Prosser & wood duck boxes: Yes, Chicago teens

SHARE Prosser & wood duck boxes: Yes, Chicago teens

Prosser senior Nancy Ocampo points to where a wood duck attempted to nest in a wood duck box made by Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club at River Trail Nature Center.Credit: Dale Bowman

As we rustled into the leafy woods, Shamara Daily asked, “How do you discipline your pet rock?’’

After a brief silence, she said, “Hit rock bottom.’’

With that, I followed seven Prosser Career Academy students and biology teacher Marnie Ware to check wood duck nest boxes along the Des Plaines River at River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook.

Prosser biology teacher Marnie Ware has helped with data collection every year of the Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club.

Credit: Dale Bowman

Wood ducks hit rock bottom early in the 20th Century. But they came back from the brink of extinction. Stephen P. Havera in his epic, “Waterfowl of Illinois,’’ notes they are the most abundant waterfowl nesting in state,

Credit the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. And nest boxes. According to Ducks Unlimited, “In 1937, the U.S. Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) erected 486 bark-covered slab wooden boxes, which are thought to have been designed by biologists Gil Gigstead and Milford Smith at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge in central Illinois.’’

Frank Lagodny, founder of the Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club, checking a box four years in the first year of the club.

Credit: Dale Bowman

So the Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club, started four years ago by shop teacher Frank Lagodny, fits a rich tradition.

This was my third year coming along with the club. As we waited, Lagodny, with whom I hunt occasionally, said, “It is helping the kids, not so much the ducks. I am pleased by the nests this year, disappointed by the woodpeckers.’’

Ducks used several boxes this year, but there was predation, likely from woodpeckers.

Three teachers and two dozen students piled out of the yellow school bus and descended on cardboard boxes of donuts on the tailgate of Lagodny’s green Silverado.

Some went to install six poles and boxes. About 12 club members built the boxes before school in September and October. They made 28 boxes installed at River Trail, a Forest Preserves of Cook County site.

Wood duck nest box made by Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club and installed at River Trail Nature Center.

Credit: Dale Bowman

Lagodny put me with his star group, led by Nancy Ocampo, Jackie Ocegueda, Jessica Herrera and Elizabeth Soto with Luis Sanchez, Daily and photographer Paloma Matias.

We went with Ware, who has worked with the club from the beginning, to check and clean boxes.

“Lagodny comes at the biology of it from a practical side, frankly as a hunter,’’ she said.

Science teachers come at it more from the theoretical side.

“He has done much for the science department with his real data collection in the wild,’’ she said. “While I learned what kids are capable of. They built the boxes and are adept at power tools, something I would not see otherwise.’’

Prosser senior Nancy Ocampo led our group in checking wood duck boxes, made and placed by Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club, at River Trail Nature Center.

Credit: Dale Bowman

The first box, No. 5, was clean.

At each box, Ocampo (below), undisputed leader, put her cellphone into the box, snapped a photo, then checked if anything was there.

A couple students found fungus on a log, which Ware identified as Turkey Tail. That led us to dedicated mycologist Paul Stamets. We found other unidentified mushrooms and puffballs.

No. 4 brought much excitement. Ocampa’s phone showed eggs. So Ware had the students open the side of the box with tools pulled from the polka-dot cloth knapsack carried by Ocegueda. There were three eggs and a broken one in the box.

“So amazing,’’ one student whispered.

Two boxes, made by Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club, had nests in them when checked Oct. 29 at River Trail Nature Center.

Credit: Dale Bowman

Sanchez cracked one egg open. A chick, which died just before hatching, was inside.

“Cool,’’ Ocampo said.

“Circle of Life, my friends,’’ Ware said.

Nearby, metallic hammering sounds come as another group stuck a metal post.

An unhatched wood duck chick found in a box made by Prosser Wood Duck Ecology Club and installed at River Trail Nature Center.

Credit: Dale Bowman

At No. 13, “There’s an egg,’’ Ocampo said as she examined her phone.

There were six, including one

opened and a couple with holes, either from chicks for woodpeckers. We debated whether the open one meant one hatched.

They troweled out feathers, eggs and wood chips.

And they moved on.

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