How a tiny bird signals big improvement for a Palatine forest preserve

 
 
Posted7/2/2018 5:30 AM
hello
  • The Henslow's sparrow has been spotted at the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine for the first time since 1993.

    The Henslow's sparrow has been spotted at the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine for the first time since 1993. Courtesy of Heidi Tarasiuk

  • The return of the Henslow's sparrow to the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine is a sign that restoration efforts there are paying off, conservationists say.

    The return of the Henslow's sparrow to the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine is a sign that restoration efforts there are paying off, conservationists say. Courtesy of Heidi Tarasiuk

  • Palatine birder Heidi Tarasiuk and native plant expert Sue Gorr of Deer Park search for the Henslow's sparrow in the eastern section of Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine. The sparrow was seen there in June for the first time in 15 years. Experts say it's proof restoration work at Deer Grove is paying off.

      Palatine birder Heidi Tarasiuk and native plant expert Sue Gorr of Deer Park search for the Henslow's sparrow in the eastern section of Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine. The sparrow was seen there in June for the first time in 15 years. Experts say it's proof restoration work at Deer Grove is paying off. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • The Henslow's sparrow has been spotted in the eastern part of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine for the first time in 15 years.

      The Henslow's sparrow has been spotted in the eastern part of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine for the first time in 15 years. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Palatine birder Heidi Tarasiuk searches for Henslow's sparrow in Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine. Tarasiuk captured photographic proof earlier this year that the important bird has returned to Deer Grove for the first time in 15 years.

      Palatine birder Heidi Tarasiuk searches for Henslow's sparrow in Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine. Tarasiuk captured photographic proof earlier this year that the important bird has returned to Deer Grove for the first time in 15 years. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • A sandhill crane in the eastern part of Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine.

      A sandhill crane in the eastern part of Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • The Henslow's sparrow has been spotted in the eastern part of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine for the first time in 15 years. Experts say it's proof restoration work at Deer Grove is paying off.

      The Henslow's sparrow has been spotted in the eastern part of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine for the first time in 15 years. Experts say it's proof restoration work at Deer Grove is paying off. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Although the Henslow's sparrow is small in size, conservationists say its return to Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine after a 15-year absence is a big sign that longtime restoration work is paying off.

Palatine birder Heidi Tarasiuk spotted and photographed the roughly 5-inch sparrow during its nesting season early this month at Deer Grove, the state's first dedicated forest preserve. Linda Masters, a restoration specialist for the Openlands conservation organization, said the Bird Conservation Network confirmed Tarasiuk captured an image of the Henslow's sparrow.

"When I saw the Henslow here, I thought, 'Wow, this is a big deal,'" Tarasiuk said during a recent walk through Deer Grove East, where the sparrow's "hiccup" sound could be heard not far from an egret and sandhill cranes.

Officials at Chicago-based Openlands say the Henslow's sparrow is an indicator species for the health of natural areas, so its first appearance at Deer Grove since 2003 represents a milestone for the organization's work managing the preserve's continuing restoration. Openlands began the task in partnership with Forest Preserves of Cook County in 2008.

As part of the $4.5 million Deer Grove East project covering about 180 acres, heavy equipment was used to remove invasive plants and trees, including European buckthorn, box elder, honeysuckle and green ash. Expansive vistas destroyed years ago have been restored.

Masters said the Henslow's sparrow is a grassland bird that would not have returned to Deer Grove if the preserve lacked the wide vistas the bird requires to breed. Native prairie plants attractive to the sparrow and other birds have replaced brushy and weedy varieties.

"Having a grassland bird actually take up residence is great," Masters said. "It's sort of one of those 'if you build it, they will come' kind of things. So, it's pretty exciting for us to have this little sparrow out there."

In addition to the professional work led by Openlands, volunteers have assisted on the Deer Grove East restoration for at least eight years.

Among those in the Deer Grove Natural Areas Volunteers group is Sue Gorr of Deer Park, who out of habit removed some teasel and other undesirable plants while accompanying Tarasiuk in the preserve recently. She was pleased to hear about the return of the Henslow's sparrow.

"It makes it worth it, yeah," Gorr said.

To fund the Deer Grove work, Openlands dedicated a portion of $25 million made available through the O'Hare Modernization Program, which seeks to offset the effects of airport expansion.

Deer Grove East and West span nearly 2,000 acres between Dundee and Lake-Cook roads.

A 2016 study by Openlands and Stantec Consulting Services Inc. estimates the preserve draws 290,000 visitors annually from Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.