Access to Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve is restricted now that the amazing array of birds that reside there are nesting.
The preserve's main entrance on Renwick Road closed March 1 and will reopen August 12.
The entrance closes each spring and summer to protect all of the birds that congregate at the site, includig herons, egrets, cormorants, eagles, pelicans, songbirds and more. In spring and summer, the only way to gain access to the nature preserve's viewing platform and scopes is during a Forest Preserve program. The viewing platform faces artificial nesting structures built on the lake's islands in 1992 and 2002 to replace trees that were lost to soil erosion.
In April, three “Migratory Bird Hikes,” will be held from 8-10 a.m. on Saturdays, April 7, 21 and 28. Also, a “Photography Bird Hike” is set for 8-10 a.m. Saturday, April 21. Registration is required two days before each program.
In May and June, “Lake Renwick Bird Viewing” programs will be held from 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays, May 5-June 30. While Wednesday morning programs have been offered in past years, only the Saturday programs will be available this season.
If you are interested in getting photos of birds at Lake Renwick or elsewhere, Rita Renwick, president of the Will County Audubon Society, urges photographers to follow the National Audubon Society's guidelines. “Birding ethics and the law should be considered around any nesting bird,” Renwick advised.
VIEW ALL UPCOMING LAKE RENWICK BIRD PROGRAMS
Two other preserve access points, Copley Nature Park and Turtle Lake Access, will remain open from 8 a.m.-sunset during the spring and summer.
The Forest Preserve began acquiring the 839-acre Lake Renwick site, which was an abandoned quarry, in 1989 to protect breeding and foraging habitat for endangered or threatened bird species known as colonial birds because they nest together in large colonies. In 1992, a 320-acre section of the preserve was dedicated as a state nature preserve, which is a state designation for high quality natural areas.
At that time, the preserve supported populations of state endangered black-crowned night herons, state-threatened great egrets and double-crested cormorants. Great blue herons and cattle egrets also nested at the preserve.
"Lake Renwick was the only known location in the State of Illinois where these five bird species nested together in a single colony, and it was one of the largest colonial water bird rookeries in the state," said Dave Robson, the Forest Preserve's natural resource management supervisor.
In the ensuing 26 years, the statewide population of great egrets and double-crested cormorants have recovered to the point that both species are no longer considered threatened in Illinois, Robson said.
"Unfortunately, cattle egrets are rarely seen at the rookery anymore," he added. "Cattle egrets were last documented nesting within the rookery in 2011, and in only two seasons since 1999. Prior to that, they were an annual breeder."
Despite shifts in the mix of birds that nest at the preserve, which is a typical evolution for a colonial water bird site, Lake Renwick continues to support a large variety of avian species, some of which are currently rare in Illinois, Robson explained.
"In addition to the state-endangered black-crowned night heron, seven other state-listed species have been recorded," Robson said. "The site is an important bird area in Illinois, mostly due to the number and variety of water birds that can be seen at the preserve. At least 170 bird species have been documented at Lake Renwick over the years, and the preserve continues to attract new species because of the availability of the isolated aquatic and wooded habitats that are rarely disturbed by people."
Chris Gutmann, facility supervisor for Lake Renwick, said the preserve is fascinating because of its history of restoration and preservation, and also for the stunning variety of bird species that are drawn to the site.
"Converting a former quarry into a wildlife sanctuary serves as a grand example that, with a little help from us, nature can return to even the most decimated sites in spectacular fashion," he said. "There aren't many preserves that provide bird-watchers the opportunity to see an American white pelican or hundreds of swallows swarming over the water at one end and hear the beautiful song of a rose-breasted grosbeak or a stunning blackburnian warbler at the other."
While the preserve is known for its aquatic species, Lake Renwick also supports many songbirds, Gutmann added.
"The preserve's forested areas support wood warblers during migration. Everything from Baltimore orioles to the occasional scarlet tanager can be found there," he said. "Especially during spring and fall migration, there always seems to be a surprise or two waiting to be discovered."
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