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Catching Nature through Photography & Volunteering


Sheila Newenham
Volunteer, photographer, artist, blogger

I’ve spent my free time outside for as long as I can remember. As a child, playing outside until darkness fell, as a young adult camping with friends and now hiking, exploring and observing wherever I get the opportunity.

I settled in DuPage County after graduating college. In the late 90s I started volunteering for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County caring for the horses at Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton. It gave me an opportunity to experience the preserves on horseback and get back to nature.


I took a break for a few years before volunteering at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in animal care. I spent five years there learning more about our local wildlife and what I could do to help them survive and thrive in our disrupted suburban environment. Every day there I learned something new.

I’m now in my third year as a volunteer bluebird monitor. I check on 13 boxes weekly for a few months each spring and summer at Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve in Bartlett. I’d be hiking in the preserves anyway, so this is an easy way to help give back a little to the wildlife and to the preserve that cares for so much undeveloped space.


One of Newenham's photos from DuPage forest preserves: An osprey with its catch at Pratt's Wayne Woods in Wayne.  

I love nature and wildlife photography. It deepens my appreciation for the natural world and allows me to share my experiences with others. I also blog about my experiences and observations at

I’m an avid gardener with a preference for our hardy native plants. I also love to travel to experience a variety of wild places and meet the people who recreate there. I share my home with my husband, two dogs and two cats. I’ve spent my career as a veterinarian helping people care for and better understand their pets. I currently work part-time in order to devote more time to other passions.


Newenham inspects a swallow nest in a bluebird nesting box she monitors at Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve in Bartlett.

What Brings Me Back Time and Time Again

Nature rejuvenates me, heals me and grounds me. In this chaotic metropolitan area, the preserves provide refuge both for me and a bit of wilderness. There are magical things out there if we slow down, quiet down and be present. Last week I watched three adult deer frolicking in play, a coyote thoughtfully and stealthily navigating the edges of a subdivision, I listened to two great horned owls calling back and forth, and I glimpsed a mink darting through the edge of the woods near a pond. There’s so much wonder out there and I never know what I will see when I head out, but I’m never disappointed.


Wildflowers blooming on the prairie at Dunham Forest Preserve in Wayne. Photo by Sheila Newenham

Catching the Nature Bug

I’ve always had the nature bug. As I’ve settled into a comfortable routine in my adult life, I’ve found ways to make room to relish in it. 

Favorite Nature Activities

I love to hike with my dogs or on my bike — always with camera and binoculars in hand.


A white-tailed deer peeks its head up at a James "Pate" Philip State Park in Bartlett. Photo by Sheila Newenham

How Nature Inspires

Nature provides the inspiration for my photography, writing and art. It is my creative outlet.

Advice to Others

It will take getting out there and spending some time to see what speaks to each person individually. There are opportunities for sports, fitness, conservation, gardening, solitude, birding, picnicking and, of course, art.


Newenham removes a wasp from a bluebird nesting box she monitors at Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve in Bartlett.



A female Mallard duck at James "Pate" Philip State Park in Bartlett. Photo by Sheila Newenham



A muskrat at a marsh at James "Pate" Philip State Park in Bartlett. Photo by Sheila Newenham



 An indigo bunting at West DuPage Woods in West Chicago. Photo by Sheila Newenham


If you have a fun or unique way of catching nature in our preserves and would like to be featured in a “Catching Nature” blog, please contact Deb Humiston at

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Photo of blog author Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County welcomes more than 6.2 million visitors a year; and manages nearly 26,000 acres in 60 forest preserves containing prairies, woodlands and wetlands.

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