WBEZ | Lake Calument http://www.wbez.org/tags/lake-calument Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Endangered herons make themselves at home in Lincoln Park http://www.wbez.org/news/endangered-herons-make-themselves-home-lincoln-park-107258 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/heroncrop.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Black-crowned night heron in Lincoln Park. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" /></div><p>Just south of Chicago&rsquo;s Lincoln Park Zoo, there&rsquo;s a lovely promenade of trees, sometimes called an allee. This is a well-trafficked and noisy part of Lincoln Park, packed with joggers, soccer players and a perpetual stream of people walking their dogs.</p><p>It seems like an unlikely spot to find a species endangered in Illinois. But that&rsquo;s exactly what has happened.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/8758103904_e90e84930a_z.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Mason Fidino of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" />I&rsquo;ve come here to meet with Mason Fidino, who works at Lincoln Park Zoo&rsquo;s Urban Wildlife Institute. As coordinator of wildlife management Fidino keeps track of the fish, insects, mammals and birds that live near the zoo&rsquo;s boardwalk.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">As far as I can tell, he has the coolest job in Chicago, though I can&rsquo;t absolutely swear to it. This guy actually gets paid to walk through Lincoln Park each morning, though he&rsquo;s not just taking a random stroll of course. Bincoculars and iBird app in hand, he carefully keeps tabs on the number and species of birds in Lincoln Park, stretching from Diversey to North Avenue.<p>His route is very specific, and for good reason. When a colleague purchased an old book about Lincoln Park&rsquo;s migratory bird community from 1898 to 1903, they decided to update the data they discovered.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;And so we saw this information and we went, &#39;Wow, that&rsquo;s really cool! Let&rsquo;s do science with it,&#39;&quot; Fidino said. &quot;And so now I&rsquo;m kind of recreating these walks with a little bit more standardized methods now.&quot;</div><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/nests.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Black-crowned night heron nests along Lincoln Park’s allee. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" />One of the biggest &quot;celebrities&quot; along Fidino&rsquo;s route is the encampment of over 250 black-crowned night herons at the allee.</p><p>They&rsquo;re a colony nesting species, Fidino said. They really prefer to be in close proximity to one another when they build nests and give birth.</p><p>The social pull must be strong. Because every day the population grows, and at last count there were over 440 of these endangered herons throughout the Lincoln Park Area.</p><p>&quot;Prior to 2009 we only had a small number of night herons that nested here and this was only in the island and nature boardwalk,&quot; Fidino said.</p><p><strong>Where they came from</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image ">To understand why these birds have taken up residence, first you have to understand where they came from. Several bird experts advise that I must talk to Walter Marcisz, a guy with some detailed information about this bird. Marcisz has monitored black-crowned night herons in the Lake Calumet area for several decades.</div><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/marsh.jpg" style="float: right; height: 225px; width: 300px;" title="Indian Ridge Marsh. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" />So here we are, 20 miles southeast of Lincoln Park, in an area known for its many years of industrial development&mdash;and the abysmal land and water quality that stemmed from that. Specifically, we&rsquo;re at Indian Ridge Marsh, stretching along Torrence Avenue between 116<sup>th</sup> and 122<sup>nd</sup> streets. We&rsquo;re here because this was the last significant nesting area of black-crowned night herons in the Lake Calumet area before they packed their bags and started their great migration to Lincoln Park.</p><p>Wetland grasses and spongy black earth give way to what I can only call &quot;sink mud.&quot; Ahead, I see long, meandering stretches of water that seem to melt into a distant landfill and a lonely railroad track. To this girl from the Northwest side &ndash; this is like another land.</p><p>Black-crowned herons have lived here for at least a hundred years. That is documented by ornithologists. But Marcisz thinks it&rsquo;s likely the birds actually lived here for thousands of years. &quot;This was a pristine wetland,&quot; he said. &quot;It defies logic that they wouldn&rsquo;t have been here.&quot;</p><div class="image-insert-image ">In the late 80s and early 90s, Marcisz would regularly get counts of 1,500 birds at a time. But the census count declined year by year and by 2000 or so, there were only a few hundred pair left. Then 200 pair, then 50 pair. And today? There are none.</div><p>So why&rsquo;d they all go?</p><p>&quot;A lot of the other herons that nest in this area are larger species,&quot; Marcsiz said, and they pushed black-crowned night herons out of the colonies. But in one sense the black crowned herons have an edge over the big guys.</p><p>&quot;They are much more forgiving in terms of nest sites,&quot; Marcisz said. &quot;They will nest in reeds above the water or [in] a number of other sites that other herons are not so tolerant of.&quot;</p><p>And so when pushed around by the big guys in this marshy neighborhood, black-crowned night <img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/8758104618_d1995f25b6_z.jpg" style="float: left; height: 225px; width: 300px;" title="Walter Marcisz in a stand of phragmites at Indian Ridge Marsh. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" />herons made their nests in phragmites, a tall invasive type of water reed. All well and good for a while. But in recent years, the water level has fluctuated like crazy.</p><p>&quot;If the water is too high, the nest gets flooded. If the water is too low and there&rsquo;s a drought, they&rsquo;re susceptible to predation. And to my way of thinking, that contributed heavily to their looking for a new site,&quot; Marcsiz said.</p><p>Okay, so the birds abandoned this marsh. But what makes Marcsiz think these are the same black-crowned night herons that ended up in Lincoln Park?</p><p>Here&rsquo;s one clue: Before the mass exodus, one evening he and others counted approximately 600 black-crowned night herons leaving the Calumet area, en masse, to feed. And they had another crew of observers set up in Lincoln Park, just waiting. About a half hour later the Lincoln Park crew observed about the same number of herons headed to Lake Michigan, apparently seeking fish.</p><p>&quot;I guess in April there&rsquo;s a big run of alewives and that&rsquo;s mostly what they&rsquo;re bringing to feed their babies,&quot; Marcisz said.&nbsp;</p><p>And at some point some of these birds may have figured out there&rsquo;s an easier way.</p><p>&quot;Common sense, right?&quot; Marcisz said. &quot;Why travel 20 miles when you can just set up camp right next to Lake Michigan?&quot;</p><p><strong>Advent of the citizen scientist</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lady.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Jean Valerius, taking her own census. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" />Back at Lincoln Park, I&rsquo;ve noticed that these red-eyed birds are drawing big attention from park goers who aren&rsquo;t normally birders. A surprising number of passersby can tell me what type of birds they are and a little about their behavior. I&rsquo;ve even run into a few of what I&rsquo;ve dubbed, &quot;citizen scientists.&quot; People who&rsquo;ve taken it upon themselves to study these creatures in depth.</div><p>Eleven-year-old Hadrien is one. He&rsquo;s here for a school project but also hopes to become a nature photographer one day. He&rsquo;s been watching the herons build their nests.</p><p>&quot;They actually grab the end of a branch that they want and they fly backwards,&quot; Hadrien said, &quot;to try to rip it off instead of twisting it with their beak. Which I thought they would do.&quot;</p><p>Meanwhile, Jean Valerius has brought a pencil and an index card to the park. She&rsquo;s numbered each tree on the east and west sides of the allee and carefully records the numbers of birds she spots in each.</p><p>Not everyone, however, is quite so solicitous of these birds. Mariann Pushker, for one, is put out by all the droppings.</p><p>&quot;They&rsquo;re ruining the park as far as I&rsquo;m concerned,&quot; Pushker said. &quot;I&rsquo;m sorry that you&rsquo;re an endangered species, but go home!&quot;</p><p>Pushker&rsquo;s friend Patricia McCloud is also annoyed but wants to know if the birds are endangered.</p><p>&quot;I don&rsquo;t know,&quot; Pushker said. &quot;I wish I had a BB gun. I&rsquo;d shoot &#39;em at night.&quot;</p><p>For the next few months no one has to worry about&nbsp;droppings from under the nests. Because, as they&rsquo;ve done for the past few years, the Chicago Park District has just fenced the area off to protect the fledglings, the baby birds, who sometimes fall to the path.</p><p>But fence or no fence, says Jean Valerius, you can still see a lot.</p><p>&quot;Last summer when they were learning to fly, they kind of used this as a runway to take off,&quot; Valerius laughs.</p><p>Most park goers seem to find it quite a show. And it&rsquo;s one that will go on at least until August.</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 17 May 2013 17:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/endangered-herons-make-themselves-home-lincoln-park-107258