Ever since Illinois went on lockdown in mid March, I have spent the majority of my time in my condo in Albany Park, Chicago. I have not been out of state since racing the American Birkebeiner Marathon in late February. The only exception to staying at home has been local forays to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and hikes to local forest preserves searching for migrating birds. One trip was to my hometown of Barrington, Illinois to Bakers Lake Nature Preserve.
Temporary loss of international travel leads to a focus on local adventures
My last great adventure was in September of last year when I traveled through Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia for a month. It seems like ten years ago. It is amazing how quickly the world has changed. I am not going to bemoan the temporary loss of travel because everyone the world over is going through much more serious issues like their physical, mental, and financial well-being. Instead, I am going to focus on the enjoyment I have taken from local travel. This is the first of a series of these local birding and hiking adventures to local parks and nature preserves.
History of adventures at Bakers Lake Nature Preserve
I grew up one block away from Bakers Lake Nature Preserve. I used to take my dog Barney for daily walks there. One of my first outdoor adventures without my parents was with my grade school friend Mark. We circumnavigated the lake, which was no small feat as there is no path that goes around the lake. There are a patchwork of forest preserves around the lake that have trails including Ron Beese Park and Younghusband Prairie, but those parks did not exist back then. We scuttled across private property, waded through marshes, and crashed through trail less woods before coming out on Northwest Highway and returning back to home on Hillside Ave.
On this day, I would partially circle the lake, but mostly by car. I started at the parking lot at the crossroads of Hillside Avenue and Northwest Highway by the railroad tracks. There is an active heron, egret, and cormorant rookery in the middle of the lake, but that was not what I came for on this day. I came to see warblers and migrating birds, but I ended up pleasantly distracted by other birds as well.
Hunting warblers along the lakeshore
I immediately saw some sparrows in the parking lot that I was not able to identify, so I started walking to the lakeshore. I walked along Hillside Ave. until a trail cut towards the lake. Once I got to the lake, I started immediately seeing warblers. Palm warblers were the dominant species here on this day. They are one of the most easily identifiable warblers thanks to their habit of constantly flicking their tail.
I walked up and down the lakeshore trail and continuously saw warblers in the trees hovering over the lake. I saw magnolia warblers, yellow warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, black-and-white warblers, and warblers that were too quick to identify. Then I saw some movement to my right and turned to see a mink only 20 feet away. After it disappeared a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers landed on an adjacent tree. I took several photos of them before heading back to the car. On the way to the car, I spotted a Baltimore oriole singing at the top of an oak tree.
Warbler hunting advice
When looking for warblers, I would recommend staying in one spot as much as possible. Find a place where a lot of birds are present or a place you think would be a good spot and stay there and move as little as possible. Chasing warblers will drive you crazy. It takes some patience, but that will pay off when they come to you. It may take 15 minutes to a half hour for birds to appear, but if you are in a good spot, they will. If not, move to another location.
Ron Beese Park
After getting back to the car, I drove to the other side of the lake and started exploring the Ron Beese Park Trails. More bird action with a rose-breasted grosbeak and more palm warblers. It was a gorgeous spring day in the 60s. The kind of day you miss in the summer when it is hot and humid. I snapped some pictures of the lake and the pond as I moved along.
Throughout the whole time seeing warblers, there were constant sightings of herons, egrets, and cormorants coming and going from the rookery on the way to their feeding grounds. I even saw an egret in a tree down by the lake where I was seeing all the warblers. The best spot for seeing warblers was along the lakeshore adjacent to Hillside Avenue.
Back in the car, I drove to Dundee Road and pulled into the lot at Younghusband Prairie, which is located just east of Prairie Middle School. A red-tailed hawk greeted my arrival by soaring over my car and landing by a nearby tree. Younghusband Prairie is a small swath of restored prairie on the south side of Bakers Lake.
There are a few trails mowed down in the prairie including one that leads directly to the lake. At the end of this short quarter mile trail is an osprey pole. The pole is a little too close to the trail. It is great for seeing osprey, but it brings humans too close to their nest. It was an active nest and both male and female were in attendance. The female was in the nest, and took off as I neared. I could not see the female in the nest until it took off. If I knew that, I would not have approached. I snapped a few quick pictures and moved on. The forest preserve should consider moving the trail away from the pole.
Great day at Bakers Lake Nature Preserve
If you are looking for a longer hike, then Bakers Lake is probably not what you are looking for. If you tally up the trails they probably only amount to a couple of miles, but it is a phenomenal place to see all types of birds. Nearby Deer Grove Forest Preserve has longer trails if you want to hike. There are several different ecosystems present like marsh, woodlands, prairie, and of course the lake, so there a variety of birds can be found no matter what time of year you visit.
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