This is the 39th of 50 Days of Chicago Nature. Read previous posts here.
For much of his young life, Simon Tolzmann's been interested in identifying as many birds as possible.
"I don't know what I'd be doing if I hadn't discovered the world of birding," the 9th grader from Bucktown says.
A newer pursuit in these pandemic times, though, is herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. It turns out that forest preserves in the southern part of Cook County are just the place to look for "herps," as aficionados say.
"Last time I didn't even look at birds," Simon says. "I was really focused on finding salamanders. It's really important to document them as much as you can. Because if they're not known they can't be conserved."
That's not to say that Simon's entirely moved away from birds. He has 235 species on his 2020 Cook County bird list. That puts him second in the county, just ahead of his mom, Andrea, and his brother, Peter.
"It's been really important to start learning about other things," says Simon, "but my main focus for many years has been birds."
On a forest visit in early May, Simon was flipping logs when he found a few salamander types that hadn't been previously recorded in the iNaturalist mobile app from the preserve.
"It's been pretty fun," says Simon. "It's been a lot better than most springs, even though we don't have the entirety of the lakefront and Montrose."