Just when Forest Preserve District of Kane County staff thought Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve in Hampshire couldn’t get any better for bird-watching – a family of critically endangered whooping cranes made a brief visit in early November. A mated pair and its colt stopped by the preserve on Nov. 9-10.
“This is the truest form of validation that we’re on the right track with our land management,” said Forest Preserve District Executive Director Benjamin Haberthur in a news release. “We don’t manage for a single species, but for the entire ecosystem. A visit from a species – of which there are less than 800 in the entire world – should make everyone take notice that something very special indeed is happening here at Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve.”
For more than 10 years, the Forest Preserve District had been working to transform Muirhead Springs from agriculture – which it was for more than 140 years – into high-quality prairie habitat. With the acquisition of additional land adjacent to the preserve, the district had the opportunity to realize a larger-scale restoration. In late 2022, the district began both disabling the historic drainage system to begin the wetland restoration and re-meandering the old agriculture ditch into a naturalized tributary, as part of a creek restoration. Birds quickly took notice of the improved habitat.
Species that have been spotted at the preserve include black-necked stilt, American avocet, black tern, American bittern, horned grebe, phalarope, swan and American white pelican, according to a news release from the Kane Forest Preserve District. According to data from eBird.org, there has been a 91% increase in bird diversity in 2023, compared to all of 2019-22. The combination of open water, wetland habitat and intact grasslands has drawn further rare visitors including the Say’s Phoebe – a western desert bird – as well as lark sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, longspur and more.
As popular as Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve has become, the site is still under restoration. There are wetland plug-planting projects planned in spring, and areas may need to temporarily be blocked off to give the new plants an opportunity to take hold. The district also reminds the public to stay on trails.
Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve is located at 42W855 Bahr Road in Hampshire. For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, visit www.kaneforest.com or search social media for @forestpreserve.