A birder’s guide to the North Shore Channel
Carvana tower receives final approval despite concerns about bird collisions
Open water is a prized commodity to birders and birds in the month of February. Inland waterways are mostly frozen by now, and ice can choke off many of the lakefront harbors by this point in the season.
The North Shore Channel, though, is an exception. Stretching from Foster Avenue northward to Wilmette and, after passing through a sluice gate, Lake Michigan. You won’t find the North Shore Channel in any tourist guides to Chicago. Its purpose since 1910 has been to flush water from north to south down the Chicago River system and eventually the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
The channel’s a good spot for a birding fix at this point in the season—more specifically, a waterfowl fix—Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser and Redhead are here. Of course, Canada Goose and Mallard, too. There are also a handful of passerines lurking in the brushy vegetation of its embankments.
Here’s a look at a few places worth visiting, and how to access them—not always an easy proposition as the channel’s surrounded by development. It does have a trail running its length, though. Listed here are locations that are unfrozen at the time of this writing (the channel appears to be frozen north of Main right now).
Arguably the most interesting birding locale on the channel, River Park sits at the confluence with the North Branch of the Chicago River. There was a dam and waterfall here until recently. Now that the barrier’s removed there are riffles and a healthier river—a good thing for fish and birds alike. How to get there: Park on Argyle street and walk north along the channel. Or take the 92 bus (via Foster) or the 82 bus (via Kimball).
There’s a good likelihood of a few ducks or maybe an American Coot at this park that’s centered near the intersection of Lincoln and Peterson. The trail continues under Peterson and through some gritty properties hemmed in by retail, mini-storage and the like. Many years ago a spot near here harbored warblers well into winter, likely due to the relative warmth provided by the channel’s water. How to get there: Turn onto Whipple from Lincoln and park on the street (Virginia is a good one). Or take the 84 bus (via Peterson) and walk in at the ornamental fountain that faces Lincoln.
A good concentration of winter waterfowl has stuck around this spot across the street from Lincolnwood Towers. Walk from the street into the prairie restoration that runs down to Pratt. There are some scratchy dirt trails accessible along the channel, too. Opposite of this park is a parking lot and viewing area accessed from McCormick Boulevard, where you can see the same birds from the other side of the channel. How to get there: Turn onto Kedzie from Touhy or Devon. Park on Kedzie. Or take the 155 bus (via Devon) or the Pace 290 bus (via Touhy).
Sculpture Park (Oakton to Main)
This area has good birding potential, as there are a handful of mature trees and wider-ranging spaces than points south. There are a few conifers worth checking for owls, too. It’s a more secluded stretch that may be a good spot for a Belted Kingfisher. How to get there: If driving, turn onto Main going west and park in the neighborhood. This one’s trickier by bus and would require a walk from Howard (Pace 215) or Dempster (Pace 250).
Skokie Board approves Carvana project despite concerns of many
Back in November, the proposed Carvana project lacked any bird-friendly measures. It was to be a 14-story glass tower next to a state nature preserve, which was bound to be an issue for migrating birds. The transparency of the tower would lead to disorientation as birds made their way through a prime migratory corridor twice a year. Bird collisions appeared to be off the national company’s radar (so to speak).
The Skokie Village Board voted last week to advance the plan, by a 6-1 margin, despite concerns voiced by myriad advocates and village residents. The outreach and activism included a protest at the village meeting itself and a petition that garnered 6,000 signatures. It’s been a mighty effort, but it could not turn back the village leaders’ desire for the tax revenue the car dealer would bring.
Carvana did adapt its plans to include bird-friendly glass up to about 63 feet and turning off most building lights after midnight during migration. However, the bright lights will be on all night on the side facing the Edens Expressway.
The question now is whether Carvana will be held accountable to its bird-friendly measures. Only time will tell for a company that’s faced heavy scrutiny in the past and for a village that faces an outcry from its residents.
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