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320. Elsen’s Hill, Winfield, Illinois

The Elsen’s Hill unit of West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve in a western suburb of Chicago is a great place to bird year-round.

I’ve heard it called Warblerville, and the Elsen’s Hill unit of West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve deserves the nickname. A friend once spotted 32 warbler species here in one day. In the spring, the 150-acre preserve, about 40 miles west of Chicago, can be mesmerizing.

It’s worth a visit during other seasons, too. Winter birds find an ample food supply here, especially berries, and lowland forest along the DuPage River provides shelter from bitter winds. Even a snowy day might produce Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Be alert for Barred Owl as well.

All-time sightings exceed 250 species. One of them, a vagrant Black-throated Gray Warbler in October 2010, still has me shaking my head. The bird stayed for weeks, and I swear that every birder in Chicagoland managed to see it except me! Good memories far outweigh the disappointments, though. Elsen’s delivered my lifer Philadelphia Vireo and my first Connecticut Warbler in the county.

The Elsen’s parking lot is itself is a worthy destination, always capable of producing the bird of the day. A look there and a loop around the nearby front pond is a satisfying birding fix if you are short on time. But good luck trying to peel yourself away. Like all great birding sites, Elsen’s has a knack for turning up special birds and pleasant surprises.

320. Elsen’s Hill, Winfield, Illinois

Directions

The main entrance is on Route 59, 0.5 mile north of Roosevelt Rd. (Route 38). The Elsen’s Hill entrance is on Gary’s Mill Rd. east of Roosevelt Rd. and west of Winfield Rd.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
41°51’43.6″N 88°10’21.0″W

Habitat

Mature woods, scrubland, savanna, restored fen, river wetland, and ponds.

Terrain

Gravel and grass trails. Downhill to the river, otherwise mostly flat.

Birds

Best known for migrant warblers, including Cerulean, Connecticut, Hooded, Kentucky, Worm-eating, and occasionally Prairie. Spring/summer: Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, Wood Thrush, flycatchers, and vireos. Year-round: Wild Turkey, Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks, Wood Duck, Great Horned and Barred Owls, woodpeckers (including Red-headed and sometimes Pileated), American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch. Rarities: Northern Goshawk, Black-throated Gray and Kirtland’s Warblers, Varied Thrush.

When to go

Year-round. April, May, September, and October best for migrants. On warm spring days, arrive early.

Amenities

DuPage Birding Club and other groups lead walks. Bulletin board with map at trailhead, plus a portable toilet that accommodates wheelchairs. Picnic table by front pond.

Access

County forest preserve. Free entry. Open daily one hour after sunrise until one hour after sunset. The main entrance is on Route 59, 0.5 mile north of Roosevelt Rd. (Route 38). The Elsen’s entrance is on Gary’s Mill Rd. east of Roosevelt Rd. and west of Winfield Rd.

Tips

Gate is usually open before sunrise. Grass trails can be quite muddy. For safety, avoid birding alone.

For more info

West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve 
DuPage Birding Club 
Elsen’s Hill eBird hotspot

 

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Jeff Reiter

Jeff Reiter

Jeff Reiter handles communications at Cantigny Park and writes “Words on Birds,” a newspaper column and blogHe is a past president of the DuPage Birding Club and received the Excellence in Environmental Reporting Award from Chicago Audubon Society in 2015.

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