April 3, 2016

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary and Dunes Nature Area (Apr. 2016)


Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary and Montrose Dunes Natural Area at Montrose Harbor, Lake Michigan
41.966106, -87.634556
4500 North, Chicago
70° F - it was beautiful outside!
All photos made on my OnePlus One phone.

We took a walk to Montrose Beach and its set-aside Dunes and Bird Sanctuary areas... the sky was the bluest it's been since last summer!

Nature in your backyard...quite literally. Montrose Beach happens to be just a few blocks away from my home, so it is just steps away. That's what Chicago has to offer to most of its residents. Parks in every neighborhood. It was just too nice today to not go outside, so we spent a few hours in a spot very close to home studying its features.



Natural areas for all to enjoy, and for all the wildlife to find a place to call home in the city. I remember reading somewhere that Teddy Roosevelt (or another naturalist who influenced him during the late 1800s) suggested that we should strive to know the natural history and natural residents of our backyards intimately. This and Lincoln Park are my two "backyards," so this is the first of many "slow walks" that I'll be taking in the future to ponder the connections and processes in the area.

These two areas will be overflowing with green in the coming weeks, so it is nice to capture these two areas' pre-spring features in some photographs for comparison later on.


But before I get into the naturalist stuff, some photos of the hike are in order. I haven't written this place up yet and it was a beautiful day, so I need to catalog the location first for the blog. First of all, it's a very short trail system - perhaps only 1-2 miles in all it's loops and windings. Both the dunes and bird sanctuary are on the easternmost tip of the pier, on the east side of Montrose Harbor and just southeast of Montrose Beach, right along the lake.

Annotated map of the natural areas at Montrose Beach. Click each to find out more.

Today the focus was on a slow walk and deep study of the Montrose Dunes Natural Area and the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary near the beach and harbor. The dunes area is under restoration by the city park district and volunteers. These groups are working to revitalize this particular part of the higher sand dunes with diverse native plants that reflect the area's natural history.

There are many roped off areas and paths to protect the fragile habitat. Native species have been reintroduced throughout the area to build up the diversity and promote some wildlife to return.




Some of the dunes area is still waterlogged. Some ducks have taken up residence in the ponds. I wonder if these will dry up by summer?



The rope trails connect to the bird sanctuary and The Magic Hedge, with trees that are just about ready to erupt with leaves. The sanctuary's forest wraps around the elbow of the peninsula that holds in the harbor. Inside are many species of trees and wildlife that have found an urban home.



What I think about when walking through these small city forests is the struggle against the simplicity that we impose from the city. Life in the forest is such a complex web of interactions, yet seemingly so simple. We can learn a lot just by watching in the forested areas, even if they are in the heart of the city.

As we walked around, many cardinals and red-winged blackbirds were jumping around on the ground in the prairie grass restoration areas, ostensibly looking for something to eat. Many of the tall grasses remained from the past season, but were ready to give way to new undergrowth.



Part of the sanctuary is combined with a section of the tree grove and paths called "The Magic Hedge." This is a winding section of paths that are rounded out around the edge of the harbor and is filled with trees and shrubs of various kinds.

What's interesting about this sanctuary and The Magic Hedge is the combination of dense tree thickets and prairie grasses. I learned today that the prairie portions of the preserve are a work in progress. A sign indicated that it can take three to five years for a prairie restoration with native species to be completed and sustainable. It takes a lot of mowing, cultivating, weeding, and species introducing in order to reach a sustainable point. These prairies will take many forms before reaching their more stable cycles.



We spotted a chipmunk high in the trees. Although the photos don't capture its features, the golden and brown back and tail stripe was shining in the sun, much too distinguished to be a baby squirrel. It was gnawing on some buds on the trees. In just a couple weeks, we wouldn't have been able to see him with all the leaves.


It's exciting...this grove is just weeks away from becoming a vibrant haven of life in the heart of the city. If you need a nature excursion, come stop by Simonds Drive off of Lake Shore Drive and head over to Montrose Beach! There's plenty of parking, the 146 and others stop right by, or you can bike/divvy over here.

Flickr Album

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Montrose Point Dunes and Nature Sanctuary

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