A cormorant flies by the rear of the Tilted Kilt pub Wednesday in Elgin. A pond behind the restaurant attracts a number of bird species. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 25, 2011 12:21AM
ELGIN — Along with cool refreshments, birdwatching is on the menu at some popular restaurants off Randall Road on the city’s northwest side.
The aerated pond at the south end of The Grove and Northwest Corporate Park has become a haven for a growing number of winged visitors that can be spotted from the patio dining areas of both the Dairy Queen/Orange Julius and the Tilted Kilt pub.
Sure, there have been the usual suspects, such as an occasional mallard duck or Canada goose. And some ring-billed gulls — which are such skilled scavengers that they turn up anywhere they think they can grab a french fry or any other food left behind by sloppy humans — can be seen, too.
But along with the more-common birds, great egrets, great blue heron, killdeer and even double-crested cormorants also are frequenting the area, sometimes sunning themselves on a small golf green island in the pond.
“When we opened the business last year, we saw these types of birds, too, but not in these numbers,” said Pete Landorf, one of the owners of the DQ franchise in The Grove, the retail mall in front of Northwest Corporate Park.
Jerry Hope of St. Charles and the Kane County Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society (www.kanecountyaudubon.org) visited the spot one late June afternoon with his wife and some children from his church. They included Henry Roush, 6, of St. Charles, who took a peek at the birds through a telescope under Hope’s watchful eyes.
Hope said that two decades ago, the black-as-oil cormorants were rarer in these parts. But with climate change, he said, they have become fairly common in this area in the past six to nine years. Hope noted that the double-crested cormorants are divers and fish eaters that nest in trees or platforms.
As for the birds’ food source, DQ’s Landorf speculated that some folks might have dumped goldfish in the water, too, as he once saw a fowl with one in its mouth.
Bird give and take?
Jeff Possin, director of real estate for the site’s developer Interstate Partners LLC, said the pond is not stocked or spring-fed, but he speculated that fish may have found their way into the pond from birds. As such, the pond is home to bluegill and a good number of frogs, Possin said.
“The cormorants have become really noticeable this year,” Possin said. At the same time, there have been considerably fewer geese at the pond, he noted.
According to Interstate Partners staff, there are eight ponds in the business park designed to feed into the one by the eateries as part of an open water and stormwater management system. The engineering is such that it traps sediment for removal and pulls off oil from parking lots, keeping the water cleaner. Grounds crews have been trained in aquatic management and have put in aquatic plants to add oxygen to the ponds.
Staff noted that a variety of birds has been seen at all the ponds in the complex but that any fishing on the site is limited to that done by waterfowl and is prohibited by people.
A similar, albeit larger, group of birds can be found a short flight northeast of Elgin. Hope said that in mid-June he saw a mix of egrets, heron and cormorants that numbered about 300 at a rookery built for them at Baker’s Lake Nature Preserve in Barrington, located at Northwest Highway and Hillside Avenue. According to the Quintessential Barrington website (www.qbarrington.com/mj11-quintessential-open-spaces.html) the site holds 112 acres of freshwater surrounded by 209 acres of oak savanna and is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Barrington Park District and the village of Barrington.
Fly in meals
Like patrons of the various restaurants in The Grove, Hope said the bigger birds in Elgin are probably nesting elsewhere and feeding at the retention pond. Those nests might be in rookeries anywhere within 15 miles of the site, according to Hope.
Thus, Hope said that the birds’ use of the Elgin pond isn’t necessarily that unusual in itself. One pond not far from the Aurora fire station on Orchard Road has attracted a large number of similar birds, too, he said. What makes the Elgin spot unique is the outdoor dining areas so close to the wildlife.
Hope noted there is a theory that migratory waterfowl send out scouting parties of sorts that find bodies of water on which to rest and feast or to call their own for the season.
A famous local example would be in spring, when flocks of white pelicans have been stopping at Nelson Lake in Marsh Nature Preserve on the outskirts of Batavia since 2004. The pelicans are migrating from Mexico, Florida, Texas and Louisiana to the Prairie Pothole Region of the northern United States and Canada.
Some cases — such as last winter’s noticeable presence of bald eagles in the Fox Valley — can be seen as a return of nature in part because of environmentally friendly policies put in place such as the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972.
In the case of the cormorants, though, the sign might be a bit foreboding.
“As the climate warms, we’re seeing more types of birds up north that we typically didn’t used to see here,” Hope said.