Have you caught yourself staring at a largish, elegant, pure white bird flying above town in graceful wingbeat? Or standing statuesque and motionless at the edge of a pond outside town?
The bird is the great egret, a wading bird with long legs designed for standing and walking in water as it stalks frogs, fish, and insects with its long, pointed yellow beak.
The great egret is a species that nearly went extinct in the late 1800s, hunted relentlessly for its long, graceful breeding plumes, or aigrettes. Hats sporting egret feathers were the rage in women’s fashion until a handful of conservationists protested the avian slaughter. Their efforts helped launch the National Audubon Society (NAS), incorporated in 1905, for the appreciation and protection of birds. The symbol of NAS has been, from the beginning, the great egret.
The best place in Barrington for guaranteed good looks at the species is the shore of Baker’s Lake. You can watch the egrets from the parking area just south of the junction of Hillside Avenue and Route 14 or from Baker’s Lake Savanna on the west side of the lake (park on Highland Avenue about a block south of Hillside).
From either vantage point you will see dozens of egrets flying to and from the island rookery in the middle of the lake.
Their nests form a white border at the bottom of the wooden nesting platforms. Normally, egrets nest in trees. But at the Baker’s Lake rookery, double-crested cormorants commandeer all the elevated nest sites, leaving the basement for the egrets.
Egret activity at the lake is non-stop during breeding season. Through binoculars – or, even better, a telescope – you can watch the birds preen, adjust twigs in the nests, incubate eggs, feed voracious young.
The flight path from island to the southwest shores is in constant motion with adult birds flying back and forth to relieve a mate from egg-warming duties, to bring a twig to freshen the nest, to leave the island for food-hunting and rest. It is an elegant aerial parade.
The only thing decidedly NOT elegant about the great egret is its vocalization: a harsh, nasal croak. If you stand on the western shore of Baker’s Lake at dusk, you will hear a symphony of egret croaks, along with the equally inelegant sounds of their kin, great blue herons and black-crowned night herons. It is one of the best shows – both aural and visual – that Barrington has to offer.
About the Author
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.
Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.
Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
If you’d like to learn more about great egrets and the many Birds of Barrington, you are welcome to join Wendy on these two remaining bird walks in Barrington:
* 7:00 a.m. on Friday, June 14th, at Galloping Hill, which is part of Spring Creek Forest Preserve. (Meet at Penny Road Pond parking lot in Barrington Hills, less than a mile west of Old Sutton/Penny Road intersection.)
* Sunday, June 16th at 5:30 p.m. at Longmeadow (north side of Longmeadow Drive, off Bateman Road).
The hikes are free and the public is welcome to attend, but they request that you RSVP so they know you’re coming. CLICK HERE for the full list of Wendy Paulson’s upcoming bird hikes in Barrington or find more information at CitizensForConservation.org.
CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series.