New overlook at state park celebrates ospreys
A new interpretive area was dedicated Thursday at Moraine Hills State Park, east of the Fox River near McHenry, with a surprise appearance by a special guest.
You needed binoculars to know for sure, but there indeed was an osprey soaring above Lake Defiance near the center of the expansive 2,200-acre park.
The elusive migratory bird usually has headed south by this time of year. Was it passing through or a member of the lone nesting family here?
No one can say as the fish-eating raptor generally has left the area by late August or so. But with open water and meals available, there are bound to be stragglers.
The occasion was the ceremonial opening of Osprey Meadows Interpretive Overlook, a brick and stone structure affording a panoramic view of the lake.
It features three informational panels describing the park's glacial and human history, the osprey, and the volunteers, park staff and community groups that collaborated on the project.
About 20 of those involved enjoyed the picture-perfect day.
"We did this without one penny of planning or engineers," said Greg Kelly, the former site superintendent who now oversees 15 state parks in nine counties as regional land manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
"It was back of a napkin, everybody working together," he added.
The $40,000-plus project was made possible with support from the Guenther family, the Community Foundation for McHenry County, McHenry County Audubon's memorial fund, and Friends of Moraine Hills State Park.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages the site and contributed in-kind labor. The brick and stone were recycled from the demolished Big Hollow School in Ingleside and came at a discount, Kelly said.
The park's involvement with the unique bird started about 10 years ago. That's when Brad Semel, an endangered species recovery specialist with Natural Resources, had a nesting platform installed on a telephone pole near the lake.
Like bald eagles, ospreys were making a comeback after the ban on the insecticide DDT, and their population was expected to expand from the south.
It took awhile, but in 2017, a nesting pair took up residence on Lake Defiance and remain Moraine Hills' sole osprey couple.
Meanwhile, the state down-listed osprey from endangered to threatened, and there are numerous nesting pairs in Lake and McHenry counties, according to Semel.
With the help of ComEd, three more poles have been installed at other locations at Moraine Hills.
The resident pair this year had three offspring, and it is hoped more will find the clean water, good fishing and wide-open views of the other platforms to their liking.
"The (Stratton Lock and Dam) will attract a bald eagle or osprey," Kelly said. "We don't mind either one."