Bird Watching at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve
Highland Park, Highwood and Lake Forest, Illinois
Unique Lake Michigan Bluff and Prairie
The Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, part of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, includes over 250 acres on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan as well as approximately 1/2 mile of lake shore. Also included as part of the Forest Preserve is the historic Parade Ground on the south and the Fort Sheridan Post Cemetery on the north. Adjacent to the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is a residential neighborhood within Highland Park and Highwood commonly known as Fort Sheridan. This neighborhood includes an historic district comprised of many of the buildings from the former U.S. Army Compound that gave this entire area its name. You can learn more about the residential Fort Sheridan community on its website.
Lake Cook Audubon conducts an annual Beginners Birdwalk here in late April. Mid-summer, unscheduled but opportunistic, bird walks are also occasionally held. An organized hawkwatch is conducted daily from September through November.
Presently, Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve contains three distinct habitats:
1. Oak Savanna
Oak savanna on the north and, south property boundaries. Each of these savanna habitats extend along deep tree-lined ravines.
2. Grassland Prairie
In the center of this, extending to the western property boundary is a 90 acre expanse of grassland prairie. Anticipated planting of Oak trees to expand the edge savanna will reduce the open prairie to 50 acres Fort Sheridan Prairie
3. Grassland Bluff
On the east lakefront edge is the grassland bluff habitat.
Where to Bird
An asphalt loop that begins on the south side of the parking lot offers reliable views of Red-headed Woodpecker. Also seen along this east-west trail have been species including Eastern Bluebird, Red bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Wood Peewee, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, Brown Thrasher, American Goldfinch, Eastern Kingbird, Brown Creeper, Great Crested Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo and Indigo Bunting.
When you reach the far west side of this loop at the access road that leads into the parking lot, stop at the bridge. A Louisiana Waterthrush has been observed in the ravine there during spring migration, the feeders at the house across the way have yielded surprises like Purple Finch, and a Northern Mockingbird was once seen in this area as well. Returning to the parking lot, you might even spot a LeConte’s Sparrow.
Either in the middle of the loop or at the end, walk down to the lake along the road and scan the edges for many of the same species. Then check the lake for waterfowl, particularly in the winter and early spring. One November four male Long-tailed Ducks landed close to shore.
Orchard Oriole at Fort SheridanLooking north from the parking lot into the prairie, one can observe Savannah and Song Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Barn, Rough winged and Tree Swallow, Chimney Swift. Overhead look for fly-bys including American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, Cormorant, Ring-bill Gulls, and Caspian Terns.
A grass trail through the prairie is accessible from the parking lot. This trail leads east to the lake bluff, north along the bluff and then west through largely native savanna. Toward the north end of the bluff and slightly inland is a pond fed by the drainage of the prairie from the recently managed swale. Great Blue Heron have been observed here in summer. Spring migration finds Green and Blue Teal. In the winter, lake birds such as Scaup and Common Goldeneye have been observed in the pond when not frozen.
Many of the species found above may be found along this wilderness-like trail. If one area is not productive, the other may be and both should be checked. Mid-summer (July) bird walks have yielded a remarkable diversity of grassland and woodland birds along this north boundary trail with the greatest activity near the lake.
Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve’s Future
A Master Plan for the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is anticipated to be approved in 2015. The plan calls for a number of upgrades and reconfigurations to the current facility. The most current description of the plans can be found on the Lake County Forest Preserve Fort Sheridan website page.