[BCNnet] More Wild Things news reports: Eagle-eyed volunteers work
to keep hawk count
Randi Doeker - Chicago
rbdoeker at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 27 07:28:25 CST 2005
More good news from Wild Things Conference - in today's Chicago Tribune.
Chicago - Cook Co.
Eagle-eyed volunteers work to keep hawk count
Citizen scientists flock to Illinois Beach State Park to keep track of
migrating birds of prey that converge here
By William Mullen
Tribune staff reporter
February 27, 2005
Vic Berardi and two dozen of his friends last year collectively spent 695
hours sitting in Illinois Beach State Park, staring into the sky, often in
damp, frigid weather, to count 4,184 birds flying so high most could be seen
only with binoculars.
Nobody thanked them for their efforts. Not a single taxpayer dime was
expended for so much as a cup of coffee for them. It was their fifth annual
count of migrating hawks, eagles and falcons that every autumn funnel
through a narrow air corridor over the park, a vital part of a database on
the continent's raptor populations.
Their group, the Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch, is one of 178 public
and private organizations that make up the Chicago Wilderness consortium.
Those organizations rely largely on 11,000 volunteers who, like Berardi and
his friends, do much of the research, restoration and protection of
remarkable expanses of wilderness areas still found within Chicago's urban
Saturday that volunteer work was celebrated at "Wild Things: A Chicago
Wilderness Conference for People & Nature" at Northeastern Illinois
University. It was an all-day event with more than 100 workshops in which
volunteers and professionals traded information on monitoring frogs,
gathering seeds of rare plants, taking water samples from streams, counting
birds and other work to preserve natural areas.
Berardi, 51, a Gurnee plastics executive, dedicates most of his spare time
to counting raptors or persuading fellow enthusiasts to give up their time
to do the same.
For decades, there was only one annual count of migrating raptors in the
U.S., begun in 1934 on a Pennsylvania ridge called Hawk Mountain.
The Hawk Mountain watchers in the 1960s raised a national alarm after seeing
a steep decline in several raptor populations, especially the national
symbol, the bald eagle, which nearly went extinct. Alarmed biologists soon
found the villain, widespread use of DDT, which was promptly banned.
Now a national network of more than 100 raptor-monitoring sites have linked
together, creating a continental database on populations that could prove
invaluable as an early warning system for a future environmental disaster.
The fact that there are areas for wild hawks and eagles to be spotted in the
Chicago area goes to the heart of the idea of Chicago Wilderness, which
manages and protects 260,000 acres of publicly owned wild native habitat in
the city and suburbs.
It is a treasure almost unique in the world's major metropolitan areas, an
artifact of the foresight of early 20th Century Chicago civic leaders who
created an elaborate system of county forest preserves and park systems to
rescue wilderness remnants not yet flattened by development.
"If you look at a dot map of where rare plants and high quality forest and
prairie survive in Illinois," said Steve Packard, director of the Audubon
Society Chicago region, "there is very little Downstate, but big
concentrations in Chicago area."
Chicago Wilderness was created in the 1990s by non-profit conservation
organizations partnering with government agencies in an arc from southern
Wisconsin through the Chicago area to northwest Indiana that own the 260,000
"We are a much-talked-about model for the world for the incorporation of
nature into the life of the metropolitan area," said Packard.
"We have globally rare ecosystems incorporated into our urban life here.
People can walk out their doors and see endangered orchids, rare breeding
birds, even coyotes in their back yards.
"For a great many preserves, , volunteers do most of the work and most of
"It magnifies many times what existing government-supported professionals
could do. A great many species populations would now be extinct around here
if not for this volunteer work."
Chicago Wilderness divides volunteer work into four categories to match
people with their interests and abilities, he said.
More than 700 citizen scientists are trained to do census work of everything
from birds and frogs to endangered orchids. Thousands work year-round in
native prairies, wetlands and woodlands hacking out invasive foreign plants
and gathering seeds and planting rare native plants. Others train to become
docents, guides who take school and community groups into protected wild
areas. Still others specialize in advocacy, preparing and presenting
legislative proposals and writing articles and letters.
The hawk watchers led by Berardi fall into the category of citizen
A birder since finding a robin's nest as a small boy growing up on the
city's North Side, Berardi had to give up birdwatching, which requires good
hearing, in his teens after suffering hearing loss from playing guitar in a
In the 1990s, he learned that raptors are much more secretive and much
quieter than songbirds. Instead of good hearing, studying raptors relies
most on visual observation. He was hooked.
At the time, the Hawk Migration Association of North America was beginning
to build the nationwide network of raptor-migration observation posts,
manned mostly by volunteers.
None was in Illinois, and the geography and autumn atmospheric conditions
around Illinois Beach State Park are such that migrating birds of prey from
the north converge there as they head south, making the park an ideal
Many northern raptor species migrate to warm southern weather between the
end of August and the end of November. Traveling thousands of miles over
many weeks, they rest at night and each morning rise high into the
atmosphere with a minimum of physical exertion by riding updrafts of warm
Berardi and a college biology instructor organized the first three-month
migration watch in 2000 and enlisted and trained others on identifying birds
by species, age and sex.
Many days not a single hawk or only one or two stragglers fly over the
The payoff for Berardi and his colleagues are the days when atmospheric
conditions are ideal, and hundreds--sometimes thousands--of hawks, eagles
and falcons pass by.
"One of the most amazing experiences we've had was the single day in 2003
when we counted 3,500 broad-winged hawks, flying en masse in a steady
stream," he said. "That's magic for us."
Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune
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