Birding at Volo Bog State Natural Area
28478 W. Brandenburg Rd., Ingleside, IL 60041.
Volo Bog State Natural Area is located in Northwestern Lake County on Brandenburg Rd, approximately 2 miles North of Volo or 1 mile south of Fox Lake on Illinois Route 12. Volo Bog amenities include a Visitor Center and a picnic area. The Center is generally open Wednesday through Sunday and guided tours are provided on Saturday and Sunday. Telephone is 815-344-1294. Information is subject to change, so please check.
Volo Bog State Natural Area is a site that has to be on everyone’s bucket list – birder or not. This is one of the few places in the world to find pitcher plants growing at the base of Tamarack trees, all floating on a quaking bog. Volo Bog was formed as the glaciers receded from Lake County. A small lake in the middle was once 50 feet deep. Technically, it is a kettle – a hole left by melting ice. The site is at least 6,000 years old, based on pollen preserved in the Kettle.
Present day Volo Bog is a wetland surrounded by mature trees. Across Brandenburg Road lies Pistakee Bog Nature Preserve, a largely undeveloped 228 acre tract. Some trails lead into this area from the Tamarack View Trail. Sandhill Cranes, Egrets and other Herons can frequently be spotted here from the Volo Bog parking lot. Current wild acreage exceeds 1,100 acres, providing a wildlife refuge of significant size.
Volo Bog has two primary trails. Generally, they are laid out to walk counter clockwise. The half mile Volo Bog Interpretive Trail runs through the heart of the wetlands. Most of it is a floating boardwalk. The trail starts near the Visitor Center and runs out into the bog. The trail is marked and keyed to brochures available at the Visitor Center. About two thirds through the walk the visitor arrives at the Kettle with its open water. Along the path the vegetation changes from cattails and grasses to a floating bog with brushy vegetation. As you get very close to the Kettle, the tamarack trees begin to dominate. Looking carefully into the tamaracks you may see pitcher plants, orchids and many other plants that can live only in an acidic environment.
The two and three quarter mile Tamarack View Trail runs around the perimeter of the park, traversing woods, wetlands, prairie and fields. Along the trail are some side trails and an observation deck, an observation tower and a “camera blind”. This trail will take at least two hours and is worth every minute. You should be in reasonable shape to tackle this trail.
Volo Bog State Natural Area is a popular site so the best birding is early morning. Keep your eyes on the sky as well as the trees and brush, as several different raptors can be seen at any point.
With two trails going through completely different habitats many birding opportunities exist. The boardwalk takes you right into the marsh. As you start on the boardwalk you will see common birds including thrushes, warblers, vireos, flycatchers and more in the trees on either side. As you proceed into the marsh, go slowly. You may see Marsh Wrens, Swamp Sparrows, Virginia Rail and Sora. The marsh changes to dense bushes, which are actually growing out of the floating bog. Here you will find catbirds, waxwings, more warblers and other small insect eaters. Look closely at the foliage but don’t touch, there is poison sumac mixed into the bushes. After a few yards, the bushes open up to reveal the “kettle”. This small pond will have pond ducks and herons. Overhead there may be raptors. The remaining boardwalk continues through bushes and tamarack back to marshy vegetation and solid land. Keep your eyes on the trail as well as the trees, it very uneven. There is a pond to the right of the trail leading back to the visitor center. This area will have swallows, bluebirds, more flycatchers and kingbirds.
Alternatively you might turn right into the picnic area as you exit the bog. The picnic area has a mixture of trees and open areas. You may see nearly any common suburban park species here. This is a shortcut back to the parking area.
The Tamarack View trail is home to many non-wetland birds. At the south end of the bog (a bit over 1/4 mile down the trail) is a small observation deck overlooking one of the drainages of the bog. You should see many insect eaters, some shorebirds, ducks, woodpeckers and raptors overhead. The trail varies from dense trees to prairie to a boardwalk through the marsh to open fields on the side. Each change brings a different set of species. A larger observation deck is available about half way around is the trail to the Observation Tower. You must take a half mile trail in and back out. The trail is on habitat boundary between a gravel prairie hillock and a marsh. The Tower stands about 15 feet above the hill and provides a spectacular overlook of the entire area. Back on Tamarack Trail, there is a small “Camera Blind” about ½ mile from the end of the trail. The view is a shallow water area generally inhabited by ducks, herons, sparrows and more.
According to the “Friends of Volo Bog”, 198 species have been observed and 70 species are confirmed or suspected nesters. Here is a Volo Bog specific checklist.
Volo Bog has a large parking lot with the usual non-flush toilets. The Visitor’s center is a real delight, including modern plumbing. There are many displays, photographs and even a few live specimens, explaining the Bog. Even when the center is not open, various checklists are available all the time, including the bird checklist. There is a large picnic area which is family friendly. The boardwalk is not pet friendly. Guided tours and bird walks are available on the weekend.
One downside to Volo Bog is the traffic on roads surrounding the area. A loud vehicle will interfere with hearing the birds.