Tag Archives: Busse Woods

Chicago’s Favorite Fast and Free Flora and Fauna

Having lived my first 20 years in the sparseness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s no surprise that I get a little stir-crazy in the big city. Add to that several weeks of recent cold weather and this hibernation has me thinking a head of lettuce looks like the great outdoors.

But despite the weather, and perhaps armed with the optimism that the days are getting longer with a prediction of 60 degrees tomorrow, we ventured out this past weekend to get a much-needed dose of nature. We heard there have been Great Horned Owl sighting at Busse Woods, so we drove up to Elk Grove Village. This is what we saw:

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 If you’ve never visited the elk grove, it’s a quick and easy way to see some “wildlife” – granted they’re fenced in on a slice of acreage at Busse Woods. The elk are supervised and fed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
After you visit the elk, follow their fence to the trail along the tree line. It makes for an easy hike with plenty to see- fields with picnic areas and pavilions if you’re looking for a  family outing. Or if you want to get your shoes in the snow/dirt, continue walking past the fields toward the small lake. You’re sure to see birds no matter the season. When we were there this past weekend it was cold but the trees were alive with tapping woodpeckers. We also saw several hawks and at least five deer. But, alas, no owls. On the back trails there were very few people, so chances are you’ll be able to enjoy a good stretch of quiet.
If you’ve already done the elk thing, another quick stop off for nature can be found along the city’s lakeshore. Did you know we have several bird sanctuaries on the edge of downtown? Montrose Point is an impressive place for bird watching and it’s particularly quiet and peaceful in the winter. Last year it gained attention for being a stopover for snowy owls. This year I haven’t seen any owls, but the cardinals are stunning against the dull brownness of this year’s winter.
If it’s too cold, or in the case of today, too rainy, you can get your nature fix indoors. The  Garfield Park Conservatory, as I’ve said before, is one of the biggest and best in the country. You’re imagination can get lost in the Jurassic-esque tropical foliage swooping down over the brick paths. If it weren’t for the warm humidity, you’d forget you’re under a canopy of glass a few minutes from The Loop. The conservatory is always free (unless you live here, then you pay a pretty handsome city tax) so visit and visit often.
A final winter favorite is spending a day in Lincoln Park. Although the butterfly haven atop the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, requires an admission fee, it’s a pretty special place for both kids and adults. Just as fun as the 1,000 free-flight butterflies are the tiny button quail scurrying around under the trees and shrubs. If you sit quietly, they’ll probably come quite close. Intriguing little birds and I think I want one!

While you’re at Notebaert, stop by the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory or the Lincoln Park Zoo’s petting farm. Both of which are free. Fast ways to get out of the house this winter and get your hands on some flora and fauna. To me that’s great therapy.

If you know of any other fast or free nature destinations in Chicagoland, especially for quick winter getaways, please feel welcome to share below.

Get out of town! Surprising bevies of birds in Chicagoland.

My mom always used to say, “A watched pot never boils” whenever I’d get impatient for… eh hem… water to boil. And so it goes this weekend as the sun is out -there’s an appearance of Spring – but all I can do is watch my pea shoots on the rooftop. The only 2011 crop that can yet withstand the cold nights and windy days. I set out some beans to harden and the wind stripped their leaves in no time. So, until some milder weather, it’s pea shoots for me. And birds…

I wouldn’t have expected to see so many birds from my 4th story vantage point in the city, but I’ve seen a hawk munching on fresh kill, lots of seagulls, a red finch, 3 egrets, swallows, and about a million sparrows. Something even harvested a mouse and donated half of its body to my planter box. A temporary donation, as it was gone later in the day.

Watching for birds is plenty more interesting than watching pea shoots. In fact, I’ve adapted my moms saying: “A watched pea shoot is boring.” So, until May 15th, the suggested planting date for northern Illinois, I may just pay more attention to the birds. Here are some of the interesting and even surprising avian gatherings in the area:

1. Chicago’s own parrot colony of Monk parakeets, or Quaker parakeets, first arrived in Chicago in 1973, and has grown in numbers to over 200 (source). The colony is easy to see and even easier to hear. Visit the Harold Washington Park in Hyde Park at 5200 South Hyde Park Blvd. If you don’t see them right away, listen for their loud squawks- they won’t be far away. This article from Chicago Wilderness magazine shares their history.

2. The Bald Eagles at Plum Island Sanctuary and Starved Rock State Park have headed north, but high counts can be seen in the trees here during the winter. Just look at this photo from 2009 posted on magnificentfrigatebird.com– now that’s worth the drive next winter:

Here’s their link for the annual Starved Rock Eagle Watch.

3. Sandhill Cranes are another annual migrant who generally appear in Illinois farm fields and preserves in early spring. They are big, the are loud, and they seem almost prehistoric in their mystique. Here’s a nice article about their history in Chicago and another article about their large gathering in Indiana.

4. It’s always interesting to catch a glimpse of a rare bird that seems to have strayed into the Great Lakes flyway. Here’s an interesting week by week compilation of rare bird sightings that are called into the University of Arizona National Birding Hotline Cooperative. It may be Arizona but they get plenty of reports from the Great Lakes region. I’ve never even heard of some of these birds and probably wouldn’t know one when I saw it!

5. Cook County Forest Preserve’s Busse Woods is a great place for bird watching and often times you don’t even have to get off the freeway. (Although it’s highly recommended). Driving on I-90 near near Arlington Heights/Schaumburg, expect to see Great Blue Heron nets dotting the highest trees as you look West at their rookery. It’s almost seems strange, their gangly legs and crooked necks, standing up in their huge stick-woven nests. Might as well check out the Elk heard in Elk Grove Village while you’re in the area.

As fast-paced and sprawling as Chicago is, the city is still rewarded with rich ecological diversity due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, major river arteries, prairies,  and major migration routes. Who knows what bird will blow through the Windy City.

Sources for finding the best birding hot spots in Chicago and Illinois: