The buzz

Preserves We Love: O'Hara Woods, for its varied photo subjects

A person standing in a forest with a camera.
(Photo by Chad Merda)

About this series: The Will County forest preserves mean many things to many people, including Forest Preserve District staff. Some of us enjoy the peace and tranquility of a particular preserve, while others among us enjoy the bustling feel of some of our more well-traveled trails. For some, the work we've done in the preserves is meaningful and fulfilling. "Preserves We Love" allows Forest Preserve staff to expound on their favorite preserve and why it's special to them. In this edition, marketing technical specialist Glenn Knoblock tells us why he loves O'Hara Woods Preserve. 

I have worked for the Forest Preserve District for more than 25 years, and one of my many responsibilities is to take photographs. Therefore, I have visited all the preserves in Will County. My favorite preserve to visit is O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville.

A trip to O’Hara Woods starts a little differently than excursions to most other preserves, as you must pass through the Romeoville Park District facilities to gain access. You drive past the soccer fields and Park District maintenance buildings and park next to the tennis courts. O’Hara Woods seems unassuming at first, as you head down a gravel path past the backyards of the neighboring subdivision. I often see migratory songbirds perched on the outer trees or flying back and forth from the backyard bird feeders of the neighborhood and the safety of the tall trees at the edge of O’Hara Woods. Further down the gravel pathway, the large oak trees tower above you on both sides. Often I’ll see a red-bellied or downy woodpecker clinging to the trunk of one of these oaks.

Soon the trail splits. The gravel path heads toward the open fields, which are often filled with prairie flowers, but I prefer taking the natural path that heads deeper into the woods and eventually runs along Lily Cache Creek. Among the trees sheltering you from the sun are many fallen logs that supply food for a variety of fungi. The almost never-ending variety of mushrooms always makes for a great photo. If you are at O’Hara Woods in the spring, you’ll also see a multitude of spring wildflowers like trillium, Dutchman’s breeches and trout lilies.

The fallen trees also provide cover for the multitude of chipmunks that call O’Hara Woods home. I see more chipmunks here than any other preserve. You can hear them chirping a warning to other chipmunks that you are there. Chipmunks are great for photos because as you get close, they stop chirping and freeze in hopes that you won’t see them. I do notice them, and I always get a good photo because they stay perfectly still as if posing for the camera.

Soon the trail takes you down by the creek. I often find ebony jewel-winged damselflies as I approach the creek’s banks. This is a beautiful insect with an iridescent color. If you are there at the right time of year, you may see hundreds of them flying about searching for mosquitoes and other flying insects to eat. Looking down from the trail into the creek, there are often water striders standing atop the still pools of water along the creek too. Well-camouflaged bullfrogs also sit along the creek’s banks in the few sunny spots where the sun breaks through the tree canopy.

As you head even deeper into the forest along the trail that follows the creek, you’re certain to see white-tailed deer. If you spot one, chances are more are nearby silently watching you, ready to flee if you move toward them too fast. But if you move slowly, you can get close enough for a good photo. I always come away with good photos of the deer. Since they’re quite aware of your presence and rarely take their eyes off you, you can always get a good shot of them looking directly at the camera.

As the trail leads you out of the forest and away from Lily Cache Creek, you’ll find yourself in a grassy field. I often spot red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures circling high in the sky or perched in a tree along the edge of the woods. The trail is now paved and leads along the edge of the forest, heading back toward the parking area near Romeoville Park District’s tennis courts.

It’s not a very long hike, but there is so much wildlife, flowering plant life and fungi in this compact preserve that I almost never stop taking photos. At times, I have found myself crouching down to get a photo of some bizarre-looking mushroom when an ebony jewel-winged damselfly lands nearby. I swivel to get its photo when I hear a red-bellied woodpecker start pecking at a tree above my head. I stand to get the woodpecker in focus when I notice a chipmunk or a deer standing silently close by watching me.

O’Hara Woods may be a small preserve compared to others in Will County, but it is packed with a variety of great photo opportunities!

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