The Nice Looking Grassland Habitat of Fort Sheridan

Most of the perspective being voiced about the Fort Sheridan land use debacle is partisan. But Fort Sheridan is important to many more than a tiny cabal of neighboring homeowners who believe a golf course is an entitlement. And it is more important to others than those – like me – who have been assaulting city and county officials with the iSteven Bailey, Avian Biologist with the Illinois Natural History Surveympropriety of building yet another money losing, tax subsidized golf course.

Recently an avian biologist working for the Illinois Natural History Survey stumbled upon Fort Sheridan while pursuing reports of an uncommon bird there.  Steven Bailey is a scientist and does not have an axe to grind on this hotly political issue. Perhaps that’s why we should pay attention to what he observed.  Following is a post he wrote on an Illinois birding forum.

Subject: IBET Fort Sheridan birds
From: calcariusp
Date: Sat, Apr 9, 2011, 6:42 PM

Went to look for the Smith’s Longspurs that were seen at Fort Sheridan this morning. Unfortunately did not find them, and wonder if they were moving north along the lake.

I would have thought they would have stayed at such nice looking grassland habitat, which is pretty rare along the lake. However, the sparse vegetation along with the small pools of water sitting in the grassland should be productive for several uncommon to rare species which folks often want to see, if enough birders spend enough time birding this area this spring, especially in the next few weeks when most will be migrating through.

The grassland may become too tall and dense in future years for such birds but for this spring, the habitat looks great for migrating Upland Sandpipers, Yellow Rail, Sprague’s Pipit (looks really good for this species!),American Pipit, Western Meadowlark, LeConte’s Sparrow (also really good for this species), Smith’s and other longspurs. The marshy, grassy vegetation in the winding creek along the northern and center portion of the grassland should entice American Bittern and other rails as well. Birds that I did hear and see included:

8 Blue-winged Teal
2 (pr) Bufflehead
1 American Coot
2 American Kestrel
4-5 Wilsonfs Snipe
1 Belted Kingfisher
1 Red-headed Woodpecker
7 Northern Flicker
2 Eastern Phoebe
2 Horned Lark
5+ Tree Swallow
1 Barn Swallow
6 American Crow
1 Winter Wren
1 Vesper Sparrow (singing likely on territory)
1 Swamp Sparrow
5 Song Sparrow
6 Savannah Sparrow
1 Lapland Longspur (saw close on ground)
4 Eastern Meadowlark

Steve Bailey
Mundelein (Lake Co)

Bailey, the biologist, found Fort Sheridan to be a “nice looking grassland habitat” not the “weed field” which some of the Fort Sheridan homeowners insult it.  Bailey also noted that this land is “pretty rare along the lake” unlike the plethora of over-built and under-utilized municipal golf courses which are draining every community’s budget and requiring public subsidy to operate.

Finally, Bailey’s post on a public forum was a clarion call to hundreds, even thousands of bird watchers throughout Illinois and beyond to visit Fort Sheridan and discover “uncommon to rare species which folks often want to see.”  Today there are far more bird watchers than there are golfers. Many will make the trip to Fort Sheridan to add a bird or two to their seasonal or life list. Chances are they will even spend some money in Highwood. Golfers aren’t the only ones who drink beer or have money to spend. Are you listening Highwood Mayor Charlie Pecaro?

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