NGRREC’s Field Station Bursts with Backyard Biodiversity

Figure 1: NGRREC Field Station as seen from the river.

Figure 1: NGRREC Field Station as seen from the river. Photo by Louise Jett

Some of you readers may know that I work for Lewis and Clark Community College at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) in East Alton, Illinois (Figure 1). If you’ve been reading for a little while, it won’t surprise you to learn that I have been keeping a record of the wonderful species that I have found on the surrounding the Field Station. I thought that this would be a great subject for the month. If you haven’t come to visit NGRREC yet, there are a few things you should know about the property.

NGRREC was started in 2002 with the goal of becoming a leader in research and education related to large rivers, their floodplains and their watersheds. NGRREC is not a single entity, but the result of a partnership between the Illinois Natural History Survey, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.

The property itself is pretty amazing, as you can see by the aerial views above. Our site, the Jerry F. Costello Confluence Field Station, was built in 2008 using green construction and is a great example of how renewable energy and recycling systems decrease the environmental impact of a building. In 2015, the building received LEED Gold Certification. That is incredible. To learn more about our building and organization, please visit

One of my favorite features of the property is the landscaping and plants. The space was designed for and planted with native plants and these host several different species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects. This is what I want to share with you today.

Figure 2: Male Indigo Bunting.

Figure 2: Male Indigo Bunting. Photo by Rob Curtis

Last summer, I stared wandering around the property on my lunch break, taking photos of interesting insects and birds, identifying and recording them. I’ve got a fairly long list so far, and it’s amazing for the size of the property. Let’s start by talking about the birds. In the last 18 months, I have positively identified 26 different species on the grounds including Gold Finches, Eastern Phoebe, Indigo Bunting (Figure 2), American Kestrel, Great Egret, Yellow Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Kingbirds (Figure 3) and Cooper’s Hawk. For many of these, I have seen potential nesting pairs or have seen their nests and fledglings.

Figure 3: Eastern Kingbird. Photo by Rick & Nora Bowers

Figure 3: Eastern Kingbird. Photo by Rick & Nora Bowers

I have seen some great snakes and frogs too. So far, I have seen four species of snakes; Black Rat (Figure 4), Blue Racer, Garter and Little Brown. I have also seen six species of frogs and toads; Green Frog, Bull Frog, Cricket Frog, Plain’s Leopard Frog, American Toad, and what I suspect is a Fowler’s Toad. There have also been some great mammals on the property including Mink, Red Fox, Coyote, Cottontail Rabbit, Deer Mouse, Woodchuck, Short-tailed Shrew and a vole of unknown species.

Figure 4: Black Rat Snake.

Figure 4: Black Rat Snake. Photo by Jennifer Hooks

The butterflies and bee diversity we have are amazing. All of native plants support a beautiful array of butterflies, moths and bees. Last summer, it seemed like every time I went out there was a new kind on some flower I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes, I would find the caterpillar and identify it using This is a great website for caterpillars and butterflies. I also used for butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies. Some of the ones I have found were Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly, Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (Figure 5), Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Little Glassywing Skipper Butterfly, Azure Bluet Damselfly, Milkweed Tussock Moth, Monarch, Two-spotted Bumblebee (Figure 6) and Black and gold Bumblebee. These are just a sample of the cool insects that are found where I work. Finding these little treasures is much more fun than eating lunch inside.

Figure 5: Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly.

Figure 5: Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. Photo by Greg Lasley

If you are looking for a place to see some beautiful wildflowers and wildlife, come see us. We are on the biking/walking trail that follows the river. Bring your family and walk up to our green roof on the south side of the building. Bring your binoculars and see how many different birds you can spot. Cameras are great to have to take pictures of the wonderful flowers that are blooming now and the lovely butterflies and bees that will be fluttering around them. We are located just down the road from the National Great Rivers Museum and adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam. Maybe I will see you there. I’ll be the lady rummaging through the grasses or standing in the trees looking for bugs and other cool critters. Hope you can join me.

Figure 6: Two-spotted Bumblebee.

Figure 6: Two-spotted Bumblebee. Photo by Andrew Block

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