From Friday to Sunday, Oct. 14-16, Lake County residents can not only enjoy the autumn colors, but they also can watch hundreds to thousands of raptors, including hawks and eagles, migrate along Lake Michigan.
Local researchers have been counting the number of species and individuals of raptors every fall for more than 15 years at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion and more recently, at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest.
To help the public learn more about the hawks and other birds migrating through Lake County, Lake Forest College professor Jeff Sundberg has helped create the first annual Lake County Hawkfest.
It includes free bird walks, hawk watching and exhibits in Lake Forest on Saturday and free bird walks in Zion and Waukegan on Sunday. A dinner and keynote address will be held Friday for $25 at Lake Forest College. The public also can attend five workshops including raptor photography for a $25 fee Saturday at Lake Forest College.
Bird walks begin at 7 a.m. Saturday at both Middlefork Savanna and Fort Sheridan Preserve. Registration is requested.
At Fort Sheridan Preserve, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, the public can visit an activity trail where they can see live raptors close up and learn about woodpeckers, waterfowl and other birds.
“We wanted to provide some family activities and we wanted to raise the profile of Lake County birding,” said Sundberg, a Libertyville resident and well-known local birder.
He chose the Fort Sheridan Preserve, owned by the Lake County Forest Preserves, because “it’s rapidly becoming a top place for hawk watching in the fall.”
As Sundberg spoke from his college office not far from Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, he noticed a sharp-shinned hawk fly over, followed by a merlin.
“It’s fantastic to stand out in the autumn weather and just see many species of migrating raptors drift overhead,” Sundberg said. “The diversity is incredible. You never know what the day is going to hold when you’re hawk watching.”
Gurnee resident Vic Berard, founder of the Illinois Beach State Park Watch, and Buffalo Grove resident Dave Johnson—both experienced hawkwatchers—will give the keynote address on Friday.
Berardi, who will present a workshop on hawk identification on Saturday said, “Many people see hawks on a regular basis but have no idea what to call them while many novice birders want to learn how to better identify hawks in the field. This workshop should help both those cases as well as adding a tidbit here and there for the seasoned birder.”
At 7 a.m. Saturday, the public can attend one of two free bird walks and no registration is required. Meet at the picnic pavilion at the north unit of Illinois Beach State Park or the parking lot north of the swimming beach in Waukegan, Sundberg said.
Participants might see shorebirds including sanderlings that run like wind-up toys across the sand, as well as colorful sparrows and uncommon gulls, Sundberg said.
“You never know what bird’s going to show up at Waukegan Beach this time of year.”
Lake County Hawkfest
- When: Oct. 14-16
- Where: Lake Forest College, Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, Lake Forest; Illinois Beach State Park, Zion; Waukegan Beach, Waukegan
- Tickets: Free for hawk watch and bird walks; $25 for workshop series and keynote; registration required for some events
- Information: 847-367-6640; www.lcfpd.org/education/hawkfest/