Humboldt Park on Chicago’s northwest side is a pretty urban area to walk, fish, bike and bird. It is a 207 acre park situated in the neighborhood bearing the same name located just west of Western and Division. The park and neighborhood are named after German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.
For those seeking solitude this park is not the place. A mariachi band accompanied by cranked up speakers greeted my arrival. Even though it is located at the heart of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, Humboldt Park is well noted for its array of birds. In fact, a local birder named Sam Burkhardt reported seeing 148 species in 2009. Click here in order to see this informative list and report on the Illinois Birder’s forum and open the PDF. On a crowded Saturday with loud music blaring I did not expect to see much.
The center of the action at Humboldt Park is the lagoon. A network of paths around the lagoon provides excellent viewing and fishing access. Fishermen were busy with approximately 20 poles in the water. Largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and carp can be caught here.
The usual suspects of backyard birds like starlings, grackles, field sparrows, Canadian geese, pigeons, gulls, red-winged blackbird, robin, and crows were out in abundance. At the northern end of the lagoon a group of mallards congregated. Interspersed in the gaggle were two American coots and three wood ducks (see pics 7,8, and 19 at the slideshow to the right).
Wood ducks are not considered rare in the region; however, one does not expect to see them in the middle of Chicago as they are named after the terrain they prefer. Wood ducks are shy and one usually only sees them for an instance and then hears their telltale bleating cry as they fly away. It was quite a surprise to see them so acclimated to human presence. Perhaps they were having an identity crisis and thought they were mallards.
It was not the last surprise of the day found at the north end of the lagoon. There is a small island just off of shore. Vantage points on the shoreline provide views to whatever lurks there. A brilliant red flashed among the trees, and I figured it was a cardinal. It turned out to be a pair of scarlet tanagers. In all my travels last year I only saw these brilliant birds at Matthiessen State Park, so I was shocked to see a pair here.
On the west side of Humboldt Drive there is another body of water referred to as the Prairie River. A flash of white in the reeds betrayed the movement of a black-crowned night heron (see pics 12 and 13 in slideshow). This bird once threatened in Illinois is now commonly seen along the Chicago River and by Lake Michigan. As it flew away I looked skyward to watch it depart, and when I did I noticed a hawk (see pic 14 in slideshow) in one of the trees.
I also spotted someone so drunk he could hardly stand and a rail thin woman who could have been a prostitute. Riffraff does invade the park and a lot of garbage detracts from the beauty, so I do not want to paint the place as a paradise, but with so many people around the park is safe. The bad side enhances the good as it makes it much more unique to see the bird life surrounded by garbage, people, and blaring mariachi music.
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