Enjoy a guest post from University of Chicago's Audubon Chapter today about historic Washington Park.
As South Side, inner-city naturalists, we tend to daydream of far away naturescapes and the potential they possess. In our digitally connected world, instant reports from these places (e.g., eBird Alerts) can further tempt us to leave our own neighborhoods which may themselves contain plentiful biodiversity. One such diamond in the rough is Washington Park located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. First established in 1870, the park has become especially important to many as it remains open and available for safe use during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is an ideal place for urban birding, ” University of Chicago Audubon member Xiaoni Xu says of Washington Park. “This is one of the best city parks I have ever seen in terms of birding potential with a combination of factors that attract migratory birds: geographical location, a diversity of small habitat patches, being one of the only green spaces in a heavily urbanized area, good vegetation coverage, etc.”
The park is a haven for birdwatchers in the UChicago Audubon Chapter such as Xiaoni, other individuals from the community, and more long-standing birding groups. One such group is the Washington Park Birders who laid the foundation and baseline for citizen science observations in the park and diversified the advocates of greenscape conservation by holding spring and fall bird walks open to all members of the community. As spring migration has commenced and more popular hotspots have closed, Washington Park has put itself on the map among other members of the Cook County birding community. With migration in full swing, birdwatchers have been observing incredibly high species counts, with one duo even finding 100-plus species in one morning!
Sheer number of species aside, the birds “showed great balance and variance in habitats and niches,” Xiaoni says in reference to one morning with 86 species in total.
“Geese and ducks take over the open-water stretches of the lagoon, with sandpipers, herons, and kingfishers foraging near the marshy shorelines. The lower banks of the lagoon were visited most often by sparrows, while the treeline echoed the raucous calls of circling gulls and terns. The wide area of open ballfields on the north side offered opportunity for shorebirds and gulls too. Even higher up were the falcons, and higher than that were the traveling cranes and cormorants. Sparrows, blackbirds, and palm warblers perch on the grass of the park under the bigger trees, and the thrushes hid under the branches of the bushes on the ground. On the tree trunks there were woodpeckers and creepers, and higher among the leaves were other warblers and flycatchers.”
With such plentiful biodiversity, Washington Park provides endless opportunities for outdoor activities to the surrounding community.
“Something I really appreciate about the park is that you don’t need to be an advanced birder or have binoculars to see something cool,” says Rossy Natale, another member of UChicago Audubon. “It’s so cool to me that I can go for a run in an expansive, natural area right by my apartment and regularly see things like possums and herons as well as abundant plant diversity. It’s a very special find.”
In addition to the photos and videos within this post, we encourage everyone to come check out this hidden gem and point interested birders towards the eBird and iNaturalist pages for Washington Park to browse a collection of wonderful photos, videos, and audio that have been compiled over the years.
*As a final note, all photos, videos, and instances referenced within the text were pairs of folks who live together or distanced pairs birding apart from one another.