This is the 36th post in 50 Days of Chicago Nature. Read previous posts here.
In many ways, Gillson Park in Wilmette is an underrated gem in comparison to more well-known city birding sites like Montrose Point and the Jarvis Bird Sanctuary. Its stature has been on the rise since the pandemic closed the Chicago lakefront.
“[Gillson] gets maybe not the influx or diversity of birds of Montrose,” says local birder Kat O’Reilly, “but there is a nice diversity of habitat and there’s been so much work in the last few years there to make it better for migration.”
In past years, Kat and others led bird walks at Gillson each Sunday in May in partnership with Go Green Wilmette. The pandemic, though, led to the cancellation of the walks and a re-thinking of plans. The idea came up of a virtual information source for self-guided walks while adhering to social distancing. Kat eventually volunteered for the task.
“I was basically going on long walks in the morning in April and ending up at Gillson almost every day,” says Kat, an art teacher at New Trier High School. “I thought I could just give a guide to the location and tell you where to look and where I would take [people] in real life.”
Kat turned to Google Maps to create a map with site-specific features. “Here's a great area to look for ground feeding birds in the open areas around the shrubs,” writes Kat about the Nature Garden Seating Area on the site’s east end. “On 5/2/2020, White-crowned, White-throated, Swamp and Savannah Sparrows were present in this area this morning.” And the early feedback is that it has been useful for area residents.
“I was birding the other morning and a woman was like ‘Are you the Kat from the Katbirding site?’ I have some fame within the park now, so that's fun.”
View Kat O'Reilly's website and the Gillson Park Virtual Bird Walk here.