An unexpected experience with fourth graders from Sunny Hill School in late September prompts this month’s bird profile. We were just entering the prairie atop Galloping Hill, part of the ongoing prairie restoration in Cook County’s Spring Creek Forest Preserve. Movement aloft caught my eye and in a matter of seconds we were all gaping upward as two adult bald eagles circled above us. To make the moment even more instructive, a red-tailed hawk joined the duo and soared with them, looking small by comparison.
For everyone on the field trip, the sighting was a thrill and for most, it was a first. But more and more frequently I receive messages about bald eagles that locals have seen. In early September, I got two reports in one day. The successful rebound of the species once listed as endangered has brought more bald eagles to the Barrington area in recent years.
In his Birds of Illinois book published in 1889, Robert Ridgeway writes, “All along the larger water-courses in our State the Bald Eagle is a more or less common bird, and may be met with at all times of the year.” But by the second half of the twentieth century, DDT had taken its toll on the population. Bald eagles, eventually placed on the Endangered Species list, were rarely spotted in Illinois. With the banning of the chemical in the early 70s, they began to rebound and today, theirs is a conservation success story.
During our early days in the Barrington area, I needed to drive to the Mississippi River to see bald eagles when they gathered in unfrozen sections of the river to fish in winter. But in recent years, I’ve come to expect year-round sightings of the species locally, sometimes in or over Spring Creek Forest Preserve, or Crabtree Lake, or Baker’s Lake. They can show up almost anywhere in the area. For several years a pair has nested along the Fox River near River Road. Another has chosen Busse Woods for its breeding ground and has been featured on TV shows. Every time I drive to Chicago during late spring and summer I can spot its massive nest from I-90.
Most Barringtonians – and other Americans, for that matter – have little difficulty recognizing the adult bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) with its large body, wing span of nearly seven feet, white head and tail. It is easily the largest raptor in our area. More difficult to identify are the juveniles. They begin as all black, then over a period of three to four years acquire the contrasting plumage on head and tail, with lots of black and white mottling as they mature. Both juveniles and adults have the same large head, enormous beak, and large yellow talons. Overhead, the initial impression to the onlooker is simply that the bird is BIG.
The good news for us is that bald eagles have become reliably present members of the Barrington avian community. Cast your eyes to the skies and scan trees along lake margins and riverbanks. Sooner or later, you’re bound to spot our majestic national emblem. Most likely, you’ll be just as thrilled as were those fourth graders on Galloping Hill.
Would you like to learn about the Barrington bird population with guided tours from Wendy Paulson? Here are the dates and locations for Wendy’s series of 2018 Fall Bird Hikes cosponsored by Audubon Great Lakes and Citizens for Conservation.
October 19, 8:30AM
Cuba Marsh (Park in parking lot off east side of Lake Zurich Rd just south of EJ&E RR tracks. Lake Zurich Road runs between Rte. 14 and Cuba Road)
October 26, 8:30AM
Galloping Hill* (park at Penny Road Pond parking lot in Barrington Hills)
November 2, 9:00AM
Crabtree Nature Center (3 Stover Road off of Palatine Road)
*indicates a more strenuous hike
Walks are free though space is limited and RSVP’s are required. Please RSVP to: Daniel Wear (312) 453-0230, Extension 2010 or email@example.com and let them know how best to contact you should that be necessary.
Before you head out, please be sure to check the Citizens for Conservation website for any last minute changes or cancellations. Waterproof boots are strongly recommended and don’t forget your binoculars!
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 the Barrington 220 school district 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, Wendy taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands. She 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.
Wendy and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.