotios / Pexels)

Starting Jan. 9, you can drop off your tree for recycling at one of two dozen Chicago parks. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Shutdown? Zoos and Aquariums Still Operate 24/7 Even When Closed To Visitors

Paul Eberhart, a lead animal care specialist at Brookfield Zoo, spends some time with the Nigerian dwarf goats. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society

For institutions with “living collections,” there’s really been no such thing as a shutdown during the pandemic. Even with no visitors coming through the door, zoos and aquariums are still caring for their animals around the clock.  

Mayor Proposes Huge Hikes in Fines For Repeat and ‘Egregious’ Air Pollution Violations

A still image from a video taken of the demolition of the Crawford Coal Plant smokestack, April 11, 2020. (Alejandro Reyes / YouTube)

The current $5,000 maximum fine for air pollution violations could jump to $50,000 under a proposed ordinance. The hike was prompted by events including a botched demolition of a smokestack in Little Village this past spring.

Don’t Believe the ‘Christmas Star’ Hype, But Something Amazing IS Happening in the Solstice Sky

A photo taken on Dec. 13, 2020, shows Jupiter (the bright "star" on the right) closing in on Saturn to the left. (Bill Ingalls / NASA)

Jupiter is preparing to pass Saturn, an event known as a great conjunction. On Dec. 21, the two planets will come closer to each other than they’ve been in nearly 400 years — and it will be visible to the naked eye. 

Monarch Doesn’t Make Endangered Species Cut, Gets ‘Wait-Listed’

A monarch butterfly on butterfly milkweed. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region / Flickr)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the monarch butterfly warrants inclusion on the endangered species list but due to a lack of resources is being wait-listed behind higher-priority plants and animals.

Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count Is the Research Gift That Keeps on Giving

Cardinal. (tlparadis / Pixabay)

The National Audubon Society’s annual bird count is underway. Now in its 121st year, the tally gives researchers and conservationists a good picture of how North America’s bird populations are changing.

Do Flowers and Solar Power Mix? UIC Researchers Launching Study Into Costs, Benefits

Interspersing native plants with solar panels can benefit pollinators. (Andreas Senftleben / Pixabay)

Incorporating pollinator habitat into large-scale solar installations makes sense for wildlife, but what about the bottom line? Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago aim to answer that question.

Illegal Dumping in Forest Preserves Comes at a Price, Financially and Environmentally

People dump everything, including the kitchen sink, in Cook County's forest preserves. (Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County)

Fly dumping, or the illegal dumping of waste, was already a problem at the preserves, but it’s gotten worse in 2020, according to officials.

Birders A-Twitter Over This Yellow-Bellied Beauty’s First-Ever Sighting in Illinois

Great Kiskadee (Liam Lysaght / Pixabay)

Great Kiskadees don’t normally roam north of Texas, so the first-ever sighting in Illinois caused quite a commotion, attracting birders from across the state to Will County.

The Seeds of a Climate Change Defense Are Being Planted in Lake County

Former farmland within the Grant Woods Forest Preserve will become a demonstration site for climate-adapted seeds. (Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves)

Lake County Forest Preserves is launching an ambitious conservation research project to determine whether it’s possible to preserve natural areas by proactively preparing for climate change. 

The Holiday Train Is Running But Its Schedule Is Top-Secret, For Good Reason

Riders won't be able to board the Holiday Train, but Santa's still coming. (Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority)

The Holiday Train’s appearances are more spontaneous than in recent years, with no tracker available. That’s left some folks feeling cranky. 

Get Ready to Expect the Unexpected From This Year’s La Nina Winter

We could be in for some wild weather this winter, meteorologists said. (Pasja1000 / Pixabay)

This winter we’re in for a La Nina cycle, which is known for increased storminess and has produced some wild weather over the years.

Where Does Lightfoot Stand on ‘Dibs’? It’s Open to Interpretation

A folding chair holds a parking spot cleared of snow on Feb. 12, 2011 in Chicago. (Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr)

The mayor was asked about her stance on the practice of claiming a shoveled-out parking space. And her answer managed to thread a political needle.

‘Green Responders’ Both Overwhelmed, Inspired By People’s Newfound Love of Nature

Cook County Forest Preserve stewardship days have looked different during the coronavirus pandemic. (Forest Preserve District of Cook County / Facebook)

Green spaces have seen unprecedented use during the pandemic, which has left land stewards overwhelmed by crowds, but heartened to see so many new visitors.

National Weather Service Needs Volunteer Ice Spotters. Want To Take a Crack at It?

River ice. (ArtTower / Pixabay)

The agency is recruiting volunteers to keep a watch on river ice in the Chicago area. Ice Spotters help with early detection of ice jams, which can cause major flooding.

General Iron’s Parent Company Acquiring Another North Side Metal Recycler

Metal scrap. (Public Domain Pictures / Pixabay)

While awaiting the city’s verdict on its permit application to start up a metal shredding and recycling operation on the Southeast Side, Reserve Management Group is in the process of acquiring another metal recycling business in Humboldt Park. 

City Asks for Public Feedback on General Iron Permit. Will It Fall on Deaf Ears?

Protesters gather near the Logan Square home of Mayor Lori Lightfoot to voice their opposition to General Iron’s plans to move to the Southeast Side on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (Annemarie Mannion / WTTW News)

Opponents of a permit application for a metal shredding facility on the Southeast Side question whether public comments will fall on deaf ears.

High Waves Warning: Flooding and Dangerous Conditions Along the Lakefront

Strong winds are creating high waves along the Lake Michigan shoreline. (Nikkiwjourney / Pixabay)

Strong winds are creating dangerous conditions along the lakeshore, prompting the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications to issue a lakeshore flood advisory until 6 a.m. Tuesday.