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Slice of Life: Naturalist facilitates people's understanding of the world around them

Naturalist Kim Bohannon stacks branches with Claire Smith, 5, of Batavia (left), and Giovanna Aiello, 4, of Sugar Grove after removing them  from a beaver dam shelter on a nature playground at Peck Farm Park in Geneva.
Naturalist Kim Bohannon stacks branches with Claire Smith, 5, of Batavia (left), and Giovanna Aiello, 4, of Sugar Grove after removing them from a beaver dam shelter on a nature playground at Peck Farm Park in Geneva.

Kim Bohannon gently woke Stripe and Gizmo, two tiny sugar gliders snoozing in a pouch she carried around her neck.

“They like to be carried in a pouch – they’re marsupials,” Bohannon explained, as she coaxed them out and into their two-story cage in the visitor’s center at Peck Farm Park Interpretive Center, part of the Geneva Park District.

Nearby, a leopard frog gazed balefully at Bohannon and a visitor through the glass of his aquarium, ignoring winged nearby winged crickets

“Once [the crickets] get their wings, he won’t eat them,” she said. “I’ll feed them to Stripe and Gizmo.”

The frog will be returned to Peck Lake and another will be caught to live in the aquarium so young visitors can see one close up, she said.

“They’re an invasive species, but they are so common now, it’s hard to call them invasive,” Bohannon said. 

Everything a visitor comes in contact with at the Peck Farm Park is an opportunity for Bohannon to teach something about the natural world. As a naturalist, Bohannon facilitates the public’s understanding of their natural world, whether examining a deer hoof, watching hawks, looking for invertebrates in the water – or explaining the difference between toads and frogs.

Toads are actually frogs, she said. The leopard frog’s other names are meadow frog and green frog. Bohannon pulled out a hand-held device that has recorded frog and bird sounds to illustrate.

Then she changed slides, and the plaintive “kill-deer” trill of the killdeer filled the room.

“I love the baby killdeers; they look like pingpong balls with long, skinny legs,” Bohannon said. 

She told of a summer when the ground-nesting plover demonstrated its high drama nest-protection system – feigning injury to draw a predator’s interest away from the babies. Every time she walked by, the parent bird began dragging its wing and going opposite the nest.

Although not certified as a naturalist, Bohannon said she has a lot of knowledge from working there and learning from Trish Burns, the Peck Farm Park manager, another naturalist.

“I have gone through Kane County certification classes, but I’m not actually certified. It is not a requirement for the job,” said Bohannon, 53, a St. Charles resident. “I have a master’s degree in elementary education, and it fits in with being a naturalist – love nature and educating kids on nature.”

On any given day, Bohannon is involved in a class or program or interacting with the public, imparting wisdom about the natural world.

A group of 150 seventh-graders from Geneva Middle School North were on a recent field trip and learned that artificially created monoculture – that is, a perfect suburban lawn – is not good for the environment, she said.

“We were talking about plant and animal diversity on the prairie,” Bohannon said. “We talked about milkweed. There’s not as many monarch butterflies any more because of the lack of milkweed. The huge monarch population around here has become a rarity.  The population is in huge decline.”

Monarchs, North America’s only migrating insect, will lay eggs only on the milkweed plant, and it is the only plant the monarch caterpillar will eat.

“We talked about what we can do – and planting milkweed might help,” Bohannon said. “Most people understand we’re not doing the best things for the planet that we could be. ... It’s not just protecting the planet from monocultures, it’s picking up trash ... recycling.”

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