On my first day back from Circle Pines, I took an exercise walk to Columbus Park to monitor birds and other forms of nature.
The new bird of the day was a Belted Kingfisher patrolling the lagoon, flying back and forth and making its rattling call. Last year Kingfishers visited Columbus Park in early spring and later in the summer, but went elsewhere to nest. Some Kingfishers stick around Illinois all winter if there’s open water to dive and catch their fish, but last year they left the Park in late October. (Our other bird sightings from the Park are summarized on this page.)
The new flower is a cultivated plant in the shaded garden by Refectory pool. The flowers lent a bluish cast to the green carpet of leaves:
A closer look revealed droopy flowers that looked a bit like a Snowdrops but were intensely blue. Also the leaves were broader and darker green than Snowdrops:
I’m no expert on cultivated plants, so I Googled a preliminary identification. My best guess is Siberian Squill — not as poetic as “Snowdrops,” but that seems to be its name. (If you know your flowers, please comment below to correct or confirm my identification.)
Two areas of the Park had prescribed burns this year. The burns were intentionally set fires designed to improve habitats for native plants and animals. The fires must have been set after my visit to the Park on Friday morning and were closely monitored so they didn’t spread too far. One burn was in the restored prairie on the large peninsula, between the arms of the lagoon. The other burn was in the woodland just west of the lagoon. Here’s what the burned prairie looked like:
Looking closer, patches of prairie grass and dried wildflowers remained:
This field, which we call “peninsula prairie,” grows native grasses, sedges, and summer wildflowers. It attracts migrating birds rare elsewhere in our neighborhood, like Lincoln’s and Clay-colored Sparrows. (Obscure sparrows like these both delight and frustrate beginning birders.) Without periodic burning, willows and other woody plants might overwhelm the prairie, and we’d lose the native plants and birds. So far, so good with this round of burning. I heard a male Song Sparrow singing, claiming the blackened ground. An Eastern Phoebe searched for flying insects above the burn, and Dark-eyed Juncos foraged on the edges. We’ll watch the prairie through spring and summer to see how plants and other birds respond.
The second burn was something new. The “lagoon woodland,” as we call it, has lots of oaks and other trees, an understory of shrubs, but few native wildflowers. Without plants covering the ground, fallen leaves blow away, leaving bare soil to erode. The burn seems designed to “open up” the woods, so sun-loving native grass and flowers can flourish:
Again, so far so good. Today I saw and heard Cardinals, Juncos, and Phoebes in the woods, and a Swamp Sparrow at the water’s edge. I’m excited to see what happens to the plants — we’ll watch this growing season and next to see how things change. Ethan will record the changing plants, birds, butterflies, and bugs with his new camera.
So, that’s the news from Columbus Park. Tomorrow we’ll update you on spring in south Oak Park.