Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Refilling Ancient Lake Chicago March 10, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Geology,Seasons,Spring,Water — saltthesandbox @ 6:48 am
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Our neighborhood was once the bottom of a lake. That lake shrunk in size to become Lake Michigan, but ten thousand years ago the larger version covered most of Chicago and Oak Park. That prehistoric lake is known as “Lake Chicago.”

When rains are long and hard, the ghost of Lake Chicago tries to make a comeback. Storm sewers usually rescue residential areas from its return. But, after three and a half inches of rain over the past weekend, Lake Chicago has returned to Columbus Park:

Canada Geese swim across the flooded fields in the southeast corner of Columbus Park.

Canada Geese swim across the flooded ball fields in the southeast corner of Columbus Park. The white flecks in the background are hundreds of gulls on the partially flooded golf course.

The gulls congregated on the soggy golf course. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Hundreds of gulls fed and loafed on the soggy golf course. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Jens Jensen knew about the prehistoric lake when he planned Columbus Park a century ago. He incorporated ancient beach ridges into his design. I don’t know if he planned the flooded ghost of Lake Chicago — if so we birders appreciate his efforts.

Visiting the flooded Park as the storm subsided, the boys and I checked every gull and goose. We hoped to find rare visitors who nest much further north. In previous years we’ve seen a Snow Goose, three Ross’s Geese, and two Greater White-fronted Geese in the Park. This time we only found a Cackling Goose, a much smaller relative of the abundant Canada Geese. About dozen gulls visit the Park on most late winter days, with larger pink-legged Herring Gulls out numbering the yellow-legged Ring-billed Gulls. The floods brought hundreds more Ring-bills to the Park, but so far no rarer gulls, like Glaucous, Great-black Backed, or Thayer’s. (We’ve never seen those in the Park, but we can always hope.)

On Tuesday, another warm front brought south winds and heavy rains to our neighborhood, so the fields should stay flooded for a few more days. We’ll return to Columbus Park to see what migrant birds rode the winds to our neighborhood. To read about what we find, you can check our eBird lists for Columbus Park.


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