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230. Skokie Lagoons, Winnetka, Illinois

A series of wooded pools north of Chicago that is great for warblers, cuckoos, thrushes, and Wood Duck.

During the 1930s, the Skokie Swamp, north of Chicago, was converted into a series of wooded pools called the Skokie Lagoons. Extending from Dundee Rd. on the north to Winnetka Ave. on the south, the property encompasses 894 acres and is owned and managed by the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

The region has numerous parking areas, but the spot I visit most frequently is the Erickson Woods Picnic Grove, on the north side of Willow Rd., west of the southernmost lagoon and just east of the Edens Expressway (I-94). I usually walk through a mowed area, cross a bridge and a bike path, and then enter another mowed picnic area that opens onto the lagoon. Woods surround the opening, and a tree-covered island sits just to the north.

Birds can be thick in spring or fall anywhere in the area. Wood Ducks breed here, returning in March and remaining through late October. I like to make a loop, heading north along the lagoon for a while and then up-slope to the bike path, where I continue north until I come to another bridge that allows me to cross the creek and return back south. A leisurely walk in May can yield about 60 species. — Joel Greenberg

Joel Greenberg is the author, most recently, of A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction (Bloomsbury, 2014). In our February 2014 issue, he co-authored Like Meteors from Heaven, a story about the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. He also wrote Of Prairie, Woods, and Water (University of Chicago, 2008) and A Natural History of the Chicago Region (University of Chicago, 2002). Greenberg was featured in the film “From Billions to None,” which we reviewed here.

230. Skokie Lagoons, Winnetka, Illinois

Directions

The Skokie Lagoons are a network of pools, channels, and islands about 20 miles north of Chicago. From downtown, take I-94 north and exit onto Willow Rd. eastbound. In less than 0.1 miles, turn left into the Erickson Woods Picnic Grove, and park in one of the first stalls on your right.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
42°6’6.81″N 87°45’51.29″W

Habitat

Deciduous woods, both upland and swampy, open water, fallow fields, and mowed lawns.

Terrain

Flat and easy walking, whether on paved bike path or along wooded lagoon.

Birds

More than 200 species. Winter: Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, mergansers. Spring: Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, flycatchers, swallows, vireos, sparrows, thrushes, Yellow- and Black-billed Cuckoos, and 25 species of warbler, including Prothonotary, Connecticut, Mourning, and Canada. Breeding: Wood Duck, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and several species of woodpecker. Recent vagrants: Bald Eagle, Worm-eating Warbler, and Least Bittern.

When to go

Mid-May is best. Passerine migration can also be good from late August through early October. Mornings produce the most species.

Amenities

The Evanston North Shore Bird Club leads walks most Fridays in May. Portable toilet near parking lot. Canoe and kayak launch located off Tower Rd., one mile north of Willow Rd.

Access

County forest preserve. No fees. Parking open by 6 a.m. Pace Bus route 423 stops nearby on Willow Rd.

Tips

Prothonotary Warblers often stay on the Erickson Woods island until early June. Ground near the lagoons can be muddy; to avoid, stay on paths. Dress in layers; weather can be cool on spring mornings.

For more info

Skokie Lagoons
Illinois Ornithological Society
Chicago Audubon
Bird Conservation Network
Lake Cook Audubon

Sites nearby

Chicago Botanic Gardens
Just north of lagoons at 1000 Lake Cook Rd. Productive woods and open water during migration; ornamental plantings with active feeders in winter.

Gillson Park
About six miles southeast of lagoons, at eastern end of Lake Ave., on Lake Michigan. A superb spot to watch waterbirds from October through April.

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