Chicagoland Wildlife Refuge Could Be Chance to See Cougar, Trumpeter Swan, Cranes

This week the Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’d study a plan to start a wildlife refuge between Milwaukee and Chicago. What would the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge mean for wildlife watchers?A chance to see cranes, trumpeter swan, otter, badger, coyote, deer–and possibly cougar, whooping cranes, a funny kind of squirrel and some threatened bats and turtles.

The Friends of the Hackmatack NWR  who have already been working for years to get this gonig, in part inspired by the fact that when Audubon Magazine boasted that “a wildlife refuge is located within an hour’s drive of every major metropolitan area” Chicago proved them wrong. It’s the biggest city without one. This refuge takes note of the need for wildlife watching near where people live; it’s designed to be within two hours of Chicago and Milwaukee. Judging by the excited email I got from my friend David Hall and others, I’d say it would be pretty popular.

Hackatack–named after the larch tree–would try to sew together the patchworkd of 88 parks and preserves already there so that wildlife can have some breathing room. The wildlife service wouldn’t force anyone out, but they would offer to buy property within the refuge boundaries.

I did some research on what animals we might expect to see if we visited the refuge:

Cougar:  The Cougar Network has two confirmed sightings in the refuge area since 2008, one with physical evidence, the other verified by a qualified pro.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan: Maybe!

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Pelicans Visit Chicagoland for Spring Break

Unison by jpmatth

White Pelicans are just about hitting their peak numbers in Chicagoland. Practically nobody saw these big white birds a decade ago. Now you can see them every spring. Now you can drive 50 minutes from downtown Chicago and found up to 250 of these huge, exotic white birds in a tiny lake in a bland exurb housing development. 

The Daily Herald highlighted Nelson Lake in the Dick Young Forest Preserve, where they’ve been appearing for eight years. Kane County Audubon now says now they’ve left Nelson Lake–which was originally created by a beaver dam–and moved to nearby Carson Slough. On April 3 birders saw 133 white pelicans in this small manmade lake in a housing development right off the Sugar Grove exit from I-88.

Prairie State Outdoors says the 30-pound birds have somehow changed their migration habit so that they are increasingly showing up in Illinois, especially near the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. (Batavia is about 20 miles from the Illinois.) The white pelicans (also called Rough-billed Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)) travel between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada but they only stop in northeast Illinois in the spring and only in this one area.

Kane County Audubon’s Jon Duerr, who used to run the forest preserve, told WTTW says birds travel around 300 miles between breaks. They stop for a couple weeks to feed. They don’t dive like brown pelicans; they work together to herd fish. The  This year they arrived March 19

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